Posts tagged Kyiv

Happy Mother’s Day

Okay, ONE hour left in Central time in the U.S. to wish mothers a very special day today. We went to church, I played two violin duets with a former Korean student and then to pick up my folks.  I had to give my Mom our lilac and plum blossom bouquet first.  Then I also had along a Campfire coleus that requires full sun. That’s unusual for coleus which requires little to NO sun.  Then I also gave her a Ukrainian beaded necklace I bought for her a month ago in Kyiv.  Hard to believe I was there for ten days just a month ago.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Glad I’m back to our beautiful spring and how everything is greening out so nicely in the tree lines.  Our plums have been wonderful, next up will be our crabapple tree out front.  We are starting to get lilacs and then the chokecherry blossoms should be out as well.  Ken hosted my folks and me to a nice buffet this afternoon after church and then we went for a drive to a very famous nursery, it was bustling with activity, lots of flowers, plants, bare root trees were going out the door.  The grounds itself will be planted with whatever is left over from what people don’t buy.


Ken and I planted our garden that I had in our bay window for several weeks.  We put out brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers and 24 different tomatoes.  Some insect was already eating up the leaves of the cauliflower and cabbage so I put SEVIN on it.  Now tonight I discovered that our ever so industrious gopher took out one of our peppers because he is setting up his mounded home in OUR garden. Ken put out some “bait” for that critter.  I DO NOT LIKE gophers!!!

Tonight Ken and I went for a drive in the countryside to our favorite asparagus patches and found some surprises and other places that are late bloomers.  I will bring some of that to work to share with others and also some lilac bouquets.  We are blessed to be living out in the countryside although right now it is VERY dusty.  We could use some rain soon.

For this month of May, I thought I better get this post done so I have at least two postings for my blog this month. I was advertising this to a genealogy group I spoke to last week.  I used to post every day while I lived in Kazakhstan.  Now being away from it for so long, I only keep up with what I am doing while living back in the U.S.  I am glad I still have visitors that come to this site…many are from either the US and Canada or Kazakhstan. I’m surprised how many other countries are represented in looking up about what I experienced while I lived and taught in both Almaty and Astana for about four years.  Great country. I wonder if I will ever get back to Kazakhstan again?


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Back to Life as Normal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturned from Kyiv, Ukraine four days ago and am getting my sleeping schedule back to normal.  The first night I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. and got up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, not bad. I did not sleep so well the 8-9 days I was in Kyiv, having jetlag is never easy. I also can’t sleep on planes…usually. However, the trip home proved different in that I slept half of the time and only because I was so tired from all the activities we did in Kyiv.

We went to a Chinese restaurant the first two nights, then another night we went to a Ukrainian opera which was very good.  The singing, orchestra and costumes were phenomenal.  On Saturday we went pysanki painting of real eggs under an instructor. Then Sunday I went to two church services which was at the same place just across the street from our hotel.  In between that I went on a four hour tour of the city with some of the university students and my traveling companions.

yellow blossoms

It was a beautiful day in Kyiv and I took pictures of blossoming magnolia trees and blooming daffodils. We are about a month behind all of this but I came home to greened up grass in the lawns.  Kyiv was still ahead, they had longer grass and even dandelions. Soon enough we will be mowing our lawn here which I don’t want to push that. Last summer we went for a LONG fall and that meant more grass cutting.

Not much else to add except that I had a tea party with some of my friends and used cup holders that my friends in Kyiv gave to us.  It was fun to give some eggs away too in keeping with Easter that is coming up.


Good day today, I’m thankful for my parents who are still able to do things.

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What day is it today?

My husband and I did not April Fool each other. It was a usual day for spring, overcast sometimes and then sunny. I enjoyed being outside and cutting down the cockleburrs with my hubby to put in the bonfire.  There were other branches that I assembled to put at the top of the heap. I had cut the grape vine and some other chokecherry bushes down earlier and so they got picked up to burn.

My Dad came out with the newer, better mower so that really means that it is spring and time to think about what happens when that first grass gets long enough to mow.  I am thinking of all the gardens that need tending and that takes time and energy. That’s something I don’t have much of lately.  I’m still nursing my runner’s knee and know I need to NOT overextend myself.  I did several weeks ago when moving my folks stuff from their place. They are fully moved into their two bedroom apartment but now to sell the house.  I think it will move quickly.

I leave tomorrow for a place that I used to teach at for 6-7 years. Some people are still living in Kyiv from the ten years ago when we were there.  I look forward to seeing my bosses from our former university where we taught. I think it will be a fun time of reconnecting with people again.

I’ve packed and am ready for bed.  This is my April Fools, I’m leaving on a jet plane and I DO know when I’ll be back again! I wish my husband were going with me just like old times. Packing for a week is different than packing for four months.  I have room in my two big suitcases that are supposed to weigh 50 pounds each.

The picture below is when I taught in China for two years, the rest are expat friends and we are showing off our “kitty kat” plates that students gave us. Wish I had one now, 35 years later.

kittykat plates 1988

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People are Passing Away, Towns are Passing Away

Facebook reported the passing away of an American teaching colleague that I worked with in Almaty and Astana. I am sorry that I don’t know more information about this sad event. I was told by another colleague over FB that he died in his sleep. I’m sure there is more to this story than that. He did smoke and so it could have been some complication related to bad choices he made. He was in his late 60s I think.  Anyway, where I live, people keep passing away.  I am in an old established town where all of us in high school were encouraged to get out of town, do better by going to the big cities.

I did better than that, I went to the BIG cities elsewhere like in Harbin, China or Kyiv, Ukraine or finally Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I should not forget the year and a half I spent teaching in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I would not count Bishkek as a big city, however. It had not changed much from the time I was there in 1993-1995 to when I went to visit again in 2007 or 2008.   It is holding its own even after the startling spring revolution that happened about five years ago now.  Ukraine had its Orange revolution, I think Kyrgyzstan’s was dubbed the tulip revolution. I can’t recall.  I’m sure I have it on this blog if I went back to look at the exact date and name of the event.

Yes, people are passing away but also small town American is passing away.  They have statistics that show that by a certain date in the future, many more people will be living in the cities than in the countryside.  Why is that?  I would think that if people can live away from the metropolis, if they can sustain themselves through the winter with the right kind of heat and food, they would not have to move INTO the city.  I think it is safer and more peaceful out in the rural areas.  I would think the trend would be to move away from all the people and crime and violence and live in solitude in a small town.

However, what was true over 100 years ago where people were pushing west and getting land parcels for a very good price, now people don’t want to do the country thing. Small towns that were thriving with the railroad as their connection to the rest of the world are withering away.  If they have not created some good industry to keep up employment, then one by one, the store fronts look empty for the businesses downtown.

My hometown has a strong image from the past, we have many old brick buildings that remain. Some elegant ones have been torn down due to lack of money to keep the roof shingled, thus the decay from the inside has made the brick work that looked regal and stable become a liability.  People my age have the memory of what our downtown used to look like, bustling with people and business.  Now, the move has been away from downtown and to one of our city of 8,000 people.  We have businessmen and women who are struggling to have any kind of business downtown since the amazing old high school was torn down and moved to the one end of the city.

The people in charge, those on the city council, the city administrator, mayor and others have to make tough decisions about what to maintain due to our tax base not being as flush with money as it used to be when families had 6-10 children.  Many of those children have left for better jobs elsewhere, leaving the older parents behind in the dying town.  So we have the melancholy problem of people passing away in the towns that are passing away.  Sometimes I do yearn for the big cities where the action is…for right now though, I am happy to be in a small town that minds its own business and doesn’t have great fanfare about much of anything.  I can write that because I am teaching 85 freshmen students how to write. There is adventure and challenge enough in doing that.  LOVE it when the lights go on in their heads about what I am trying to get across to them.  I have GREAT kids, most of them want to learn.

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Watching the lead up to elections in Ukraine

Of course, there is nothing more hot than an election, especially in Ukraine. I lived in Ukraine during several other elections and there seemed to be nothing abnormal or extraordinary about them at the time. This year of 2014 is an exception. Why? Because it was finally the will of the people that said enough of the corruption and wanted the past president out. Seemed he was draining the money meant for the people and building up his own little palace north of Kyiv. Outrageous prices for things to make his place look luxurious and beautiful while his neighbors suffered in poverty. He did it in a very short amount of time so it seems that it was planned from the get-go to impoverish the nation of Ukraine so that they could easily fall victim to their northern neighbor.

However, things changed from six months ago when the people gathered on Krestshatik street in downtown Kyiv. Places so familiar to me I kept seeing from my former students and friends currently living in Ukraine. I missed the Orange Revolution and now I was missing all the action with this latest revolution against the president. Over one hundred people died because of snipers but it only enraged the Ukrainians to keep going to the streets. They were willing to risk their lives in order to have freedom from tyranny.

Now, the temporary president is asking all Ukrainians to pray for a healthy solution, one where they can keep their borders instead of caving to the pressure from the north. I don’t know about Crimea, that is a very strategic place and has gone through many battles. Why does Ukraine have to go through all this suffering? They already went through so much during WWII when the Nazis and the Soviets rampaged through their lands. That created the Partisans who fought both and they were mostly in the Chernobyl area, northern part of Ukraine. Then the Chernobyl disaster happened in 1986 (?) and the rest is history.

Lies can only go so far and then they have to meet up with the unvarnished truth. The people in Russia have had a LOT of propaganda fed them, they believe in their leader. They believe the lies. I pray for them as well as I watch the lead up to this very crucial election. We will know more after May 25th, this Sunday.

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Eyewitness Account from Maidan

AftermathI can picture many things about what happened less than a week ago in Kyiv, Ukraine.  The other places like Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lviv, not so much. I lived for six years in Kyiv so I have many friends still living there.  An amazing account of what it was like that dark night of the 18th of Feb. I’m hoping that I hear from my former Ukrainian students. I taught writing and composition, I hope they know how important it is to write like this young person did in the example below.  Some of my students have temporarily shut down their Facebook accounts, others are giving me information in bits and pieces, mostly in Ukrainian or Russian.  Read on:

By Serhiy Suprun

I want to tell you about the night of February 19th, and what happened during the operation of “clearing the Maidan” by the Berkut police.

It was the toughest night of them all. The famed self-defense “hundreds” (“sotni”) were nowhere near us and neither were the guardsmen from “Svoboda.” The men holding up the front line of defense were badly organized and severely exhausted, at this point having to use their heads to prop up their shields against the oncoming assault, because their arms had no strength left in them. The stage provided them some confort, because it was free of the MP’s usual cheap pathos-filled and self-serving slogans. There was no one left. Parubiy (leader of people’s self-defense) declared that he suffered a stroke and went home. Turchynov (MP) requested a stretcher, announcing that he was hit by a sniper’s bullet.

Berkut continued with their constant attacks. The perimeter was being held up by 300-400 people, while the rest were just compassionate spectators. As morning neared, there were less and less people around. Khreschatyk become empty, and those of us who remained were either rushing about or nearly crawling, trying to drag to the frontline anything that could burn. After 5AM the situation became desperate, as the frontline of defense was being pressed back. The barricades on Prorizna Str. and in the Pasazh were left unguarded, several times messengers would come to us with the alarming reports of advancing Berkut forces and “titushki” coming at us from the side of Besarabka square.

We were anxious. We were scared. Everyone suddenly realized that we have no chance of holding on to Khreschatyk. After 8AM people began scattering more actively, there was hardly anyone coming in. Suddently, along Khreschatyk, from the side of Besarabka, we saw a large group of men armed with shields and baseball bats advancing upon us. It was the end.

We began grabbing bricks and lighting Molotovs. The running group was getting closer and closer and, as their faces became clearer, our dread was quickly replaced by sudden understanding – they were OUR GUYS! The expressions on their faces could only belong to OUR GUYS!

Men aged forty-fifty years old ran up to us, quickly lined up in columns of fours, and our frontline defense fighters collapsed to their knees with a hard clanking of shields against the ground. What we heard next exploded our consciousness. “Brothers! We are so sorry that it took us so long to get to you.” Everyone wept. Everyone. They were the Lviv “hundred” (“Lvivska sotnia”).

As they all ran to take places at the frontline, a few remained to tell us the long story of HOW they managed to reach us. I will not write about it here, but it is a long tale of their courage and unwavering will. Glory to the Lvivska Sotnya! An hour later Ternopil happened…

Source: FB

Translated by Natalia Ioffe, edited by Jana Kualova

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Ukraine May have a Temporary Victory

I have been following the events in Ukraine very closely.  Below is a piece written by someone who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine and is in the know. This is good news, if it is true. Even if it is true for now, things could still go south.

Tonight, as I watch the funeral proceedings at Maidan attended by ten thousand people, I reflect on the day that preceded this burial service. In the end, this day could have gone any direction, but it seems at each crucial point (and there were many crucial points) the protesters (and peace) won the day.

Today sixteen statues of Lenin were toppled around Ukraine.

Today many significant votes were taken to restored a gutted constitution.

Today Yuila Timoshenko, the imprisoned former Prime Minister, was authorized by parliament to be set free.

Today the president agreed to early elections.

Today amnesty was granted for the hundreds of protesters who were arrested.

Today no protesters died.

Today neighborhood militias were formed all over Kyiv to protect from looting and unrest.

Today the guy who authorized shooting live rounds at the protesters was fired.

Today, the first day of many, there were no fires in Kyiv. (sorry CNN, I know you like the night shots of the city on fire, but I prefer it without)

….and best of all….

Today Ukraine won a Gold in women’s biathlon relay! – No matter that Putin revoked his loan deal, we’ll take the money in gold.

Many of my Ukrainian friends are talking of today as a new dawn, the tide has turned, a new era in Ukraine’s history. The contrast is striking – yesterday the darkest day since Soviet times, and today the brightest things have looked in a long time. There are even reports as I write this that the president has left the capital, it seems he, along with all sixty five private jets that left Ukraine last night (65!) have seen the writing on the wall and feel that they need to leave or face prosecution for their ill gotten gain.

But in the end the barricades are getting higher not lower downtown. The crowds are growing, not shrinking, and the highest priority of many of the protesters still stands. That is the immediate resignation of the president. As I write there are twenty thousand mad Ukrainians downtown who don’t seem to want to leave without an impeachment or a voluntary resignation, and so far they have gotten everything they want. On the other side, thus far, the president has been very reticent to give up power, and therein lies the problem. At this point it doesn’t seem like if, but when, and more importantly….how, the president will go.

In politics (as in Church history) its much easier for an opposition group come together against something, but when that thing they opposed is removed, it’s a bit harder for everyone to decide on a way forward. That is our situation in Kyiv now too. May Ukraine prosper under a just and fair government for many, many years to come. However, we understand that this complete justice and fairness don’t seem to work always, and I’m sure there will be disappointments in the long term, and the near, future.

This is where the church comes in. The church now has a big role to fill as the country slowly (hopefully) begins to calm down and clean up. Just as people are most receptive to grace when broken, so goes for the country as well. Ukraine is broken now. We have hundreds dead, we have maybe a thousand wounded, we have a burned out center in place of our downtown, we have daily inflation and we have lots fewer cobblestones than we started with. Ukraine is broken and needs renewal that comes as they seek the mercy and grace provided by Christ. Pray that the church will (continue) to fill this need, and now in a more specific way, through it’s service to the community, through cleaning up the city, through writing and thinking with others about the concept of true justice – something that Ukrainians have been seeking, and through preaching the Word.

I’m greatly encouraged by today, and recognize that it is still in a fragile state. Pray for continued peace – and mercy.

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Rodent Surprise…in Kyiv, Ukraine

The following is a story about a furry guest to our flat when we taught in Kyiv, Ukraine. I had e-mailed this to family and friends back in March 12, 1999. Maybe it is one of those “you had to be there” but I thought it was VERY funny at the time and even now these 13 years later.

“I just have to tell you about our “book” study tonight.  We usually have about 12-14 people over every Friday night and they are mostly bachelor men.  There were more women tonight but the mix is very international.  We have one Scotsman, one British gentleman and one German. The rest are Ukrainian and all very interesting in one way or another.

Anyway, Nicolai is a very quiet, computer nerd type who comes, but he is always late.  Tonight was no exception, he rang the doorbell after all 12 people were settled in our living room.  He also came in with a rodent which was crawling all over the sleeve of his jacket.  At first I was shocked that he had this white mouse in his hands but he quickly arrested my surprise by producing a cut-in-half, plastic 7-Up bottle that he put his little pet in.

Meanwhile, my husband was overseeing that everyone had recited their memory verses in the adjacent room.  This seems to be the Ukrainians’ favorite part and they do it well.  So as not to disrupt the meeting, I asked Nicolai to bring his little pet into the kitchen and put it on the counter for safe keeping.  I was still in shock that he had even brought it along with him. (I didn’t recall that Ken had asked for “show and tell.”)

So everything went along smoothly until the phone rang when we were in the middle of prayer at the end of our study.  Ken jumped up to answer the phone in the other room and no doubt checked the kitchen to see about treats that we would feed to our guests afterwards (another favorite part of the guests’ evening). What to his wondering eyes did appear but a nice, healthy mouse inside a bottle!!! I could hear movement in the kitchen as our prayers continued in the living room. Judging by the noises, I just KNEW my warrior husband was doing combat with the mouse [I had no idea that the first thing he grabbed was a potato peeler to stab the little creature]  The next thing I heard was his opening the entryway door and throwing the bottle (with mouse inside) down the garbage chute in the outside hallway, it tumbled nine stories below [think “As Good as it Gets” with Jack Nicholson throwing a dog down the chute].

Mission accomplished, my fearless husband had protected me from the rodent surprise in our kitchen.  Immediately after prayers were done, Nicolai headed for the kitchen not knowing the demise of his pet.  I followed close behind him knowing I would have to help smooth out the inevitable outcome for poor Nicolai. This was going to be an unpleasant reality for him.  Keep in mind that the mouse had plunged nine stories to its final resting place, “rat heaven.” As soon as I told Nicolai that my husband had undoubtedly disposed of his pet down the chute, he bolted down the stairs (disregarded the elevator) to check the garbage bin in the basement.

Eventually Nicolai came back to our apartment looking dejected and I didn’t even have it in me to say I was sorry.  I did explain to him that Americans don’t like mice in their kitchens and Ken had only done what husbands feel naturally inclined to do, KILL the rodent!  Nicolai left early knowing that he should never bring his furry pets to our place again.

When all our guests had left, my husband gingerly informed me, “Did you know there was a mouse in our kitchen?” I had to tell him yes and that it WAS Nicolai’s pet.  End of story…or so I thought.

The sequel about Nicolai’s “mouse” was that he did admit to Ken that it was his fault for bringing the pet the other night to our home in the first place.  Then at church the following Sunday he showed me his NEW pet that he had just gotten for “big bucks.”  He told me that I should show it respect and then he informed me that it was a baby rat.  I had to admit that it DID look cute with little beady, black eyes for a white rat. However, my husband is quite adamant about Nicolai NOT bringing him to our home next Friday night.  Hopefully this is the end of story…”

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Who will listen to their stories?

I’m revisiting my Ukrainian students’ interviews with their grandparents back in 2006, that is when this all started for me in my quest to find out more about Soviet history. Oral histories can be very interesting even if you give your students an assignment that is simply “Tell me about your grandparents.”  With the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years, I have gotten some amazing results when I taught in Kyiv, Ukraine, Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I even used this with my American students when I taught English composition in the U.S. I learned some new things from them about what life was like in the golden, olden days.

My wanting to know more about the Soviet Union started when a Ukrainian boy in the back of the room in the early 2000s challenged me about why I didn’t know anything about Ukraine’s terror famine (Holodomor).  He was not aggressive in his questioning me, he was baffled how I could have taught in Ukraine for 3-4 years and not known about this tragic event in the 1930s.  He wasn’t a particularly good student as I had a minor altercation with him the very first day we met. I told him to not come to class with alcohol on his breath, his defense was that he had some alcohol spill on him with his train ride into town from his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine (western border to Poland).  I let it pass with an internal “yeah right.” After that, I wish I could remember his name, I didn’t have any more problems with him.  Apparently his parents were doctors and had lived in Philadelphia and he had been a pizza delivery boy at that time.

When my husband and I left this university, he had very kind words to say about us being there as we represented America to him.  I need to find out how he is doing now, he was certainly a Ukrainian nationalist and LOVED his country.  I have met many other students similar to him who love their country of either Ukraine or Kazakhstan.  They also love their grandparents and what THEY went through in order for them to experience real freedom and independence they enjoy today.

That is why I am wondering if there are people in my blog reading audience who are curious like I am, to find out more about what happened in the Soviet past? Especially from oral interviews?  I believe that is how my husband and I could maintain a presence teaching in the Former Soviet Union for as long as we did.  Total up both places and we were in Kazakhstan and Ukraine for over ten years.  Today, while it rains, I am going over the interviews that my Ukrainian students did with their own grandparents.  I had assigned no more than 500 words and had wanted direct quotations (as much as could be translated from Ukrainian or Russian) in English.  I can still remember many of these students, what they looked like, what they wrote.

I just wonder “who will listen to their stories” once they are retold by me?  What can be changed once read?  I know for a fact that we were able to cope with living in these different cultures. Especially true after finding out how the Ukrainians and the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after all the Soviet atrocities that were visited upon them. I hope during this Memorial Day that American young people would sit down with their grandparents to listen to them and what stories they have to tell.  Happy Memorial Day to all in the U.S. Time to reflect, listen to older people and think ahead to a future that is bright with promise because of the older people’s sacrifices.  Stories give hope to the listeners, you can think in terms of “If they survived what they went through, so can we!”

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Teaching in the Trenches (Part II)

As a follow-up to my last question I posed yesterday about why the money can’t be evenly distributed to the rural areas of Kazakhstan, why the concentration of elite schools in the bigger cities such as Almaty and Astana?  One Kazakhstani answered that for me, because the money can’t be trusted if it were to go to school administrators in the far reaches of this great country.  Corruption abounds, especially in education.  So, how does one educate the young people of Kazakhstan to be honest if even the school administrators and teachers resort to bribes?  Okay, back to what Annemarie talked about with my students the other day…

Annemarie asked my English teachers, “Which English do you teach your youngsters?”  They answered, “British English.”  The next question, “Who do you do business with the most as a country?”  Answers: Turkey, U.S., Saudi Arabia…  Her next strong statement was, “you don’t just teach English, you also teach culture.” When you teach British English, you do it within the context of how Brits interact (and there are MANY kinds of British accents besides R.P. – received pronunciation, the Queens English or BBC).  If you teach American English, you may do so in the context of how Americans interact in business, at play, at home, in families, etc.

What was interesting was that Annemarie took a side path about how Russian, Slavic and Asian people are “person-related” while Americans, Germans and other westerners are “object-related.”  One example was the way Kazakhs shake hands, they have an open palm extended but then they put their other hand over the shaking hand to show that you are not bearing arms.  If one would have their hand behind their back or in their pocket, it would keep the other person wary. Kazakhs and especially Chinese will stand close to each other (depending on the depth of the relationship). For Americans they simply extend the arm at elbow length and expect the distance to not invade their bubble of space.

Another cultural thing that Annemarie had observed when she lived in Odessa, Ukraine, she learned that to be considered truly intellectual one was expected to be witty or tell a good story in Russian.  You may be German or Jewish but if you went into a bread shop in Odessa and you were to buy some bread, it was expected to establish a relationship with the seller of the bread.  You were to make idle conversation because it was person-related, rather than object related.  Then she went on to say how interaction with sales clerks here in Kazakhstan were aggravating because they were not personable but rather perfunctory or rude.  I thought it was multi-tasking or distraction but in any case, the impersonal nature of sales transactions here in some Kazakhstan stores leads one to believe that it is NOT “person related.” I blame it on old communist morals that did not encourage a service mentality or the “customer is always right.”  That is an American value.

Annemarie next asked, “What are the typical Kazakh values?” One important one is “The individual is less important than the group.”  The big family in older Kazakh times travelled together as nomads.  One member of that group could not rebel and say to his family, “I’m not doing this anymore, I’m moving to Almaty!”  No, now you have a shift in the ideas of travelling within the country of Kazakhstan.  People are taking on European values of getting on a plane and travelling one day to Almaty and back to Astana again.  That would be unheard of back in the Kazakh nomad days.  You would not have the speed and time of travel that we “enjoy” today.

Every country has their basic social values and rules to live by.  Annemarie feels accountable and responsible for the money she has been allocated by her German government to make decisions on how it will be properly administered to help the most people in this country of Kazakhstan.  She comes from a background of the Enlightenment period from 500-600 years ago where the individual is the focus.  Her civic society expects her to make individual choices that will not only reflect well on her, but on her country.  However, there are people in Kazakhstan who would pad their budgets or do things under the table with bribes because they see it as normal.

Annemarie ended her talk with citing an example of the Minister of Defense in Germany who resigned because he had cheated on his dissertation thesis.  He had noble background and had been in charge of at least two army universities that graduated young people who should know how to write papers that were not plagiarized.  Yet, he had done that very thing himself, he was supposed to be accountable for his individual action because he was in charge of a group of individuals.  Yes, accountability is a value that we share in the western world and sometimes we as English teachers are not just teaching English but we are teaching culture and cultural values.

What cultural values are being taught when an important dignitary is brought to a university to speak but where MOST of the Kazakh students are not in the auditorium of their own volition? This happened a few months ago when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came and talked to a university in the old part of Astana during the OSCE conference.  Most of the students in the auditorium didn’t have a good grasp of English but were required to fill ALL the seats.  This also happened in Kyiv, Ukraine as well when the American ambassador showed up.  All the pedagogical students who didn’t know English were to fill up the 350 seats of the auditorium so as to impress the ambassador.  Our western university in Kyiv at that time only had about 120 students. The questions that were asked of the ambassador were all planted and well prepared questions too.  Those are old style Soviet tricks to play it safe when a visiting dignitary comes for a visit, it is meant to impress the said foreigners.

What happened recently at our university, which is supposed to be a new one founded on democratic principles was to close the cafeteria at the very time of the speaker’s engagement so that the “dutiful” Kazakh students were all forced to show up to listen to a dignitary say politically safe things and give vanilla answers in order to be politically correct in his host country’s environment.  You can be sure a long queue was formed by hungry students who perhaps resented having their supper delayed by one hour.

Okay, I’m shooting from the hip but then I’ve been in the trenches teaching in Kazakhstan for three years and Ukraine for seven years.  I think I know a little bit about what is going on with Kazakhstan trying to get out from the Soviet values, embrace their own culture from the past while taking on the modernization of the West’s. It is VERY complicated.

Annemarie and I chatted in the cafeteria after she was through with talking to my students as they took off to the computer lab to do their many assignments.  We were being “person-related” from our own “object-related” backgrounds in a “person-related” environment of Kazakhstan.  This culture is fascinating for both of us, who would dare even write about this for a western audience to read and understand and appreciate?

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