Posts tagged Peace Corps

My Summer of 1993 Reflections on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

I came across some 1993 correspondence (and photos) that I had written to family and friends back home in the U.S. I shared about my stay in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps trainer to 30 trainees in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Seems some of the complexities of living in Central Asia never change.  However, this had more to do with my working within an American Peace Corps framework in a culture that had other intricate nuances with resulting snafus that we were completely unaware of.  I wrote the following on August 2, 1993:

“Last week I took a rest.  Okay, for a Type-A personality, I’m willing to admit I needed a rest.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with ‘training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working for me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira, a Kyrgyz woman, on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also she knows Kazakh.  Along with my Kazakhstani friend Tatyana [Kazanina], I have a wonderful team to work with. It counters some of the other bad elements I have to deal with in the Peace Corps office.

The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out Peace Corps trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t even know people who might know the answers.  That’s why I was thankful to meet an American woman named Sandy.  She had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the volunteer group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and I really DO love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Washington, D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to August 28.  I really don’t want to stay here (Almaty) any longer that I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the PCV trainees, the dorm and Almaty.

That is why I took my “rest” at a lake called Issy-kul and read “The New Russians.”  I did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and a mile or two wide.  There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful that the PC authorities permitted me to go there. I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota.  I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  Right now, I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to when I will be living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a year.  Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country…”

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Kazakhstan’s Education (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote what my Kazakhstani friend, Tatyana, had written about her views on the educational system she was a part of during the former Soviet Union and two years into the reforms with Kazakhstan as a new nation. Tatyana was not altogether positive in her perspective.   We were the first PC group and so there was much to learn about a country we all knew so little about.  Tatyana at least had lived in the U.S. for one year and could speak with authority about education when she compared both systems, western with her own.  Here is the rest of what she told the 30 Peace Corps volunteers on what to expect when they went to their respective villages once training was over:

“…Now when Kazakhstan has become an independent state [as of two years before in 1991], schools got an opportunity to experiment with the curriculum, introduce elective courses thus being more flexible.  During the reform, four new subjects were introduced to add to the 22 subjects on the curriculum of the 11-year school:

1)   Acquaintance with the Surrounding World (1st and 2nd grades)

2)   Computer Science and Computer Technology ( 10th– 11th grades)

3)   The Ethics and Psychology of Family Life (9th and 10th grades) but this subject totally failed.  There were no books, no specialists in this area to conduct decent lessons. The subject in our school I remember was taught by whomever agreed to do it.  One teacher simply used to tell the students stories about her family, setting it up as an example of good family relations. She seemed to like it. But by the end of the term, the students knew everything about her family life and stopped going to her class.

4)   Fundamentals of production choice of profession (8th-9th grades)

So in general, most of the point of the new reform could not be implemented and were a complete failure.  Others, such as the introduction of computer science and technology proved to be quite successful with the exception that a lot of schools are still not properly facilitated.

Now when Kazakhstan became an independent state, schools seem to have a broad field for experimenting.  Our government seems to understand now that the essence of a reform is not in dictating from above what, where and how should be done, but in providing favorable conditions for the school development, as Shaisultan Shayahmetov put it.

Having completed one’s secondary education, one can either start working or go on to college. (Institution of Higher Learning). There are universities and so-called “Institutes” in Kazakhstan. Universities are more academically oriented, while institutes are both academic and practice oriented.  There are no degrees here equivalent to those of bachelors (BA) or masters (MA). As a rule, students spent five years in college, institute or university.  To be admitted to an institute or university, you have to pass a series of oral and written tests.

Education in Kazakhstan has, until recently, been free on all levels and subsidized by the government.  Now, when the country is changing to a market place economy, the system of education is also undergoing profound changes.”

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Kazakhstan’s Education According to my Friend Tatyana

I have my Kazakhstani friend, Tatyana Kazanina, to thank for the following talk she gave the summer of 1993 to the first Peace Corps volunteer group who arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Tatyana, Polish by ethnicity, was my soulmate who was one of my bridesmaids when I got married in December of 1994.  She had strongly encouraged me to marry Ken when I was wavering by saying in her characteristic, Russian accent, “You’d be a fool to NOT marry Ken.” (emphasis on the word “fool”) Somehow Russian speakers have a way of showing their passion in how they talk.  Tatyana didn’t mince her words either.

Tatyana was also a very good English teacher to her young pupils maybe because she had experienced living one year in Arizona through the FLEX program.  That’s how good her English was, she was passionate about mastering it.  Sadly, she died of thyroid cancer, several years later.  I was shocked that my friend, whom I had met in Almaty, had lived only 40 some years.  I still miss her even now as I write out the words that she had so carefully crafted for the Peace Corps volunteers in 1993 to understand Kazakhstan’s educational system.  Here is what she told them:

Until recently the educational system in Kazakhstan was very much the same as the educational system in the whole of the Soviet Union.  Actually, it was a part of that huge machine called the Soviet educational system and thus had the same features, suffered the same problems.  It had its merits and shortcomings and drawbacks but it was the state system we lived in.

First of all, education was inseparably connected with ideology and thus was strictly controlled by the government.  Usually all the instructions came from the Sate Committee on Public Education residing in Moscow to Republican Ministries of educational and then to the local departments of public education. Some deviations were possible with respect to national or regional peculiarities of different republics, but the core, the essence was usually the same.

At school students were taught either in Russian or their native tongue, but the curriculum remained the same for al school-goers.  All schools were expected to follow general guidelines. Textbooks on all subjects were the same for the whole Soviet Union. So, schools were kept within certain bounds and it was forbidden to wander off from them.  Under these circumstances, experimenting was hard.

Second, as everywhere else, education in this country depended on the state of economy.  No wonder schools were and are poorly facilitated.  Teachers have always been overloaded and miserably paid.  When I first started teaching at school, my monthly payment was 80 rubles (about $100 a month).  A bus or trolleybus driver those days could be paid 300 rubles a month.  The gap was incredible.  It was clear that something was wrong with the educational system.  Besides, in schools same as in the whole Soviet society, there was a contradiction between what was being said and what was actually being done.  Everybody saw this, but nobody spoke about this publically.

Under these circumstances, a reform of general education became necessary.  In 1984, the program document envisaging the all-round development of education was approved by the first session of the USSR Supreme Soviet.  It was doomed to fail, though, because the main reasons why our education was in such a poor state or condition hadn’t even been revealed and the main emphasis was again made on the teachers’ enthusiasm.  Some innovations had been introduced but they never worked:

Before the reform, children in Kazakhstan started school at the age of 7 and finished it at 17.  Usually a regular secondary school comprised all three types of education.  Elementary from 1st to 3rd grade, the incomplete secondary (from 4th till the 8th grade) and then complete secondary (from the 9th to 10th grades). Secondary education was mandatory for all.  Thus, all the subjects were obligatory. You could not choose. So, no matter what your future profession would be, a librarian or a language teacher, you were obliged to study math, for example, in the same amount that would allow you to pass the entrance exam to be in a math department of a university.  The same thing happened with chemistry, physics and biology.

So, the requirements on these subjects were initially raised unreasonably high and it was a reason of constant complaints on the part of parents and students.  So, rather than make the school system more flexible, look over the programs on certain subjects to meet the requirements of students the reform proclaimed the switchover to an 11-year education, to spend four years on a three-year curriculum.”

(to be continued)

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Hope in Kazakhstan’s Education, BUT What About Human Trafficking?

I was hopeful about Kazakhstan’s future when I taught in university classrooms in both Almaty and Astana.  Want to see a funny video clip where I worked for 2 ½ years in Almaty? Next, is a promo clip meant to impress about the NEW university in Astana where I taught for one year. Hard to believe it was a year ago that I was in Astana, but I still recognize many of the young Kazakh students. I LOVED teaching these energetic, serious, fun loving students in both cities. Little did I know that some of the new buildings we were privileged to work in were probably built by exploited people from other countries.

As you can tell with my blog over the last year, I’m more interested in the International Organization of Migration and the progress they are making in countries like Kazakhstan. Supposedly, according to this link, Kazakhstan is fifth on the list for victims assisted.  That’s a testimony to the work done to help those migrated victims trapped into being trafficked into Kazakhstan for manual labor or sexual exploitation.  The data shows that in 2011 Kazakhstan assisted 265 victims.

Just the other day I read and found very interesting that Kazakhstan’s Ministry person responsible for building and construction in Kazakhstan is the husband of one of the daughters of the president of this country of Kazakhstan. But here’s a news flash I got yesterday, another daughter of the president, Dariga, is responsible for Migration of people into Kazakhstan.  That should mean that trafficking will receive a higher priority from the Kazakh government. Let’s certainly hope so!

Maybe all the money the Kazakh government is paying former Prime Minister Tony Blair is paying off. Kazakhstan needs help from Blair to clean up its image (i.e. honoring contracts and not doing shady business with other countries who bring in these “slaves” to do the manual labor.) Some construction workers in Astana are paid very little, if anything at all.

The American Embassy website about Kazakhstan’s involvement on stopping human trafficking shared the following info about last year’s activities.

Trafficking in Persons Report 2011: Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a destination and to a lesser extent, source and transit country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking and for men, women, and children subjected to conditions of forced labor. Kazakhstani women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, China, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Greece, Indonesia, and Israel. Women and girls from Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Ukraine are subjected to sex trafficking in Kazakhstan. Women and girls from rural Kazakhstan are subjected to sex trafficking in urban areas of the country. Kazakhstani men, women, and children as well as men from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, and Nigeria are subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic service, cattle breeding and pasturing and also in the harvest of tobacco and cotton in Kazakhstan.

The Government of Kazakhstan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government significantly decreased the use of forced child labor in the cotton harvest, increased law enforcement efforts against human trafficking, passed a law strengthening penalties for convicted child sex trafficking offenders, and increased victim identification. However, it failed to effectively screen migrants for potential victims of trafficking and only identified two foreign victims of labor trafficking, despite being a significant destination country for foreign victims of forced labor.

Recommendations for Kazakhstan: Increase efforts to identify foreign victims of both forced prostitution and forced labor, including through expanded training of police officers and government officials in victim identification and assistance; work to ensure that foreign victims of trafficking receive assistance; increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims, including by ensuring that authorities screen for potential victims of forced labor among those detained during immigration raids and refer those identified as victims for assistance; investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of being complicit in trafficking and convict and punish any complicit officials; continue efforts to prevent the use of forced labor during the cotton and tobacco harvests; continue to increase the number of victims who receive government-funded assistance by increasing funding to anti-trafficking NGOs; conduct trafficking awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for both labor trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation; and continue to strengthen the capacity of police, prosecutors and judges to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate trafficking cases.


The government of Kazakhstan demonstrated modest progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Kazakhstan prohibits trafficking in persons for both labor and sexual exploitation through Articles 128, 133, 125(3)(b), 126(3)(b), 270, and 132-1 of its penal code, which prescribe penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment – penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Kazakhstan amended its penal code in 2010, adding Article 132-1 which strengthens punishments for child sex trafficking offenders. Police investigated 88 trafficking cases in 2010, a significant increase from 49 investigations in 2009. Authorities prosecuted 48 cases in 2010, compared with 35 prosecutions in 2009. A total of 32 trafficking offenders were convicted in 2010, an increase from 24 such convictions in 2009.  The government convicted 29 offenders for sex trafficking offences in 2010, an increase from 21 sex trafficking convictions in 2009, and convicted three offenders for forced labor offences in 2010, the same number as in 2009. Five convicted traffickers received parole and served no time in prison. Twenty-seven convicted offenders received sentences ranging from two to 14 years’ imprisonment. The Kazakhstani police, in cooperation with foreign donors, provided training in trafficking investigation techniques and victim identification procedures for 79 migration and criminal police officers and provided training for Kazakhstani law enforcement officers in Mongolia, Russia, Qatar, Turkey, Austria, the UAE, Belarus, and Armenia. It also provided in-kind assistance for NGO trainings for government officials. Police jointly investigated two trafficking cases with Russia and one with the UAE. Despite anecdotal reports of individual police officers complicit in trafficking and with close associations with traffickers, the government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking.

The government demonstrated efforts to address the allegations of forced child labor in the 2010 TIP Report. The South Kazakhstan oblast government – the region in Kazakhstan where the majority of cotton is grown – issued several directives that explicitly prohibited the use of child labor (including forced child labor) during the 2010 fall cotton harvest. The Department of Education also inspected local schools to ensure they were not closed by local officials during the cotton harvest. Labor inspectors conducted inspection checks of cotton and tobacco fields and found no evidence of forced labor. NGOs in the region reported that the use of forced child and forced adult labor decreased significantly from the previous year. There were no reports of government officials complicit in forced labor in the cotton or tobacco harvests in 2010; however, the government did not pursue any prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in forced labor in the cotton or tobacco harvests of 2009.


The Government of Kazakhstan made some progress in identifying and protecting trafficking victims in 2010; however, the government identified only one foreign labor trafficking victim, despite being a recognized destination for foreign victims of forced labor. Although migration police reported screening illegal migrants detained during immigration raids, these efforts did not result in the identification of any trafficking victims. In 2010, thousands of migrants were deported without being screened for potential victims of trafficking. In 2010, the government identified 82 victims of trafficking, including 13 victims of forced labor, compared with 59 victims of trafficking, including 12 labor trafficking victims, identified in 2009. Of those identified, nine were foreign victims, including two victims of forced labor, an increase from three foreign victims identified in 2009. The government provided funding in the amount of $ 70,000 for the provision of food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other services for all identified victims; this was a decrease from the $84,000 in funding the government provided for the same purposes in 2009. In total, 134 trafficking victims, including 49 victims of forced labor, were assisted by IOM, privately funded NGOs, and government-funded programs in 2010. The government fully funds one NGO-run shelter for trafficking victims, which assisted 40 victims, including nine foreign victims, in 2010. The local government of Almaty partially funds another NGO-run shelter, which assisted 33 trafficking victims, including 18 foreign trafficking victims. Shelters are open to all trafficking victims and provide legal, psychological, and medical assistance; however, some foreign victims of trafficking are unable to access medical assistance due to a lack of health insurance or temporary residency permits. Adult trafficking victims were permitted to freely enter and leave the shelters. Some child trafficking victims were held in juvenile detention centers until they were cleared of charges. In 2010, the government adopted a measure that permitted victims of serious crimes, including trafficking victims, to receive government compensation. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Foreign victims who agreed to cooperate with law enforcement were permitted to remain in Kazakhstan for the duration of the criminal investigation; this temporary residency status did not permit trafficking victims to work during the investigation. The government did not report how many foreign victims received temporary residence permits in 2010. The government did not offer victims longer-term residency; all victims were forcibly repatriated, either after a short recuperation period or after their service as a prosecution witness was completed. Although some victims cooperated with authorities during the initial investigation, some victims refused to testify in court for fear of retribution from traffickers. There were no reports of victims punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, unidentified victims may have been deported or prosecuted for immigration or other violations. Authorities provided one victim with repatriation assistance in 2010, a result of a joint investigation with law enforcement officials in the UAE.


The government increased its prevention efforts during the reporting period, including an awareness campaign by local officials targeted at employers in the cotton or tobacco harvests. The government supported a number of anti-trafficking efforts, including at least 191 newspaper articles and 73 videos on human trafficking. The government ran anti-trafficking campaigns on passenger trains and a hotline for trafficking victims. NGOs received $64,200 from the national government and $11,800 from local governments for trafficking prevention activities, including a second trafficking hotline. This represents an overall increase from $63,000 provided to NGOs for prevention activities in 2009. The government provided in-kind contributions for a program designed to reduce demand for sex trafficking.

I’m still wondering how the American Peace Corps volunteers might have continued their work in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately the PCVs were quickly dispatched to leave the country hastily last fall.  There was a FREE labor force that was disbanded because supposedly the country of Kazakhstan is wealthy enough, they don’t need help like other third world nations do. Supposedly Kazakhstan does not need the stigma of having American PCVs come help and volunteer their time and effort anymore.  That was a sudden and non transparent move with Peace Corps decision to leave Kazakhstan so abruptly last fall.

Now I believe there will be even MORE internal migration going on where unsuspecting people from the rural areas of Kazakhstan (the vast country that it is) are being manipulated and used in human trafficking.  Promised a salary to do manual labor but once in the big city, things change.  I don’t know what goes on in the farming areas where tobacco and cotton need to be planted and harvested. However, during my 3 1/2 years in two big cities, I saw a LOT of manpower go into making Astana, Kazakhstan appear very impressive.  “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.” or “You can’t judge a university by its shiny, new building structure.”

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Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part IV)

If you enjoyed the last three days of my answering just one question I was asked, then just know that I only have two more parts left to answer the remaining 11 questions.  Here is how I answered the following questions:

2. What areas do you see a gap for improvement in the long run for success? The huge gap is TRUST. People don’t trust each other and there is much corruption and much nepotism.  Your Kazakh family comes first before expertise.  Westerners will have to trust the Kazakhs if they will invest in businesses in Kazakhstan. Broken contracts or greed makes those foreigners who come to help teach a bit careful.  By the time the expat teacher arrives, it is too late, there are many surprises.  I think the Kazakh wants to think of themselves as “clever” and want to take advantage of the unsuspecting, trusting foreigner. Afterall, they have been indoctrinated from Soviet times that western capitalists are greedy and selfish so they are just gouging them first.

The one thing that IS improving is service mentality, the Kazakhs seem to know they have to have a good reputation as a restaurant or hotel in order to have repeat business.  But for the long run, they need to gain the trust of expats instead of trying to grab for the money and not listen to the voice of authority or reason on how to use the money wisely. OR to not lose the trust when the contract is not abided by as understood in three languages.  I could go on and on with this question but TRUST is very, very important to build and maintain long term partnerships.

3. In your view, what key opportunities or threats exist for the nation? The threats for Kazakhstan will always be the same as they were 200-300 years ago.  China has always been a huge threat, as is Russia.  However, the Arab spring has Kazakhstan feeling very nervous, thus the “snap election” for their current president who has been president for the last 20 years.

Opportunities would be to utilize the expertise that young Kazakhs come back to their country with after being on the Bolashak grant (Kazakh term meaning “future).  Other students have been on similar grants with IREX and have studied abroad and have learned how western nations tick the short time they have absorbed it.  The opportunities for older people to learn from the younger would help speed up the pace of modernization. However, the older people feel threatened by those who are younger who know more.  So this is a difficult balancing act they have to do between generations.

4. What are the key benefits and challenges of working and living in Kazakhstan?  The amazing ex-pat community is the key benefit of living and working in Kazakhstan. People who are willing to take on the challenge of living in a country that is broken and feels like a hurting proud nation with past glory.  I use the example of Ukraine when we taught there that it was like dealing with a colicky baby, it needed to be fed and burped.  The diapers needed to be changed, they were, as a nation, taking baby steps in the late 1990s.  Perhaps during that same era Kazakhstan was doing the same.

NOW in 2007-2011 the post-Soviet baby of Kazakhstan acts like a teenager.  They act as if they want the keys to the car yet they don’t know about paying for the insurance or buying gas.  They just want to go and carelessly drive around with the family car.  They are rebellious and want the benefits of being considered a “developed nation” while they are still in their formative years of development.

So that was the challenge of living in the country of Kazakhstan. They are NOT a developed country yet, if you look at the WHOLE country. However, with more time and maturity they will get to that stage but you can’t just look at Astana and Almaty and judge that as “developed.”  In like fashion, the Kazakh peoples have a sense of impatience and want to take the foreigners’ money but do not want to be accountable for what they do with it.  It is very maddening for those of us expats who are in positions of authority, experts from other countries to see this nonchalance about capabilities and expertise and to be trashed for what WE know as experts in our field.  Essentially, we are all on short contracts, we are trying to work ourselves out of a job so that the Kazakh can stand up on their own without our aid. Much like a mother nurturing her baby to become a teenager and eventually adulthood.

If you take the training wheels away, they will start riding the bike on their own.  However, there seems to be a sense of national pride at stake that they even NEED us in the first place.  How often we thought as expats “They NEED us but they don’t WANT us.”  A very strange paradox because the Kazakhs are supposedly known as a very hospitable people.  There are many good stories from the past where Kazakhs helped those foreigners like the Koreans or Ukrainians who were dumped off of trains during the Stalin years of purging “Enemies of the People.”  The Kazakhs would care for these people who were left to die on the steppes. Things are different these days after twenty years of “independence.”

Unfortunately, the Kazakhs know they NEED help but they are sometimes too proud to acknowledge that.  Also, because Kazakhs come from an oral tradition, they know so much about their own culture but they do not realize that most of the world does not even know they exist because nothing much has been written about them.  Those Kazakh students who have gotten fellowships or grants to study abroad find that out the hard way.

The most vexing thing about living in Kazakhstan is the “They need us but they don’t want us.” And that runs through all matter of experts from whatever field be it in oil, accounting, banking, mining, etc.  I heard this from other expats and so that gets back to my original point.  It doesn’t matter if they are from Norway, German, U.K. Canada, Australia, wherever you are from as a westerner, you have more in common with each other than living amongst people in an unknown country such as Kazakhstan.  The Kazakhs are trying to find their own identity from their rich past. But also they want to fit in with westerners in the present 21st century while holding on to the baggage of their Soviet indoctrination. This makes for a very complex kind of maturing into being proud of who they are as Kazakhs, it will take time.

5. Can you comment on customs and ways of life of Kazakhstani? I did not know many Kazakhs and their customs or ways of life.  I only knew the educated ones and the Kazakhstanis I would consider those who were born in Kazakhstan but are not necessarily of Kazakh ethnicity.  The Kazakhs are very proud of the fact that they have so many ethnicities living peacefully beside each other.  They have their holidays and their rituals and practices but I think a westerner, like a former Peace Corps volunteer, who lived in the rural areas would do a better job of writing about bride kidnapping, trained eagles that hunt game, sheepherding and nomadic lifestyle with yurts, etc.  I lived in the urban setting where all such Kazakh customs are little known to me.

(to be continued)

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“Invisible Children” and “Kazakhstan Presentation”

I’ve had sufficient time to reflect on the one hour film I saw last week, but it still haunts me.  I think everyone in the auditorium who also watched “Invisible Children” will have a difficult time ignoring the young boy’s story named Jacob and his sobbing. Jacob missed his brother who was killed by rebel soldiers in Uganda. They abduct children from age 5-8 because they are able to carry guns. Jacob’s English was very articulate and he conveyed his hopelessness in wanting to die, to go to heaven to see his brother again. His crying was not typical of the whimpers you would normally hear, it was more of an unearthly high pitched groan. It probably got the cameraman (one of three southern California guys out on an adventure to get a story) crying too.

What is interesting about these three guys (you can look it up on yourself) is that they were looking for an adventure that would have an impact. They were kind of like Peace Corps types but in hyper mode with cameras to go where Peace Corps would never allow volunteers to go to, such as Sudan. Once they found the children in Uganda who were walking from the rural areas of the jungle into cities for protection under verandas of hospitals or bus parks, they knew they had to report this to the rest of the world.  One comment that I recall from the movie is that they said the difference between the children they encountered in Uganda and the children in the U.S. is that these kids don’t cry anymore.  Normal kids cry, but they were way beyond having any hope of getting help from the outside world.  Some had seen terrible atrocities in their village.  Jacob had seen his brother murdered by these marauding bands of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), fortunately he and his friend had escaped.

Another thing that I can’t get over is the sentence I heard several times “Fear is an understatement.”  The whole countryside is living in fear of these rebels who were armed by the powers in northern Sudan.  That is no life to live to be constantly on the move, where do the children find food to eat?  They are certainly not getting their education but only learning how to survive day to day.  “Fear is an understatement.” Is there a hyperbole for the word “fear” which our English language does not provide to truly understand what these children are suffering?

Now I want to go to an 8 minute clip probably done by a young Kazakh man living in Czech republic.  I don’t think what he puts together as “Kazakhstan Presentation” on would be sanctioned by the Kazakhstan’s government.  Yet it is indicative of what is going on with the human trafficking from the rural areas of Kazakhstan to the big cities of Almaty and Astana.  If I were a mother of a Kazakh girl and one who dresses provocatively, I would warn her of the great dangers that are out there.  Traffickers are quick to snatch up the “beautiful ladies” and bring them to brothels in the cities.  So, what this filmmaker is promoting essentially is sex tourism.  Watch it for yourself and see if there is something not right about it.  Well, it starts out with Sasha Cohen and Barot so you know that it is offensive already to a normal Kazakh person.

Is it just me or am I being too hyper sensitive to all this human trafficking?  The more I see and read, the more I KNOW we live in a fallen world. I am doing what I can to spread awareness and help the victims who get out of it whether they are child soldiers in Uganda or Kazakh girls trapped in prostitution or Uzbek men who are snared into working on building construction and not being paid for their work.

I’d like to get your thoughts on this from my readership.  I see that my blog spiked to almost 200 hits yesterday.  I think it is extremely interesting since I don’t write as much these days not like I did every day when I lived for 3 1/2 years in Kazakhstan, a land I miss.  Yeah, I know there are robots and trolls hitting this blog but I know there are real compassionate people who are trying to figure out what they can do to help Kazakhstan now that Peace Corps has left. I’m still very sad about that because I know that many of those volunteers gave hope to the Kazakhs in the rural areas of Kazakhstan.  I think there is something very sinister going on and I think if advertisements such as “Kazakhstan Presentation” are stopped, hopefully the demand would go down and the supply of young Kazakh girls would not be yanked out of their homes.

Check out “Kazakhstan Presentation” and buy the documentary on “Invisible Children” or google what is going on with the Lord’s Resistance Army.  We have a crisis going on here and I don’t think I’m an alarmist!!!

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Suspension of Peace Corps in KZ and “Pakazooka”

Seems what I thought were just rumors and rumblings is TRUE. Peace Corps will no longer exist in Kazakhstan because a few powerful people thinks it to be a fully developed nation with no need of outside assistance from American volunteers.  How do you spell “Pakazooka?”  I know that may be an insulting Russian word to some of those Kazakhs who are in the lofty positions of authority in Kazakhstan, however I think the word aptly fits.  Peace Corps volunteers give up two years of their lives to go to out of the way places in Kazakhstan where those in administrative positions in Almaty and Astana do not subject themselves to.  These two cities hardly make for a “developed country.”

I did not travel as much as I would have liked in this very large country of Kazakhstan, especially to see the western part where the supposed “oil money” is. Yet I saw enough just outside of Almaty and Astana to know there are still many schools and libraries that are woefully far, far behind any western developed nation. Pakazooka really means “just for show and without substance underneath.” No different than a Potemkin village set up in Ukraine that was supposedly to satisfy the powers that be while the Ukrainian people were really languishing in poverty.

Since I was a Peace Corps trainer  at the very beginning back in the summer of 1993 where we were housed at the “Bang Institute” I know the caliber of the Peace Corps volunteers as English teachers back then.  I know that they were very good volunteers willing to help where help was MOST needed in the educational systems in rural Kazakhstan.  I saw many quality PC volunteers since in the three and half years I was teaching in Almaty and Astana.  The following bulletin is just putting a nice face on what must be very bad politics underneath.  I’m reminded of this saying: “Pride goeth before the fall.”

Press Release of the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan

November 18, 2011

On the work of the Peace Corps in the Republic of Kazakhstan

Over eighteen years the United States Peace Corps has fruitfully worked with Kazakhstan in accordance with the Agreement between the Governments of the United States and Kazakhstan regarding the activities of the Peace Corps in the Republic of Kazakhstan signed in 1992. During these past years, more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers have undertaken great and useful work highly regarded by the Kazakhstan side.

On November 18, Peace Corps informed of the suspension of their activities in our country providing a number of comments in this regard. The relevant release says the decision was made “based on a number of operational considerations” and cites the fact that Kazakhstan is one of the most developed countries in the world where Peace Corps has run its programmes.

Due to the fact that Kazakhstan has achieved great progress in the political and socio-economic development over the 20 years of its independence and today is a country with an income above average, we believe that the suspension of the activities of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan is a rather logical step. As it is known, this organization assists mainly the least developed countries. In addition, many programmes of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, in general, have come to their conclusion.

We proceed from the understanding that this decision is connected with an internal review of priorities, the adjustment to the organizational plans and the redistribution of volunteers to other parts of the world. As it is known, the spectrum of activities of this organization includes more than 70 countries.

We can state with confidence that US volunteers and our countrymen alike who benefited from the invaluable experience of communication and mutual cultural enrichment with this organization will remember all these years of effective partnership with warmth and gratitude.


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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 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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Positives and Negatives in Kazakhstan

Asian Winter Games are over and it is as if there is a big sigh of relief or even a melancholy letdown despite the fact that Kazakhstan came out ahead in number of 70 medals won.  What will the Kazakhs do now without an adrenaline rush to push them to the next level?  Altogether the hosting country of Kazakhstan was awarded 32 gold, 21 silver and 17 bronze.  Apparently Japan and Korea tied for number of gold medals with 12 each but Japan came out ahead with more silver to come in second after Kazakhstan.  Then after Korea was China and finally Mongolia.  That was a surprise because apparently Kazakhstan beat Mongolia in hockey with a score of 30-0.

I guess that is why I enjoy figure skating and not watching a lop-sided team sporting event like hockey where the score was so poor.  Last Friday night I did not stay long enough to watch the free skater Dennis Ten (Kazakhstani who is Korean background) win in his division over Abzal, the one I had witnessed in all his glory.  Where Abzal fell, apparently Dennis did not. I don’t have their final scores.

How fun it was to go out on the river in the old part of Astana again on Sunday morning and I did not fall once again but this time I had better figure skates on.  Also, the weather was not as cold as it had been the Sunday before.  I’ll show photos tomorrow of our skating and also of the great skating we saw in the new ice arena that doubles for a biking race track.

My detractor on my blog by the name of “Anti” but her real name is Aliya asked that I broadcast the positive to my Kazakh students, only the positive.  Aliya sent me a link that my economist husband looked over, here’s what he wrote:

It would be interesting to know who this person with “” address  monitoring your blog is? She seems to want you to write a certain way.

Basically, I think she is saying that the UN and CIA data show that the oil wealth of KZ has been more equally divided than in other countries.  It’s complex to evaluate, and I’d like to print it to see it all at once.  I notice that the last date [for Kazakhstan] available is 2004.  International data is hard to evaluate.  But, it’s the kind of thinking I’ve always done.

Gap is related to poverty and KZ and world programs to help the poor when world food prices “spike” as they did in 2007-2008.

Forecasts show that KZ and its wheat exports will be on front burner.  Kansas and rest of winter wheat belt have been hit by large amount of “winter kill” because of cold temperatures and low snow cover (blanket).  Australia has too much rain, spoiling crop.  World Stocks are down.  Prices will rise in KZ again.”

I just LOVE my economist husband for making sense of some very complex charts (see link above). Could it be that my Kazakh “friend” Aliya is missing her home country of Kazakhstan? Sadly, while she may be studying in the U.S. she realizes that almost no American that she is associated with, and I do mean “no one” really knows about what positive event just happened here in Kazakhstan with the Asian Winter games.  All the media attention has been focused either on the debacle still unraveling in Egypt or your garden variety sports fans were just finishing watching the Super Bowl, not the Asian Winter Games.

Really, if there were no CNN or BBC media trucks here to take in this event to broadcast to the rest of the world like they would for the Olympics, then it means that this was just an internal Asian event.  Perhaps China could have walked all over this sporting competition with their sheer size and mass of people but they supposedly sent in their second string athletes.  Or so I’m told.  I DO know that this has had a very positive effect on all Kazakhs I’ve been in contact with in Astana. I’m just wondering how it has been perceived by those in the farthest reaches of this great country?

Thinking about the Sino neighbor just on Kazakhstan eastern borders not walking away with more medals, reminds me of a line in the movie I just watched the other night “Pursuit of Happyness.”  Will Smith is advised by his boss who is going after a client in a golf game, “let them win.” I suppose after looking at these charts about income equality across the world put out by the United Nations and the Central Intelligence Agency that there might be some kernel of truth in it even though the data is old by our Information Age standards of the 21st century.  As you know, I’m very suspicious of Wikipedia and there have been many things that have changed throughout the world in the last year or two, economically and politically.

Maybe “Anti” wants to have everyone talk about positive things concerning Kazakhstan because she is feeling vulnerable as a Kazakh in a big country like the U.S.  However, if we as educators don’t address the problems about the human trafficking or that the rural areas are NOT getting the industry to work, the unemployment  will continue to be very high in the Kazakh villages.  I think we need to support the Peace Corps volunteers who are out helping in the very out of the way places, some are commited to two years of deprivation.  Once Peace Corps volunteers work themselves out of their jobs or once Kazakh citizens don’t need to go overseas for their higher education, then we can talk about how income equality is distributed in different countries.

What I know just looking at the U.S. is that North Dakota, the neighbor state to Minnesota is doing VERY well financially while other areas of the country that were the “in” place to be like Florida, California and Arizona are hurting economically.  Hey, I am no economist, I leave that to my husband.  But if Kazakhstan can get back on their feet again as an independent nation that helps their OWN people to pick themselves up and to help their neighbors like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, then I think we have a developed nation with maturity.

Let’s have easy to read graphs and charts about philanthropy instead, one of my husband’s favorite topics.  When Kazakhstan becomes a giving nation to those from the outside as well as helping their own, then we have a VERY positive thing happening.  But it takes a change in society from the old Soviet way of doing things and thinking creatively on how to solve age old problems to a newer way that is about loving your neighbor.  Thanks Aliya for your contribution to my blog.


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Letter dated September 21, 1993 – Minnesota to Kyrgyzstan

I’m continuing with what my emotional roller coaster I was traveling on from Kazakhstan to the U.S. and then back to Kyrgyzstan in the early 1990s.  Please read my two prior blog entries to understand what I was doing in Kazakhstan in the first place.

September 21, 1993 – I Pet. 2:12 is certainly applicable to me since my university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan wanted me to be teaching at the start of school on September 15th.  Due to a mix up of communication, I am arriving on October 1st, instead.  Thus, I am already starting out on the wrong foot with the dean of the school.  I need this situation to turn around since this woman, Camilla, is known to steamroll over people.  To cross her is NOT a good idea.  I have learned only too late and so I am looking at ten months of working with her.

On Sunday, September 26th at 2:35 p.m. I will be boarding a Delta plane to go back to Central Asia. I have more than enjoyed the past month of staying in Minnesota with family and friends.  For the past four months working in Kazakhstan for Peace Corps, life was just plain hard work.  Thanks to good fellowship in Almaty, I was able to survive the rigors of living in a culture in flux.

I know what I am getting myself into as I prepare to leave and there is both a feeling of dread and excitement.  I look forward to getting to know the Kyrgyz people more as I will be teaching phonetics and listening comprehension at the Kyrgyz State University.  Fortunately I will not be alone but teaching with another American Fulbright scholar who is there for only three months.  She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs.  I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.

I need wisdom on how to proceed with a relationship with a man I met at church five months ago.  Ken has been the recipient of many e-mail messages since I got back to the States.  He works for the U.S. government for the Department of Agriculture as an economist and deals with many of the same issues of living in this Central Asian culture.  He will be three hours away in Almaty while I am in Bishkek.  I pray that my e-mail can be hooked up in Bishkek so we can continue in “close” communication.  I will be spending Christmas with him and his friends in Wash. D.C.

Once I know what my e-mail address is, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. That is the most efficient way to keep in touch with me since the mail system cannot be trusted.  I will bring back a new laptop computer which also has fax capabilities.  I need to learn about that too so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes.

There’s lots to learn and experience in these next ten months in Kyrgyzstan.  I have so many, many people to thank for making my one month visit in Minnesota so special.  I was able to use my parents’ car, stay the whole month at my friend’s apartment while they moved out, visit with others in Minneapolis.

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