Posts tagged Shala Kazakh

Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan

Today I will take a departure from my usual writing about human trafficking issues. Recently I was asked to answer some questions about Kazakhstan and I felt ill equipped to do so.  I made sure that those who were asking the questions knew that I was an outsider to this complex country and that they would only get answers from my American perspective.  That didn’t seem to dissuade them to ask 11 questions of me despite my disclaimer.  I will parse out my thoughts for my reading audience over the next week so you have something to read over Christmas break if you are fortunate to have a few days off.

The following are my answers off the top of my head, obviously I had MORE than a “comment” about the educational system in Kazakhstan. I have blog material which covers every day I taught in Almaty and Astana from fall of 2007 to March of 2011:

1.      Can you comment on the education system in Kazakhstan?

This question is my favorite and what I mostly blogged about the 3 ½ years I lived in Almaty and Astana. Essentially, if you could put everything I wrote into a bite-sized capsule it would be this:  Kazakhstan, after the fall of the former Soviet Union, inherited a very broken system of education.

However, I am quick to add that the standards the Soviet Union initially had in place were competitive because they did have intellectual integrity yet by the time it trickled down from the centralized system of governance from Moscow to the far reaches of Central Asia, there were different permutations of what “education” looked like. I would also add that what was very broken as of 20 years ago has become even worse under the current system of education in Kazakhstan.  I will elaborate on that later but first I will explain how I define “broken” in terms of what the Soviet Union handed to the Kazakhs.

It did not matter what former republic you looked at whether it was, for example, Estonia, Georgia or Ukraine, all the schools had the same textbooks, curriculum and style of teaching from the top down, from Moscow’s department of education. One size fits all.  How quickly each former republic of the USSR embraced the Soviet style of education depended on how closely they were aligned to a teacher-centered type of classroom and Soviet principles.

But take, for example, what the Kazakh nomads historically had to know about cattle and sheep raising and transform that kind of knowledge to a collective farm where they were supposed to change to become farmers? Well, they were doomed to failure from the beginning because herdsmen and shepherds are not the same as farmers.  In Ukraine, when collectivization happened in the 1930s, it was easier for a peasant Ukrainian farmer to think in terms of farming on a collective.  But for a Kazakh who only knew the freedom of the steppes as grazing lands for sheep, horses and cattle to change over to farming, that was a significantly different story. A very sad story indeed.  Millions of Kazakhs died of starvation when collectivization was enforced.

Therefore, you had Kazakhs who were historically nomadic and who knew where their property lines were for the different seasons to move their livestock but then the Soviet Union came along and prohibited their language and their cultural traditions. As late as the 1970s, the weaving of the dowry carpet of a young Kazakh bride which told her own story was prohibited.  It was considered too cultural and everyone was to think Soviet and not one’s own ethnic heritage.

The Kazakhs learned very quickly after being forced into a starvation period (1930s) that the only way to survive as a people, they needed to learn Russian and NOT speak Kazakh anymore. Those Kazakhs who went through the educational system in the bigger cities forsook their own culture and language but now are called “pretend” Kazakhs.  They are called shala Kazakhs, since they are only Kazakh skin deep and no further. But I get ahead of myself in answering this question since it is a large and comprehensive one to try to answer.

(to be continued)

Comments (1) »

What Aigerim’s Grandparents Lived Through

My grandmother arrived in Almaty when I was only a few months old. As soon as she came my mother returned to work. Thus, I was brought up by my grandmother.  I often say to my mother that I do not remember her in my childhood because she was always busy and had no time for me. But I remember my grandmother very well.

Her life was very difficult similar to lives of all people of her generation in our country. She survived a famine and a war. Thus she was a strong-willed person. I know one story from her life. Once in cold winter in steppe her cart was turned over and she was staying under this cart for a week. She was still alive when she was found by her brother one week later. 

 

She married when she was 16. When she was 28, her husband went to the Great Patriotic War and was killed there. They lived together for 12 years but did not have any children. Two years after the war she became pregnant with my father. I do not know anything about my grandfather. I just heard that he was married, thus he could not be with my grandmother.  

She was a devout person. She started to pray when she was only nine years old. But she never visited mosque because she considered that it is not so necessary. If a prayer is sincere, you will be heard no matter where you are. 

She died when I was 19. She was not ill before death. She just went to bed in the evening, and in the morning my mother – her daughter-in-law – found her close to death. She did not lose her consciousness till my father arrived at home. She waited for her only son and when he came and took her hand she passed away.

 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before I was only 19 when she died. Now I regret that I was not a careful granddaughter. I regret that I did not ask many questions such as what is the most important thing in our life. I often recollect her.

 

Regarding my mother’s parents, I have seen them only in photos. They died before I was born. I know that their lives were also very difficult. My grandmother’s family was very rich, and after the revolution they were forced to flee abroad. Not far from China they were caught. On the way back my grandmother lost her husband and two children. Later she married the second time. Her second husband – my grandfather – was a railwayman, so he had some special food card. My grandmother married him not to die of starvation. My mother was their adopted child.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

No TRUE Kazakh wants to be a “Shala Kazakh”

I learned from Aigerim about the term of “Shala Kazakh” which is true of her husband’s family who are from the north of Kazakhstan Shala means that you are “poor in your own Kazakh culture” because you don’t know the language or many of the Kazakh traditions.

Aigerim’s parents, on the other hand, are from the rural areas of Kazakhstan and hung on to their Kazakh language.  However, during the Soviet past they met with problems in not knowing Russian.  Aigerim’s parents wanted to reverse that trend so they made sure their children did well in Russian but now they have become Shala Kazakh. Aigerim woefully admits to being a Shala Kazakh but she will make sure her son is not. Most Kazakhs now believe it is shameful not to know your own country’s language.  I was told that you will find better speakers of Kazakh among those people from the south of Kazakhstan like Taras, Kryzlorda and Shymkent and also to the east close to China

It seems that during the Soviet purges in the 1930s and 1940 there were those Kazakhs who fled to China. Now some of the children and grandchildren have returned to Kazakhstan to become citizens.  Their Kazakh language is very good but they have problems filling out forms at banks and other official documents which are still in Russian.  Not knowing the Russian language but only Kazakh (and Chinese), they are at a disadvantage.  Their documents and passports say they are Kazakh yet they need their children to help them translate from Russian to Kazakh. 

Of course now, the employers throughout Kazakhstan are trying to attract Kazakh speakers who know the Kazakh language (also Russian AND English).  Dilyara claimed she watched a movie of Americans who were speaking the Kazakh language fluently.  She said she would show it to me because  I’m convinced it is probably excellent dubbing of voices going on. I know that in China, Chinese dubbing voices are famous for speaking in Chinese to go along with the lip movements of the actors in American Hollywood films. 

 

For those Russians who remain living and working in Kazakhstan, they are supposedly shamed into learning Kazakh.  Especially true when those foreigners, such as Japanese or Americans come to Kazakhstan and learn Kazakh in a short time.  The question is asked: “What about the Russians who have always lived in Kazakhstan?”  They have a wide assortment of many Kazakhs to help them practice speaking Kazakh.  Aigerim pointed out that when she wants to practice her English, she has a difficult time finding a native speaker of English except when I’m available for her to talk to.  I’m hoping to get her connected with a researcher from Sweden so she can further practice her English speaking skills next fall when she arrives to Almaty.

 

Fun day learning more from Dilyara and Aigerim about their Kazakh culture while I’m supposedly helping them improve their English skills.

 

 

Comments (3) »