Posts tagged Chinese

My Fall of 1993 Reflections of Kyrgyzstan

Nineteen years ago, on September 21, 1993, I wrote a letter to family and friends about my upcoming return to Central Asia.  I’m combining this with another letter I sent out on November 2nd of that same year.  Things seemed to have been moving quickly for me and it was good to stand in place for an instant to jot my experiences down for later perusal.

“On Sunday, Sept. 26th at 2:35 p.m. I will be boarding a Delta plane to go back to Central Asia. I have more than enjoyed the past month of staying in Minnesota with family and friends.  For the past four months working in Kazakhstan for Peace Corps, life was just plain hard work.

My university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan wanted me to be teaching at the start of school on September 15th. Due to a mix up of communication, I am arriving on October 1 instead.  Thus, I am already starting on the wrong foot with the dean of the school.  Something needs to turn this situation around since this woman, Camilla, is known to steamroll over people.  To cross her is not a good idea. I have learned only too late, I am looking at ten months of working with her.

I know what I am getting myself into as I prepare to leave and there is both a feeling of dread and excitement.  I look forward to getting to know the Kyrgyz people more as I will be teaching phonetics and listening comprehension at the Kyrgyz State University. Fortunately, I will not be alone but teaching with another American Fulbright Scholar from Rutgers, New Jersey. She is only in Bishkek for three months.  She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs of having foreigners there in place.  I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.

From the little bit of exposure I had with the Kazakh people in Almaty, I am eager to get to know the Kyrgyz people better. Once I know what my e-mail address, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. I have a new Compaq laptop which also has fax capabilities. I need to learn about that so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes….”

The following letter was written on November 2, 1993 after I knew more about my living situation:

“There is SO much to be thankful for in the one month I have been in Bishkek.  I have a really spacious apartment which looks out to the mountains from both my east and west windows. I am able to see beautiful sunsets.  How nice to have this place since I plan to do a lot of entertaining.  However, time spent in the kitchen is more than comical since I have been forced to make do without a lot of the necessary utensils we all take for granted.

Things like measuring cups and spoons, potholders, pie tins, Tupperware, a fridge that works as well as a stove with four gas burners and an oven.  The challenge for all of us foreigners is to cook or bake as close to American food as possible with whatever materials you can find at the Osh Bazaar.  Just buying meat with carcasses and heads of sheep, pig and horse hanging off hooks while birds are flying overhead is a sight to behold.

Well, to change the subject…There are six other American teachers at my university.  I am looking forward to having my three different Phonetic classes come to my apartment in December for American style Christmas parties.  Each class has about ten students in each room and we meet once a week. It has been a joy to teach them American pronunciation.  My goal for these next nine months is to be the best teacher I can be to my 30 plus students and also to learn Russian.  We (four other English teachers) have two hour language classes most every day.  It is a struggle for me to be disciplined enough to study in the afternoons what I learn in the mornings with my own tutor.  The grammar is so difficult but I have to say that it is easier than learning Chinese.

I’m glad to say that my relationship with Camilla has improved.  She seems to be treating me well.  However, she is very disorganized as a dean and has managed to get the ire up of all the other American teachers at her school.  We are all trying to work out smooth communication despite the clash of teaching styles and methodologies that necessarily happen when Americans meet up with rigid Soviet-style methods.

My e-mail has been up and running and I invite any of you to send me a note by that mode of communication.  My address is: ####@projec.bishkek.su.  [note that back at that time of 1993, they were still using the Soviet Union as a location] It is not always reliable because of bad phone lines but it is better than the mail service which is routed through Moscow and ends up at the top of a heap of other undelivered mail. Who said this is an exciting time for the former republics?  There is a lot of desperation and near panic due to the unstable economy…”

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Buddy Bear is “Bear”back

What is with this Buddy Bear exhibit? What does this have to do with Kazakhstan?  Well, I believe it has a LOT to do with this culturally rich country.  As many bears that are out on display, 125 close to the Baiterek tower, that’s how many different nationalities co-exist in this lightly populated country of 16 million people. This land is the size of 3 or 4 state of Texas and has an eastern border with China, a country that has over 1 billion Chinese.  There used to be many more Germans and Russians in Kazakhstan and there are also Uighurs, Tatars, Korean, Turks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Turkmen, Uzbek, etc.  Where China has many more people and a great variety of different Chinese, Kazakhstan has fewer people but many nationalities.  With different cultures, you will have diverse languages and religions.

I believe Kazakhstan prides itself in being able to handle the steady mix of people groups.  I know when I lived in Almaty for two years I was surrounded by different nationalities and enjoyed it. But then again, I’m an ESL/EFL teacher, my job is to teach English to those people who want to learn it.  I’ve studied or tried to learn eight different languages and am a master of none.  The Kazakh people by law have a mandate to know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English.  Will that work, can they do it?  As I’ve written before, it is a do or die proposition because another alternative could be Chinese.  If I were Kazakh or Kazakhstani, I would try to learn all three languages simultaneously too.  I’ve studied Chinese, I’ve written its calligraphy, I know just how difficult it is to speak in the four tones.  What is so very interesting to me is that among all the nationalities represented in Kazakhstan, China has a very low profile.  Enjoy my photos of more Buddy Bears, especially Vietnam’s quote: “Who doesn’t love, doesn’t live.”

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Wisdom of Nations – Proverbs (Part IV)

“Some are wise and some are otherwise.” Ben Franklin turned this saying around with “Some men are weather-wise, but most men are other-wise.”

“Swim like a stone (brick).”

“The game is not worth the candle.” French (referring to gambling and the undertaking is not worth the risk or effort.)

“The wind cannot be caught in a net.”

“There is no royal road to learning.” (Euclid said this to King Ptolmey’s request about geometry)

“To be between the beetle and the block.” (Chinese – between you and me)

“To be wise behind the hand.”

“To go for wool and come home shorn.” (Many seek to better themselves and end up losing what they already have.)

“To pick the plums out of the pudding.”

“To plough the sand.” Arabic (insults should be written in sand, compliments should be carved in stone.)

“To stick like a limpet to a rock.”

“To throw a stone in one’s own garden.”

“Tread on a worm and it will turn.” Shakespeare (No matter how lowly a creature is, it will respond to ill treatment OR defenseless creature will attempt to defend itself.)

“True coral needs no painter’s brush.”

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” (Austin Phelps an American educator and clergyman – 1820-1890)

“When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.” (Competition will be particularly fierce when two people of similar caliber encounter one another.)

“When the moon turns green cheese.” Sarcastic to a person who is gullible

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

“With time and patience the leaf of the mulberry becomes a silk gown.” Chinese

“You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Russian equivalent – When the wood is cut, the chips fly. This means in order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that something should be destroyed.

“You must spoil before you spin.” (Making mistakes before becoming proficient)

“Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse.” (Action without deep thought will fail)

All proverbs from the last four blog entries have been taken from “Dictionary of English Proverbs, Sayings and Idioms in Russian, Kazakh and German” by Sakina Akmetova, published by Mektel in Almaty, Kazakhstan 2009

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“Wisdom of Nations” – Animal Proverbs (Part II)

“The wisdom of nations lies in their proverbs, which are brief and pithy. Collect and learn them; they are notable measures of directions for human life; you have much in little; they save time in speaking; and upon occasion may be the fullest and safest answer.” William Penn

Proverbs about animals are taken from “Dictionary of English Proverbs, Sayings and Idioms in Russian, Kazakh and German” by Sakina Akmetova, published by Mektel in Almaty, 2009

“A good horse should be seldom spurred.” OR “Do not spur a willing horse.”

“A lazy sheep thinks its wool heavy.” Turkey (too much trouble to carry their own wool, lazy)

“Better have a mouse in the pot than no flesh.” Scottish

“Careless shepherds make many a feast for the wolf.” Chinese?

“Even a mangy sheep is good for a little wool.”

“Every man thinks his own geese swans.” OR “Every mother thinks her own gosling a swan.” Danish or German

“Flies always sit themselves on a thin horse.” [Mennonite Low German from Kansas – the vulnerable are always targeted by predatory people]

“Go to bed with the lamb and rise with the lark.”

“If you want a pretense to whip a dog, say that he ate the frying pan.”

“It is a small flock that has not a black sheep.”

“Man is a wolf to a man.” Roman proverb by Plautus “Homo homini lupus”

“Nightingales will not sing in a cage.”

“No room to swing a cat.” (very tight quarters)

“One man may steal a horse while another may not look over a hedge.” German

Some are chartered libertine while others are always eyed with suspicion

“One might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.” If you are caught and getting the same punishment, you may as well commit the greater offense

“One scabbed sheep will mar a whole flock.” Danish

“The camel going to seek horns lost his ears.” Latin or Turkish – in seeking to better their condition, they lose the advantages that are at hand.

“The dog barks, but the caravan goes on.” (Persian – indicate the superiority of the great to popular clamour)

“To eat the calf in the cow’s belly.” (Reckon one’s chickens before they are hatched – spending our pregnant hopes before they are delivered)

“To find a mare’s nest.” – (complex and difficult situation or hoax and fraud)

“To give a lark to catch a kite.” (Throw out a minnow to catch a sprat)

“To have rats in the attic.” Danish

“Too much pudding will choke a dog.” (Too much of a good thing)

“To see which way the cat jumps.” (You postpone making a decision until you have seen how things develop)

“To send owls to Athens.” (Greek, similar to “sending coals to Newcastle” – engage in something that is useless)

“Where the horse lies down, there some hair will be found.”

“While the grass grows, the horse starves.” (Dreams or expectations may be realized too late)

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Restore Dignity to My Students and Their Grandparents

One of the cardinal sins of any English teacher is to assign a homework assignment to their dear students and not do it themselves.  On a couple occasions I would try to cut corners and tell my American students to read from their textbook pages 55-80 and then I just briefly skimmed over it and gave them a quiz on what I thought were the highpoints.  Guilty as charged!  But truth be told, I didn’t commit this sin too often and it was only my nerdy A students who followed all my directions and assignments that read everything from their textbook.  What I see at our Kazakhstan institution of higher learning is that writing teachers are assigning their poor students to write a highly intricate, complex essay without writing it themselves. 

 

I’m becoming a more student-centered teacher the longer I live in Central Asia or I appear more so being surrounded by heavily equipped teacher-centered methodologies.  When I taught as a Fulbright Scholar at a westernized university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 1993-95, I purposely did not join in the fray with the younger American teachers who were claiming that the Kyrgyz teachers were WRONG in the way they were teaching their students.  I thought, how did these students learn to speak English with no native speakers around them during the period of being closed off in the Soviet Union?  The Kyrgyz students, no different than the Chinese, memorized everything and to learn any language, memorization is key.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I thought to myself. I was pleasantly surprised at the abilities of my Kyrgyz students, that is, until I had them do in-class writing for me.  Different ball game, but they produced writing samples in English by journaling.

 

When I taught English courses in China, again I was surrounded by a very heavy teacher-centered style of teaching and I remember the Chinese teachers fine tuning their grading of exams to the nth degree.  A third of a point could potentially be taken off for answering the question thus and so.  Fortunately, I had such big classes back then because all the Chinese students wanted some exposure to an American, a native speaker of English, I don’t recall administering tests.  I really don’t know how I graded my Chinese students but in one class I had 60 in a Speaking and Listening class.  SomehowI coped.

 

What I witnessed last semester was the same feverish penchant to assign points to every jot and tittle that the students wrote in their two essays.  We worked through the scoring rubric for their final portfolio project so that it was explicit about what the students should have in their problem and solution essay.  We did not mandate what kind of outline the students’ essays should follow in the scoring rubric.  Unfortunately I have to keep emphasizing that point.

 

Noone likes to be accused of being WRONG but I’ve been getting that in liberal doses lately from one of my fellow teachers.  She was not even a part of last semester’s team of our “Academic Reading and Writing” group but I think she is speaking to me out of a sense of duty as a friend. She did not see the handout of what I offered as a different option for my students to write their final problem and solution essay simply because I am more student-centered in my approach while she is clearly TEACHer-centered.

 

Even though it is not in our syllabus that we are to have this particular outline to follow, talking to her you would have thought it was cut in stone like the Ten Commandments.  This is what seemingly was mandatory for the students to follow:

 

I.                   Problem (example of topics:  high school dropouts, drugs, obesity, insomnia)

II.                Solution One

A.   Advantages

B.    Disadvantages

III.             Solution Two – (the advantages are supposed to outweigh the disadvantages)

A. Advantages

B. Disadvantages

     IV. Conclusion

 

Now add to this already restrictive outline of a 1,000 word essay, the students were supposed to come up with FIVE sources to pepper throughout the paper with in-text citations to buttress their points.  Afterall, this was an Academic course we were teaching where the students were to learn APA style which has enough of their own quirky regimented rules. (hopefully the students would come to know there are as many different formatting styles as there are publishers) In our case, we dispensed with having an Abstract for such a short paper and there were other adaptations made too.  Examples off of OWL website or a writing textbook I used showed differences in APA nitpickiness.  However, as a teacher I told my own students I would NOT allow for any of their sources to be off the Internet, no “Anonymous” would be found in their References page.  I wanted all my students to be equipped for the rest of their academic career with utilizing the electronic research databases.

 

This electronic, digital age we are living in the 21 century is all very new to some of my Kazakh teaching colleagues.  Who would have anticipated that volumes and reams of paper which are found in the stacks section of every library would be digitized to be viewed 10,000 miles away on our computers?  None of the teacher-centered teachers went to school learning this, but our students are living in a digital age and they need to learn it to keep up.  Especially true of Russian teachers who were schooled under the Soviet system where there was only ONE way to do things.  “My way or the highway.” Or suffer in Siberia in the old days.

 

Therefore, it works in the Kazakhs favor to have their students memorize huge quantities of information (much like the Chinese do) which helps in learning to speak English. Learning languages is all about memorization and practicing it of course. The students can do that adeptly but learning to write is a whole new ball of wax.  The teachers themselves have not been required to write in English and perhaps in some case they have done their fair share of plagiarizing or claiming others’ words as their own.  Seems strange to have them policing their own students now on this issue of plagiarism.  I can understand why the very, very restrictive outline, it is to make sure nothing is taken off the Internet lock, stock and barrel and claimed as their own. 

 

I challenge these same self-made English teachers to provide good writing examples for their Kazakh students so they know what is expected of them. Let me repeat for emphasis, I think the teachers should write the essay they assign their students, it would be a cardinal sin NOT to do so.  I provided my students with an example of what I wanted and gave them other handouts as well.  It does no good to take an example off the Internet and say, “This is what your problem-solution essay should look like.”  Besides, these teachers won’t find their convoluted way of writing a prescriptive problem-solution on the Internet as an example because no one would even conceive of writing such a 1,000 word essay, not in a student centered classroom.  Not with five in-text citations, not with two solutions and the second one must have more advantages than disadvantages!!!

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“Iron Rice Bowl” Policy and “Naglyi” Kazakh Students

I’m making a bold confession about myself before I post what the title implies. I used to be into temperament types and figuring out what other peoples’ and my students’ profiles were.  This website finds out, based on what you post on your blogs, what kind of personality you are.  Supposedly I am now a “Thinker.”  An INTP which is the opposite of what I have typically been labeled as according to Myers-Briggs or Kiersey Temperament Sorter. I have always thought of myself as an “I” or introvert but why I didn’t come out as my usual ISTJ, I don’t know. Check this out, see if you think this fits my blog personality, those of you who know who I really am:

 

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

 

The reason I wrote the above is because I suppose I am perceived by some of my teaching colleagues in Kazakhstan as insensitive or prideful. I apologize to those who think that way, my blog personality is different from who I really am.  I surely hope to be a servant leader who is humble.  However, I will confess that I am impatient with some of my colleagues especially when it comes to not using their computers. (some do NOT know how to scroll up or down!!!)  All of us are blessed with fancy computers on our desks but some computers remain unused as if a fancy, big paperweight.  

 

This is the reason I think the Chinese communist concept of the “Iron Rice Bowl” comes into play here at our institution of “higher learning.”  It would seem that amongst all the Kazakhstani teachers who have been here for awhile, they do not feel the urgent need to learn how to use these computers, others are fearful of them.  Strangely or sadly enough, these same teachers are guaranteed their jobs semester after semester without any notion of being awarded or demoted based on what they have done to professionally improve themselves.  

 

When I taught in China, I learned about the Iron Rice Bowl concept where in factories or other places of remedial work, people didn’t have do their job.  Communism seems to breed this strange notion that if the workers were lazy, they would still be paid the same amount as the next person who did all the work.  What is so galling is that these same individuals in our university, not just my department, are habitual complainers but they don’t leave for other jobs elsewhere.  They have never been paid so well or enjoyed so many other perks at our “westernized” university.

 

Then you have our Naglyi students, a Russian term which means “impudent or brazen”.  These are the choice few who have been abroad and are aware that the Kazakhstani system of education lags far behind.  Their English skills may be better than their Kazakh teachers.  Also, they have computer skills because they are of the generation of “Digital Natives.”  These students have come to our “westernized” institution to learn more about the global economy and the world beyond.  These naglyi students are challenging their “Digital Immigrant” teachers where normally as typical Asian students, they would be respectful of their teachers.  

 

Our institution may reach an impasse soon, the Kazakh students and their parents will insist on better qualified teachers, those who have taken the computer courses and feel comfortable with using modern technology.  Those older, Kazakh teachers who are used to the “Iron Rice Bowl” policy will either have to retire or seek employment elsewhere if they refuse to keep up with the changing times. OR another scenario would be that our institutional standards that are supposedly based on western ones, will be so lowered with plagiarism and cheating, it will be no different from what is happening in the other institutions of higher learning in Kazakhstan.

 

Meanwhile, western professors who come as guests to Kazakhstan to teach in whatever their major discipline or speciality is, do not bother with tenure because there is always the “work permit” threat hanging over them. No work permit, no visa!  Just as in China, we as foreign teachers in the late 1980s were disposed of quickly, the old “chew you up and spit you out” phenomenon. We, as foreigners, are here to make ourselves redundant.  If we do our job well enough, we will be dispensed with before we want to go.  Some of us westerners are certainly not here for the money, as least I am not.  However, seeing that the Iron Rice Bowl works for those who live here continues to be a burr under the saddle.  There just is no way to monetarily compensate for the sacrifices we make as foreigners when we are away from family gatherings and our own traditional holidays back home.

 

My husband and I celebrated last Thursday’s American Thanksgiving festival, just the two of us at the Princess Chinese restaurant.  We ate out of ceramic rice bowls with a can of cranberry sauce sitting on the table to remind us that we were without our family members on this important holiday.  What will it be like when I am away from my family of sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces for Christmas? I hate to think of it.  I am thankful to be here in Kazakhstan for the students, naglyi or no.

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Kazakh Traditions Through Kim’s Eyes

Kazakh Superstitions

Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote in his book “The Silent Steppe” (p. 241) that Kazakhs are superstitious.  My friend Kim confirmed that information by telling me some of the superstitions she has encountered while living in Kazakhstan over a decade.  Kim, her husband and children used to live in a Kazakh village the first half of their stay and so she knows much about real Kazakh living.  Very different from the big city life of Almaty which is really NOT Kazakh from looking at the outside veneer.

 

One superstition Kim knew of was in keeping one’s home clear of evil spirits, the Kazakhs would collect a kind of holy grass from the mountains to burn it and shake the smoke around the house.  Another was to keep the home immaculately clean before going to bed at night.  A messy place would only invite unwelcome evil spirits to come lodge during the night.  (to my mind, nothing superstitious about that!!!) However, another way Kazakhs warded off evil spirits was to put a knife under the “besik” or swinging bed.  Kim also told me that a specific, significant bone from an animal would be picked clean and hung on the wall.  She admitted she didn’t know much about that tradition but she knew there were many other Kazakh superstitions.

 

Kazakh Life Events in the Home vs. American Mobility

Naturally Kim’s orientation is around the home being a mother of four children so she has observed that for Kazakhs, life events are very important such as birth, circumcision, weddings and death. Even though the Kazakhs come from a nomadic tradition, their homes in a yurt were the center of their universe.   That is why I suppose “leaving on a jet plane” for lands faraway holds little significance for Kazakhs.  However, for us Americans who come from a land of immigrants, a major life event for us is departing for lands unknown. Kazakhstan

is still very much an uncharted land of the unknown for many of us westerners.  

I recall when teaching at a university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 15 years ago, my Krygyz dean did NOT understand about jetlag messing up one’s sleep cycle.  Why couldn’t the Americans disembark from the plane and jump right in to teach the hour after we arrived?  My illustrious Kyrgyz dean painfully understood jetlag once she visited the U.S.

but not until several years after she observed Americans dragging around the university the first week.

Kim reiterated that Kazakh life events were very important and that their form of Islam does not take place in a mosque but rather in the home.  She had witnessed first hand how women memorialize a deceased loved one with their amazing musical abilities while they improvise a song of grief.  Such as when Mukhamet wrote in his book about his mother who very eloquently made a mournful improvisation after the loss of a dear family member.  According to Kim, for her it was haunting but beautiful to hear the Kazakh women’s strains of music in their improvised songs of grief.

 

Children Need to Memorize Kazakh Proverbs
Back in the
U.S. we used to have the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.”  That is back when the U.S was more of an agrarian society and there were many children sitting around a farm family table. It was only fitting and proper that children be seen at the dinner table and the adults were the ones to do all the talking.  This tradition fits along with Kazakhs where their young children were encouraged to sit and listen to the older and wiser members of the family.  Early on the Kazakhs were expected to listen and learn, really listen to the stories told orally and commit them to memory.  It was also the duty of adults 40 years old and older to use proverbs that they had memorized to explain life lessons to the children.

 

Again my experience teaching for a year and half in a Kyrgyz university 15 years ago showed the Kyrgyz students picked up the English language quickly despite the lack of any western style textbooks simply because the young people were good at memorizing and listening to intonation patterns.  That is essentially what language learning is all about, listening, imitating and memorizing.  I observed that oral skills prevailed in learning English for the Central Asians but understandably not written skills which requires certainly more reading.

 

That reminds me of something else Kim told me about some of her Kazakh helpers who have no concept of putting books away on a bookshelf.  Since all knowledge was committed to memory and living in a yurt and moving from place to place according to the season, Kazakhs owned no books.  Therefore, her Kazakh helpers will typically put books back upside down or binding cover to the inside and not facing out so you can read the title.  I suppose when westerners grow up from kindergarten on with access to libraries, you don’t realize that those without books or libraries would even care how to “properly” place a book on its shelf. 

 

Forbidden Subjects Among Kazakhs

What is taboo in general talk among Kazakhs?  Obviously money is not, nor the lack of it.  The borrowing of money is okay too.  However, nothing regarding the home and its personal affairs is allowed such as if a parent is having trouble with a child or if a husband is beating his wife.  All those topics are verboten outside the family.  Kim told me about a young bride who was getting initiated into her new family and having to serve her in-laws.  If the father-in-law was not happy with the way she served him tea, he could beat her.  That is why it is said the bride wears braids because once married she has no time to even fix her hair.  So busy is the young woman learning all the family traditions in her new home under the tutelage of her mother-in-law.  Kim said there is even a tradition she heard about where the in-laws wash each other’s clothes to show their solidarity with each other.  However, it is the bride who must suffer and keep all this pain to herself especially if she is married into a domineering family.

 

Neighbors and Mutual Indebtedness

Kim also related how being one’s neighbor in Kazakhstan is very important.  She told me about her neighbor in Almaty who had a goat.  When Kim’s youngest daughter was born and wasn’t gaining much weight, her Kazakh neighbor took it upon herself to daily bring goat’s milk for the baby to plump up.  Kim wanted to pay her neighbor money but the woman would have nothing to do with payment.  All she wanted from Kim was a promise of “insurance” that if anything happened to her goat, Kim would pay for the vet’s bill.  This reminded me of when I lived in China where the Chinese try to build “guanxi.” Where you are mutually indebted to another person, they can exact a favor from you on their own terms if they have done something for you earlier.  Money is totally out of the picture, it is a “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” approach.

 

Some cultural afterthoughts

Of course, Kim and I talked about many other things as we sat on top of the Kok Tobe hill the other day.  Such as men are the only ones now to greet each other with “assalai magaleikum!” and the response in kind is “Aleikum assalaam.”  Also, how important it is for men to find others born in the same year as they were born, called kordas or something like that.  As if Kazakh men who share the same birth year are blood brothers.

 

One last thing that Kim told me and I’ve personally observed in my university setting is that the Kazakh people need someone to blame for their misfortunes.  This is because for them as Muslims, Allah cannot be blamed.  An example Kim gave was when a family had 7 girls and 3 boys and one of the boys died.  The death was attributed to a Russian who had just moved into the neighborhood and supposedly gave the boy the “evil eye.”  Someone else, outside of the clan, is to be held responsible for any sadness visited upon the family.  We talked of many other things but I wanted to document those things I remembered most vividly from Kim’s own experiences in this culture and land of Kazakhstan, a place we want to know and love.

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