Posts tagged Cyrillic

So What? Sewing in Kazakhstan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Mom is pretty amazing with her sewing capabilities.  She asked for the measurements of our little two year old grandson on Facebook and got the response from the mother almost instantaneously. She finished her “assignment” in a matter of hours.  By the time we left for Arizona to visit all three grandsons, she had it ready to put in our suitcase.  Wow, that is efficient!

What about sewing in Kazakhstan? Do many people have this skill? I found this sign (see below) along Furmanova, just down from el Farabi street in Almaty several years ago.  I thought it was a clever sign incorporating the mountains that are in the backdrop with the look of stitches for sewing.  Uniquely Kazakh with the Cyrillic letters describing more about it in Russian.  I wonder if the shopkeeper has ever been bothered by the mafia elements. I remember when I first lived in Almaty back in 1993 (almost 20 years ago) that there had been a highly reputable cabinet and furniture maker.  Reportedly he was so good that he caught the attention of the bad characters who took over soon after the downfall of communism in 1991.

From what I understand he was “ordered” to make the specified furniture for these bad guys in a very short amount of time.  When they came back for it at their designated day, the craftsman had not completed the job.  They said, “I don’t think you understand, we need that furniture NOW!  Get it done or it will not go well with members in your family.”  I don’t remember whether the task was accomplished or if he went against his own creed of good craftsmanship to get the furniture done quickly. It seems he was left with no choice but to comply to their wishes and forced to do shoddy work in order to save the lives of his family members.  That would be a kind of slavery and for doing good work, this furniture maker had been penalized.

Sad that this kind of thing goes on in Kazakhstan. I know that many Germans and Russians left soon after the fall, they knew that they were no longer “welcome” in a land that was originally the Kazakhs.  I wonder how Almaty shop keepers who are trying to do a good business are doing in this kind of business climate.  I suppose those who have never learned a craft of which they can be proud of would just say “So what.” Clueless thugs.


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What I Learn from my Kazakh Students (Part II)

Instead of writing about westerner’s post-modern thinking I’ll continue on the theme I started the other day about professions in Kazakhstan. Today we covered two more professions that were important to this student who came into my office to practice speaking his English.  He has a unique position here at the university and I really appreciated his insights from an “insider” Kazakh point of view.

First of all, he believes that the most popular profession in Kazakhstan is construction work. I think all residents in Astana and most in Almaty would have to agree, there continues to be buildings going up everywhere.  “Building Cranes” are the national bird in Kazakhstan but sadly the same cannot be said in the desperate villages.  Many of the workers come from Russia or rural Kazakhstan where the Turkish companies employ labor for  cheap.  The Turks are the ones who get the contracts to get things built and quickly.  In some cases, too quickly.

Apparently there are not enough engineers to help explain how some things should be built to fit the climate and land of Astana.  For instance, there are very few underground parking lots for cars simply because it is too expensive to create, the water table is too high in Astana.  Some of these companies might also build a wall in a building where the pipes are fitted but hidden behind those walls one cannot see that these pipes are not connected to anything, going nowhere.

Sewage issues abound if not done according to code.  Mistakes due to lack of expertise by the builders or lack of engineers continue to abound.  That is a reality here and sometimes buildings start cracking even before they are a year old.  I’ve been told earlier of one apartment complex across the river in the old part of Astana that is structurally unsound and has had to be abandoned.

The second occupation we talked on was about education.  What chances do people from the villages in Kazakhstan have if they are not given proper education to excel in something?  The vicious circle perpetuates itself because education in the village, which used to be highly prized during the Soviet Union, is no longer considered prestigious.  Teachers used to have incentives to stay in the villages to teach, they were given preferential treatment during the Soviet period, but now that is no longer true.  It’s very difficult for a Kazakh pedagogically trained teacher to return to the rural areas.  Especially true if they have been trained with the latest of technology.  But if there is no Internet and no connection to the outside world exists in the villages, there is a MAJOR disconnect.  Times have changed from the former Soviet days.

This person who came to my English lesson today didn’t realize that I was the one doing the learning. I learned what he knows is a sad reality where his middle-aged parents live in Kazakhstan.  His mother is a doctor for village clinics in her area, his father is an electrician.  Their neighbors and most of the village are pensioners and eke out a living in what they term “Natural life.”  They may breed cattle, sheep and horses to sell as livestock and have some gardens to tend.  But their lives are like ancient times with no running water and a few have a pump to get their water into their homes.

As a teacher of English, this is where it got very interesting to me when my student told me his grandmother used to know Kazakh in the Latin alphabet.  He told me that it is very difficult on his current keyboard on the computer to switch over to the Cyrillic and then to add 10 more letters from the numbers in the top row with the letters that are needed in Kazakh.  All this done with the shift key for upper case.

Put another way, the English language has 26 letters, the Russian Cyrillic has about 33 letters and the Kazakh has 42 letters.  He showed me on a keyboard I have with both Latin letters and Russian letters how he and others have to hunt and peck and shift with caps on and off in order to write a document in Kazakh. It’s very cumbersome.

He claimed that Turkey and Turkmenistan use the Latin letters, then why can’t the Kazakh teachers who are currently teaching Kazakh do the same?  They are forced to switch back and forth with shift keys to write with 42 letters making the learning of writing in the Kazakh language tedious or clearly very tiresome.  No wonder the Kazakh teachers don’t use modern technology when they teach in their Kazakh lessons, it is too difficult.

Why, oh why, when the Kazakh administrators in the Ministry of Education put the three languages (Russian, Kazakh and English) as mandatory languages for Kazakhstan into law several years ago that it would change back to Latin letters?  Apparently some “scientists” said it would be too difficult.

However, what you have now is a HUGE separation between learning of English with technology and learning through the Internet the language of Kazakh. It’s NOT happening.  Further compounding the problem of students learning how to write well in Kazakh.  It is just easier to speak and listen as it is an oral culture.

I was surprised to learn that there are so many synonyms for the same words in Kazakh. Being a very old but rich language they borrow words from the Arab language, from Russian and Turkish.  I asked if there were any Chinese words in the mix, he said “no.” There was much more that my student taught me today about his own culture all the while he was speaking in English without too many mistakes.  He just needs confidence by more practice because he does have the ability and the vocabulary.

Tomorrow we will hopefully listen to an American teacher who has lived in Kazakhstan for about a decade and has mastered speaking the Kazakh language.  Tonight I’ll meet with someone else who has lived here in Kazakhstan for 20 years and knows Kazakh. It is not impossible to learn, even the five words that I know and use liberally pleases or impresses my different taxi drivers and occasional Kazakh person I meet.

(to be continued)

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More Photos from Astana: New and Old Looks

My students laughed when they saw the VIP lounge sign next to the old soldiers at the Astana train station.  Seems a bit oxymoronic.  Also, having a photo of my husband at a Shell gas station when 20 years ago it was illegal to take photos of any gas station or airport in the former USSR.  Times are a-changing. 

I just HAD to take a photo of this old typewriter with Cyrillic letters.

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Kazakhstan: A Country of Immense Consequence!

yurt entranceyurtAstana Memorial


A complimentary response from one of my blog readers in the U.S. made my day yesterday:

Kazakhstan was a so-what name till I read your posts here. Whether you stay or not, know that your fine hand brought it alive for me, with real people and their superstitions, Kim, boulders, wildflowers and pine-scented towels.”


Yes, it is a real privilege to be a part of a maturing country, such as Kazakhstan, which simultaneously has a very old history.  To put past and present together with three languages involved (English, Kazakh and Russian) is the challenge of all educators and administrators in Kazakhstan. I believe that Kazakhstan is a well kept secret and it would flourish as a stronger economy if tourism were promoted more.  I believe Kazakhstan should open it’s door more for the rest of the world to know about its hidden wonders along the Silk Road route.  Better yet, I need to encourage my writing students to write about their fine country in English for others to learn just what a GREAT land this really is!!!!

My husband and I were planning on celebrating our own important holiday of Fourth of July by flying up to the new capital of Astana as of 10 years ago. (Since I have to remain in Almaty anyway for my summer session one grades to sink in for my masters students in the six-week reading and writing course I’m teaching.)  It WAS a good plan until my husband read in the Russian newspaper (my Cyrillic reading isn’t so good) “Delovaya Kazakhstan” No. 23 (120) June 13, that very weekend is the 10 year anniversary of Astana being a capital.  The photo is one of the new memorials in Astana to commemorate those who died under the Soviet “repressions.”


Scratch those plans of our intended Astana visit, it will be far too busy at the newly built up capital to the north on OUR Fourth of July weekend.  Maybe instead we will travel with my colleague friend Yelena and explore what life was like in a yurt out in the countryside instead to help celebrate our Independence Day. We hope to go to Astana next fall upon our return from Minnesota after visiting our family and friends for a month. 

No, Kazakhstan is NOT a “so what?” country, but one of immense consequence if only people knew more about it.  Thank you, dear reader, for your kind input.

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