Posts tagged Muslim

Finishing up the semester, enjoying spring

IMG_0484Tomorrow I will have international students out for lunch, one is from Japan, another from China and the other from Taiwan.  I will also have an American with an Italian last name come for lunch along with my folks and the American’s parents.  They are camping out in our yard with their trailer because all the parks are still too wet to have overnight campers.  It will be fun to host them over the next week. Graduation exercises are next Saturday so I’ll wear my cap, gown and hood again.  Two weeks ago we had the inauguration for our new chancellor so we just kept everything for this big event. I hope it is sunny because right now it is gloomy and rainy.  The farmers could use the rain but I think we are all relieved that we didn’t have a flood with all the snow we had this winter.

For now I will put up some more photos because I don’t have too much to write about trafficking or about Kazakhstan. Of course, I am watching with interest the two friends of the bombing suspect from the Boston Marathon.  I had students’ names like theirs when I taught in Almaty and in Astana.  I should look back at a post I did about 4-5 years ago how the Muslim inside every Kazakh will rise up and help a fellow Muslim no matter what the nationality is.  Yep, that is what is going on with this 19 year old who is still recovering from his narrow escape from the law.  They would have eventually found him had he slipped away.  In any case, the search would have been easier had the friends of the 19 year old ‘fessed up about what they knew.

The above photo is our Central Park under water a week ago. This is showing my Mom’s tulips popping up, a sure sign of spring. IMG_0482

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My Spring of 1994 Reflections of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

Eighteen years ago I was hitting my stride as an English teacher and Fulbright Scholar at a university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  I had made foreign friends and also friends with the native Kyrgyz people and those who were Russian but born in Kyrgyzstan.  The following is what I wrote on March 27, 1994 to family and friends back in the U.S.

“Yesterday was a good day at the sauna.  I usually go every Saturday morning from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. with Olga, Lena, Natasha and other Russian women.  We sit and sweat, then jump into a cold pool, then sip on tea and repeat the cycle about five times in two hours.  My friend Olga and her husband Andrey have two daughters under the age of four.  As I was leaving the sauna I thought of my 50 minute walk back home and was favoring my one foot because I had developed a blister on the way TO the sauna.  There was Olga with her husband, in their car and since I live close by, they offered me a ride home…

Yesterday afternoon I went to a meeting with other westerners who gather monthly.  There was a Russian guest speaker who talked for an hour and a half about working with the Kyrgyz people and how the Bible was translated into Kyrgyz. He said that the Muslims became aware this was going on so they got someone to translate the Koran for them. Somehow the man who was working on the Koran got interested in doing the Old Testament and eventually became a hunted man.

When educated Kyrgyz would make comparisons with the Bible and the Koran, they valued the words in the Bible. The remarkable stories of the perseverance of the saints and God’s faithfulness to the people who were hunted down as early Christians must have encouraged this translator.” [Later in my stay, I received from a Kyrgyz friend of mine a translated copy of the Koran into Russian. I had always thought that it was sacrilege to have that book in any other language than in Arabic. They must have bent the rules on that for Central Asia. Not that I could read this translation any better than it was in the original text.]

The following is what I wrote on May 5, 1994:

I just celebrated Easter AGAIN in Almaty with my friend Tatyana [Kazanina].  The Russian Orthodox church has a different religious calendar which they follow. The main reason I went to Almaty was to visit with my other friend Ken. I went with him and another friend of his [he drove his Mercedes] to Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon.” It WAS beautiful but cold so we turned around and came back.  Before this trip to Almaty on the public bus (it took 4 ½ hours) I took another “trip.” Let me explain.

I walk everywhere in Bishkek since it a much smaller city than Almaty. But you really have to look where you are going because the sidewalks and streets are laden with potholes, cracks or other such traps.  When I saw the bus for Almaty pulling out of the bus station, I didn’t want to wait for another hour for the next one.  As a result, I sped up my pace and took my eyes off the sidewalk.  There was an inch pipe running from one little garden plot to the next.  That is what grabbed my right foot and propelled me to the pavement with a 30 pound backpack on my back.  I was in pain for the whole trip after that and that night while I stayed at my friend Tatyana’s place. It wasn’t until I got to Ken’s place the next morning where he had plenty of ice packs, that the pain eased.  My knee is better now, a week later, but it has ALL colors of the color chart throughout my leg…”

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Media doesn’t get it…personal testimony does

Today I’ll deviate from what I’ve been blogging about lately on human trafficking, I’ll take my readers to Iraq.  I have two American friends who are working in Baghdad right now. They are friends of mine since we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m not sure they have connected with each other yet but we have mutual friends, it’s a small world after all.  I’m glad we are Facebook friends because when I see their status updates, I know they are okay.  When I don’t, I worry that something may have gone very wrong with security. Baghdad has had several explosions lately.

All that above as an introduction to our speaker we heard today at our Rotary meeting. A retired army officer talked for a half hour about his military experiences in Iraq from 2005-2008, almost three years.  Col. Martin Breaker was in charge of detainee operations after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. He showed the four photos that went viral on the Internet and had more to do with putting Americans in harms way.  He in fact,  during his tenure as commanding officer, lost 17 soldiers under him. Always very sad.

I did not know, and maybe it was because I lived in Ukraine and never got the straight scoop, that it was American soldiers who had taken pictures of themselves in jail cells looking as if they were being tortured by Americans soldiers.  The Abu Ghraib abuse scandal the media took to the extreme and didn’t give out the true facts. Two photos were made to look like Iraqi “victims” with their arms extended as if hanging on a cross (black mask over the head and in a black gown) The other two photos had threatening black dogs snarling fiercely at frightened supposed “detainees.”

How did these photos appear to the insurgency in Iraq who were being propagandized to hate Americans?  Those two photos with extended arms were perceived as detainees being held at Abu Ghraib and tortured to become Christian. Anathema for those in this Muslim land of Iraq.  Did these American “jokers” also know how lethal the symbolic meaning of having black dogs as attack dogs?  We have our own superstitions about black cats but this was 100 times worse for any Iraqi civilian to see these photos.  Because Mohammed’s son was killed by a black wolf, the Iraqis are terrified of black dogs. It goes far beyond superstition but a real phobia.

In any case, the usual suspects (Americans who posted these photos on the Internet) were rounded up and sent off to serve their own time in prison back in the U.S.  I’m not sure that the media is ever penalized for aiding and abetting in not getting the accurate story out.  What I found out from personal testimony of Martin Breaker was these errant soldiers did not have good leadership at this detention camp. Also they had been trained to be M.P.s and not simply guards for detainees.  (the guards have non-lethal weapons with rubber bullets) Martin had to go in and clean up the mess and help befriend the Iraqi people who were scooped up for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If there had been a bombing or a blast, all in the area were considered suspects.

Who were these detainees at Abu Ghraib? Often the insurgents would find those who are extremely poor and offer them $300 to do the dirty work for them.  Anything from digging ditches to setting off bombs.  In some cases, they had no choice. Marty gave one example where the terrorists came to a home packed with Iraqi people. When they refused to comply, they took the youngest girl outside and shot her dead. Then the terrorists came back into the house to get the expected cooperation they had been initially looking for.  Another case where there was a farmer living close to the 12 foot cement barriers surrounding the camp, he had a 16 year old daughter. The soldiers who were patrolling the camp would often throw over the wall some bottled water to give to the family.  Turns out the insurgents killed the daughter because she had talked to Americans.  Such is the hate of the terrorists for their own Iraqi people, think how much more they must hate the American soliders?

Martin’s job was to not only clean up the mess created by the Abu Ghraib photos that were used against Americans but to also get information from the Iraqis once they were befriended.  He wanted to marginalize their effectiveness as terrorists by showing that they cared about them. The average time spent at the camp was 18 months and at one point there were 60,000 people, mostly young men between the ages of 18-29. To adhere to Geneva Convention protocol, millions of dollars were spent to make sure they had three meals a day and clean water and also shoes on their feet.  Many Iraqis had never owned a pair of shoes before.  Their tents were air conditioned which was especially helpful when the temps in the summer would shoot up to 127 F degrees. Each person was provided a prayer mat and also a Koran if they could read it.  Some of them realized that they had been lied to about the good will of Americans.

Many of these poor people who had been abused by their own Iraqi government before and then were being terrorized by the insurgents, when they were processed into the detention camps some had very severe health issues.  Saddam Hussein had not helped his people and those considered wealthy were people who could afford medicine.  One problem when administering remedies for the high frequency of diabetes and T.B. was that people would hoard their medication and not take it.  Those in charge with the diagnosis had to make sure they would make themselves better and not try to sell the medication once released.  Those with T.B. were isolated for about six weeks from the rest of the camp.

What was their favorite thing to watch on t.v. or watching movies?  Mickey Mouse cartoons.  Were there women?  Yes there were some.  Also families were allowed to visit which boosted the morale of those detained.  Martin talked of one man who was being interrogated for information that might lead to better intelligence (no waterboarding was used). There was one old man for six months who would not talk, they dubbed him Mr. Mute. Once they got a woman officer who was 30 years younger to come in to ask him questions, all of a sudden he started talking and giving valuable info.  He continually asked her to marry him.  She, of course, had no interest but hey, whatever works.

I had asked if there were some who did NOT want to leave the detention centers.  Afterall, for some of the Iraqis, they had never been treated better or fed so well.  Martin had an answer where an older gentleman didn’t want to go back home because he had four wives that would be nagging him.

Martin also talked about the trial for Saddam Hussien which could take a whole ‘nother blog but suffice it to say that being in this madman’s presence was enough to know he was a psychopath.  Martin said it would be easy to imagine Saddam talking to two people, shoot the one person dead and continue to talk to the fortunate living person as if nothing had happened.  He complained of many things and once the verdict was found he was guilty, Saddam was released by Martin and the U.S. military into the hands of the Iraqi people. You know the rest of the story…

Martin ended his slide show with “Freedom is Never Free.” That can be true for any country, any time period.  Our American freedom was bought with a price, maintaining our freedom from two world wars meant great sacrifice.  I fear that we trivialize our freedoms and the Arab world is preying upon what we have. The use of terror was something that Stalin was adept at.  Btw, Saddam had his library full of books about Stalin, so he was taking his marching orders from a fellow madman.  I hope that my American friends stay safe in an environment that is very volatile.  I’m glad that Martin shared from his perspective what it was like to be in a place where he was shot at and threatened with mortars on a daily basis.

We have SOOO much to be thankful for and I believe we need to personally thank our servicemen and women who give up their family life and comfortable homes to do the dirty work for us, making our lives free and secure.

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“Of GODS and MEN” and Kazakhstan

Last night my husband and I watched a French movie titled “Of Gods and Men” with English subtitles.  We learned many of the Catholic rituals that were followed by eight monks in the two hours of viewing.  They were living in Algeria back in the mid 1990s. Before what the rest of the world now knows after 9/11 about Muslim extremists and terrorists.  These priests made the tough decision to stay on for the benefit of the villagers who they cared for rather than leave to save their own skins.

Earlier we saw how the Croatians at a work site were slashed in their throats by the extremists.  The warning on imdb.com was that “Of Gods and Men” was a volatile, extremely violent movie.  I was ready for the end to see all eight monks slashed to death because we knew that they would be martyred for their Christian faith.  Didn’t happen quite the way we thought but I don’t want this to be a spoiler for those who have NOT seen this slow-moving but good movie.  I recommend it highly.

How does it relate to Kazakhstan? I think you have foreign people who have gained the trust of the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis by learning the language (Kazakh and Russian). They live in Almaty or Astana sacrificing what could be an easier, “better” life in U.K. or the U.S. or other western countries. (Not many I know of are actually living in the countryside beside Peace Corps volunteers) However, people I know are following a higher calling. That is what keeps them living beside those who are struggling to make ends meet, those who are chaffing under tyrannical laws that make no sense whatsoever.

BUT, for all the complaining there might be about the Kazakh haves and the have-nots, the standard of living being so high in the cities while Kazakh people suffer in the rural areas due to high unemployment or alcoholism, they still have their freedom.  As we saw in the movie, women were brutalized for not wearing the full garments covering all of their body. Women were not able to have an education.  They were twisted up in fear about whether their children would survive because the Muslims terrorists who ruled the area wanted them to be afraid, very afraid.  The ongoing battle was against the corrupt, government armed forces against the terrorists.  The armed forces wanted the priests to join sides with them in their brutality against the terrorists.  They would have none of it.  So, the Christians were caught in the middle wanting peace. Turns out that the French people LOVED this movie because they are all about freedom.

That brings me to another movie we watched during the 4th of July weekend.  “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson. What is it about Mel and violence and blood?  I had to cover my eyes more than once because it was so brutal and terribly bloody.  Of course, war is all of that but Gibson took it to the next extreme level with some good principles in place. The French helped the early American settlers to gain their freedom from the British imperialists.  French are all about liberty, as are Americans!

Maybe that is what Kazakhstan needs to sort out. Who will really help them get out from under the former Communist past and to stay ahead or away from the terrorist element that would LOVE to come in to strike fear in the people.  Not to mention the other threat to the east, a very big country that is burgeoning with many young males who are a product of the “One Child” policy.  Kazakhstan is the country to watch to see how they can stay afloat in wanting peace.  That is what the eight priests in “Of Gods and Men” wanted but they were martyred for their faith.  What is Kazakhstan’s faith?  Is it in themselves and their past? Is it really Muslim? Is it materialism and a reaction against communism?  Time will tell…

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Billboards of Traditional Kazakhs and Christmas Trees

Today’s blog will feature some photos I’ve taken in the last month.  I don’t seem to get my camera in my purse when the HUGE tree outside of our campus is all lit up.  Sunday when I was there at work, it wasn’t all BLUE with white decorations shining brightly, last night it was all lit up.  Of course, I didn’t have my camera then. (sigh)  It took the workers about a week to put the finishing touches of bows, balls and lights up on this 45-50 foot tree while using three cherry pickers.  I just wish I had the photo showing the blue lights.  Well, the other three photos are billboards in my neighborhood that I’ve been meaning to take for some time.  One is a Kazakh dancer, another a dombra player and the third is a man who trains birds to hunt small game. All very Kazakh.  Next time I’ll show the beautifully lit Christmas tree at our university which is referred to by the locals as a “New Years” tree. Of course, they don’t celebrate Christmas here in this Muslim land.

You have to know, the Astana city streets are all “dressed to the nines,” as they say.  Lights everywhere, decorated trees everywhere, especially in the new part of the city where we live.  This area of strange architectural wonders is now known as the RED ZONE, but I call it the colorful zone! Yes we have some very important heads of state representing 55 countries who are here in Astana for a two day summit conference.  The likes of Hillary, Sarkozy, Merkel and many others will no doubt see the tree in front of our university along with all the other lights and buildings.  Astana is spectacular yet what was blowing from the west was a very cold wind chill.  I almost felt sorry for the police who are standing along all the routes about 100 feet apart making sure that nothing happens that would diminish the glory of Astana’s preparation for the summit.  All of us residents will be glad when everything is back to “normal” as we know it.

Please note my little Christmas tree that Ken and I set up a week or so ago.  I love this little tree made in Poland but with Chinese twinkling lights and ornaments added with each passing year. 

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Troubling News: Digital Age Plagiarism

Plagiarism is nothing new, especially for this writing teacher who can spot it a mile away. The key to early detection is to have students do a lot of “in-class” writing. Then you can easily discover when they submit other hard copy assignments, why they did such a stellar job.  Turnitin.com is also another quick way to find out when the student might have copied some quotes that are not their own words.

I remember one “student” of mine in Ukraine who was a lazy, black leather jacket guy enamored by his cell phone handed in a “funny” essay.  He didn’t mean for it to be hilarious and he certainly wasn’t laughing when he got his final grade from me.  But this one paper was a piece his girlfriend had written.  This character hadn’t even bothered to change the wording of when she was a little girl, she loved to figure skate. If he had just improved the “little girl” part I still might have wondered why he would love to “figure skate.” Where I’m from in Minnesota, guys play hockey they do NOT figure skate!

I think since these students who plagiarize don’t bother to read much, they figure their writing teachers don’t read their incoming assignments either.  Therefore, I read with great interest a recent New York Times article on this very topic of the digital age and what to make of this age old problem of plagiarism.  This article titled: “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” written by Trip Gabriel, had some good examples given by researchers on this sticky topic.

Thankfully Susan D. Blum, an anthropologist at Notre Dame has written a book on this important topic, published by Cornell University Press titled: “My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture.” In her ethnographic research of  234 Notre Dame undergraduates she wrote:

“Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them.” She went on… “the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.”

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

According to Times author, Trip Gabriel, ‘Ms. Blum contends that undergraduates are less interested in cultivating a unique and authentic identity — as their 1960s counterparts were — than in trying on many different personas, which the Web enables with social networking.'”

Respondents to surveys who believe plagiarism should be considered “serious cheating” by lifting words off the web has dropped from 34 percent to 29 percent on average in the past decade, according to the New York Times article.  I have my own theory as to why this may be true that no anthropologist would dare touch.

I believe the more people who are turned off by church and using the Bible as a text to be referenced, the less you have people taking the time in giving proper attribution to where they find their sources.  In other words, days of old you had people who wrote in lofty, well thought out script, they also adhered to the Bible as being the true Word of God.  If one does not tamper with His Word, you probably won’t be messing with other people’s words either.

I’m wondering what Muslim countries do about getting their ardent students to refer back to the Koran as a way to prove a point.  Do their holy teachers instill in their young students to reference the Koran by giving proper references? [Christians always want to know the “street address” of where something was quoted from. For example, look up Jeremiah 29:11]  I doubt it, but then I’m walking into very murky territory. Again, I don’t know much about the Koran and if it is held up as holy text the same way the Bible is by true believers of Christianity. I’d have to say that the people in Kazakhstan only have a superficial knowledge of what is in the Koran.

My main point is that the western world has moved away from using the Bible as a text to adhere to or to gain instruction from.  The deconstructionism and the postmodern era has done a number on many of the words we held on to for dear life.  Why on earth would other universities from developing countries want to emulate what we have going on at our western universities if we have western professors who make a living tearing down words we held as true? Most specifically, does our new university in Astana want to follow the western traditional practices of originality or follow the path of “anything goes,” take what you can off of the 21st century Internet writings?

Troubling problems to deal with…stay tuned.

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Astana’s Blue Hue (Part Two)

Today Ken and I bought a new 21 speed bike at a bike shop named Belo close to the American embassy.  It came with a bell, air pump, water bottle all for $400. I insisted that we also buy a German made helmet because the drivers here do NOT respect pedestrians or bikers, there could be some close shaves where a helmet could save a life. The bike is a Fuji Odessa which seems to be a globalized bike, mass produced in Indonesia.  Fuji has the Japanese ring to it with Ukrainian name of a city off of the Crimean Sea. What a wonderful day to ride it home from the bike shop.  However, not so great to carry it up four flights of stairs yet it is too long to put in our lift.  So, part of the exercise regimen now for both of us is to bike and do stairs saddled with a bike. Also, we must learn to jump curbs because the sidewalks are not altogether biker or stroller friendly. We will share it for the mean time.  I would love to bring my GREEN Cannondale from home to here in Astana, Kazakhstan, it is much lighter.  We shall see.  For now, see how beautiful the blue skies are in our new town of three months.  You can see the regal Presidents palace, also another building that looks like a dog dish and finally a ram on the bridge that I crossed to get home.  Supposedly a Muslim country shouldn’t have any pictures of animals or people on billboards or statues but then again, this Central Asian country is a hybrid of that faith with a lot of the Soviet influence still in place.  

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