Posts tagged New York

What I remember of Astana, Kazakhstan, THEE coldest capital in the world…almost

Yes, we just experienced Astana cityscape

40 mph winds this past weekend and I was reminded what it was like living in Astana. It has the recognition of being the SECOND coldest capital in the world…after Ulan Bataar, Mongolia.  I thought it was THEE coldest some days I was out in it.  Wearing fur helped, having cuddle duds on under pants also provided the necessary warmth. Owning a good pair of boots that only Canadians know how to put together and wearing mittens instead of gloves was the key to staying warm in the onslaught of merciless winds.  In any case, as I listened to the wind howl around our house, I thought of those who live and work in Astana and what they have to put up with for almost 5-6 months.  I understand coming from Minnesota.

What most of us do is look at seed catalogs and think about our spring planting. We look at summer pictures with blue skies and green trees and grass. We tell ourselves that “soon and very soon, we will  have warmer temps again.”  The people on the East Coast from New York passed Washington D.C. just had about 2-3 feet of snow dumped on them.  They don’t know how to handle that sort of thing.  Best to just hunker down and do what I suggested above…or read a good book.

Anyway, green grass will be back soon and then there is the mowing of the lawns that happen all too frequently.  Enjoy each day no matter what the temperature or weather…it is a gift!



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Halloween, Hometown History and Other Musings

Last night I gave a talk about my Minnesota hometown to about 40 interested people, mostly older, white haired people.  I had 99 slides to get through in 30 minutes.  I only got to about the 70th one and then time was up and I asked for questions and comments.  I had a few comments during my presentation where I had to cut short an older gentleman who was going on and on (without a microphone).  He understood when I talked to him later. He was a older grandpa himself but his grandfather was one of the movers and shakers of my hometown.  That would have been 120 years ago.

People can make a difference in the lives of others, be they good or bad.  There are very good people in the world and there are evil ones.  My brother in the big city of Minneapolis was rear ended in his nice new pickup by someone who is evil. There was no police report filed but now this guy claims that my brother cut in in front of him.  He is calling on a lawyer to support what he is lying about.  There are slimy people in the world. Knowing my brother who is smart and can take care of himself, well this guy should not have purposely “bumped” into this hockey player brother of mine.

We just had Halloween and it was simultaneous to a full moon so the weirdos were out in full force. A high school friend of mine said she was in the front room of their house with her daughter and small granddaughters.  There was the ring of the doorbell and the littlest granddaughter thought it was yet another trick or treater.  They had about 35 treaters instead of the usual 75 kids coming for candy.  Instead this little 5 year old girl saw a man in his 20s, who was dressed in camo and had a “Jason” mask on.  He also carried a REAL chainsaw and he ripped it on and revved it up.  Scared everyone in the house and my friend’s husband watched to see where he went next, he just walked across their front lawn and on down the street.

Of course the girls were wild with fear, there are crazies out there…everywhere. There are evil and strange people in the U.S. and in Kazakhstan. Maybe that is why I feel safe to go back in the archives and look up old newspaper articles in the 1870s and 1880s because those people have long passed on. Some have died and were considered good people, others were shrewd, a few made lots of money, while others may have made lots of enemies.  But we mostly find out about the GOOD in people from what is documented.

Someone who owns an antique store in my hometown said that I could look at  what he found of the police records of those men from the 1880s and 1890s who had some kind of run in with the law.  I’m eager to do that.  As I told my captive audience last night, I will be writing a book about our hometown history and trying to figure out who was friends with whom. There were many good men who started up our town at the turn of the 20th century. That’s why it was a privilege to meet the grandson of the man who was one of the founders of our community.

Yes, I hope to write a book about my town with about 200 photos. I look forward to working with Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina because they have about 8,000 titles of small towns printed already.  Small town America is vastly diminishing but I think there should be a renewing of these towns because big city life gets complicated especially looking at what is happening in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

So, why do I also keep writing about human trafficking issues, especially in Kazakhstan?  I care about the people who are trapped in a country I love.  The Kazakh people I have worked with, yes, there are some evil people who are caught up in the corrupt system in Kazakhstan, they can’t help themselves.  That is why my Master told His followers, “Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  I know I live in two world systems simultaneously, there is nothing I can do about it.  But I can help free or help those who have come out of trafficked situations.  I am an American with freedom and independence on my mind, for everyone including the unborn baby as well as the trafficked victim.  The vulnerable and defenseless need outside help.

As an educator I try to help by making people aware of the evil that is out in the world.  Also, as an educator I want people from my hometown to know about a history that has both good and evil but mostly good.  I come from solid roots where I am able to travel half way around the world to help teach English in Kazakhstan.  If more people from my hometown know about the power of their ancestors and the energy it took to DO good, then they will take heart to know that whatever evil comes to them…this too shall pass.

I know I’m rambling right now, I should be getting ready to pack for my trip to Kazakhstan. What will I witness in changes from when I was there 1 1/2 years ago?  Astana is on a fast track to become an important country to reckon with among the developed nations.  The Kazakhs are in earnest to be recognized as key players on the world scene.  Maybe I have a sense of that spirit being from a small town that used to have a glorious past but is waning in strength and numbers.  I can identify, the Kazakhs have an AMAZING history!!!  Okay, enough for now. I hope to have photos soon of what I see in Kazakhstan, that is, if I get my passport with visa in time. It was held up in New York due to Hurricane Sandy.

I pray for the victims in New York and New Jersey as they pull themselves up to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild.  So I have three scenarios playing out here, my hometown that has little energy, Kazakhstan as a country that has much ambition and potential and they are working hard and the East Coast that will try to rebuild from the destruction.  Hurricane Sandy was an evil force of weather, the good will hopefully prevail.  Okay, I need to go pack now…

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Columbine flowers and “Sensitivity” by C.S. Lewis

Zhamilya and NazgulThis photo is of two former Kazakh students of mine who just arrived in New York to do a Work and Travel assignment this summer.  They are cousins and are inseparable. I enjoyed talking to them before their departure about their plans to study in New York once they finish their summer jobs. Last semester when I had my students write about their grandparents, these two were particularly vulnerable to tears because they had just lost their dear grandfather.  I think my initial assignment to all students to tell me about their grandparents has great merit.  It gives this young, fresh talent a chance to convey their strong feelings of respect and love for their elders in ENGLISH!!!  I was happy to get to know Nazgul and Zhamilya better through finding out more about their wonderful grandparents.  Of course, their grandma doesn’t want to see them leave and be gone for so long in the U.S.  Yet, they are so full of life and excitement.  Wonderful to be around that kind of energy  and that is why I LOVE teaching!!!

These photos of columbine flowers are dedicated to these two students and their success in the U.S. Also, these flowers are close to our supposed new flat which is half the price of what we are paying now for a 3 room Soviet style apartment.  This new one has better air because it is higher up in the mountains, a 45 minute walk from my university (instead of 20 min) and is VERY Soviet style with only 2 rooms.  So, seeing these different columbine flowers perked me up because I will miss many things about the old place we lived in nearly two years. yellow columbinepurple columbinepink yellow columbine

I’ve probably quoted this passage from The Great Divorce written by C.S. Lewis, but it bears repeating:

“Did we pretend to be ‘hurt’ in our sensitive and tender feelings (fine natures like ours are so vulnerable) when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real problem? Such tactics often succeed.  The other parties give in.  They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us, but because they have long known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused, that skeleton brought out of its cupboard, only at the cost of imperilling their whole relationship with us.  It needs surgery which they know we will never face.  And so we win; by cheating.  But the unfairness is very deeply felt.  Indeed what is commonly called ‘sensitiveness’ is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny, sometimes a lifelong tyranny.  How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless to its first appearance in ourselves.”

I have to purge myself of the anger I feel toward a few of my fellow Kazakh teachers who do not know how much airfare costs for me to go home to the U.S. to be with MY family.  Such costs should be considered as part of my salary (as it was done in Ukraine where they paid for our flat and airfare) because apartment and travel costs alone eat up whatever salary I receive teaching my dear Kazakh students.

Meanwhile, an older Kazakh administrator told me the other day that she only spent $1,200 to get to New York on a round trip. (perhaps that was years ago on a different airlines)  Little does she consider that I travel during peak season to the Midwest when rates go up to $1,700 or $2,000 for a roundtrip so I can be with my own family.  Also, she probably already had her apartment given to her when she was a former communist party leader and so she doesn’t have to pay $1,000 a month for rent as I do.

Yet this same older teacher and administrator is the one who is “sensitive” about students knowing so much more than she does about computers while she is getting more behind as each semester passes.  She does not feel the unction to practice on her computer to improve her skills.  At the same time she probably resents the fact that I keep banging on the same drum about all Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers need to be using their computer skills in the classroom for the benefit of their students. Perhaps they feel “hurt” when I so much as suggest that they should use e-mail to get students’ homework instead of getting paper hard copies from them only during class time.  Sometimes I really question why I sacrifice so much to teach in Kazakhstan but then when I run into former students like Nazgul and Zhamilya who are eager to learn, the sacrifice does not feel so heavy.

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