Posts tagged Kyrgyzstan

More skating in Astana, Kazakhstan

four countriesI suppose many people are watching the Winter Olympics in Korea, some amazing talent there!  Not sure who took this photo of four nations represented but we were skating on a frozen solid river in Astana, Kazakhstan.  On the left is a former Kazakh student, then Wilma from Netherlands, a guy from U.K. who liked to travel everywhere and me.  Seven years ago I was teaching and living in Astana, the coldest capital in the world, second to Ulan Baatar in Mongolia.  Yes, when the winds swept through the northern plains to Kazakhstan you wondered what the weather was like north of us, in Russia.

Didn’t matter the temp or the wind chill, an expat friend of mine from U.K. would cross country ski every day along the river in Astana.  I thought she might have been crazy or part Norwegian but this was her usual thing to do while her husband had some kind of government job.  Wonderful couple, I wonder where they are or if Wilma is back in Holland.  I keep up with most of my former students from NAU through FB.

I’m amazed that I had so many visitors to this blog yesterday, must have been something I wrote or the pictures I put up.  I used to have over a 100 a day when I was actually living in Kazakhstan and talking about the culture and people.  Now I just put up occasional pictures of my life back in Minnesota.  The following is something I see a LOT of on our northern plains.

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Life may be cold here, as it is in Astana, but the hearts are warm and we have memories to go on.  I doubt that I’ll ever get back to Central Asia after having lived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for 1 1/2 years and Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan for 2 1/2 years, over four years.

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Kyrgyzstan terms from “Two Kyrgyz Women”

On Friday I had my composition students download the free version of the book titled “Two Kyrgyz Women” by Marinka Franulovic. About five years ago, I had had my ten Kazakh students read this book in hard copy that I had been gifted with from Marinka.  Now I am glad I can have my American students read the free e-book version. Here it is:  http://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/Two-Kyrgyz-Women

I think it is always a good idea for the teacher to read or do whatever assignment he or she is giving to their students.  I’ve read this book several times before but now I see it with fresh eyes after what I have learned much more about modern day slavery. Actually this book helped to jump start me on this path as an educator to inform others about this great evil. In any case, I will quiz my students on Wednesday whether or not they have read the first story about the first Kyrgyz woman who was in slavery in a tobacco plantation in Kazakhstan.

On p. 24, the first slave named Ainura revealed a little bit about her husband who had become an alcoholic and didn’t help support the family with their two children.  He would often tell Ainura, “Nobody is getting rich by working.”  This was according to the Kyrgyz Post-Soviet moral relativism that pervaded the country soon after the fall of the USSR.  When my American students read this part, it will go against everything they have been taught by their parents and grandparents who worked hard to own their farm or run their business.  My students have a high cultural value of believing in hard work or having a good work ethic. Most of my students value hard work and they had better because I am going to work them hard in the next ten weeks of this semester.

Interesting to read on p. 29 “Some of the world’s most spectacular architectural treasures were built by slaves, and no one is embarrassed to appreciate them.”  Immediately I think of the Great Wall in China and KNOW that there were thousands of slaves who died creating that monster structure which can be seen from outer space, maybe even from the moon.  Marinka, the author, further wrote: “Some of these new land owners in Kazakhstan may earn money by using foreign workers for free, and they do not seem embarrassed by this either.”

On p. 32 the slaves were reminded by their “owner” to NOT speak in Kyrgyz if they met anyone who was a stranger to the farm.  These Kyrgyz slaves who had been brought up to their northern neighboring country didn’t have the right documents. The manager put more fear into these “slaves” that they may be beaten or imprisoned if the Kazakh police found them without proper IDs on the farm.  Apparently on the next page, one girl who was from the Krygyz city Osh and not used to rural life spoke a different kind of Kyrgyz.  As it turns out, Altanay was much more educated than the other slaves and she just did not know how to work quickly like they did.  The masters dubbed her with the name “White Hand.”  She did NOT last long under their abusive jokes and shaming techniques. Actually she was only on the farm for two weeks before she disappeared.

I have seen the movie “Nefarious: Merchants of Souls” and will probably go again next month to another screening of this 1 1/2 hour documentary of slavery in our modern 21st century.  Nothing is new under the sun and the unfortunate like Altanay who was called “White Hand” probably ended up as a sex slave. Many young girls are picked off who do not come from a loving home where the father protects but rather assaults his own daughter. According to this documentary, some mothers in other lands sell their daughters off to be sex slaves.  The question was asked, how can a loving mother do this?  Some of their responses were that they love their daughters enough to sell them to local dealers and not to dealers in some place far off.

These two Kyrgyz women were mothers who happened to be married to selfish and uncaring husbands.  I found out from Marinka that the two women ended up going back to their family and their husbands because what they had been through as a slave did NOT compare to what they thought was a bad home life. They were desperate enough to believe a lie about getting a job in Kazakhstan to support their family.  Little did they know they could have died under the conditions they were subjected to.  In their shelters they were separately told to NOT tell anyone in their family what they had gone through with slavery, they would have been ostracized by the very people they needed to love them.

Anyway, I hope to have some spirited conversations with my students on Wednesday when they come back to our class after a LONG weekend. Today is President’s Day so we have the day off.  Good thing, I could use the break as I know my students can too.  However, reading this 150 page book will open their eyes to the depravity of man.  It is NOT just in Kazakhstan, it is all over the world and slavery is going on right at our doorstep.

 

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On Vacation…Sort of

When you go on vacation, you are really at the mercy of those whom you stay with. You may think you are in control of your schedule, but you are not. Your hosts’ schedules come first and you work around that.  They have their set meal times and you go with that. Plus, the room you are staying in might be too cool but the bed’s comforter is just right.  The night before at our other host’s place, the bed may have been too small but the fan above kept things cool, rather than too warm.  Then there is the food issue, even though we packed enough food to give to others as gifts, we do not have our own snacks handy. Maybe we were too polite to take a second helping at the main meal.

This is our vacation for the next two weeks.  However, we will be more on our own for one week when we travel south to see the other grandkids.  We have our own rental car but it is a tiny, boxy little thing. We are used to our Toyota Camry that has ample space for others to ride with us.  We barely have room for our two smaller suitcases and two carryons. That is how small this “Spark” is.

On vacation but not from not knowing what is going to happen next with the grandkids nap schedules and feeding times.  I would LOVE to indulge in a nap, to just drop whatever is going on and catch up on a semester’s worth of sleep that was missed. I also feel like I need to be writing articles for our local newspaper because when you teach 85 freshmen students to write, there is NO time to do your own kind of writing.  Will there be space and time to get much needed writing done while on this vacation?  That would be my ideal vacation, to just sit and write when I want to and not have to do all this running around to see people.  But I LOVE seeing people to catch up, I just can’t do both.

I should not complain, we are in temps that are 60 degrees higher than where we came from in Minnesota.  We could get used to this very quickly but then we are not on our own schedule here, at least on vacation, we are not.  I think I could easily become a snowbird where I would have a little place that would look to the mountains and quietly write away.  I miss the mountains of Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, I loved it when I would see the sunrises or sunsets with the mountains in the foreground.  Not where we are from in Minnesota, we only see the amazing colors in the morning or evening and perhaps with NO mountains we see more of it.  It has its own splendor.

Back to my vacation, it is 3:00 a.m. in the morning and I can’t sleep so I am sitting in the cold bathroom so my husband can continue to sleep. We will probably do play with the kids and then go shopping tomorrow, erh, I mean today.  I should go back to bed but I thought I would write about my vacation.  We have most of the presents wrapped for the kids and it is so much fun to play ball and catch with them.  The two year old has a natural skill with throwing and catching. I saw that already last year when he was a year younger.  The 4 year old has his own skills and talks more.  They are sooo much fun, so this “sort of” vacation is worth it to be able to catch up with the kiddlings.

Okay, over and out, I’m back to my vacation sleep time.

 

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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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Kazakh “Marry” Christmas!

Who knew that 20 years ago I would meet the love of my life in Almaty, Kazakhstan!?  I had become at that point in my life decidedly single. I had trained to run the annual Twin Cities marathon, the fall of 1992 in Minneapolis to St. Paul as a kind of goodbye to my beloved Twin Cities.  I was in top physical shape and felt good.  Then I arrived to hot Almaty May 1st of 1993 and the next day I met my future husband. I didn’t know it at the time but HE did. He knew he was going to marry me and I put up quite a wall of resistance for about 8-9 months.  He kept asking me to marry him.  I’m glad Ken prevailed, he is stubborn in things like that.

We had a Christmas Eve wedding at my home church in Minneapolis and I brought over as guests a woman from Almaty, Tatyana Kazanina and a 16 year old Kyrgyz girl named Jyldyz.  Tanya was one of my bridesmaids and Jyldyz played piano and violin at our wedding ceremony and reception at Jax Café in north Minneapolis. It was a lovely day, I believe up in the 40s which is unusual for Minnesota in December.

I just wrote something on my Facebook about celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary and it was fun to get all the well wishes from friends from all over the world.  I especially liked what Nura wrote which I thought was so original, “Have a Marry Christmas!”  No one has ever used that play on words before with us.  I think it is brilliant and I told her so.  Leave it to a smart Kazakh to see that over native speakers of English!

Anyway, we are having guests over for Christmas day meal.  A Chinese guy with the Confucius Institute and his friend along with another family friend of ours.  I meant to have some of my former Korean students over along with my Japanese student.  She is already with her family in Japan and I didn’t get my act together to invite the Korean students. I suppose there is still time, I have five hours before the company arrives along with my folks.  I feel so blessed to have parents still they are very active in the community, my dad is 83 and my mom is 79.

Ken and I intended to watch our wedding video but I guess we deem it so valuable that we had forgotten that we had put it in our safety deposit box.  We will watch it on New Year’s Eve then.  Right now I have to keep working on my second book to satisfy the publishers by Jan. 2nd. So I can’t do too much holiday festivities.  I have the same word counts (350, 140 and 70 word captions) that are beastly, worse than deadlines.  When you combine the two, it means that I don’t have much of a vacation.  It also means I can’t go out x-country skiing in this beautiful snow.  Fortunately, it has been too cold so I haven’t missed out too much on that count.

In any case, I feel very blessed in our cozy home that my grandpa and great uncle built almost 100 years ago. I keep looking up all the facts about my hometown’s history that goes back about 130 years.  The turkey is baking in the oven, I need to make a pumpkin pie after I clean the floors and vacuum.  Yes, life is good on the Minnesota farm with cherished memories of Kazakhstan.  Right now that country, that is the 9th largest in the world, seems so far away.

Marry Christmas everyone!!!

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Twenty-seven Questions and First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part III)

My last part of a letter I wrote to Tanya, dated May 8, 1994. She was a teaching colleague and friend at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota where we taught ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) together.
20) How are you surviving in terms of food, heat, housing and friends?
The food has little fiber or what there is might be peeled off because of uncertainty in the pesticides used. I am back to eating the apple skins if they are good apples. Many people eat sunflower seeds everywhere. There is LOTS of meat here so for all vegetarians who plan to come to this part of the world, think again. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers that I trained last summer had to succumb to the lifestyle here or they were forever in a heat about all the meat that was served. It is simply part of this culture, the nomadic tribesmen herding their sheep around.
In fact, yesterday I was at the market wanting to buy some sheep for the manti [steamed meat dumpling] party I was to have with my Kyrgyz students that evening but there was only beef. On my way home I was walking on the sidewalk of the main drag when I saw a sheep running at full tilt down the main street in the oncoming traffic lane. He was being chased by three-four men. I thought to myself, “that was the sheep I need for my party.” The sheep kept getting away from the men and probably was hit by a car. It is unusual to see a live sheep in the middle of an urban setting, they are EVERYWHERE out in the country. Food is plentiful and the vegetables are seasonal. The winter months there were no cucumbers or tomatoes but now that is ALL that you will see for salads at restaurants for the next six months.
As far as heat, I had a cold apartment but that is because the windows are not insulated well. This is because of poor workmanship. However, the winter months here are mild compared to Minnesota winters. I didn’t suffer too badly from my cold apartment since I had an electric heater and blanket. I love the place where I live, seven stories up with a view of the mountains from the east AND west sides. I pay $130 a month for a four room “flat.”
You asked about friends…I have my teacher friends and I have friends that I made through Peace Corps, the sauna, and also the church that I attend. There are plenty of people here I can go to plus I have e-mail so that I can keep up with old friends back in the States!
21) Have you had to deal with any shortages?
No, not like when I lived in China (1986-88) where they didn’t have sugar for a time or butter at other times. But yes, because they don’t have peanut butter or brown sugar or Stateside items like that, I just bring it with me when I have a chance to go home. We do not have massive shortages that I am aware of like I experienced in China or that they have in Mongolia, for instance. Also, I have money that can buy me more things whereas the local people on their subsistence living could probably tell you about shortages.
22) Have you had many opportunities to get to know any of the faculty there?
Yes, my dean, of course we are becoming friends in a professional sense. Others that I teach pronunciation to, I have had them over for a manti party. I don’t feel particularly close to any of my Kyrgyz teaching colleagues since they often have more than one job to supplement their income. They are busy with family too.
23) Have you been able to make many friends with the locals? As I mentioned before, I have my sauna friends and my landlady is my friend, as is my Russian teacher. I have not invested a lot of time in getting to know their culture by going to their homes and participating in their traditions. It would be a Russified form and not a true picture of the real Kyrgyz.
24) How would you typify the culture? It is a sort of hybrid of Russian and Kyrgyz, more heavily influenced by the Russian communist way of thinking. Perhaps there is some Asian way of thinking but compared to the Chinese I know and living in China, the Kyrgyz are more westernized. By the way, they have a strong dislike for anything Chinese! Carryover of Russia’s prejudice against their formidable border foe.
25) Would you say that it is heavily influenced by Russian culture, Turkish culture, Mongolian or what?
As mentioned already, the Russians have heavily influenced the capital city and the Turkish language has had a heavy influence in the Kyrgyz language. Perhaps if you went out to the countryside, the Mongolian presence would be strong, but I don’t know.
26) Do you feel it is easy to get to know people or do you find the people to be somewhat reserved?
They are fairly easy to get to know and rather “too” straightforward about their opinion sometimes. (Russian influence) They are not reserved like the Chinese I know. In fact, most of the Kyrgyz students I have are quite extroverted and outgoing. Their speaking skills are very good for never having had a native speaker talk to them before this year.
27) How are you looked upon being a single woman?
It is much easier to be single here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan than it was in China. There they thought something was wrong with you if you weren’t married by age 25. Here, for foreigners, they made allowances up to 30. But here in Bishkek they seem to have a more westernized view of life and again this is my views from the people in the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps in the countryside they would think that I should be married with seven kids by now.
Tanya, that is all for now. Hopefully I have shed some light on the little bit that I know about this Kyrgyz culture. I remember a year ago I had these same questions. So answering them now to the best of my abilities made me think that I have actually learned something about this culture and am happy to share it with you.
By the way, Tanya, your name is very popular here. One of my best friend’s name is Tatyana, she is living in Almaty, Kazakhstan and her friends call her Tanya for short. I hope this has helped you and that you apply for a Fulbright here because they would love to have your expertise…

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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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