Posts tagged Dolinka

Seventeen Questions about Astana from a Well-Seasoned Westerner

I’ve been very distracted by events in our neighboring country, my former home in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have friends there who are reporting they are okay, waiting on one other couple to give me a thumbs up.  Sorry, I have no photos, pictures, poems or pithy sayings for today’s blog. I almost didn’t get it done today, so much else to do.  I did answer 17 questions from someone who has applied to our new university.  This person has lived in many different countries so he knows the right questions to ask.  I’ll give you all the questions but will be very discrete with the answers I gave him.  On top of writing about what is going on in northern Kazakhstan I’m thinking about what is happening south of us, it still feels too close for comfort.

1.  Do they hire teachers who are married, or do they prefer only single teachers?

3.  Is there a British high school for the children of expatriate workers such as us?

4.  How is the housing for a family of three?  Do you live in a compound, or are you assigned rentals?

5.  Is there high-speed WiFi Internet connection at the University, and can you access it in your apartment?
The common Internet connection is Megaline, which we used in Almaty but there are some other providers as well such as KazTelecom.  We have to pay on our own for the Internet at our flat.

6.  How do you get around? bus, train, taxi, hired driver, or do you have to buy a vehicle?
We get around the city of Astana by either “gypsy” cab or by bus.  A car is easy enough to flag down and if you negotiate with the driver before you enter the car, the standard fare starts at 200 tenge but to cross town could be as much as 500 tenge.  One bus that goes from the airport (close to the campus) and all the way to the train station is Bus #10.  It is 60 tenge to take a bus but a micro bus is 65 tenge.  When the weather is warmer, I think it would be easy enough to walk around or to use a bike. My husband often comments that he would like to buy a car like he used to drive when we were both in Almaty in 1993-1995.

7.  Is the salary paid in British pounds, Euro, or Kazakstan currency?

8.  How expensive is fresh fruit, vegetables, canned foods, milk, etc.? We buy our groceries either at Ramstor (Turkish run) or at Kerun (sp) shopping center.  The Gros store just went out of business which is close to the Baiterek monument.  Food can be a bit more pricey but you pay for quality at these food stores that have the modern check out system.  The best place to get ground beef is at Ramstor.  In Almaty we would go to the Green Bazaar to buy in bulk but I’ve only been to the bazaar once in Astana since I arrived two and half months ago. There are also little mini-markets to buy a quick loaf of bread or milk, kind of like a 7-11 store.  I am sorry I don’t pay much attention to food prices, my husband does most of the shopping.

9.  How are the physical facilities where you teach?

10. How is the technology? At the western university in Almaty where I taught, it proved that we
could not use YouTube on campus but of course you could at home yet it was slow.  It would chunk up and you would get the clips in segments with long pauses in between.  The restrictions on Internet were
imposed by the university in Almaty otherwise the students would be downloading music and videos slowing down the campus wide connection for everyone, so those were the only restrictions I encountered.  We had full use of Ebscohost on campus and from home, we also had subscribed at our library ProQuest, SAGE, J-Stor etc.  I would think that our British university will have all those electronic databases and more.  That should not be a problem as China experiences with their censorship.  I’ve not followed very well the latest tussle with Google and China, sorry.

11. How would you characterize the local Muslim population’s support of terrorism?

The Kazakh people are nominally Muslim and I had a conversation several years ago with a Kazakh man using my bad Russian and his equally poor English but we were able to communicate about the ongoing
war in Iraq.  Some Kazakhs see this as something to side with their Muslim brothers on but for the most part they do NOT support terrorism, the Kazakhs are a peaceable kind of people.  With the current events going on in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people have been pushed to the limit and have not had the success as Kazakhstan has had to improve their lot since the fall of the former Soviet Union.  What you might read in the news about the events in Bishkek has been a slow burn from over 10-15 years of corrupt government.  The Kyrgyz people are smart enough to know there is a better life besides what they are enduring but they would not align themselves with Muslim terrorists, they are just wanting to survive in a true democracy.

12.  How do you like your students?  Are they teachable, how prepared are they when they enter your classroom? I LOVED my Kazakh students, they are very teachable and malleable…Through no fault of their own, many of the Kazakh students are not ready to enter the classroom as if it were a western classroom in either the U.S. or U.K. because there has not been support to adequately train the Kazakh teachers. Besides, the Ministry of Education has mandated that all learning must be tri-lingual (Russian, Kazakh and English) Those that are prepared to learn are students who are curious and are good with computers, they have learned by doing.  They know more than their teachers in some cases so the digital divide is ever widening in Kazakhstan.

13.  Training:  The job description said there would be a training period in London prior to departure, any information on that?

14.  Curriculum: How is this set up and are the teacher procedures, sequences, strategies dictated, or is there some teacher choice?

15.  What kind of family activities are there when you are not working?  Or on the weekends? I know someone who cross-country skied everyday (even when it was very cold).  I think there are some health clubs (but they are quite expensive).  I know that there are things to explore like the National library and its
archives. Or for a family event go to ALZHIR museum that is about 15 kms outside of Astana, there is about a 2 hour drive away Karaganda and Dolinka and the KARLAG to explore if you are into finding out more
about the penal history of the former Soviet Union.

It really is what YOU make it because this is such a new city there is not as much going on here than at Almaty, the cultural center. However, there are concerts and other Kazakh cultural events at the
Pyramid.  Also, sporting events to attend like hockey games and figure skating.  But you would have to be the one to initiate finding out about it.  I have joined the Astana International Women’s club and it
has frequent updates on what is happening in the city.

16.  What does it cost to fly from the U.S. or from London to Astana? I just came back from the international TESOL conference in Boston and it was about $1,600 for a round trip with Lufthansa from Astana to Frankfurt to Boston.  When living in Almaty we were used to taking the KLM connection to Amsterdam and then to Minneapolis.  Again, non-peak it is usually around $1,500 but during peak season in the summer it can be as much as $2,000 for RT.  You want to avoid flying through Moscow, Russia.  Stick with KLM or Lufthansa, is my recommendation.

17.  Do you have to pay for re-entry visas/permits when you take off in the Summer, or do most of the teachers stay in Astana?
I think most teachers want to go home for the summer, be it the U.K. or U.S. just to be with family again.  However, the temps in Astana will have vastly improved in the summer time and there are places to
explore here in Kazakhstan if you want to find out more about this great country.  Astana and Almaty are NOT Kazakhstan and there is much to discover of its beauty and history in the other cities.
If you were to get the job at our university, it costs $200 one year, multiple entry visa and I believe there would be support to pay for that for your family members as well.

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Dolinka Longhand Letter vs. Karaganda Computer Labs


Last week when I went to the KarLAG in Dolinka, 50 km. away from Karaganda, I did not know what to expect of their museum when comparing it to ALZHIR in Astana.  Also, I didn’t know how the museum would preserve the memory of those imprisoned as “Enemies of the People” in the 1930s-1950s.  I wish I had taken more photos, I only took a few.  The longhand letter in Russian was written by a survivor in 1996 and was one of a collection of many letters on the wall of the former hospital, now called Museum of Memory of Political Repression Victims Measures.”  What I recall the museum guide said about this particular letter was that the person who wrote it was an orphan, his parents had either died enroute to Kazakhstan or there in Dolinka.  The letter related how they, as young children, had to make bricks “manually” or rather by using their feet.  I’m amazed at the good penmanship of the writer despite the fact that children of prisoners at the KarLAG probably had no opportunity to get any education. 


friendly-wavesWhat a contrast to the vibrancy of the KarSU Computer Lab at the big university in Karaganda where there were 50 high speed Internet computers equipped with the latest in technology.  I gave a very brief talk to some of the conference attendees who were exploring the most efficient way to conduct tri-lingual classes with the new governmental edict for all teachers to know how to teach in Kazakh, Russian and English.  We think being bi-lingual is something in the U.S., here the people of Kazakhstan hold an earnestness to know THREE languages!  The next morning I gave an hour and half workshop with about 55 eager English teachers from the Foreign Languages department who want to learn more about electronic research databases.  They have invited me to return to give another workshop in January of 2009.  I look forward to it since it is nice to be valued for what I know, even though it is only in English.



Afterwards we had a very good discussion when I was through showing my powerpoint presentations.  Why is it that westerners do not know about Kazakhstan?  Reflecting on this now, shouldn’t our own American educational system have higher goals to achieve to know world geography or world history better? We all agree we live in a globalized world, right? Seems that many in the West do NOT know about Central Asia or even where Kazakhstan is located.  One of the participants wondered aloud why Kazakhs are expected to learn so much about the world and its history while Americans seem to not care about them. That makes me sad about our own guilty complacency.  However, despite that, my charge to the teachers was to encourage their Kazakh students to write more in English about the great and wonderful history that Kazakhstan has.  I think if enough westerners were exposed to the vastness of this country that is not only wealthy in natural resources but also rich in traditions and culture, they would be willing to adventure to Kazakhstan to find out for themselves.


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Dolinka, the KarLAG and its Repressed Artists



dolinkaThe approach to the little village of Dolinka (50 km from Karaganda) was ominous, it was overcast and foggy.  The asphalt roads could have been icy but thankfully they were not, just full of potholes and slush.  Most impressive about the little museum with its information about the KarLAG was that it used to be the hospital for political repressed victims in Dolinka.  A map prominently shown in the museum was the network of gulag systems in Kazakhstan is the size of France.  Kazakhstan is FOUR times the size of France so you know how invasive this imprisonment was to the Kazakh land and their people who often pitied those outcasts who were dumped in Dolinka from all parts of the U.S.S.R.prison-fence


Since I enjoy viewing artwork, I was struck by the HUGE canvas showing an image of Lenin at the table and Stalin pointing to a map of USSR electrification along with workers and soldiers.  No one knows the name of the artist of this @ 20 foot long by 7 foot high painting.  No doubt this artist of the karlag was trying to get back into the good graces of the elite in Moscow.  However, I’m wondering if it is the same artist who painted in 1991 the samovar on the decked out dining table in the stalovaya of the guest house where I stayed one night in Karaganda.  I wish I had written down the name of the artist, it was in the bottom left hand corner of the painting.samovar


Much talent and skill during the USSR times were wasted but our guide to the museum took us over to another technical building where they tested for breeding of different grains, corn or potatoes.  Famous agriculturalists were imprisoned but kept up their experiments in that building.  Damira said that her family would buy the Dolinka brand potatoes because it was of good quality. 


For now, I hate to think of all the poets, writers, artists and musicians (refer to the photos from yesterday’s blog) whose lives were destroyed over bad policy, bad governance that was meant to help people.  It did quite the opposite.  Stalin and Lenin’s system repressed millions of those they claimed as their own.

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Karaganda Faces Contrasted to Dolinka Faces of Old

Contrast the happy faces from Karaganda to those black and white photos of USSR faces from a dreary, sad time of Dolinka imprisonment in the 1930s and 1940s.  I traveled to Dolinka to witness the Museum of Memory of Political Repression Victims Measures with Damira and her father.  You will see below a photo of Damira with her father and son.  Aigerim has a bright life ahead of her, she LOVES anything to do with English and would LOVE to go to the U.S., she would flourish there.  The little Kazakh baby, he is just another cute little face at the train station in Karaganda.




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Kazakh Faces at Conference Banquet in Karaganda








 our-table-and-nancykostinai-and-nancyprofessionals1A good time was had by all after the conference was finished in Karaganda.  The Kazakh dancing girls were wonderful to behold in the bright costumes.  Tomorrow I will show photos from the dreary place of prisons and sadness of Dolinka.dancing-educators

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Meanings behind Kazakh Names and Proverbs

Good to be home to warmer Almaty after two days away in Karaganda, the northern part of Kazakhstan.  The university people treated me so well, part of Kazakh hospitality.  I had three minders that helped me get around from start to finish.  Irina met me at the train station upon my arrival, Aigul sat with me during the conference sessions and translated. Finally, Aigerim brought me back to the fast Spanish train last night.  I gave a workshop yesterday morning for about 90 minutes concerning my paper “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” and it was well received by 50-55 Kazakhstani teachers.  I asked them to answer several questions for me and one of them was what their names mean:


Aigerim = beautiful moon

Aigul = moon flower

Aizhana = moon spirit or beautiful moon

Akmaral = female deer with very beautiful eyes

Albina = white deer

Damira = stone

Dinara = Arab coin, money

Gulmira = flower of the world

Khalida = long living or eternal

Safura = wisdom

Saule = a ray

Umit = hope

Zamzagul = vivid flower

Zarina = gold ring

Zhanargul = shining flower


As you can see, anything name with “gul” in it means flower.  Now the following are what I asked of my eager teachers what some of the Russian or Kazakh proverbs are that they know.


From Aigerim:  “Fall Down in the Fire for your Motherland, You won’t be burned; Get into the water and you will not drown.”

Means:  Do the best for the sake of your country.


Three great proverbs from Akmaral:

Stupid head disturbs the legs (Kazakh proverb means worrying too much is a waste)

While a bald man combs his hair, the party is ended. (Kazakh-Russian – means vanity to go to party is useless)

The dog asks dog, that dog asks the tail (Kazakh – means too much bureaucracy which puts off the one who questions something to the next level of authority, passing the buck)


Yana wrote:  “Don’t open your mouth at somebody’s cake.”  Means that you should not eat the bread that someone else has baked, don’t use someone else’s effort and claim as your own.


Another Aigerim wrote:  “A girl has got 40 souls or lives.”  Kazakh proverb [my thoughts on this which puts the women’s lib mantra to shame.  Kazakh women know who they are and their place in society, it is highly exalted]


Irina wrote:  “A cat in gloves cannot catch a mouse.”  [no explanation but I think it means that you are ineffective if you are hesitant to do something]


Aizhana wrote: “Meet with clothes but pass by mind.”  When you meet a person you didn’t see his clothes but you see whether his spirit is beautiful or not.


Another Irina wrote:  “To live with wolves, to talk as a wolf.”  Means if you are to succeed in the society of wolves, you have to be like them – [negative connotation, if you are with aggressive people, you must also become aggressive and pushy]


Gulmira wrote:  If the girl grows, it will be the beauty of the nation; If the flower grows, it will be the beauty of the earth.


After the workshop, I then went with Damira to Dolinka, the karlag museum about 50 kilometers away.  The roads could have been icy but they were not, just slushy and the weather was foggy.  Leaving Karaganda it was warmer than upon my arrival but I was glad to be on my fast train home.  My wonderful husband was there to greet me.

Tomorrow I will show photos of the conference and of my excursion outside of Karaganda.

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