Posts tagged Hero Mother

Kazakh Students’ Random Stories of Yesteryear

I am not quite finished with my survey about “Education in a Modernizing Society.” For now I’ll turn to some conversations Ken and I had with Kazakh students this past weekend.  Invariably, I ask young people about their grandparents and great grandparents, it seemed this group was not shy to tell us what they knew.

One girl when challenged was able to name her ancestors seven back.  She did so using her fingers to help remember where she was.  She was applauded by her fellow English learners.  Another fellow who seemed shy finally did talk about his grandparents but sad are those whose grandparents were orphaned during the Great Patriotic War.  In this one case the grandfather’s name of his father was found out but that is rare.

Another girl told of her grandparents being rich and able to go to Mecca but then when the collectivization started the grandfather buried all his treasure.   Her relatives talk about how they sure could use the treasure now and speculate where it could be hidden. That led us down a discussion of getting into business of selling metal detectors and finding the spoils.  The saying “Finders Keepers; Losers Weepers” came up and that had to be explained.

One girl said she didn’t have any grandparents but she still had a 94 year old grand, grandfather.  I thought and said “Wow, what a treasure.”  She didn’t seem so happy about it because he lives in her home and constantly wants to do “remont” in their home.  The only trouble is that he is nearly blind so we joked that if he were using a hammer and nails he might bang his fingers by trying to do reconstruction.  She actually took my admonition seriously about sitting down with her great grandpa to ask him questions about the past.  Maybe he wouldn’t be so eager to re-do their home if he had some attention paid to him.

Another girl talked about her grandparents who had many children in the village and about how the grandfather repaired radios and other electronic things but never charged anyone anything.  Her grandmother was a good seamstress. Yet another girl related that her grandfather had been in prison for 50 years, he was released at age 75 and had many more children after that.  He got his name cleared of whatever he was guilty of.  He had a wife before he was in prison and one afterwards, as I understood it.  Seems the visits by the wife meant that she would go home pregnant.  I think there were 14 in that family.

Several students that talked about their grandmothers getting “Hero Mother” awards for having 10 children.  In some cases the children may have died in infancy but it was encouraged back in the old days to have big families.

One guy named Ruslan said that his grandfather was working in the mines near Karaganda and he LOVED to play cards. One day he lost his horse in a game and had to walk home. He later told me about a Russian documentary titled “Wait for Me” but for the life of me, I can’t remember what that is about.  I think about the reuniting of families.  Oy, that is why it is important to write things down right away.

Finally, one girl who was part Tatar and Kazakh told of how her Tatar ancestors were from the Crimea region but were forcibly moved out by Stalin and some went on their own to Iran and then ended up in Uzbekistan.  She said she had visited Ukraine to see where her roots had come from.  She did say that her grandfather also fought in WWII and that he hated the Germans, he died in Berlin.

So, there was an interesting mix of students that gathered at American Corner this past weekend.  We will start up the films again and it was agreed that we would have tea and snacks before that and discussion of the film afterwards.  Meeting these Kazakh students is one of the perks of living in Kazakhstan.

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One Day at a Time – Day 24 of 36

The following is from my journal account of my 5 week trip in Europe and Russia in May of 1976, 32 years ago.  This is the first entry since Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s death that I’m not writing something related to him to honor his memory.  However, I will continue to write about the country of Russia he longed for while he was safely in the U.S. in 1976.  If Solzhenitsyn had been permited to return at that time, he might have seen some of the same things I observed:


We came back from Vladimir on train and then went to the Tretychou Gallery and saw a lot of beautiful Russian painter’s work.  A lot of portraits of the aristocracy were shown of the 17 and 18 century.  They were all high quality and I guess I was surprised because a lot of Renaissance styles were seen and yet I’ve never heard of these Russian masters.  Olga, our guide, told us many tales and stories related to the pictures which I want to look up more on.


Mike Spangler, the chaplain of Protestant churches here in Moscow, spoke to our group.  According to him, Soviets only permit American chaplains into the country, in 1933 Roosevelt wrote for his army who wanted freedom of religion.  1962, the Protestants sent over a chaplain, after the Roman Catholics did it.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopal and Lutherans of America represent the Protestant faith here.  No church to speak of, and this was the only Sunday School in the Soviet Union.


Under the age of 18, no religious instruction is permitted.  He [Spangler] deals with foreigners, counseling; it’s a lonely place.  Lots of pressure here for the diplomats.  He works with university students who are exchange students, its tough for them with prejudice and harassment especially for blacks.  Things are fairly stable for the existing structure of the Russian Orthodox church.  There might even be a chance that the state will return to the church when they are busy with trying to influence the Mid-East Asian Islam countries.


Question was asked: “What persecution is experienced by the student who is known to go to worship?” Especially at university level meaning an automatic dismissal at an academic level.  He [Spangler] spoke of the Soviets being a war damaged people and that they may be cold and uncaring because of the great influx of foreigners who travel through and also being that the population is of 7.8 million.  He spoke also of the Hero Mother who will be manufacturing 10-15 children since the USSR has “0” population growth and in order to be a majority among the other republics.  He also mentioned that the wife often must hold down 2 jobs while the husband has only 1 or half of one as he is either out with the other men drinking and getting drunk in the bars.


At our Soviet meeting, however, we had heard Vitaly say that there was no real alcoholic problem in the Union that he was aware of.  But I must say, I saw three fallen or groveling drunks on the sidewalks and smelled vodka on many a passing person at subways and busses.  The very clothes people wore were dour, drab and dreary; there were mostly babushkas with old women under them all over Moscow.  Where are the people my age? People like Olga, there were only men my age around in their military uniforms of green.  More about Soviet people later.

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