Posts tagged Kyrgyz

View of Village Schools in Kazakhstan

An American friend has allowed me to reprint an e-mail she sent to her friends back in the U.S.  She might as well be a Peace Corps Volunteer based on the experience she describes which could be “Anywhere, Kazakhstan.”  What she witnessed is in direct contradiction to what western tourists would see if they only traveled to Almaty or Astana.  Tourist be aware!  The glitz of these Kazakh cities with their suburbs full of saunas, serve really as brothels. These seamy places house some of the young Kazakh or Kyrgyz people from rural areas who have been trafficked into the city with a promise of a better job.

If you see the poor education the Kazakh children have gotten out in the village schools, they don’t have a chance to improve their lot in life with the high unemployment in their communities.  The Ministry of Education needs to reward good, hard working teachers with much higher pay instead of punishing those who know the latest in technology and putting them out in the “sticks.”

During the Soviet Union times, Soviet teachers were given better privileges and their mission was to indoctrinate the young Kazakh students to excel in learning what Moscow dictated.  Now, as far as I know, the Kazakh government doesn’t have that in place (yet) and instead there are poorly trained, Kazakh teachers in the village schools doing the best they can with the little they have. The teachers are under paid and overworked knowing they are working with the future of their country. BUT, what is the future of Kazakhstan if the views of village schools continue as they did from the 1950s? Please read on…

“To get to the village, the road was full of potholes and there were a couple of trucks and workers that seemed to be  filling the holes.  I wondered why the heater for the hot tar was being fuelled with old rubber tires.  Then as I looked out over the vast expanse of the steppes, I realized that there was not a tree in sight.

The village has about 5,000 people but only two restaurants.  The buildings are old and there is much evidence of Soviet times with old concrete structures that have been stripped and are only a standing shell.  Fences  and farm equipment are rusted out and most men are unemployed.  The roads are dried, rutted mud and difficult to maneuver.

Once we reached the school, I climbed three flights of stairs to teach English to about thirteen  8-15 year olds.  Of course I needed to use the “toilet”.  It was a large open room with knee to ceiling windows at one end.  There were four toilets or I should say “squatty pottys”.  Here you must step up about 8 inches and then straddle an oval hole with a drain in it.  Two of the 4 were covered with yellow tape so they must have been out of order.  One of the toilets flushed, the other one must be flushed with a bucket of water that the cleaning lady has to get from the pump outside the back of the school.

The  school is old but clean.  The floors are wooden planks that are uneven and have been painted over for many years.  The walls are freshly painted over years of cement repairs so they are uneven and crude looking.  The windows are hip to ceiling and open to the right or left. The wood has been painted as many times as the floor and it is rough and unsightly though they would hardly notice as they know nothing different.

Old green chalkboards are on one wall, there is no clock or decorations, just some plants on the windowsil.  One student took a piece of chalk from her backpack and let me use it as there was none in the room.  The board is erased with a wet rag.  The next day I had only a piece of chalk the size of a small  pea but made it last the whole lesson.

None of the children knew the parts of the body so that was my project for the 3 days I was there.  We did body bingo and I gave them a sticker or a napkin with a $100 imprinted on it.  They were thrilled and out of
control playing games.  Once an administrater checked the class, surely wondering what all the noise was about.

After an hour and half lesson we drove to one of the cafe’s where there were two choices on the menu (rice with meat, carrots and onions or noodles with meat, carrots and onions), The other cafe sells only dumplings.   At 1:00 the second class started at another school.  Here the students wear uniforms, stood beside their chairs when I entered the room and likewise stood to answer my questions.  They were polite and controlled, the complete opposite of the first class.  These children also didn’t know the parts of the body in English so it was easy to play games again and give prizes they cherished.

The same green chalkboard, uneven walls, heavily painted window frames and floors graced the place. As I was again looking for chalk, one young girl gave me a small bag full of white rocks which were used as chalk.  The second day she had a real piece of chalk for me.

I asked these children what their hobbies were and many said they played the dombre, a national Kazakh instrument much like a guitar.  Two boys took crude wooden boxes with some strings with them and I was aware that their dombres were homemade out of wood scraps.

All of the children seemed to live with parents and grandparents and siblings in one dwelling.  I kept thinking what a shock it would be for them to visit my town or my country.  Their lives are so simple and uncluttered. They don’t have after school dance and sports.  They go home to help the family survive.  Their lifestyle is a good example to me  of being content with whatever they have.  We Americans always want MORE and still aren’t satisfied.

Sometimes I struggle with having so much and then watching these children enjoy their lives without the toys and games we think we need.  How warped is our perspective and how shallow is our contentment.  What a privilege it is to witness another side of life…”

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Human Rights are Becoming “Endangered Species” (Part VI)

The above title and following essay was written by a former student of mine in Astana, Kazakhstan. She was greatly impacted by what Marinka Franulovic wrote in her book “Two Kyrgyz Women.”  I liked the title of her piece, see for yourself what her thoughts are on this matter:

Nowadays people who know law can live happily and well. Bosses on the top always tell what you have to do but not everybody knows what rights every citizen has, especially in our country, Kazakhstan. I suppose that such problems are not so sharp abroad. I feel that in our young country only limited circle of people who are familiar with law and can protect themselves properly by right. Such lack of knowledge influences on increasing the number of victims who suffer from someone else’s pressure. Even though some people are aware of their rights, anyone can be in danger because their employers can break the law of human rights about working conditions, freedom of movement or security.

Most people do not work totally or have a job but with meager salary, or even do not receive money several months entirely. To solve this situation I offer to provide each school leaver with opportunity to get free high education. Obligatory school education is free of charge in Kazakhstan but then some teenagers become spongers who cannot or do not want to work. Those who are eager to improve oneself must have a chance to go to courses of professional development. Most employees are faced with corruption while applying for work. Therefore, it should be organized contests in which anyone who has appropriate abilities and knowledge can be hired. It would be more correct and fair that way. But most workers cannot get money which they have earned during months or even years.  Judicial process is so protracted and may be unjustified. Only few people who want, dare to have legal proceeding with their bosses. We must establish the special department which will control the people’s salary, fine (even prison) those who do not pay salaries to workers. It must be very strict and regularly checked in order to eliminate such lawbreakers.

A lot of unemployed people or just young students have a chance to work abroad. But after arriving they can suffer from employers who keep workers under lock and key and even can fetter in order to have free work labour. Swindled people, especially foreigners, do not have freedom of movements. In order to avoid such problems people must be aware of ways on how to address their requests and survive. “By the end of the summer, Ainura left Bishkek without knowing the name of its main square.” (Two Kyrgyz women Franulovic, M. p.15) It will be better to organize a helpline, for example, 919 like 911, to help such people. Everyone must know that he or she can receive help and be safe. The information about this helpline should be located in customs, airports, train or bus stations, public transports and any crowded places. Every person must know those whom they can ask help and how to get connected with police, embassy or other organizations.

Such helpline can solve another problem – security problem. If any recruitment companies exist, they must be controlled and checked by special department. In order to find better jobs, people try to look for it abroad. They can be in danger because some lawbreakers take the passports from their employees.  “I had no money, I did not know the city, I did not speak the language, and she (Adele) held my passport. (Two Kyrgyz women Franulovic, M. p.130) And then “new workers” become illegal and are afraid to go to the police. One decision is to make this problem more solvable; it is to set common electronic identity cards for all countries, at least for CIS. It will be easy to find and help people who perhaps are lost. “After two weeks on the farm, Altynay was gone. Nobody knew where, but they all suspected why.” (Two Kyrgyz women Franulovic, M. p.33) Regular controls and checkups of “new citizen-workers” can save their own lives.

In conclusion, there are a lot of problems of vital importance concern with human rights which must be solved in order to save people’s lives. All of us must know and attend to carry out our own duties but at the same time remember and exercise the rights in case of need.

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Buddy Bear is “Bear”back

What is with this Buddy Bear exhibit? What does this have to do with Kazakhstan?  Well, I believe it has a LOT to do with this culturally rich country.  As many bears that are out on display, 125 close to the Baiterek tower, that’s how many different nationalities co-exist in this lightly populated country of 16 million people. This land is the size of 3 or 4 state of Texas and has an eastern border with China, a country that has over 1 billion Chinese.  There used to be many more Germans and Russians in Kazakhstan and there are also Uighurs, Tatars, Korean, Turks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Turkmen, Uzbek, etc.  Where China has many more people and a great variety of different Chinese, Kazakhstan has fewer people but many nationalities.  With different cultures, you will have diverse languages and religions.

I believe Kazakhstan prides itself in being able to handle the steady mix of people groups.  I know when I lived in Almaty for two years I was surrounded by different nationalities and enjoyed it. But then again, I’m an ESL/EFL teacher, my job is to teach English to those people who want to learn it.  I’ve studied or tried to learn eight different languages and am a master of none.  The Kazakh people by law have a mandate to know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English.  Will that work, can they do it?  As I’ve written before, it is a do or die proposition because another alternative could be Chinese.  If I were Kazakh or Kazakhstani, I would try to learn all three languages simultaneously too.  I’ve studied Chinese, I’ve written its calligraphy, I know just how difficult it is to speak in the four tones.  What is so very interesting to me is that among all the nationalities represented in Kazakhstan, China has a very low profile.  Enjoy my photos of more Buddy Bears, especially Vietnam’s quote: “Who doesn’t love, doesn’t live.”

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“Piebald Dog Running Along the Shore” Quotes

I wanted to share a few quotes with my readers the wonder of this little short story by Chingiz Aitmatov. You can find on the Internet and read it for yourself.  Though short, the haunting refrains of a father-son relationship with an old grandpa will stay with you a long time. This is a keeper!!!  No wonder the Kyrgyz people or Central Asians are proud of their Chingiz Aitmatov writer, he made it BIG in the Soviet circles.  Read his works and find out why, Chingiz discovered and shared aspects of the unrelenting SOUL of man to LIVE!!!  His written words will live on…

Quotes from Piebald Dog Running Along the Shore

Translated by Alex Miller

Prepared for the Internet by Iraj Bashiri, 2004

“Brains from heaven, secrets of the trade from childhood.”

“A bad hunter is the tribe’s burden.”

“Kirisk [young boy] was impressed by the sea. He had not been expecting such a spectacle. Only water, heaving water, only waves swiftly rising and immediately subsiding, only the depths, the dark, disturbing depths and only the sky, softened by white, feathery and inaccessible clouds. That was the whole world—and nothing more, nothing else except this, except the sea itself—neither winter, nor summer, nor mountain, nor gully.”

“He [Kirisk] now understood the difference between land and sea. On land you don’t think about the land. But at sea, you think abou the sea all the time, even if your mind is on something else. This discovery put the boy on his guard. That the sea forced you to think about it all the time concealed something unknown, insistent, dominating…”

“He [Kirisk’s grandfather] understood that in the infinity of space a man in a boat is nothing. But a man thinks and thereby ascends to greatness, thereby he affirms himself before the eternal elements, and thereby he is commensurable with the depth and height of worlds. That is why, as long as a man lives, he is in spirt as mighty as the sea and as infinite as the sky, for there are not bounds to his thought. When he dies, someone else will think further ahead, and the next will think even further beyond that, and so on without end…The awareness of this gave the old man the bitter sweetness of irreconcilable reconciliation.”

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“World Class Flat” and Wise Buys (Part II)

Here are my “Wise Buys” for those more astute, speculating shoppers:

1)     Naturally, one should always start in the bathroom area of one’s flat.  That is where most other people who are cost saving start, never mind the big ticket items such as cars, washing machines, computers, etc.  In our flat’s bathroom a more appropriate term would be “Water Closet” because it is as big as a closet.  I have a foot high metal holder for toilet paper, towelettes, spray.  I bought this at the Green Market and not the barahoka, so you KNOW it is stellar quality. Mind you, not manufactured in China. I also have the kind of spongy matting (forest green) that people use in bathrooms, imported from Germany and of very good quality. Again, not made in China which is a major selling point made often by Green Market sellers.  Okay, I dislike bathroom humor so thankfully this part is over with, moving on…


2)     These next items are for our truly “green thumb” shoppers.  The next place to look in order to save money for us is to sell all my plants.  When I first arrived to our flat that my husband had secured over a year and a half ago, the whole place was devoid of the color green.  I LOVE green (especially our old style American dollars) so I made short work of a trip to Ramstor just a block away and I bought 10 green plant holders, potting soil and the requisite GREEN plants.  For some reason I have many “Mother-in-laws tongue” plants that seem to proliferate.  So, not to use the ubiquitous “mother-in-law” jokes that abound in the former Soviet Union, I will refrain from writing any more.  Just know that my 14 + plants are healthy, they make our “World Class Flat” a home.


3)     For those of you who observe Christmas as a holi-day, I also have a collapsible Christmas tree for sale.  This has many fond memories attached to it having celebrated two Christmases with us here in Kazakhstan.  This tree I bought at the Green Market and is from Poland so you KNOW it is of top notch craftsmanship.  It stands less than a meter high when on a box and I will throw in the twinkling lights to the highest bidder.


4)     Apparently, we had our place newly remonted, meaning we had a European style remont which means absolutely NOTHING was on the walls, just whitish wall paper.  I suppose I prefer that over the gauche red carpets one sees in packed in living rooms and overly stuffed book shelves of outdated books in Russian printed in Moscow in the 1960s.  Yes, with bare walls, I could actually be creative with using pictures of my own taste to fit our color scheme of blue, purple, tan, beige, red and off orange linoleum.  So I quickly bought 14 frames at the big Tsum department store, matted the pictures off our old Carl Larsson and Terry Redlin big calendars and asked my hubby to drill the nails into the wall. (I found out later that these @ 18 inch by 20 inch frames were much cheaper at the Green Market)  Of course, the walls on our “World Class Flat” are patently secure with a 6 inch thickness of concrete so my dear husband went through many drill bits on some of our more fortified walls.  In any case, I will eventually sell all 14 frames and it will be of no extra cost to you, dear smart shopper, if you actually LIKE the pictures I matted under the glass and in the frames.


5)     One of my prized, big ticket items is a small CASIO keyboard.  It has more keys than the person at Housing who strenuously requests all foreigners to give over an extra set of apartment keys for “our protection.”  Well, maybe not, I counted my piano keys and it is short two octaves of the 88 keys that a full sized piano would have. However, it does have all the bells and whistles you could possibly want to make it sound like an accordion or a trumpet, ad naseum.  Me, I just prefer electronic pianos with an on and off switch, but this one also runs on battery.


6)     Another item is my HP LaserJet 1018 printer that has an extra filled print cartridges. It runs like a top.  Well, it should, it was purchased so we could continue to do our jobs at home while we are away from our office computer and printer. My husband and I buy our own reams of paper so that cannot account for the high erosion of paper that is lost by our university.  You find these things out when we are told to not use as much paper.  You see, they too are only trying to cut corners to save money where it really adds up!!!  That goes for number 1 above, we buy our own toilet paper at Ramstor. I can’t even imagine anyone embezzling toilet paper at our university except maybe impoverished college students.


7)     Finally, we also have the usual toaster, crock pot (from the U.S.), juicer, upscale hot pots for heating water necessary for any post-Soviet kitchen.  When the apartment complex heat is eventually turned off we have the SEVEN oil filled heater that will have to be sold along with heater fans to keep ones feet warm under one’s desk.  We have a boom box that uses both tapes and CDs. 


8.     I will give away music CDs, what is left of my DVD and video collection, my textbooks and reading books to those people I count as friends and important colleagues.  I may even have a phrase book or two in English on how to properly use Jesus Christ’s name rather than using it profanely.


This fine tuning we MUST do in order to pay back our credit card company and to run our “World Class Flat” more effectively, until we leave on cordial terms with our landlady, of course.  I’m truly grateful we have things to sell and not have to sell ourselves.  Unfortunately, some Central Asians have been forced to sell themselves into slavery due to their dire and grim circumstances.  (please read “Two Kyrgyz Women” to get perspective) Others have, perhaps, sold their souls.

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