Posts tagged Shymkent

Kazakhstan’s Oil and Human Trafficking “Issues”

The following is what a fellow British teacher, who is teaching English in Astana, wrote on recent events in Kazakhstan.  He has been working non-stop to help those victims who come out of sex slavery or who have been trafficked for their labor.  Here is what he wrote:

“As you have all contributed to the funds that are held by IOM to be used on behalf of trafficking victims I am writing to inform you that I have today approved the use of the total held (102,000 kzt) for legal representation of a victim of sex trafficking. Please see below for details of this horrible case and I am sure you would approve this use of the money raised (absolutely the profile of need we identified that is NOT covered by IOM budgets) to support a young Kazakh women who has been grossly exploited (note by her FEMALE friend!)

Many thanks for all your efforts that have contributed to us being in a position to assist. I have asked to be kept informed of progress and will of course keep you informed. Thank you again for your support.

A year ago an eighteen-year-old Kazakh girl was trafficked from village in South Kazakhstan region to Shymkent city for sexual exploitation by her female friend. She spent several months in a brothel until she was rescued by police officer

A criminal case was initiated against her exploiters, however, all defendants were not arrested due to lack of evidence. Moreover, during preliminary court proceedings a prosecutor, instead of represent the victim’s position, accused the victim and tried to convince a judge that there was no reason to initiate this criminal case.

The NGO (in Shymkent) applied to IOM for additional funding to hire a lawyer to represent the victim’s rights during the court proceedings. The next court session is scheduled on Feb 14. The NGO has already identified a lawyer who has good experience in trafficking cases (he represented a victim a year ago and won the case)”


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Humor Alert – “Ten Beautiful Things About Kazakhstan”

Thought I’d take a break from the heaviness of “addictions” and share a funny piece by a guest writer from U.K. who has been in Kazakhstan for about two months so far. He works at the same university I worked at for one year in Astana and has a hilarious take on things which I can readily relate to.  His style of writing reminds me of a book I enjoyed reading many years ago “Coming Home Crazy” by Bill Holm. Holm was a big, red-haired Icelandic fellow who was a writing teacher from Minnesota and went to China for a year in the late 1980s, came back and was having reverse culture shock.  My favorite chapter is when he wrote about the many uses of a Swiss Army knife while stuck in an elevator.  I don’t think he embellished anything to make it more ridiculous and funny, that was the way things were back in China in the 1980s.  I know, because I lived in Harbin, China for two years and wish I had written down my own laughable, cultural experiences.

I’m glad my British guest writer sees the same things I did about Kazakhstan in a humorous light. Read his other pieces I have featured on this blog here, here and here. If you are an expat who lives in Kazakhstan, you will be able to relate to the following ten things he thinks are “beautiful.”  If you are a foreigner who is interested in Kazakhstan and want to come for a visit, this is a good primer for what to expect. (If you are a foreigner who hates Kazakhstan, you are probably NOT reading this blog at all, so whatever is written here is lost on you.)  If you are interested in Astana particularly, don’t miss the URL at the very end that shows it in all its glory!

Ten Beautiful Things about Kazakhstan

Foreigners living in Kazakhstan often seem to have made finding things to dislike about the country their new national sport. I guess that when something goes wrong at home, you tend to assume that it is the Gas Board that is to blame, or the local Transportation Department, or your neighbour with a chip on her shoulder.  Despite all, here are Ten Beautiful Things about Kazakhstan.

1) Shymkent People – 
Shymkent is Kazakhstan’s third city, think Glasgow with a strong Uzbek influences. To outsiders it is a hotbed of petty corruption and minor criminality, but – perhaps coincidentally, who knows – every Shymkentian that I have met here has been unfailingly courteous, interesting to talk to, engaged, civic-patriotic, kind and warm.

2) Taxis – Stick your hand out at any roadside and with in seconds a ‘taxi’ will have pulled up. I have known them to veer across three lanes with an enthusiasm that is quite unsettling. Next, comes the negotiation stage: you state your destination and your price, and your answer, if it is in the negative, will involve him driving off, without even waiting for you to close the door, which you are nevertheless obliged to do. Mostly though, people will go out of their way to take you where you need to go, and there is an unwritten code that any driver should get you as close to the front door of your destination as is geometrically possible for him to do. The ride is cheap, drivers, mostly friendly and talkative, invariably inquisitive, (and not at all bashful about asking how much you are earning!)

3) Bus Drivers – If the informal paid hitchhiking puts us Brits with our unshakeable fearfulness of our neighbours to shame, then Astana bus drivers are really in danger of blackening our drivers’s reputation by comparison.

Picture the scene! I was out in the countryside and saw my bus, still a good three minutes’ walk away, pull up. I instantly resigned myself to waiting for the next one, of course. But for some reason the thing wasn’t pulling away. Knowing Fife Stagecoach buses as I do, I assumed that this was some cruel trick: wait til I was within hoping distance, then at the last minute slam the door in my face. But, no. It appeared to be waiting for me. It appeared to care. Certainly there was no one else around. So I cantered apprehensively in its direction. As soon as I got on the bus, the driver closed the doors and off we went, with a slight inquisitive glance from the conductress the only indicator that perhaps I could have made more of an effort. 

This sort of thing is common. Unlike in Russia, the obligation is on the conductors to extract payment from you, and not on you to pay them. The drivers are considerate. No shouting, no remonstrating, no obssessive following of the timetable. I’ve asked to be dropped off at one particular corner to save me an extra 300m of a walk, and the driver couldn’t have been more obliging. And all for 25p.

4) Landscapes – Whether desert, steppe, mountains, or Shropshiresque rolling hills is your thing, Kazakhstan has a topographical solution for you!

5) The Clan System – Even in outward-looking metropolises, the clan system is not slow to rear its head. When you are not having favours done for you by third cousins, you will be doing favours for them (a system which even the interesting genealogical heritage of my blood lines has not allowed me to avail myself of yet.) While admittedly leading to unworthies getting appointed to posts that they really don’t deserve, it has its benefits too, by providing a system of conflict resolution, communal defence, moral accountability, and a fairly endless stream of social opportunities. For country kids turning up in a big city, it gives them a ready-made network that they can plug into. The different clans have their own distinct identities and there is definite pecking order, but for aw’ that, it reminds me oddly o’ hame… (of 250 years ago)

6) Personal Freedom – Precious few CCTV cameras, no oyster cards, cash as standard, no Police-enforced ANPR, few swipe card entry systems, a general laidbackness and lack of paranoia… need I say more? (Sadly some of this is on its way.)

7) Doors – After three years of living behind a flimsy little thing with all the security features of a Wendy House interior door, I am so impressed with Kazakhstani appartment doors. My outer one is made of grey re-enforced steel, speckled with what seems to be anti-climb paint. The frame is of a similar calibre. To the outsider, it presents a sheet of solid steel with a tight joint between the frame and the door itself, leaving little room for the odd passing crowbar. The next one offers the intruder even less encouragement with two impressively solid-looking deadlocks that as a practiced keyholder, I struggle to manage. As a nice finishing-touch, the locks have little lock flaps on the inside. Neat or what!

My apologies if this level security is standard for you, but for me, it is a revelation to live behind the sort of security that a tank would have difficulty navigating.

8 ) Friendship – A friend is for life, and not just for Christmas, I’m told.

9) Nonexpat Westerners – Westerners that have come here for Kazakhstan’s sake and not to fill a hole in their personal pension deficit are some of the most interesting people that I have met, and a number are in danger of becoming good friends. Westerners in Kazakhstan fall into two neat camps, with precious little breathing room in between: those that want to be here, and those that don’t. Those that do, tend to be educated, open, outward-looking, engaged, and generally dedicated to their work. For those that don’t just negate everything in that last sentence. 

10) Astana –

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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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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part VI)

The following are Ryan’s words, not mine.  Enjoy his summer perspective on Kazakhstan:

“We’ve talked a lot about all kinds of things and laughed more than any group of people should be allowed to. We’ve formed this cool family from all sorts of places: Two Kazaks, Two Dutchies, a Brit, and an American thrown in for flavor. Forming relationships here has been an honor. Hanging out with my friends ends up being a lesson in world culture/languages. For example, I learned how to say I love you in Dutch last night. It’s also interesting to note the differences that pop up in different types of English(e.g. trash and rubbish).

The Saturday we got here we went with Nick, some of his friends from Almaty who were here to celebrate his birthday, and his brother and sister in law to see a few of the sights in Astana. The big one that we saw was The Baiterek. It’s a Space Needle type structure and you can see all of Astana from it. You can also compare your hand size to the President’s. Regretfully, mine was smaller.

As we walked around Astana I was struck by the differences in Astana and Shymkent. Shymkent has a more real…earthy..feel. That’s not the word I’m looking for but it’ll do. Astana is pretty with flowers everywhere, beautiful buildings all over the place, monuments everywhere…very Capital feeling. DC feels the same way…like it has a pretty face because it’s supposed to because it’s the capital. It’s  manicured with streets that are much more empty than any I’m used to seeing. I don’t fear for my life (as much) when I’m crossing the street here. We actually crossed one street that we were able to stroll across because there was almost no one on it. I’ve seen the street a lot since and it’s never very busy. The Shymkent contingent was shocked. I had some great beef shashlik (kebob) that night.

Sunday night there was a combination house warming/birthday party for Nick. It was wonderful to meet his many friends here. I was really excited and honored to be able to celebrate his birthday with him considering I’d only known him about a day. He got some awesome house warming gifts. Monday, we slept in and relaxed. It was quite nice. Monday afternoon Rafhat (our friend and translator from Aktobe that speaks English in such a way that I thought he was a foreigner) decided he wanted to go to the American embassy and since it was quite close by we along with Elizabeth went to check it out. Unfortunately it was closed. I was really disappointed… they have this big embassy on a big plot of land and all the grass was overgrown. You’d think we could keep up our embassy grounds as the face of America?!

We spent the next few days working with our kids and avoiding getting sick. Except for Rafhat we’ve all been sick at one point or another. We got our introduction to work on Tuesday morning. Then Nathan and I went straight away to a home visit with a very sweet little girl. It’s unfortunate that she’s losing her eyesight along with the CP issues that she has. We tried some light sensory stuff in some of our sessions and got very little response.

One thing that being here has taught me though is that there is ALWAYS hope for improvement. She loves playing on these big physioballs that we have. We have a set of twins that both have CP which was fascinating to me. I have a friend who’s a twin that has CP but her sister doesn’t so I’d never met a pair that both had it. It’s really interesting to watch them do therapy together because they feed off of each other as we get them to do it (e.g. rolling a ball between the two of them). I love the fact that a lot of the therapy we do looks like we’re playing more than it does therapy but if you watch you’ll see very quickly that therapeutic methods are built into these fun games.

Take it from me…you have to make it fun for them or then it’s nothing more than exercise. Another child we had virtually no control over the movement of the muscles in his body and I was frustrated for him. We were trying to walk with him…and he was doing it…he was doing it…and then…his body freaked out and it was over. We have a lady from Iowa that’s working with us while we’re here. She brought this therapy tool that’s basically applied like a second skin and as I understand it, it controls muscle movement so that the muscles can be retrained into correct movement. You look like a member of the blue man group with it on. They’ve used it on a couple kids including ours with the movement control issues. It seems to help. The problem is that it’s not readily available here and rather expensive.

I also helped out on a session with one child whose CP issues seem very similar to mine. It was great because most of the kids here have CP that’s worse than mine so there’s a lot I can’t directly relate to…but with him…it was as if I watching a younger version of me. I also had a great conversation with one of the fathers the other day. We ended up talking about American hockey teams…don’t ask me how we got there. I love watching these kids exercise because I’m reminded of their potential that is so abundant and I have so much hope for them.

(to be continued)

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part V)

We are in the home stretch with impressions from Ryan’s e-mail home to friends and family. Even though I don’t know Ryan, I have really enjoyed seeing his perspective.  I hope you have too.  The main reason I have used his writings is because I want to entice other westerners to experience this great land of Kazakhstan for themselves.  Thanks Ryan for permitting me to use your words:

August 1, 2010 Hey everybody!

I hope this update finds you all very well and enjoying your summer. Hope it’s not too hot wherever you are. One of the great things about relocating to Astana for two weeks is that it is much cooler than Shymkent. It’s actually been cold here at some points…it’s windy here so that’s where the cold comes from mostly. I like it though because I can walk around and not end up feeling like I can’t breathe because the heat is so oppressive which is often what Shymkent is like. So now, sit back and enjoy as I paint a picture of what our days here in the Capital of the Great Republic of Kazakhstan have been like.

On Saturday, I spent my morning packing and saying goodbye to my host family that I won’t be able to stay with when I get back. I will see them when I get back but I won’t stay with them. I focused on packing so that hopefully I wouldn’t have time to focus on the leaving part. I know I haven’t been here long but having a host family for however long is an intense experience…you are part of their lives and they part of yours. It was even more intense because they only spoke Russian which made for some funny moments when I said something wrong and some aggravated moments when I couldn’t get the point across no matter how hard I tried. I wished a few times that they spoke English just because it would be easier for me. That’s not what staying with them was about though.

Kazakhstan has taught me that one of the most important way to get to know people and to gain their trust is to know their language and that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I’m not just learning Russian for the sake of my degree or to know another language. I’m learning Russian because your native language is always close to your heart and it’s important if you want to get to know people you must learn their language.  It’s much more than any of that even. Being here in this environment, the place where you live and lay your head at night is one of your safe places. You can relax and let your hair down as it were. I had enjoyed the chance for the last three weeks to talk to my host dad, mom, and sister and get to know them in some wonderful ways and now we were being separated.

I think almost everyone that has a host family thinks that their’s is the best …but I know that mine are the best. They are such wonderfully sweet people and they took me in and truly made me one of the family. It’s one of the most important things you can ask for when you’re in a place you’ve never been before. They didn’t mind the fact that I often butchered their mother tongue they were just glad to have me and I was glad to be part of their family. You truly do become family. I can’t imagine being my friends here that have had to say good bye to their host families after months or years. It was rough but I will carry them with me now wherever I go and when I come back here…I have a family waiting for me.

Cindy, Elizabeth and I were taken to the airport and I think we were all a little nervous about flying up to Astana, but everything went really smoothly. We checked in, went through security (which was loads easier than any security I’ve been through in the States…most important…the shoes stayed on…), and then we waited. It’s interesting here because it makes no sense to show up really early to the airport because they won’t be ready to process you at all until about an hour before hand. We took a bus out to the plane(it was one of the puddle jumper planes that I’ve flown in a million times and it was a Soviet plane I think) and we boarded it through the tail which was something I’ve never done before.  As you can imagine it was really hard to hear while we boarded. The plane was pretty nice and they fed us a bit of lunch which included tea. I was surprised by the tea though I don’t why because they serve it for every occasion and no occasion at all.

When we got here Nick picked us up from the airport and I knew immediately that these were going to be a couple weeks to remember. Nick has such an outgoing personality, He’s one of those people we all know…you know…the people that it’s impossible to be in a bad mood around. Part of that has to with the fact that he is ALWAYS playing music…and it’s hard to unhappy with music around.He has been a big part of the reason we’ve been constantly laughing since we got here. He has Kazakh hospitality down to an art. We have been staying in his apartment for the last two weeks while we work here and he’s been a very gracious host.

(to be continued)

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part II)

Ryan’s story and his impressions of Kazakhstan lets me relax on posting on my blog. A vast, unchartered land that must be understood and taken seriously as a viable nation. Great history, amazing people, beautiful landscape, I guess Ryan likes the food too.  Read yesterday’s blog to find out what he is doing for “fun” this summer…

July 2, 2010

Have a seat and join me in one of the major stops of the Silk Road. This place and its people are beautiful and wonderful. This is a place of contradictions…a land that time forgot and yet today I was across the street from a place called Megacenter (it’s a very Western style mail). There are Mercedes Benzes next to Soviet era cars and buses. It’s fascinating as a lover of cultures.

Every person is a new story. The people here are extraordinarily nice to everyone but especially so to guests. One of many things I love about this place is that they’re not in a hurry…ever. It forces you (sometimes frustratingly) to stop and smell the tea. You must slow down here and if you’re lucky it will go from frustrating to very welcome. If you rush they still won’t so just slow down, come inside, take off your shoes (it’s required although when I came home last night I forgot and my little sis Nastya reminded me), and tell us about your day.

The Kazakh and Kazakhstanis just don’t rush anything but especially the developing and maintaining of relationships. That is above everything. There are no “hi how are you? I’m good” and that’s all conversations here. They want your story good, bad, or indifferent. They want the story of your day and if it was bad they want to know why not just that it was bad. This intentionality is amazingly refreshing because it’s expected. They want to know about me and in return they want to tell their stories. I love it. We could use a lot of that in the States. We really need to work on the slowing down and listening part. I have it down to a science because I have to force myself to talk at home because my Russian is so horrible. I listen two or three times more than I talk. I do talk though…a lot…they make me. It’s not like they’re forcing me but they must enjoy hearing their mother tongue butchered.

I love the fact that I’ve met so many foreigners here that aren’t Americans. I’ve met people from Australia, England, Holland, South Korea, Germany, and other places I probably don’t even remember now. It brings out the anthropologist and twenty questions nerd in me. Most of the Americans I’ve met and there are a fair number are great and I won’t lie it’s nice to let my ear rest because with everyone else and I mean EVERYONE else my ear and brain are working over time especially when I have to speak Russian.

Speaking of things that take time…meals…meals are an event here… snacks are event here…with all the trimmings. They bring everything out from meat to bread…salad…and whatever the main dish is. Tonight, it’s Monti (steamed big pelmeni, which are smaller meat dumplings). Oh, and the cheese and fruit or chocolate. My host parents wonder why I don’t eat much and I don’t compared to the locals. I’m trying to embrace the eat small and often approach that the other foreigners espouse but it’s so hard when they expect you to eat hearty all the time and they eat 4 or 5 times a day total. I only have so much room.

I’ve had horse…interesting…not bad a bit gamey but not bad. Also, the pelmeni, one of my favs…so good. Oh, and of course, the tea. Hot tea is the way to the heart of every person in Kazakhstan. They drink it like…and more than water. They are in love with their tea and they must have it. Most time spent with each other talking is over tea. I usually have three cups before lunch. I’m coming to share their addiction. Although some of them like coffee too. Maybe you’ll drink it with me, yeah?

So yesterday Cindy, my British physical therapist friend that I work with, gave me a challenge. I had to buy bread and come to a local park without Seryozha’s (my host dad)’s help. Sergei and Lena own a car (which is something you see plenty of but considering the number of people not so much. Also, cars are used as private taxis more on that in a sec) it’s a Honda which I love and because I had no idea what I was doing Seryozha has been chauffeuring me but not wanting to tread on his kindness and needing to learn I took my map and set out to tackle the bus system here in Shymkent.

I got instructions about the bus to the park (only one bus so it was relatively easy but I had to make sure to get off at the right place). I did it though. I bought the bread and made it to the park. I spent the day talking with Cindy and Elizabeth and after a sandwich lunch about my life and we made a ppt presentation out of the pics I brought for a talk I’m giving tomorrow to the kids moms.

(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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Astana Billboards and Beket’s Grandparents

These are the last two photos I took of the billboards of WWII veterans on my way biking out to the Astana airport. (I will try to get translations of the quotes next to each veteran that go with each billboard picture.)  Victory Day is tomorrow which is why it is fitting to feature Beket’s story about his grandparents.

“We live in a constant rush. That is why we do not have enough time to share it with our relatives. There are always some doings, some meetings. But it is in our power to change this sad fact.

I am proud of living in Kazakhstan. Kazakh culture has deep roots in the nomadic history beginning from Saks and finishing by the 21th century. Our traditions play a large role in our life. Kazakh people follow customs of being respectful to old people. Every male must know his family’s tree.

I am a happy guy because I have a lot of relatives. We are always gathering at holydays. I have grandparents both from mother and father’s side. Every summer I go to Shymkent where they live. I spend all summer just for being with them. My grandpa, Tulegen Zhakipbayev , is a veteran of the Second World War. He is an ex-army officer. And now he has written 4 books about his life experience, his life during the War. It was specially made for his kids, grandchildren with the aim to tell them a full truth about those 1940s years. I have already read them and still listen to his stories. Here is part of his book:

“… on the 3rd of September there will be 55 years since the victory over Japan. Unfortunately, this date is undeservedly not celebrated although this victory is the official end of the Second World war.  I am going to tell you about this victory more detailed.

Japan Army was on the peak at the end of 1942.  They captured northern and north-eastern part of China, defeated American Fleet in Pearl Harbor, occupied Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, Indo-China, Malaysia. There were 1.5 million soldiers in Soviet Army in Manchuria. But both sides had signed a  Protocol of nonaggression.

…            The most dangerous was the “Detachment 731” which produced bacteriological weapons of mass destruction. ..

… Now and 1945 came. We stay in Transbaikalia. The Great News about the The Great Victory we met with thunderous soldiers cheers. Embraces, tears… But The War has not finished for us. Japan has declined the capitulation act. We began the war with Japan. Our actions were successful…”

I have read this book twice or maybe three times.

Each summer our big family gather in my grandpa’s huge house which was built specially to provide us relax and entertainment. I usually get up early in the morning and then water the garden. My grandparents put there grapes, peaches, apples. That is why it is so pleasurably to eat fruits on open fresh air.

Each 9th of May they visit us in Astana to participate in the Victory Parade. During this day they meet a lot of their old friends, comrades. Sometimes it is so harrowing: their tears so sad!

Life is passing day by day, that is why we must use this time to share it with our parents, Grandparents. They need attention, just few words.

We love you.”

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Three Different Kazakh students short writings

These Kazakh students’ writings (averaging about 160 words) were written in 30 minutes by my young, impressionable students.  What they wrote caught my eye because they had a clear message.  Whether you agree or not with these students and what they wrote doesn’t matter.  For my purposes, I just asked them to write what their grandparents thought of the past.  A few answered the question directly, others just gave OTHER interesting information. I’m going to have to work on their specifically answering the question as they prepare for the IELTS test…

Essay #1 I have a great story…Great story about my grandfather.  He died 3-4 years ago. But his name will never be forgotten because of his way, sacred way…My grandfather’s name is Nurmakhan.  He lived in southern Kazakhstan, near the city of Shymkent, in Abais ayl.  So in this ayl (very little city) there is a place where there’s a lot of stones.  When he was just a little boy, his mother (my grand grandmother) placed him near these huge stones.  And I think that the ability which he had, he climbed up at this young age.  Today this place name is “Gaiyp eren Kyryk shilten” [not sure what this means in English] and many people as tourists come to this place.  If you have a problem with your health, or if you want anything else you can go to this place.  As a result, many people thanks our God.  It’s really sacred place with healthy water, with interesting and amazing stones.  Just I can’t describe this place, just go and see for yourself!!!

#2 I don’t agree with my grandparents

I know my grandparents thought very well about the Soviet Union because they’ve never seen Kazakhstan without Soviet Union.  They thought that Kazakhstan couldn’t live, couldn’t exist without the Soviet Union.  My grandparents said to their sons that Moscow is the capital city of their Motherland.  I don’t agree with my grandparents.  I think my Kazakhstan is a country which can decide own problems about country.  Nowadays I’m shocked how my grandparents said that Kazakhstan lived only with Soviet Union and Russia. It is not really so.  Of course, Kazakhstan and Russia are partners, economically and politically.  But Kazakhstan isn’t a republic which depends on another country.

My grandfather was a tractorist and my grandmother was a teacher.  My grandfather participated in the II Patriotic War.  Maybe it influenced my grandparents.  I know that for my grandparents, their motherland is Soviet Union.  Maybe for my parents too.  But for me, my motherland is my Kazakhstan, my KZ.  I love my motherland!

Essay #3 Kazakhstan’s economics is not so good

There are many problems but first of all, I think we should fight against corruption.  Why do I want it?  Because corruption disturbs the development of our country.  For example, the level of education might be better but unfortunately many of our students often hope for their dad’s money, therefore our country doesn’t have enough clever workers.  And second, what I have noticed is that many buildings are built not good enough.  Due to half of that money which should have been spent on good houses or on different buildings, some people take.   We have many, many problems like this in our country.  Now, I don’t know how I can solve this problem but I can just offer to study hard and not make the same mistakes as other parents.  To sum up, I think corruption is our great problem, so it will be my first aim to solve it.

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Galimzhan’s Grandfather Became a Professor of Economics from Humble Beginnings

My grandfather Mirkhaidar was born in Omsk City of Russia, October 28, 1922.  He was a great man, good soldier and best grandfather.  At my age, he fought for freedom against Nazi Germay in World War II.  When I was a child he used to tell me the sotires about war, some of them were funny but most were scary and sad.  That war injured him from both physical and moral sides.  He attended the war from the first to the last day and earned a lot of honor medals.

After the war, he studied in Moscow University and had two high education degrees.  His student life was very hard because of lack of money and unemployment of his parents. Later after university, he became a teacher in the college, he was teaching planned economy lessons.  While his first year of working as a teacher, he met my grandmother and married her.  He became a professor of economy.

As a normal Soviet family, my grandparents had two sons and were living in Shymkent, the southeast city of Kazakhstan.  A junior son is my father.  Grandfather never stopped teaching until he retired, even after retirement he was working at home, preparing some economical projects and consulting a newspaper.

However, he left all his work when I was born.  I can say that my grandfather brought me up.  All of his time he spent on my education and looking after me.  He left us when I was already an adult. I can say that he was my real father because of Kazakh tradition, the first son is raised by the grandparents.  Even now, my relationship with my father is like he is my older brother.

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