Posts tagged Russian

My time in China photos

Chinese wagonI lived and taught English at H.I.T. in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China from 1986-88.  These are photos taken from slides and transferred digitally.  Amazing what I saw back then and what I have forgotten over 30 years later.  I DO remember going to a restricted city in NE China and going on a steam engine train.  Here’s a train looking like it is full of steam.  What was memorable about the one I rode was that it would stop every 15-20 minutes to fill up at the next water station.  I didn’t sleep well for that whole night ride.  China train

There were the church bells and other European buildings in Harbin that I observed. Someone on my team was REALLY into the history of the area and learned a lot from the members of the Orthodox church.  How I wish I would have written down what Rich said about the Polish and Russian worshippers who continued having services in the old churches built a century ago.  Chinese bell monument

Orthodox church in Harbin

I’ll share more photos of old time China tomorrow.  Fun to review what was part of that era and how much China has changed since the 1980s.

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So What? Sewing in Kazakhstan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Mom is pretty amazing with her sewing capabilities.  She asked for the measurements of our little two year old grandson on Facebook and got the response from the mother almost instantaneously. She finished her “assignment” in a matter of hours.  By the time we left for Arizona to visit all three grandsons, she had it ready to put in our suitcase.  Wow, that is efficient!

What about sewing in Kazakhstan? Do many people have this skill? I found this sign (see below) along Furmanova, just down from el Farabi street in Almaty several years ago.  I thought it was a clever sign incorporating the mountains that are in the backdrop with the look of stitches for sewing.  Uniquely Kazakh with the Cyrillic letters describing more about it in Russian.  I wonder if the shopkeeper has ever been bothered by the mafia elements. I remember when I first lived in Almaty back in 1993 (almost 20 years ago) that there had been a highly reputable cabinet and furniture maker.  Reportedly he was so good that he caught the attention of the bad characters who took over soon after the downfall of communism in 1991.

From what I understand he was “ordered” to make the specified furniture for these bad guys in a very short amount of time.  When they came back for it at their designated day, the craftsman had not completed the job.  They said, “I don’t think you understand, we need that furniture NOW!  Get it done or it will not go well with members in your family.”  I don’t remember whether the task was accomplished or if he went against his own creed of good craftsmanship to get the furniture done quickly. It seems he was left with no choice but to comply to their wishes and forced to do shoddy work in order to save the lives of his family members.  That would be a kind of slavery and for doing good work, this furniture maker had been penalized.

Sad that this kind of thing goes on in Kazakhstan. I know that many Germans and Russians left soon after the fall, they knew that they were no longer “welcome” in a land that was originally the Kazakhs.  I wonder how Almaty shop keepers who are trying to do a good business are doing in this kind of business climate.  I suppose those who have never learned a craft of which they can be proud of would just say “So what.” Clueless thugs.


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My Fall of 1993 Reflections of Kyrgyzstan

Nineteen years ago, on September 21, 1993, I wrote a letter to family and friends about my upcoming return to Central Asia.  I’m combining this with another letter I sent out on November 2nd of that same year.  Things seemed to have been moving quickly for me and it was good to stand in place for an instant to jot my experiences down for later perusal.

“On Sunday, Sept. 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.

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 1 instead.  Thus, I am already starting on the wrong foot with the dean of the school.  Something needs to turn this situation 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, I am looking at ten months of working with her.

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 from Rutgers, New Jersey. She is only in Bishkek for three months.  She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs of having foreigners there in place.  I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.

From the little bit of exposure I had with the Kazakh people in Almaty, I am eager to get to know the Kyrgyz people better. Once I know what my e-mail address, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. I have a new Compaq laptop which also has fax capabilities. I need to learn about that so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes….”

The following letter was written on November 2, 1993 after I knew more about my living situation:

“There is SO much to be thankful for in the one month I have been in Bishkek.  I have a really spacious apartment which looks out to the mountains from both my east and west windows. I am able to see beautiful sunsets.  How nice to have this place since I plan to do a lot of entertaining.  However, time spent in the kitchen is more than comical since I have been forced to make do without a lot of the necessary utensils we all take for granted.

Things like measuring cups and spoons, potholders, pie tins, Tupperware, a fridge that works as well as a stove with four gas burners and an oven.  The challenge for all of us foreigners is to cook or bake as close to American food as possible with whatever materials you can find at the Osh Bazaar.  Just buying meat with carcasses and heads of sheep, pig and horse hanging off hooks while birds are flying overhead is a sight to behold.

Well, to change the subject…There are six other American teachers at my university.  I am looking forward to having my three different Phonetic classes come to my apartment in December for American style Christmas parties.  Each class has about ten students in each room and we meet once a week. It has been a joy to teach them American pronunciation.  My goal for these next nine months is to be the best teacher I can be to my 30 plus students and also to learn Russian.  We (four other English teachers) have two hour language classes most every day.  It is a struggle for me to be disciplined enough to study in the afternoons what I learn in the mornings with my own tutor.  The grammar is so difficult but I have to say that it is easier than learning Chinese.

I’m glad to say that my relationship with Camilla has improved.  She seems to be treating me well.  However, she is very disorganized as a dean and has managed to get the ire up of all the other American teachers at her school.  We are all trying to work out smooth communication despite the clash of teaching styles and methodologies that necessarily happen when Americans meet up with rigid Soviet-style methods.

My e-mail has been up and running and I invite any of you to send me a note by that mode of communication.  My address is:  [note that back at that time of 1993, they were still using the Soviet Union as a location] It is not always reliable because of bad phone lines but it is better than the mail service which is routed through Moscow and ends up at the top of a heap of other undelivered mail. Who said this is an exciting time for the former republics?  There is a lot of desperation and near panic due to the unstable economy…”

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American Guest Speaker who knows the Kazakh Language

The hour passed far too quickly with my ten teachers who are my students as they listened to our guest speaker who is an American teacher at our university in Astana.  He knows how to speak in Kazakh and he used it to make strong points. How rare to our listening ears because most expats will choose to learn and speak Russian.

The first issue was raised about how to motivate those students who are not highly motivated to learn and thus have low test scores in English.  Chad suggested that any good thing done by a younger student, the teacher can put a bean in a cup and by the end of the week, whoever has the most beans wins a prize.  Something they can see, it is tangible and they are encouraged to do good work, a kind of competition. This works well for primary grades.

Chad also uses YouTube clips that show real conversation using the same questions over and over again from different people with different accents. Kind of like journalist (I thought of Jay Leno and “man on the street” journalism), catching people with questions, such as “how are you?” or “where are you from?” and then watch and listen to how each person responds to the same question.  There may be 20 or 30 people who respond, but if students get the hang of easy questions and answers, they can move on to the next level. Chad told the teachers they can download these YouTube clips on to a flash drive and later use in the classroom if there is no Internet access.

We talked about how immersion is the best way to learn a language, especially with Study Abroad or Work and Travel programs.  Chad and his wife when they first arrived to Kazakhstan in 1998, they lived with a host family in Semipalatinsk. They didn’t know any Kazakh and their Kazakh family didn’t know much English.  In order to survive, they HAD to learn Kazakh.

Not much chance of immersion here in Kazakhstan where university students outside of the “English only” classroom usually speak Russian to each other.  Chad said these students need to do pair work so they are forced to talk to each other in English, they are accountable to each other.  Chad recommends to his own students to pick a night during the weekend or at lunchtime for an hour where his students find friends and all they do is talk in English, force themselves to only speak in English.  He holds them to account for these activities.

One seasoned teacher for 10 years who hails from the south of Kazakhstan mentioned that she gets her students to be creative in their answers.  She does not want the stock, textbook answers but something that is extraordinary and way off the page.  She’ll tell her students, “Imagine you go to New York, what would you see and experience?  Imagine going into a time machine.” This forces her students to expand their vocabulary and to express themselves in vivid terms.

Children are naturals at being imaginative.  Chad’s son had to remind his dad that it was easy for kids to think creatively, somehow by adulthood we have that beaten out of us.  As teachers, we need to capitalize on this strength with young people. This Kazakh teacher from the south has her students get out of their seats to do pair work.  In fact, she then walks around the classroom to listen in on their conversations to make sure they are speaking in English.  Chad uses another technique where the other person after doing pair work reports to the rest of the class what they heard their partner say in English.

One student admitted that she used to be afraid to talk to a foreigner in Kokshetau, even though she was a teacher of English.  This is because she had memorized so much of the correct formulations of grammar but never had a chance to practically use it with a native speaker. She has no problem to talk to anyone, because she is confident now but before she knew all the rules, she had never put it into application.  People need to practice, students need to apply what they learn in the grammar lessons by speaking to each other in English.

Chad advised, “Better to know a little and use a lot rather than know a lot and use little if you are going to communicate.” [Hey, I do that in spades with my taxi drivers and other people I encounter in Astana, communication is important and not knowing all the correct grammatical constructions. Somehow I get by, meanwhile, my husband just shakes his head in disbelief. Either because he despairs that I’m butchering the language or he knows how to say it correctly but marvels that I get my point across.]

Someone said that if you don’t know Kazakh very well, other Kazakhs are very critical of you as a Kazakh and put you down as a “Shala Kazakh,” meaning “ Kazakh in name only.”  Chad said that Kazakhs should not shame other Kazakhs.  As a foreigner, he got nothing but encouragement for learning Kazakh because it impresses them that Americans want to learn Kazakh.

It is not their fault if Kazakhs don’t know the Kazakh language because they were taught under the Soviet system that awarded those who learned Russian and NOT Kazakh.  He noticed that people in Semipalatinsk, if they do know a little bit of Kazak, they will not use it.  Whereas here in Astana, people feel more free to use what they know, even if they don’t know it very well.

(to be continued)

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part III)

Read the two days prior to understand who Ryan is and what he is doing in Kazakshtan. As a 23 year old graduate student, he is a gem in what he writes about his first impressions:

“So…today yeah…I woke up early because I had no idea how long it would take me to get to work so I wanted to have time. As I’m having breakfast and Lena and I are talking she tells me that Seryozha is going to drive me to work because she doesn’t want me negotiating the two buses that it will take to get to work. I try to tell her that I want to and I need to learn (because for me being able to come and go as I want is the apex of independence….it’s a better high than catnip) but she was having none of it and I didn’t want to argue in Russian especially so early in the morning so I let it slide and took the ride.

I got to work and filled up my water bottle just in time for the kids to start arriving. I spent time hanging out with them and talking to them. I don’t help with exercises much I’m the distraction keeping them from focusing on the stretching. It’s so hard to watch them hurt and know they can’t tell us what hurts and there’s nothing you can say to make it better in any language. Only stopping will help and in the end that doesn’t help. I’ve been there though…I know…I watch them and my whole body cringes with aching empathy. Now I’m older and I see the PT and OT side of spectrum…ya know. They have a job to do and Cindy and Elizabeth (PT and OT British and Dutch respectively) are brilliant.

Most of the time though they’re happy kids who want to play. Their smiles will make you melt. Talking to them is hard because my Russian is limited and theirs is hard to understand at times but we make it work. I spend most of my time working with them. Another of them has moments where all that will quiet him down is me holding him. He also uses me to help him stand.

The locals, American and international doctors that work there are just amazing. They love the kids and the kids love them. I love to talk to them. They’re so sweet. We talk in English mostly so everyone understands… with this crowd it truly is a common language. Although like today…a couple people were talking in Kazakh and it turns out they were asking me to do something and then they were wondering why I was just standing there until they remembered no one translated. There are two doctors… one American and one Russian…and they’re amazing. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about CP and they’ve been very enlightening convos.

After the kids left Cindy and I took a bus to her Kazakh teachers house to talk to her about me helping with some English conversation classes. It’s going to be great fun. This is where I found out that in the whole of KZ the pop is only 16 million. The 9th largest nation on earth has only 16 million people. The Soviet Union had a lot to do with that. Kazakhstan lost many people to famine in the 1930s and war in the 1940s but I was still shocked.

After we set the class dates, I went with Elizabeth back to work to another org that shares the building and does English lessons. I helped with one of their English convo clubs. It was cool to talk to and help the people I worked with. Their English was really good and more proper than mine I’d wager. The whole time I hadn’t eaten anything but I’d been craving Samsa (a meat pocket like a piroshky) I’d heard all about it and I wanted one …well, I still don’t have it but tomorrow for lunch yeah…the good thing about the craving is I haven’t really had much of an appetite since I got here so maybe that’s changing.

I left the convo club and went and bought a glass bottle Coke for the equivalent of 40 cents and hopped on the bus which is a quarter per bus. I took it to Tzum (pronounced Soom, across from Megacenter) and went on a quest for postcards to send out. Cindy told me that’d be about the only place they’d have them and that they were rubbish. I asked a lady where to find them and once we got straight what I wanted she had a girl take me to them. I found some really awesome ones for about $3. I was so happy.

Then I walked to what i thought was the bus stop and I was really confused when the bus stopped beyond me. The money taker explained the obvious that where I was wasn’t a bus stop. I apologized and settled in for the ride home. Oh, interesting thing. On one of the other buses the lady taking the money gave me my fare back. It’s interesting because even though you don’t see them much, Kazakhs are really respectful, helpful (they’ll give up their seat which is hard for me because it’s in my nature to stand if someone other than me needs the seat…that silly independent streak) and admiring of the disabled. Most of them take my money but two haven’t so far. Anyway the whole trip went off without a hitch and I did it all on my own. I was so happy!

There are so many things I could tell you but there’s a glimpse. I hope you enjoyed it. I do have to say it’s so interesting hearing Russian around me outside of the classroom. I have to use it at home at all times and on the streets to communicate. It’s great. It’s like a key to a lock. So much is open to me even though I don’t speak Kazakh.”

(to be continued)

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan

I met Ryan through this blog, I’ve never met him in person but would like to eventually. He is a 23 year old graduate student who knows a lot about physical therapy.  I appreciate his first impressions of a land I love, Kazakhstan. Fortunately, he has allowed me to blog his words (with very little editing).  Some of what you read from Ryan’s writing, as veteran Peace Corps volunteers or others who are heavily invested in this country, you will nod your head in agreement.  Other westerners who are mildly intrigued by this unknown land may want to come to see for yourself what Ryan sees from HIS perspective. The third group of people who read this blog are Kazakh or Kazakhstani and instead of getting MY impressions about education, you will learn what a young graduate student who has cerebral palsy and has learned to overcome it, what he experienced in Kazakhstan.  All positive things, mostly…Read on:

June 26, 2010

Hey everybody!

For a guy who seems to be tethered to his computer and who must be informed of all that’s going on around him….I haven’t been. This is the first time I’ve been on the computer since Monday and to be honest I really don’t miss it. I always feel like I’m missing out on something… ya know? I want you to know what I’m up to.

I took the train here and got here on Tuesday morning. Truly, in a lot of ways trains here are better than back home in the U.S. I was glad that I didn’t have to go it alone though. I was picked up and taken to breakfast (which was so good!) Then I went to the Center and met Cindy and a few of my other co-workers. Then I got to work with my kids (possessive aren’t I?). I cannot express in an email how fast the kids took my heart. They’re all smiles and smart and full of potential. Watching them do physical therapy brings back so many not so pleasant and yet happy memories. The workers know that the PT has to be done but it breaks my heart when there’s nothing I can say in any language to make it better. The only thing that would make it better is to stop and in the end that won’t make it better.  These are special and amazing kids. We had a camp for them and their moms in the last couple of days and it was so much fun.

I’m in awe, overwhelmed, and humbled that I’m here in Kazakhstan to do this. I can talk to these moms and explain that their kids have amazing potential because I was where they are and now look at me. The sad thing is that I’m afraid that potential may never be realized because they’re here and in a culture that doesn’t know what to do with them much less how to help them advance in anyway. I know for a fact though that with help, persistence and proper supervision some of these kids will walk. They will do amazing things with their lives. There’s one girl, she’s so smart, she’s like five and like everyone here she speaks/is learning Russian and Kazakh and she knows who speaks what and switches between us without missing a beat and she’s so sweet. Today she spent about 30 minutes playing keep away with my ring.

I got to experience on one hand the coldest water I have EVER been in and a sauna. I love the sauna. My legs had never been so relaxed on the other hand they were like rubber which made walking interesting. I LOVED it. I got to explain to some of the moms a little bit about me and my life and I think and hope I gave them some hope for what their own kids can do.

There are certainly a couple kids I’ve seen especially one named Bota who has the potential to walk for sure. She knows which of us speak which language and can go back and forth. All these kids have amazing potential all they need is a little push and support. I’m overwhelmed by the work that is done here and the fact that I’m able to be a part of it. I’m in awe of the love with which the work is done. I have such a unique perspective on this work and what the kids are going through. Any doubt I might have had about being here was absolutely gone when I talked to the moms and saw the hope that they took from what I said. I’m so glad I’m here!


My host family is amazing. I want to bring them home as souvenirs. They have an 8 year old daughter that I just met today because she was at camp herself. She’s learning English so our language is an interesting mixture. Actually all the language is an interesting mixture here. It’s fascinating. Russian, English, and the local language are heard all the time at any time. All the locals I’ve met speak both Russian and the local language plus a couple more. It puts me to shame with my halting Russian.

My host parents are golden. They’re so sweet and patient and my host mom loves to “mother” me. When I’m here, it’s hard not to follow them around and talk constantly because they are as interested in me as I am in them. I have to make myself sleep because they’d stay up with me. I love them.

Also, the food here is amazing. Lots of rice, salad, bread, meat of various sorts….All the meals and snacks are huge and they’re events. To say tea is drunk a lot is an understatement. I usually have two or three cups before breakfast. I mentioned to my host mom that I love pelmeni (small dumpling) and after I got up from a nap today I had pelmeni waiting for me.

My Russian is improving drastically. I don’t know if I mentioned but my host family doesn’t speak English. So..we’re learning together. Patience with myself is key. Languages aren’t learned in a day. We’re learning together. I’m going to have to figure out when to write because I’ve been so busy, but I love being busy…that’s what I’m here for. The more I’m here the more I realize I was meant to be here. I was made to be here .

(to be continued)

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Ainiziya’s Great Grandfather Survived in Siberia for being an intellectual

I am going to write about my grandfather from my father’s side. The reason why I have chosen him is that his life seemed to me to be rich, full of interesting facts but sometimes problems.  My grandfather’s name was Abibolla Karkinbayev and he was born in May 12, 1930. His father, Karkynbay, was a doctor, astrologer and theologist. He was educated and could write and speak in old Latin, German, Arab languages. Also he could freely speak in Russian; it was quite unusual for those times.

My great-grandfather has studied in Kazan, the capital city of Tatarstan. In 1925-1926 he built a mosque and medrese. During those times children could not study anywhere, so he taught them at medrese. It was prohibited to teach people in those times, nevertheless he continued to teach. Soon he was arrested for his activities and for being educated. In 1938 were many fights with mullahs and my great-grandfather was sent to Malaya Zemlya, Sibir (North). Last few years he was a scribe, because only a few could read and write. However, this did not stop him to become sick. He was in Sibir (Siberia) from 1938 up to 1946. In 1946 he came back to Kazakhstan an ill person and after a few years he was gone…

Coming back to my grandfather, he studied at Narkhoz (KazEU now) university. After finishing his studies, he came back to his village. There he met my grandmother and they got married. In few years my grandfather got the highest positions in Public sector, specifically speaking in Sovkhoz sector. It comes to my mind, when my grandfather was alive; our house was full of people and our dastarkhan (table) was full of food and milk products. Those were the times of deficit, deficit of everything. We rarely faced those deficit problems with the help of my grandfather. Probably because my grandfather worked and got highest positions while my grandmother never worked. She even does not have a higher education. Nevertheless, I can surely say that she is very wise person.

I do not remember all the moments which were spent with my grandfather, because I was too young to remember, but I do remember some moments. And they never leave my memory of him. Even if I was too young, I could feel how he loved me, how he loved his family and his country. From my point of view he did his best to his village and his country as well. And as for me and my family he would always be the ideal and the best grandfather ever.

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Lena’s Grandmother and Huge Gap in Family History

In this essay I want to write about one member of my family. Let me introduce her – Medvedchikova Tatiana Nikolaevna; my grandmother, my father’s mom, and also a very good person.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the date of her birth. She kept this a secret from me for all her life. However, I can confirm that she was born the period of the Second World war, and maybe earlier. She told me many stories about the war and her hard childhood. As I remember she was born in Leningrad, but at the time of blockade she and her family were sent straight to the country of steppes – Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately, I don’t know anything else about her childhood or youth, except her studying in a specialized school for girls. However, this fact didn’t prevent her marriage when she met Gennadii. He wasn’t a good husband, but as I can see now he was very useful. He presented very nice gifts to my grandmother – her new second name (At the beginning it was Carenok) and undoubtedly the main gift – are two children, my father and his elder sister. Then my grandfather disappeared from our family, of course with the help of my grandmother because he was an alcoholic. Since she was a very good mother her choice was obvious.

And now, I’m a bit confused, because there is enormous empty place in me family’s history. I will try to find out it later, and now everything that I can do – to continue my story.

Then I was born. It was 1991, and as I can remember now, my grandmother was near me for all my childhood. She showed me advantages of reading books, especially Russian classic writers. She taught me to be positive, strong, and the main thing that she showed to me is to reach all my goals and purposes. But, unfortunately everything has own beginning and ending.  She died of a cancer in 2003. Nobody told her that she had such disease, but she understood everything.  And accepted it with a smile on her face.

Her life wasn’t easy, but it was full of happiness. She was a very strong, self confident woman, who easily overcame all obstacles in her way. Every time when I hear that I’m very similar to her, I’m on the seven clouds, because it is the best compliment to know that I’m the worthy granddaughter of a worthy grandmother!!

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Turar’s Grandfather Loved His Wife to the Very End

My grandfather was born in Kazakhstan in 1937. His Family was not rich, and as every child he went to a village school. When the time came he entered the Moscow technical university. It was really hard to study there for him because he didn’t know the Russian language. But he was brilliant in math. At university corrected teachers on the lessons. My grandpa was also good in chess, he had a master’s level. By the way, he was a perfect wrestler. He never smoked and never drank any alcohol.

One day he met Saliya…my grandmother. He absolutely fell in love with her and did everything he could  to make her happy: flowers, romantic evenings, dinners and so on. Very soon they got married. In 1963 the first daughter was born, then two more daughters, and it’s interesting that they got their first child only after six years of marriage, and the difference between all children is also six years.

I want to add that my aunts and my mom look like 25 years old, not more, even though they are much older. It’s unbelievable but it’s a fact. There are still lots of teenagers that want to meet them, because those guys really can’t tell how old are they.

My grandpa got all that he wanted in his life. He was an owner one of the Kazakh technical universities. He got a few apartments and a few cars. Everything he earned by himself. In addition, he had never been mean and always and any time was ready to come and help. But at the age of seventy, he got ill very hard. There were problems with his heart and he was dying. At the end of his life he told my grandmother next:  ‘If I could have chance for one more life…I’d like to spend it with you again till the end of time’.  I still remember these words and I’m very proud of him.

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Three Bus Incidences: Downed Passenger, Unbroken Eggs and Stolen Mobile

Several weeks ago I witnessed an older woman fall to the floor of the bus because of a sudden stop made by the bus driver.  Unfortunately, there had not been enough people to catch her fall. All the surrounding passengers inwardly sympathized with her once she was upright again.  She had lost her wig in the process and tried to restore whatever dignity she had left by setting that aright. Her shoes had also fallen off, obviously she had really been caught off guard.  Put back together again, she continued digging around in her purse for the bus fare money of 50 tenge (equivalent of 33 cents) but she was angry with the conductor who stood at the back door taking people’s coins. 

I don’t understand Russian very well at all but I think she said something like , “since I lost my dignity with that last sudden stop and slammed to the floor, I shouldn’t have to pay my fare!”  That arguing went on for a minute or so. She wasn’t getting anywhere with the young conductor, so she marched up to the driver and gave him a piece of her mind she couldn’t afford to lose.  Moral of first story, you always hang on for dear life since you never know when the bus might jerk to a sudden stop.

Second incident was when the bus was JAMMED packed with people one evening several weeks ago. I was leaning over one lady who was sitting with a bag on her lap.  I held on but wouldn’t have had to because of the press of the people around me.  But because of the press around me I looked down to see this lady give me a cold, withering look similar to Munch’s “The Scream” but not that desperate.  I thought to myself, why did she look so angry or scared or both?  I thought, this must have been what it was like when the Jews were herded into train cars and so much humanity was given so little of their own personal space.  Another jerk of the bus and I looked down at the lady again, apologizing, as if to say that I didn’t have any control about where my elbows or body might land in her space.  She opened up her bag to reveal 10 eggs loosely sitting in a plastic bag.  I smiled, she smiled back. I understood her glowering look that she had given me earlier.   I hope she made it out of that bus that evening with unbroken eggs.  Moral of second story, buy your eggs closer to home and don’t take something so fragile on a crowded bus.

Last Friday night I was dog tired and it was raining when I got on to a packed bus going up hill in Almaty.  I should have let it go to wait for the next less full bus but I was eager to get home.  I squished myself in with the mass of wet humanity.  During the ride I mused how nice it is to trust people and know that my section of town had more honest people, not to worry about my purse.  Twenty-four hours later, on Saturday night I discovered that the twitch that I felt of my purse meant that someone had STOLEN my four year old Nokia that had great sentimental value to me.  In 2006, my husband had given me an ORANGE cell phone in memory of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.  All I ever used it for was calling but mostly texting my friends in Almaty and using it as a flashlight in our dark stairways.  I had saved favorite text messages that were gems to me from friends or students.  Now someone had stolen it but I was satisfied to think that they got a mobile with a dead battery and don’t know my password.

Yesterday I went through the busy work of restoring my old number and having the 1,000 tenge I had just deposited in the account put back on my new SIM card.  My Russian is not good enough to know that THAT was free, I thought they had told me earlier that I would get a free cellphone to make up for the loss.  Not to be! I went down the block to buy the cheapest mobile, made in Romania, available at over $100.  It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want.

I don’t want all the extras, I just want my cheap, clunky orange cell phone back.  Now I have to spend time figuring out the new VGA camera with zoom features.  Program the FM radio station so I can play the Kazakh and Russian stations.  I am inputting all the contact names that I lost and I already put a new screensaver on with my new fangled camera that I used taking a photo of the KZ flag.  I can also interview people by recording their voices and use this mobile with Internet (if I pay for the extra package deal).  I already have an iPod touch so that is superfluous.  It has Bluetooth and GPRS connectivity with MP3 ringing tones.

I just want my simple cell phone with the flashlight feature (haven’t found that yet on my NEW mobile) BACK!!!  I really do suspect that cell phone companies perhaps hire thieves on Friday evenings when the busses are packed to lift such items from peoples purses or pockets.  It creates more sales yet keeps the customer frustrated.  At least this one is frustrated with learning how to use all these things that I don’t need. (I only got a Russian instruction manual) Now I have to carry an extra flashlight along with my iPod Touch, Olympus camera, Nokia cell phone.  Modern technology, does it really free us up more?  Moral of story: No, we are NOT more free with so many digital items to keep track of from being stolen.

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