Posts tagged Fulbright

Twenty-seven questions and first impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part II)

This blog continues from the other day where I was asked 27 questions in May of 1994 and I only got up to eight questions with their subsequent answers. My Mom was going through old letters and she had printed out my e-mail that I had sent so it is fun to see what my first impressions were after having lived in Central Asia for almost a year. I had done a Peace Corps training stint in Almaty, Kazakhstan the summer before and was on a Fulbright grant the following academic year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I was teaching at KAF (Kyrgyzstan Academic Faculty) which turned into another name that exists today.

Here are the following questions in bold asked by my friend Tanya with answers that may still be relevant today:

9) What kind of folk arts can you find? There are LOTS of wall hangings with the peculiar traditional designs of nature woven into them. They are sometimes done on felt or other brightly colored cloth. The carpets are almost always red while the wall hangings will be green and red or gold. The designs of nature are a kind of abstract leaf or bulls horns, mountains, etc.

10) Is there any carpet making or weaving? Yes, I have a carpet that has ALL the colors you can imagine in it and it has the leaf and horns motif throughout. This may be done with weaving felt together. I have also seen other handmade wool carpets but I have not seen much weaving that would be done on looms. These are a nomadic people who worked on carpets or wallhangings for their yurts (collapsable tents).

11) Do you see much needlework in Bishkek? Not the kind of needlework you are probably thinking about that the Hmong do. It is a different kind of needlework which is obviously hand done but it is more like threads of gold brocade on top of different patterns or designs of felt material underneath.

12) Can you tell me more about the courses you’re teaching? Last semester I taught Phonetics which I enjoyed thoroughly and Business English which the students seemed to enjoy thoroughly. They liked what I had to say in phonetics since it was all new to them, old to me since I used a lot of stuff from teaching ITAs [International Teaching Assistants back at the U of M, Minneapolis campus]. The students seem to be geared on business since they know that is their ticket to getting to the States and ultimately helping their country get ahead. Right now I am teaching Reading Lab which is a LOT of work for me and the students seem to be working hard at it too. Reading my home assignments and then answering comprehension questions when they come to class. I also give them periodic vocabulary quizzes based on the vocabulary words I have pulled from their readings. They also are doing extra credit reading by reading Longman classics and then writing reports on that.

13) How much English background do your students have? Near zero to university level. That is what makes my reading lab so difficult is that I have four different levels that I’m preparing for with about two or three different levels in each of the four classes. Arghh! Their background is from the privileged class of Kyrgyzstan so many have been abroad before with exposure to different languages and have been taught at the specialized English schools. We have a wide range with the 38 students we are teaching.

14) How many hours a week do you teach? Ten hours but that means an hour and 20 minutes of contact time but it is counted as two “academic” hours. I have five lesson preps because I teach the secretaries and teachers pronunciation for two of the other that I teach besides the four Reading Lab classes.

15) How much time do you need to prepare your classes? If I told you the number of hours that it took to read the different books, photocopy the ones that are appropriate for the different levels, cut out the extra to consolidate on less paper, photocopy for each class, come up with comprehension qustions, read through again for vocabulary words that might trip up the students, think of vocabulary quizzes, grade the comprehension questions, read the extra credit reading reports…it would prove that I didn’t love my job.  I have NO idea how many hours I spend in front of my computer thinking up exercises but since I enjoy stimulating the students to work, I count it as a joy.

16) Is the level of the university there comparable to an American university?  It is supposed to be, because at the end of their four years they are supposed to get a diploma from the University of Nebraska. However, about half of our students are not cutting it and it is more like teaching at the Minnesota English Center.  It is pre-university and maybe only about 15 of our students would be able to handle the course load of a real university in the States.

17) Do any of the faculty there have a background in EFL or Linguistics? Yes, one of the American teachers has an MA from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The other American teacher is from Brattleboro with an MA from there. The other American teachers have undergraduate degrees with some experience in ESL. No, noone here has a strong background in linguistics which is sorely needed and wanted.  We can always rely on our Kyrgyz teaching counterparts to teach grammar which all of us Americans have a general dispassion for where they have a certain euphoria in drilling the students in grammar. Must be because Russian is so grammar-bound that they have such a zeal.

18) Or do they come from a literature background?  Not sure how to answer that. The Russian influence has brought a certain highbrow attitutde toward scholarly works especially by great Russians. Our school’s approach to learning has been of the humanities where our students are learning Latin their first year. Strange for a business school but we have a real mixed bag of things going on at our school which is a result of changing administrations, etc.

19) Is there any sort of speciality they might be looking for in future Fulbright candidates?  YES, EMPHASIS IN EFL/ESL WITH LINGUISTICS!!!

(to be continued)

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My Summer of 1993 Reflections on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

I came across some 1993 correspondence (and photos) that I had written to family and friends back home in the U.S. I shared about my stay in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps trainer to 30 trainees in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Seems some of the complexities of living in Central Asia never change.  However, this had more to do with my working within an American Peace Corps framework in a culture that had other intricate nuances with resulting snafus that we were completely unaware of.  I wrote the following on August 2, 1993:

“Last week I took a rest.  Okay, for a Type-A personality, I’m willing to admit I needed a rest.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with ‘training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working for me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira, a Kyrgyz woman, on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also she knows Kazakh.  Along with my Kazakhstani friend Tatyana [Kazanina], I have a wonderful team to work with. It counters some of the other bad elements I have to deal with in the Peace Corps office.

The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out Peace Corps trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t even know people who might know the answers.  That’s why I was thankful to meet an American woman named Sandy.  She had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the volunteer group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and I really DO love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Washington, D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to August 28.  I really don’t want to stay here (Almaty) any longer that I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the PCV trainees, the dorm and Almaty.

That is why I took my “rest” at a lake called Issy-kul and read “The New Russians.”  I did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and a mile or two wide.  There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful that the PC authorities permitted me to go there. I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota.  I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  Right now, I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to when I will be living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a year.  Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country…”

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Letter dated February 14, 1994 – Krygyzstan

This letter was written on PINK paper for obvious reasons:

“It is wonderful to feel LOVED as I write a letter on this commercialized celebration of Valentine’s Day.  I feel loved by so many of you. Thank you for the Christmas cards that eventually made it to me.  I will keep them taped up until Easter, they are so pretty and colorful.  I continue to have parties for any excuse, just to have folks over.  Several weeks ago I had a hymn sing with ten people singing different parts and it brought back a flood of good memories back to my former Lutheran days.

Yes, I will be in the US once again for two weeks (March 8-20) to present at a TESOL conference in Baltimore and then to visit with my friend Ken in Washington, D.C.  He will follow me from Almaty two days after my departure and stay on until the end of March before he returns to Almaty.  His three children from a former marriage will be visiting him in D.C. on their spring breaks.  I want to meet them…I am convinced Ken loves me.

On our semester break, I went up to Almaty and managed to surprise Ken one day ahead of my intended arrival.  It was fun to visit with Ken and with my other friends from this past summer.  It was also fun to go cross-country skiing with Ken and his Kazakh friends in places close to Almaty.  Before all this fun though, I had finished up a busy semester of teaching Phonetics and Business English to my university freshmen.  Before this break, I was also getting four different syllabi prepared for teaching Reading Lab this upcoming semester.  I will continue to be busy reading many different books to find the most appropriate reading assignments for each of the four levels.  All the students seem in earnest to improve their English and thus their TOEFL scores in order to have a better crack at getting to the U.S. to study business and other related subjects.

The good news is that I was granted an extension with my Fulbright grant to stay and teach for ten more months at my university.  I am finding that I really LOVE Bishek and LOVE working with my Kyrgyz students.  That would keep me here until July of 1995.  The bad news is that Ken’s job is 3 1/2 hours away in Almaty and he finds that he is useful there.  Commuting through snowy and icy mountain roads is simply not an option.  I do enjoy Ken’s companionship and love and see him as God’s gift to me.”

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Letter dated September 21, 1993 – Minnesota to Kyrgyzstan

I’m continuing with what my emotional roller coaster I was traveling on from Kazakhstan to the U.S. and then back to Kyrgyzstan in the early 1990s.  Please read my two prior blog entries to understand what I was doing in Kazakhstan in the first place.

September 21, 1993 – I Pet. 2:12 is certainly applicable to me since 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 1st, instead.  Thus, I am already starting out on the wrong foot with the dean of the school.  I need this situation to turn 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 and so I am looking at ten months of working with her.

On Sunday, September 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.  Thanks to good fellowship in Almaty, I was able to survive the rigors of living in a culture in flux.

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 who is there for only three months.  She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs.  I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.

I need wisdom on how to proceed with a relationship with a man I met at church five months ago.  Ken has been the recipient of many e-mail messages since I got back to the States.  He works for the U.S. government for the Department of Agriculture as an economist and deals with many of the same issues of living in this Central Asian culture.  He will be three hours away in Almaty while I am in Bishkek.  I pray that my e-mail can be hooked up in Bishkek so we can continue in “close” communication.  I will be spending Christmas with him and his friends in Wash. D.C.

Once I know what my e-mail address is, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. That is the most efficient way to keep in touch with me since the mail system cannot be trusted.  I will bring back a new laptop computer which also has fax capabilities.  I need to learn about that too so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes.

There’s lots to learn and experience in these next ten months in Kyrgyzstan.  I have so many, many people to thank for making my one month visit in Minnesota so special.  I was able to use my parents’ car, stay the whole month at my friend’s apartment while they moved out, visit with others in Minneapolis.

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Ryan’s Final Goodbye to Kazakhstan

Like I suspected a couple of days ago, Ryan had more to write about his first impressions of Kazakhstan the two months he was here.  Seems he had a very powerful experience with meeting many OT and PT people in the work he did with the disabled Kazakh and Kazakhstani children and their parents.  We need more Americans (and Canadians and other westerners) like Ryan to adventure forth to this little known land where there are so many needs with Kazakhs suffering from disabilities.

Which reminds me, I had a delightful, hour long conversation with a woman who had a Fulbright grant in Semipalatinsk.  It was fun to compare notes with her about her four month experience in a university. Both people, Ryan and Mary Jo I met through this blog.  Who else is out there? Leave a comment and I’ll respond.

“Hey everybody, Tomorrow the long journey home begins. I have a birthday party for my friend Elizabeth tonight, then tomorrow I’m going to an orphanage, then last minute packing etc and catching the 6.30p train to Almaty, then 14 hours on the train and a day in Almaty, then the three flights that will get me home to the U.S.

I’m in utter disbelief and denial that my time here is almost over. I’ve had two parallel periods of time here that I think a lot about. One is the fact that this two months seems like it’s been about two days instead of two months. It feels like I haven’t been here any time at all. On the flip side of that it feels like this two months has been two years. Thinking back to my first days here they seem like a million years ago. I’ve seen so much, met so many wonderful people here that have taken me in, welcomed me, told me their stories, and made the transition to being here so much easier, and learned about the culture of a people and a place I barely knew.

I underestimated just how important it can be to have friends to show you the ropes in a place you’ve never been before. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and two incredible host families that have shown me different sides of the culture of Kazakstan. It’s interesting because the culture here is on one hand undeniably Kazak and yet it’s not just Kazak. It’s Uzbek and Russian and Tatar and is all of these cultures and people that live and work here together and without any of them it’s not the same.

A good and fun example here is a rice dish called Plov. The two most famous types are Kazak and Uzbek and there are people on both sides of the argument as to which one is better. Personally my vote is Uzbek. That’s just one of many examples.

I remember being so excited when I got here that I could read the signs on the street. Most signs are in both Kazak and Russian so I could read the Russian and that helped to calm me down instantly. I knew that this language that I had been learning in a classroom was really going to help me on the ground here. There are times when I’m still shocked that I can say something in Russian and get a response. For me now, Russian isn’t just a language I’m learning in a classroom for a grade but it’s a language I really really want to learn more because I now have friends that speak it. It’s become important to learn it for a completely different reason.

Now, I can also read a good bit of the Kazak and I can actually speak a little bit…pretty cool, eh? If I were to come here more long term, especially to Shymkent, I would definitely invest serious time into learning Kazak. Every major city in Kazakhstan is different as to which language is more widely spoken and preferred. In Astana it’s Russian, in Shymkent it’s Kazak. Most people speak both…but if you speak both then you’re in great shape. I’ve learned something new about KZ everyday that I’ve been here and everything I’ve learned has made me a little less of a clueless foreigner and I like that.

The last couple weeks since being back to Shymkent from Astana have been good weeks…busy weeks but good ones. The train ride back from Astana was uneventful mostly. I spent most of my time talking with Cindy and Elizabeth and the family in their coupe. I spent some time talking to the father in Russian and that was a lot of fun. We talked about America and he even drew a pretty good map of the states. I was very impressed. I also conquered the top bunk in my coupe. My upper arm strength and the ability to move my body using it amazes me sometimes, but it worked! When I got back to Shymkent I went to my new host family’s house and slept for a while.

My new host family is wonderful. They’ve taken me in and made me one of the family. They speak English and Russian so I’ve gotten to speak more English than I’ve probably needed to but it’s been great to get to hang out with them and talk about all sorts of things having to do with America and Kazakstan. One of the most interesting questions one of the kids asked was if Canadians hate Americans?

My host mom is a doctor and I’ve worked with her all summer so it’s been really great to live with her. They only have cold water which I thought I would hate but it’s been so hot that the cold showers have been amazing! Her daughter actually drew me something to bring back to the states. It’s really cool! Two things that have been really great about living a little bit far out of the city is that I spend a lot of time sitting on buses getting from one place to another. It gives me a lot of time to think. It’s nice!

Work has been great for the last couple of weeks. It hit me yesterday that this was my last day at work…not exactly a pleasant thought. Those kids have been a huge part of my summer and I love them a lot. They’ve been amazing to work with. Their smiling faces will definitely be something I take with me. The therapists and staff that I’ve worked with have taught me a lot about what it’s like to be on the other side of the patient-therapist divide. Everyone at work has been a huge encouragement to me.

We spent some time last week with an organization that brings disabled adults here together and tries to help them find jobs. We met some of the volunteers there who are also disabled. It was really cool to meet them and even more importantly I got to hear their stories. I’ve been telling my story all summer but I hadn’t really gotten to hear stories from the disabled community here in Shymkent.

It’s interesting how my generation, but particularly disabled people in my generation, use the internet to reach out to people with email and now with blogs. It’s really neat. Also, getting to hear about the ways that they help those around them is great! Later in the week we went back and worked with a few of them individually talking to them and giving them advice about exercises and things like there. There was one lady that I was talking to and her face lit up and she said “he really understands me”….that made me so happy. It was one of those moments when I was absolutely sure why I was supposed to be in Kazakhstan.

Last Saturday we spent the day as a team in the mountains(actually, it was more of a canyon because the Tien Shen mountains around here are really tall and snow capped). It was a great time of talking and of course lots of eating. We were there to celebrate a few birthdays(including mine!) and say our goodbyes because three of us are leaving in the next months. I spent most of my time drinking ice cold strawberry juice and Sprite and relaxing… A few of our group did some climbing…they looked really tired but very accomplished when they came back…I was glad I stayed on the ground personally. It was great to have the opportunity to say and hear some heartfelt goodbyes.

Sunday, I spent the day with my friend Rafhat. He’s here in Shymkent for the week and then we’ll go to Almaty together. We had shashlik and plov for lunch and then we went to my friends to say some good byes. On Monday we went to a Ethnomuseum and I learned a lot about Kazak/Central Asian culture. The Muslim owner took us into an underground area that he built as a place to pray. It was pretty cool literally. It was a least 10 degrees cooler in there than it was outside. We watched his daughter throw pottery which was cool because I’d never actually seen it done. He also played several instrument(a few Kazak instruments and even an American harmonica). It was a really cool experience.

And now, to close this massive missive… I want to thank each and everyone of you and a host of other people who may never see this email. Each of you have been a vital part of my work here. I didn’t do this alone. Through your support, in whatever ways you have supported me, I’ve been able to do my work here in Kazakhstan. I’m so thankful for your love and your support. Please, continue to think about KZ and her neighboring countries. Also, think of my friends as they try to work out their visa issues. Finally, for me, that my last days here would be full of wonderful experiences and tears of joy and that my travel would be uneventful. Again, thank you all for your unending support and I love you all!”

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Question about Ukraine, My “Short” Answer

The following is a question I got through someone who knows my aunt in North Carolina. He will be a Peace Corps volunteer soon in Ukraine, another land I lost my heart in.

I understand that you were a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in Ukraine.  I am getting ready to leave on March 29th for my training in Kiev to hopefully become a Youth Development volunteer.  So I just wanted to see what you did as a volunteer and if there were any pieces of general advice you had for me.  I am sure you can go on for awhile so certainly don’t feel like you have to write a lot!

The following is my “short answer:”

Actually I did my Peace Corps stint many years ago in the Philippines and NOT in Ukraine.  I was a PCV in 1981-83 and then learned to love Asia enough to teach in northeastern China from 1986-88.  Then I got my MA in TESOL at U of Minnesota in 1990 and was awarded a Fulbright grant to Kyrgyzstan in 1993-1995 to teach English at the start of the university that is now known as AUCA in Bishkek.  Then I got married in December of 1994 to a USDA guy I met in church in Almaty, Kazakhstan summer of 1993. We ended up in Alexandria, VA because of his job in Wash. D.C. for three years before we both were awarded Fulbrights in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1998-2000.  But we loved it so much in Ukraine that we stayed on another five years.  Then we ended up in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2007 and have been in this great country ever since.

So the short answer is no, I didn’t do Peace Corps in Ukraine but I know someone who did.  He is now working with USAID in Afghanistan and he has been meaning to come up to visit us here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  He is from the same area of North Dakota that my aunt is from.

What you REALLY need to bring with you more than the metal hangers that we get from dry cleaners is flexibility and tolerating the most infuriating things about the host culture.  Like when the drivers try to mow you down at the pedestrian crosswalk or the cars drive on the sidewalk so you not only have to look left and right but also behind and ahead of you for oncoming, careless drivers.

The Ukrainians have gone through a LOT in their long history but most heartbreaking are the last 100 years.  They are deeply divided over the Russian version of their history, especially the more west you go towards Poland.  Ask them about their grandparents or their grand grandparents, ask them what they went through with the famine of 1932-33, the Holodomor. Ask about what they endured with the Great Patriotic War, some will be willing to tell you.  Other babushkas have such painful memories that they go into a deep, troubled silence.

Knowing their history, I think, helps to explain the corruption, bribes, all the other dishonest things that go on that seem normal to them but outrageous to us westerners.  Plagiarism is not frowned on at national universities, cheating is the way you succeed at university and some of the students boast about it.

So, you have to pick your battles and love the people for who they are, not what you think they should be according to what you learned in your university training or elsewhere. Mainly if you learn their language and their culture, they will love you back.  I think you will find all the material things you could ever want. The main thing to do is bring books with you because you won’t find the kind you may want to read or use as textbooks in Ukraine.

Hope that helps.

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Former Student’s Comment and Best Blog Dart Thinker Awards

To be tagged as the Best Blog Dart Thinker Award is an honor and I must extend this prestigious award to other bloggers I know of.  When I read this announcement to my husband the other night, he thought he heard “Dark Thinker Award.”  He knows that I have chosen some rather dark themes to blog about such as the karlags and ALZHIR in Kazakhstan and the ominous politics at our university and anything else about our life here in Almaty.  No, I think Dart Thinker must have something to do with hitting the bullseye about how we perceive our world.  As an American guest in a country that has long been maligned, misunderstood, forgotten or NOT known about by westerners, I am trying to faithfully write about how GREAT this country is.  I suppose my friends in Ukraine would think I am a turncoat to my love of Ukraine but I believe living and teaching 7-8 years in Ukraine prepared me for living in Kazakhstan.  


I already mentioned in my last blog my American friend, Ukrainiac, who got me started on blogging two years ago but the next award goes to “The Sea Wave” a former Ukrainian student of mine who is studying in Honolulu now.  She has a very prophetic screen name for her blog and this is what she wrote on September 6, 2008 when she was first starting up her classes in an American university.


 The next class was Analyzing and Writing Arguments. And this is when I clearly remembered Mrs. KG) 8) Our professor is Polish but is very experienced in an American writing style, and this is what we are going to do in this class: write essays, make PowerPoint presentations, work on using citations, write a research paper, perform peer review and feedback (reading each others papers), and twice a week we will have to do something in the Internet (remember how we had to write blogs three times a week?). Dear Mrs. G, if you are reading this, thank you very much for your classes. Now I feel so prepared for all these.


Thrills me to read my former student’s comments and I have many good memories of my other Ukrainian students who started this blogging experiment with me over a year and a half ago at a westernized university in Kyiv, Ukraine.  They are Princess of Snow who was another blondie from Sevastopol and also Noire Swan who looked very Ukrainian and was prolific in her writings and comments of her classmates and my blog.


The next award goes to Eric Bergeson who is known as The Country Scribe and has written for many years on his blog about what life is like back in my neck of the woods in northwest Minnesota.  He has a history background, talented piano player, owns a very beautiful nursery and is a wonderful photographer.  If Ron Vossler had a blog, I’d award him as well, his politics are very different from Eric’s but he has the same research interests as Dr. J. Otto Pohl. 


Then there are two American teaching colleague friends of mine who need to be encouraged to write MORE on their blogs about life in Kazakhstan.  Dr. Nancy Burkhalter and also James who has a screen name of Molapse which stands for “Momentary Relapse of Reason.”   My next award goes to Asqat who is very Kazakh but looks Japanese at first glance, he has a blog that is in Kazakh language but ocassionally he slips into blogging in English.  I trust that what he writes is a good perspective on life in his country of Kazakhstan, it was pleasant to meet him last spring.  Another American blogger I’ve been following through tags on WordPress is a woman who went to Kostanai, Kazakhstan to adopt a baby.  I don’t know her name but have followed her travails and eventual victory on bringing her Kazakh baby home to the U.S.  She goes by the screen name of ByChance, she has her hands full with two other adopted children I believe. 


The only reason I knew about Kazakhstan back in 1992 when I applied for a Fulbright grant was hearing John Piper talk about Kazakhstan when I attended his church in Minneapolis in 1983-1990.  Thanks to him indirectly, I met my husband when I arrived in spring of 1993.  I believe Piper wrote his doctoral thesis in German.  There is a strong connection of Germany and Kazakhstan as is true with Germany and Ukraine, but that’s a whole history lesson by itself. 


History IS important because it helps explain why certain people ended up where they did.  Why did my Norwegian great grandfather, Sveinung Aslakson, leave his beautiful country to farm in North Dakota?  That reminds me about who started their blog back in 2000 and I read it faithfully back then.  My Montana cousin, PK Aslakson Madsen, also shares the same great grandfather.  PK, if you are still blogging, I’d give you an Best Blog Dart Thinker Award also. 8)

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O Little Hills Skipped Like Lambs

Waking up at 5:00 am to the coolness of the morning, I made a beeline for our north balcony to witness the pink of the pre-dawn sky to the east. After making my coffee, I went to my meditation spot looking out to the mountains from our south windows.  I did my daily reading and sipped my coffee gazing to the foothills and the snow peaked mountains above.

Today I was reminiscing and reflecting on where I was 16 years ago.  I was in the Twin Cities teaching ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) at the University of Minnesota. I was also in self-imposed physical training for the Twin Cities marathon (26 miles) for October 1992 when thousands of runners come from all over the U.S. to run it.  I was in top physical condition usually running in 5, 10 or 15 kilometer races every other weekend.  I ran a few half marathons of 13 miles but that was many, many pounds ago.

Sadly I sustained a stress fracture during a 10 K I was running a day after I had peaked at 20 miles in my training for the THEE marathon in my home state.  The Twin Cities Marathon was meant to be my farewell run around all my favorite lakes in the Twin Cities before I headed to Central Asia to teach on a Fulbright Scholar grant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I was averaging less than 8 minute miles, I repeat myself, I was in top physical form.  I LOVED the freedom of running, especially in the early morning hours when there were no cars or people around, it was peaceful and cool!  Minneapolis is an attractive city in the summer and fall, especially in the fall with the autumn leaves.

When I first arrived in May 1993 to Almaty as a Peace Corps trainer, I took to the hills with the same energy I used while going up and down the hills near the Mississippi River.  For exercise in Almaty and taking a break from Peace Corps training, other trainers and I battled the dusty switchbacks to get to the top of Kok Tobe.  Back then, the cable car was in sad disrepair and everything appeared to be in past tense of Soviet glory days.  Kind of like me today when I will traverse up the back roads to Kok Tobe.  Right now, I feel so past tense concerning physical exertion.  I’ll be with my Minneapolis friend Kim, from 20 years ago who has lived in Kazakhstan since 1995.  I’ll be huffing and puffing, like a cigarette smoker, while she will be skipping along the road like a frisky lamb.  Kim is in superior condition because she is an aerobics instructor; I’m a writing teacher chained to my desk.

I can’t help but reflect on what shepherd boy turned into King David penned in Psalms 114 when the Jewish people were delivered from their captors in Egypt, from verses 4-6: “The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs.  What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back? O mountains, that you skipped like rams? O little hills, like lambs?”

What imagery did David have in mind with mountains quaking and moving?  Mountains and hills should remain stationary, it is the rams and lambs duty to flit about from rock to craggy rock. The next verses might explain: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.”  Apparently King David desired his readers to know that God is in control and all powerful.

My thoughts sadly return to the Chinese who have suffered from a recent earthquake and aftershocks where they have positively witnessed the movement of what seemed stable.  Now they have dams that could possibly break and flood their homes, will their suffering ever cease?  King David wants his audience to know, God is in control and He will bring deliverance as He did with the Israelites.

Therefore, my thoughts turn to the Chinese sad plight and not my own of not being able to skip up the path like a lamb to Kok Tobe.  It should be a fun morning being with my long time Minnesota friend Kim and witnessing the changes of our walk from what I remember 15 years ago.

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