Posts tagged Semipalatinsk

More things learned about KZ outside of a textbook

Since going to Borovoye last Saturday, I have plenty of things to talk about with my Friday noon, Advanced speaking group among the university employees.  The following are more things I learned from them about this marvelous place.  I also learned about other places I should travel to in Kazakhstan before I leave this amazing country.

First, Okshepis is the Kazakh word for “mountain so high that an arrow can’t reach it.”  However, there is a legend about a beautiful girl who was the daughter to a rich bai. This rich Kazakh man met many worthy suitors who wanted his daughter’s hand.  They had just come back from war and wanted to marry her.  However, she was in love with another fellow whom her father did not approve of.  So a competition was arranged that whoever succeeded in shooting his arrow to the top of this mountain would marry the beautiful girl.  If they did NOT succeed, they would be beheaded.  (Yikes, the stakes were high).

Apparently in order for her lover to win, the young girl climbed to the top of this Oktopis and placed a scarf so that her lover could see where to aim.  She also sang a song for him to hear her voice.  I guess if he did not win, she was ready to commit suicide because he too would be beheaded with the rest of the suitors.  I’m not sure how this legend ended because there were so many variations that started sounding the same.  But clearly this country is a land of romance. Oh dear, I DO hope the young girl got the man of her dreams.

We also went to a deer farm, they are called maral.  Their antlers are used in a panta cream that is a kind of Chinese medicine.   Apparently when the antlers are cut from the deer, they feel no pain. Also the hooves of the deer are used for medicinal purposes. One more thing I learned is that the blood from these deer is useful to drink for good health.  So, these 170 deer at this farm we went to visit will have everything used from head to toe! (antler to hoof)

Next, I asked my adult students if there is any other place close to Astana that is similar to Borovoye in beauty.  Apparently there is and it is south of Pavlodar and directly east of Astana, something like Baianor or Bainayl (I can’t read my scribbled notes.)  There could be so much more tourism that Kazakhstan might profit from but supposedly the infrastructure is missing and successful tourism needs good management.  A part of Kazakhstan’s strategic plan is to invest more in tourism by 2020.

Other places I would like to go to would be Turkestan which I learned a LOT about from another adult student I had who used to live in the Chymkent area.  Actually, she lived in Turkestan for three years and helped to bring the big artifact that had been stored at the Hermitage back to Turkestan by way of a big Soviet truck.  I hope I still have my notes after talking with her about Turkestan.  From what I understand Turkestan is a very ancient city, over 1,500 years old and is considered a holy place.  Many Kazakh warriors were buried in Turkestan.

Also, the oldest capital is in western Kazakhstan which is known as Sarashik.  I learned about the ritual according to Tengri, a very ancient religion where they used to pray to nature, like sky and moon, etc.  Apparently there are still elements of Tengri in Kazakh traditions that are observed today.

Looking at the map of Kazakhstan with my students, I didn’t realize that Semipalatinsk was so close to the Russian border and is a very beautiful city with the mountains and Irtsk river going through it from China.  Apparently the damage done at the Polygon with nuclear testing for about four decades is 500 kilometers away.  But still…not so good to encourage tourism where there still might be radioactivity.

Another thing I learned was that in the area close to Semipalatinsk there used to be Christian believers there. That would be many, many years ago in the northeastern part of Kazakhstan bordering to Russia and China where missionaries from the very early days were there.  That claim will have to be investigated.  I’ve heard  also that there are blue eyed Kazakhs, which seems even more interesting in this Central Asian land.

So, that is what I learned about Kazakhstan the other day, all this needs to be explored further.  Enjoy one last photo of our group who went to Borovoye last Saturday at the deer farm.  What a memorable trip, hopefully more to come.

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What else I learn from my adult learner students

The other day was a potpourri of various talents who showed up for English practice that is meant for advanced speakers once a week.  Some of these university employees were more shy to speak up once the talkative ones found their stride.  Represented were those from Center for Energy Research, Economics, Admissions, Legal department, Strategic planning and the Library.  We got on the topic of occupations as a kind of carry-over from the week before when we discussed teachers and builders.

The conversation went all over the place from talking about Kazakhstan’s sports like boxing, football and hockey to the recent Asian Winter games to Tour de France, to Roza Bagnalova’s son to the profession of policemen to the upcoming presidential election.  Finally an hour was up and we were talking about Olympics and the Goodwill Ambassador Vladimir Smirnoff who represented Kazakhstan.

One of them asserted that the most popular professions in Kazakhstan are lawyers and economists, especially looking at what students are majoring in for their subjects at university.  Others didn’t agree so we quickly moved into sports.  Apparently the most famous footballer is Pele whose name means “useless” or perhaps “crafty.”  We talked a long time about his name and how his name means smart but doesn’t let on that he is, like in Russian (heat-tree.) I can’t tell from my notes because I had to write fast with six people all having an opinion about this athlete.  Supposedly he was quoted as saying that if Russia wins the World Cup, then Brazil will have a hockey team in hell.  Something like that, like I said, my notes after trying to decipher them 24 hours later leave much to guess work.

This I DO know they talked about and was new information for me, that the Klitschko brothers who are so famous in Ukraine for their boxing feats were actually born in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. Their father was a military man and it is said as a kind of joke, I’m not sure if this actually happened.  One of the Klitschko brothers ran into Sasha Cohen in New York City, who made that despicable movie about Kazakhstan (which really wasn’t true to Kazakhstan and was filmed in Romania).  Anyway, since Klitschko is really a Kazakhstani, he had some strong words for Cohen and it put the fear into him.  You don’t want to mess with a boxer if you get him riled. Maybe this was just a joke but the point is, that the film has done little to bring good repute to Kazakhstan.

One thing that was supposed to bring Kazakhstan’s reputation up a notch or two was the Tour de France that was won by a Spaniard Cantador while he was biking for Team Astana last year.  We shall see who will rise from the Kazakh athletes to take over in cycling.  A nice stadium that was built just down the road from the university for the ice skating for the Asian games is really for cycle races.  It looks like a bike helmet from the outside.

We moved on to what all Kazakh people know internally but is little known in the western world about Roza Baglanova who died just last week.  She was a much loved singer and represented Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.  Apparently one of my adult learner “students” went to school with her son Tarzhen.  When he was born his grandparents went to register him with a good Kazakh name but when the father found out about it, he was furious and had it changed to a good communist name, Tarzhen. I’m unsure of the meaning but it sounds like Tarzan to me.  Apparently Tarzhen didn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps in music but his father’s as a businessman.  He is entrepreneur and his quiet and keeps to himself, a good father of 3-4 children.

Then we got into the subject of names of Kazakh children and what it was like in the past if you wanted to appear politically correct.  I mentioned that during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s many young girls were called “Hong” for Red.  Someone said it was true in the USSR’s past that many had the names related to Lenin or Marx.  One poor lad was named after Albert Gore after he visited Kazakhstan.  With the Asian games now over, some girls are called Aizada (Asia) or boys might be called “Summit” after the OSCE summit last December. Or parents might use the word “Khan” or “Bai” or Abai going back to ancient times.  Some babies are given the name of the day of the week that they were born.  This has deep Kazakh roots to give names that honor an event.  Being BORN is an event here in Kazakhstan!

Somehow our conversation was directed back to occupations and several of these Kazakh people drive cars, so we talked about policemen.  After a Kazakh driver is stopped by a man with a white and black baton, the requisite forms are filled out. Some said they never pay a fine and talk their way out off whatever ticket.  Others who are in a hurry will pay the bribe just to get back on the road again.  You see, if you don’t want to go through all the steps of going to the bank and the police office to get the necessary paperwork down, you can give 1,000 or 2,000 tenge to the officer. However, this is NOT usually done directly, it might be slipped into a book or it might be left in the back seat of the squad car.

If you were to pay directly and officially with all the extra time spent to do it, it would cost about 6,500 tenge.  In the capital city of Astana it is not as bad to pay bribes to police officers as down in the south of Kazakhstan, like in Almaty. Perhaps this doesn’t happen in Astana because the police are more tightly controlled or they have other more important functions to deal with such as security for the president and other VIPs.  Maybe they are better paid than those officers to the south.

We talked of other things of course, such as the football match with Tartastan where the Dutch played in Moscow and the temps were -20 C and they played in the cold and mud with a score of 2-0.  Better than the score during the Asian games where a hockey match was 30-0. That would have been no fun to watch but one of my “students” witnessed that lopsided game.  Others saw the same ice skaters I did and we all talked about the opening ceremony.  I was surprised that one Kazakh woman didn’t even watch the Asian Games Opening ceremony on her t.v. I think she is too busy with her job and raising a family.

That’s it, from Lake Kaz-be-gone.

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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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Bleak Facts about teen suicide in Kazakhstan

I shared the other day some statistics of teenage suicide in Kazakhstan which our guest speaker from UNICEF shared with my Professional Development class.  These are startling figures and sadly behind every number there is a grieving family who asks the question WHY?  My own students waxed philosophical on this distressing issue.  The following are the questions we ALL should be asking:

“I was shocked to learn that Kazakhstan is on the 1st place by the suicide rate among teenagers. I wonder what reason force young people to kill themselves? The right of life is considered to be the main human right. Why do young people who have the whole life in front of them deprive themselves of this right?”

My Kazakh students are educators of young people, so they feel the pain acutely.  They know that they might be a small part of the solution to this problem that has gripped Kazakhstan.  I was told by one older educator that suicide is considered a “growing disease” or “growing pain” of a developing country such as Kazakhstan.

This same person told me that on the news she hears every week how many teen suicides are happening in the Semipalatinsk area.  Many disabilities and deformities have resulted due to that area in eastern Kazakhstan that was used for maybe 30-40 years during the Soviet period, as a nuclear testing site.  We learned from our speaker that there are not adequate funds to help rehabilitate those with disabilities or provide orphanages for them. Even in many village schools, there are not enough resources to help educate the “normal” children.  In any case, that might be where the high frequency of suicide deaths are occurring to bring Kazakhstan ahead of Russia in preventable and avoidable suicide deaths.

Another factor to consider would be that the Kazakh children of 19 years old are those who were born during the critical time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Their parents had been assured jobs in the collectives or factories but that was all stripped away and so the parents who had young children had to fight to survive during this calamitous and chaotic time.  Their parents did not get an education and so either these children who commit suicide have no model of how their parents worked in a regular job OR they were living in poverty and could not afford education.  Either way, there seems little hope for these youngsters to improve their lot in the villages of Kazakhstan.  Thus, to solve their problem they believe suicide will remedy the hopeless state.

Something else that was mentioned in our discussion among my mature Kazakh students is that some of these children who commit suicide come from wealthy homes.  In this case, the parents work very hard and put in long hours to have the nice house, car and all the material things they couldn’t have during communism.  In some cases, the busy parents are flying off to Turkey or China to buy goods but leave their children unattended to dabble in different things that are not healthy for them.

Some Kazakh children despair that they might not pass the national exam.  Here is what one of my students wrote:

“One of the main reasons is the National Test that the students take while graduating the 11th grade, because their teachers always say that if they don’t pass it they won’t enter any university or even get a certificate about the graduation (we call it “attestat”), and parents say that in case their child doesn’t get enough points on the test they won’t pay for his studies, he has to earn for his livings himself. That’s why they loose their interest and hope in life if they fail.”

Another of my students wrote this:

That’s why I feel upset to see my country showing the highest suicide rates among 15-19 year old adolescents, especially among women. Yesterday we discussed about the reasons that force them to commit suicide. As one of my group mates said most of them are from wealthy and normal families, so I wonder why they commit such things.

No easy answers, but it could be that there is much bullying that goes on at Kazakh schools.  Older students pick on younger, smaller students and hustle them for money.  Maybe the child is not as smart and needs another smarter student to help him with getting good marks on an exam.  There could be a plethora of scenarios of what is played out in the school playground with the bullying problem.  I’m thinking that Central Asia perhaps has felt bullied by other bigger nations and this is just a symptom of that on a micro level.  The “kick the cat” problem where social needs are not taken care of within the home and it leaks into society or, in other words, the lack of civil society.

I’m thinking of how the Mafia game has taken over as a kind of “fun” and cheap distraction for young people to play where there is an assigned killer and always a victim.  There’s a fortune teller and a witch.  These are dark subjects for some so young who want to do better for the sake of their country.   But I’m getting into another topic that needs to be explored.  Perhaps one Saturday night I will sit around with this age group and play “Mafia” to see what is going on.

Yes, growing pains is right in more ways than one when considering the terrible facts of suicide among teenagers in Kazakhstan.

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“A Cruel Wind Blows” (Part II)

Yesterday’s blog was about my impressions of a movie, produced in Canada, that I watched Wednesday morning with the international women’s group in Astana. Today’s photo was taken off the web from the URL below. It is of the nuclear bombed lake created in the Semipalatinsk area.   I would like to visit this northeastern area of Kazakhstan later some time. I know someone from the ladies group who HAS been to this radioactive place.  Wow!

Today I’ll not continue with my impressions of the film we watched but rather show some facts that I picked up off the web (along with the above photo) about the research done concerning this very sad era of communist rule over Kazakhstan. How many times in the 80 minutes that I watched did I shake my head in disbelief listening to interview after interview from the survivors from the Polygon area?  Too many. These Russian and Kazakh people would reveal truths from their perspective one after another. If enough westerners paid attention to this movie subtitled in English, they would know that communism was not about caring for the common man.  No, certainly not the common Kazakh in an out of the way place such as the Semipalatinsk area, not these Kazakhs didn’t count with the bigwigs in Moscow during the 70 year Soviet regime.

This documentary movie has a good title that should maybe instead read “A Cruel Wind Continues to Blow” because the radioactivity in this godforsaken area will harm generations to come.  Read on from this website:

“To the unsuspecting eye, an endless landscape of beauty unfolds in all directions. The Steppe – as it’s known by the locals – is an 18,000 km prairie-like flatland, dotted with randomly occurring mountain ranges. Its history has been scarred by the detonations of 456 atomic bombs – 340 underground (borehole and tunnel shots) and 116 atmospheric (either air drop or tower shots) tests. The former Soviet Semipalatinsk Test Site, in northeast Kazakhstan, was the primary nuclear test site during the Cold War from 1949 through to 1989. (Kazakhstan is a country of 16 million, which borders on the Caspian Sea to the west, Russia to the north and China to the east, and gained its independence from Soviet rule in 1991.)

In 1947, the head of the U.S.S.R. atomic bomb project, Commissariat for Internal Affairs chief Lavrentiy Beria, falsely claimed that the area was “uninhabited.” Today the site – also known as the Semipalatinsk Polygon and latterly the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan – is under study by various scientific groups who all agree that there are many areas that are not only contaminated but are still radioactive. The question is, how “hot” is it, and is the test site still a toxic source that is strong enough to be harmful to the residents who both live on or near it?


Although testing ended almost 20 years ago, there are many areas that remain “hot.” Such hot spots were craters created by the underground explosions just 18km northwest of the village of Sarjal. In the Degelen Mountain range, mountain tops destroyed by bombs that were placed deep inside them by way of tunnels that have since been backfilled. We also shot at ground zero, just 50 km west of Kurchatov where the first atomic bomb (Operation First Lightning) was exploded in 1949. This was an atmospheric explosion test site where more than 100 above-ground weapons tests took place. The site currently exhibits measurably high levels of radiation. Surprisingly there are no warning signs or fences to stop people or livestock from getting too close. In fact, sheep, cattle and horses can be found scattered around the Polygon grazing on the grasslands and drinking the water from the craters.

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My Impressions of “A Cruel Wind Blows”

No, the title does NOT mean that winter has started already in Astana.  As a matter of fact, it was a nice fall day.  This is all about a movie I watched at the Brazilian embassy in stead of  having our international women group meet at the Radisson hotel for Wed. morning coffee.  The following is the blurb that drew in about 40 ladies to watch this film:

A Cruel Wind Blows – 4 Square Entertainment Ltd – 82 minutes – Feature Documentary

From 1949 to 1989 the Soviet Union exploded 500 nuclear bombs in northeastern Kazakhstan. 200,000 villagers living close to the test site were exposed to high levels of radiation. Deliberately unprotected from the explosions, they were treated as human guinea pigs, instruments of study in the event the cold war turned “hot”.

The devastation from this planned catastrophe continues today. Thousands of children who were never exposed to nuclear fallout are experiencing very high levels of cancer, schizophrenia, anemia, etc. All of these are the products of radiation-induced genetic mutations. Experts have concluded that the genetic damage the population will experience will last for ten generations.

A Cruel Wind Blows is an intimate portrait of the Kazakh villagers of the Polygon region. This tragedy has particular resonance in today’s era of nuclear proliferation and “weapons of mass destruction.”

(Dir: Rob King. Prod: Gerald B. Sperling. Writers: Maggie Siggins, Carrie May Siggins. EPs: Gerald B. Sperling,

Joanne Levy. Editor: Jackie Dzuba DOP: Matt Phillips FP: SaskFilm, NHK (Japan), Al Jazeera English.)

My impressions or what I remember without taking notes the whole time I watched the English subtitles are the following:

1) we have NO problems compared to what this small group of people in the Polygon area have suffered

2) one little boy had had surgery on his forehead and had wide-spaced out eyes, he was lovingly held by a caring doctor, this young one had been abandoned by his mother at the hospital. The little tot had a freakish look about him but seemed normal and functioning as any other toddler

3) another little baby was not going to live long and was in a hospital with a tumor or water on the brain, he looked like an alien as well.

4) one little girl had been normal up to age 2 or 3 years and then things fell apart for her, she has no teeth and really is cared for her every need by her Kazakh mother, the girl doesn’t even know how to go to the bathroom.

5) the mother of this girl was interviewed and there were tears of tiredness and frustration

6) many interviews revealed that these people had been lied to, that there had been a lot of b.s. as to what had gone on for 50 years of testing.

7) I was surprised that the film makers didn’t have anything about the animals and how nuclear testing had affected them, towards the end they did show pictures

8 ) main thrust of movie was to show the devastation to the land and the Kazakh people who used to have cattle and sheep that grazed it.  It is a wasteland now, the soil is irradiated, not good for anything.

9) Soviet soldiers who were part of this secret experiment also had radiation problems and had not taken enough precautions, they were just doing what they were told

10) For one experiment of changing the direction of a river to go another direction they practiced on making nuclear lakes.  They used Kazakh soldiers and since they didn’t know Russian, they would not be telling what this secret was about.  Interestingly enough, all those who took part in this disappeared and their records of who they were were erased.

11) The Japanese had come with their research about how this would affect the genetics of the people, considered hogwash.  What was determined was that continual radiation exposure even in small doses over time would leave birth defects for generations to come.

12) One woman researcher who was Russian tried to find villagers who were older but she could not find anyone older than in their 50s, they had passed away quicker.  Someone who might get cancer at age 80 would get it 20 years sooner.

13) showed towards the end where Olzhas Sulemenov played a key role in 1989 in stirring up the people with truth about what was really happening at the Polygon.  Many did not know since it had been kept secret.  Were successful in stopping the exploding of 11 out of 18 explosions one year. Enough public outcry about this made the Soviets realize that they had gone too far.  The miners in Karaganda said they would NOT do their work in the mines if this continued in eastern Kazakhstan.  Perhaps there were enough smart, in-the-know type people who had been at the Polygon who knew the actual truth and had been sent to do mine work in the KARLAG camps.

14) The visual impact of seeing the mushroom clouds and the sound of the explosion shook the room as we watched. I can’t even imagine what it was like to be actually in the area at the time of these explosions.  If I’m not mistaken there were about 500 of them over the span of 40 years.

15) One woman who may have been a doctor during the time of all the hospitals and clinics set up said that they had many around seeing to patients and now there was only a first aid post, she thought that was despicable.  But it went along with the other comment that the doctors were sent to this area surrounding the Polygon to document what they saw as symptoms of the radiation, they were not sent to treat those who succumbed to the nuclear radiation.

16) what is notable to me is that every interview had the person’s name and in fact they were willing to give their names to be videotaped.  It all looked like old footage so this has been updated with the English subtitles.  Many of those interviewed were Russian appearing people.  One man was ready to admit his culpability in this matter.

17) he said that he was brought to the area to certify that everything was okay and that the people were protected.  He was liquored up and given expensive food but at one point he and his comrades said that they were only seeing the city, they wanted to see for themselves what was happening out in the villages out in the steppes.  That was not granted to them so they knew they were being duped.

18) another older man was blind after having looked at the mushroom clouds, none of the villagers were told to stay inside or later some soldiers with masks would come around and have a geiger counter they would keep waving over the people and then giving them vodka to drink.

19) another man had a twitch in his left eye as he talked, he had been a radio mechanic and had spent a significant amount of time as a soldier close to where the bombs were detonated.

20) what was interesting was the omission of the president’s name in this documentary. Perhaps for political reasons the Canadian film crew kept out his name. There was one objectionable statement made by a man who appeared Russian, “why not bring all these people who are infected to a nice dache like home in Canada.”

21) the Kazakh people will not leave their ancestral home, no matter how devastated it is. Similar to the Ukrainians in the Chernobyl area from when that blast happened in April of 1986, they will not move.

22) similar to Chernobyl, nature took on freakish proportions as what happened to fish that were thrown into the nuclear lakes that had been created, they became very huge.

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Ryan’s Final Goodbye to Kazakhstan

Like I suspected a couple of days ago, Ryan had more to write about his first impressions of Kazakhstan the two months he was here.  Seems he had a very powerful experience with meeting many OT and PT people in the work he did with the disabled Kazakh and Kazakhstani children and their parents.  We need more Americans (and Canadians and other westerners) like Ryan to adventure forth to this little known land where there are so many needs with Kazakhs suffering from disabilities.

Which reminds me, I had a delightful, hour long conversation with a woman who had a Fulbright grant in Semipalatinsk.  It was fun to compare notes with her about her four month experience in a university. Both people, Ryan and Mary Jo I met through this blog.  Who else is out there? Leave a comment and I’ll respond.

“Hey everybody, Tomorrow the long journey home begins. I have a birthday party for my friend Elizabeth tonight, then tomorrow I’m going to an orphanage, then last minute packing etc and catching the 6.30p train to Almaty, then 14 hours on the train and a day in Almaty, then the three flights that will get me home to the U.S.

I’m in utter disbelief and denial that my time here is almost over. I’ve had two parallel periods of time here that I think a lot about. One is the fact that this two months seems like it’s been about two days instead of two months. It feels like I haven’t been here any time at all. On the flip side of that it feels like this two months has been two years. Thinking back to my first days here they seem like a million years ago. I’ve seen so much, met so many wonderful people here that have taken me in, welcomed me, told me their stories, and made the transition to being here so much easier, and learned about the culture of a people and a place I barely knew.

I underestimated just how important it can be to have friends to show you the ropes in a place you’ve never been before. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and two incredible host families that have shown me different sides of the culture of Kazakstan. It’s interesting because the culture here is on one hand undeniably Kazak and yet it’s not just Kazak. It’s Uzbek and Russian and Tatar and is all of these cultures and people that live and work here together and without any of them it’s not the same.

A good and fun example here is a rice dish called Plov. The two most famous types are Kazak and Uzbek and there are people on both sides of the argument as to which one is better. Personally my vote is Uzbek. That’s just one of many examples.

I remember being so excited when I got here that I could read the signs on the street. Most signs are in both Kazak and Russian so I could read the Russian and that helped to calm me down instantly. I knew that this language that I had been learning in a classroom was really going to help me on the ground here. There are times when I’m still shocked that I can say something in Russian and get a response. For me now, Russian isn’t just a language I’m learning in a classroom for a grade but it’s a language I really really want to learn more because I now have friends that speak it. It’s become important to learn it for a completely different reason.

Now, I can also read a good bit of the Kazak and I can actually speak a little bit…pretty cool, eh? If I were to come here more long term, especially to Shymkent, I would definitely invest serious time into learning Kazak. Every major city in Kazakhstan is different as to which language is more widely spoken and preferred. In Astana it’s Russian, in Shymkent it’s Kazak. Most people speak both…but if you speak both then you’re in great shape. I’ve learned something new about KZ everyday that I’ve been here and everything I’ve learned has made me a little less of a clueless foreigner and I like that.

The last couple weeks since being back to Shymkent from Astana have been good weeks…busy weeks but good ones. The train ride back from Astana was uneventful mostly. I spent most of my time talking with Cindy and Elizabeth and the family in their coupe. I spent some time talking to the father in Russian and that was a lot of fun. We talked about America and he even drew a pretty good map of the states. I was very impressed. I also conquered the top bunk in my coupe. My upper arm strength and the ability to move my body using it amazes me sometimes, but it worked! When I got back to Shymkent I went to my new host family’s house and slept for a while.

My new host family is wonderful. They’ve taken me in and made me one of the family. They speak English and Russian so I’ve gotten to speak more English than I’ve probably needed to but it’s been great to get to hang out with them and talk about all sorts of things having to do with America and Kazakstan. One of the most interesting questions one of the kids asked was if Canadians hate Americans?

My host mom is a doctor and I’ve worked with her all summer so it’s been really great to live with her. They only have cold water which I thought I would hate but it’s been so hot that the cold showers have been amazing! Her daughter actually drew me something to bring back to the states. It’s really cool! Two things that have been really great about living a little bit far out of the city is that I spend a lot of time sitting on buses getting from one place to another. It gives me a lot of time to think. It’s nice!

Work has been great for the last couple of weeks. It hit me yesterday that this was my last day at work…not exactly a pleasant thought. Those kids have been a huge part of my summer and I love them a lot. They’ve been amazing to work with. Their smiling faces will definitely be something I take with me. The therapists and staff that I’ve worked with have taught me a lot about what it’s like to be on the other side of the patient-therapist divide. Everyone at work has been a huge encouragement to me.

We spent some time last week with an organization that brings disabled adults here together and tries to help them find jobs. We met some of the volunteers there who are also disabled. It was really cool to meet them and even more importantly I got to hear their stories. I’ve been telling my story all summer but I hadn’t really gotten to hear stories from the disabled community here in Shymkent.

It’s interesting how my generation, but particularly disabled people in my generation, use the internet to reach out to people with email and now with blogs. It’s really neat. Also, getting to hear about the ways that they help those around them is great! Later in the week we went back and worked with a few of them individually talking to them and giving them advice about exercises and things like there. There was one lady that I was talking to and her face lit up and she said “he really understands me”….that made me so happy. It was one of those moments when I was absolutely sure why I was supposed to be in Kazakhstan.

Last Saturday we spent the day as a team in the mountains(actually, it was more of a canyon because the Tien Shen mountains around here are really tall and snow capped). It was a great time of talking and of course lots of eating. We were there to celebrate a few birthdays(including mine!) and say our goodbyes because three of us are leaving in the next months. I spent most of my time drinking ice cold strawberry juice and Sprite and relaxing… A few of our group did some climbing…they looked really tired but very accomplished when they came back…I was glad I stayed on the ground personally. It was great to have the opportunity to say and hear some heartfelt goodbyes.

Sunday, I spent the day with my friend Rafhat. He’s here in Shymkent for the week and then we’ll go to Almaty together. We had shashlik and plov for lunch and then we went to my friends to say some good byes. On Monday we went to a Ethnomuseum and I learned a lot about Kazak/Central Asian culture. The Muslim owner took us into an underground area that he built as a place to pray. It was pretty cool literally. It was a least 10 degrees cooler in there than it was outside. We watched his daughter throw pottery which was cool because I’d never actually seen it done. He also played several instrument(a few Kazak instruments and even an American harmonica). It was a really cool experience.

And now, to close this massive missive… I want to thank each and everyone of you and a host of other people who may never see this email. Each of you have been a vital part of my work here. I didn’t do this alone. Through your support, in whatever ways you have supported me, I’ve been able to do my work here in Kazakhstan. I’m so thankful for your love and your support. Please, continue to think about KZ and her neighboring countries. Also, think of my friends as they try to work out their visa issues. Finally, for me, that my last days here would be full of wonderful experiences and tears of joy and that my travel would be uneventful. Again, thank you all for your unending support and I love you all!”

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Serikzhan’s Grandfather Hides his rewards and honors

My grandfather’s name is Taskaly. He was born in 1928 in the town called Furmanov. His childhood was gloomed by the Second World War. His two brothers died during it. This period was very hard for a young boy. However, he knew that he must work in order to help his family. He started working early, actually when he was 13 years old he worked as an accountant in his town. Later in 1944 he was promoted and worked as the main bookkeeper of Furmanov. Not bad for a 16 year old boy, but he didn’t stop improving himself, due to the fact that he was the bread-winner in his family.

Therefore, in 1946 he worked in the Ministry of Finance; in 1953 he was the deputy of his region. But he managed to work and study simultaneously, so in 1953 he graduated from Semipalatinsk Finance School by distance learning. He continued his study in 1956, when he was sent to Leningrad private finance school by the Ministry of Finance. Later, unfortunately the school was closed by Khrushev. At that time all students studied in KazGu, so did my grandfather. He graduated from that university in 1961.

In 1958, he was elected as a chairman of Uralsk’s RaiPotrepsouz and worked there for 5 years. In 1962 he moved from Uralsk to Aktobe, because he had a new job. He worked as the director of Aktobe’s KRAI for a long time. This was a very difficult time, not because his salary was low, but because of the fact that he had a family consisting of 10 people: 3 daughters, 3 sons, his parents and a wife. Although he had a good position he had never tried to take bribes, to steal anything whatsoever. This helped him to gain respect and he benefited from it later.

In 1983 he became a chairman of OblPotrepsouz. It was one of the highest positions in the town that is why he became famous. He retired in 1988 and nowadays he’s enjoying his rest. He has a lot of friends and they invite him to their houses, where they talk about their reminiscences. Our government doesn’t forget his contributions. He has been given many rewards since 1988 but he always hides them from me just because he doesn’t want to look like a conceited person.

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Aina’s Grandfather is her HERO!

Aina’s Grandfather is her HERO I want to write about a great person who had a big influence on me, it is my grandfather. Now he is alive and he is very energetic, enthusiastic up to day like when he was young. Nowadays we talk about different famous people, heroes and so on, but for me my grandfather is a hero.

Grandfather was born in 1934 in Semipalatinsk province. His name is Malgazhdar and he has three children: two beautiful daughters and one son who is my father. Now all of his children live separately from my grandparent, but every weekend we assemble together and spend a good time with them.

From my father’s stories about grandfather I knew that when my grandfather was a child he had a difficult time. In 1941 when he went to the first class there was a war and because of this he could not finish school and went to work in the collective farm. When the war was finished he could go to the school again and finish it. Then grandfather served in Army in Germany after that when he returned home he was sent to work in the Ministry. After my grandfather built a good career. He was a purposeful person and this quality helped him to be promoted in the career ladder because he always achieved his aims which were planned.

Grandfather, of course, has many qualities such as motivating people to do good things and to make right decisions, easy communicating with people and helping them. But he was not only a good hard worker; he also was a great father for his children. In the role of father he is perfect. His children were raised in love, trust, respect which was given by parents. So, we can understand that grandfathers are important in our lives.

For me my grandfather is ideal and he is a good example for people, for his children and for me. I hope that all people can respect their grandfathers and love them for being with us.

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Gaukhar’s Grandma “just can’t sit and do nothing”

I’m going to tell about my grandmother. She is my mother’s mother and I love her very much. Her name is Altynai. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my other grandparents, I just spent with her more time. I was living with her for two years when I was a little girl. I was four years old. My mom was looking for a job in the city at that time, so my grandmother was looking after me. That’s why she became  closer to me. I always visit her on my summer vacations. She lives in a small village near Semipalatinsk. It doesn’t take much time to get there, about ten or twelve hours by bus. So I can go there by myself whenever I want and I know that she will always be glad to see me.

My grandmother is a very kind and cheerful. She always looks at the sunny sights of the life. She has a great sense of humor and can make me laugh even if I have a terrible mood. She is always doing something, always busy because in the village there are so many things to do. She gets up early in the morning, at five o’clock. I think that it is very difficult to wake up at such early hours but my grandma says that it’s became very easy for her. So she wake up and her everyday routine work begins. She have to feed the cows and sheep, to cook for my grandfather and do other million things that do every person that lives in a countryside. I always worried about her business and told her that she needed more rest. But grandma says that she just can’t sit in one place and do nothing.

And of course like any grandmother in the world she cooks wonderful. I love her cakes, pies and especially her manty. Actually I keep fit but when I’m at my grandmother’s it’s impossible to keep diet. She learned me how to cook pancakes and I was so proud of it because by that time I couldn’t cook at all.  I came to Almaty and said to my mother: “O. K. Now I’m gonna cook you pancakes every morning when you are leaving for a job and I’ m sure that you will like my pancakes”. But after some time my mom just couldn’t look at the pancakes because she ate them maybe during the month every day in the morning. And one day she asked me not to “take care of her every morning”.

Also I love my grandmother because she is my friend at the same time. I can tell her all my fears and dreams. She always support me and help me. She never blame me for my mistakes and just tries to explain me that it not right. In any case I feel that she loves me. I think it’s a great luck to have such a wonderful grandmother and I will always be grateful to her for the love and care that she gave me.

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