Posts tagged Silent Steppe

Almaty’s Kok-Tobe with Kim

Kim in t-shirtIris and Cable carKim and snailsclouds and mtnsKim and El Farabi3-d billboardchildren paintingEast Side of Kok Tobe

What a fun day Kim and I had on the top of Kok-Tobe overlooking Almaty.  The absolute BEST day to go up is Tuesday because the cable car doesn’t open until 4:00 p.m. otherwise they start moving people up and down starting at 11:00 a.m.  We virtually had the “Blue Ceiling” to ourselves. We walked up from the parking lot, taking photos all along the way, such as the vibrant 3-D billboard that warns to keep the environment clean.  We saw children painting with tempera paint on the wall as we continued our climb up.  Then Kim and I sat for hours looking over the valley eating our picnic lunch.  What an idyllic setting to talk over the book “Silent Steppe” that we both read and share stories about the Kazakhstan we know and love.  We ended our time at Kok Tobe with each of us buying a colorful Kazakhstan t-shirt from one of the vendors.

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Kazakhstan’s “Elephant in the Room”

Thankfully we passed through the arduous attestation test in Kazakhstan.  Irregardless, without the help of President Nazarbayev, we still have an “elephant in the room!!!”  What we have at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan is an anomoly and does not fit in the same framework with the rest of the universities in this country and especially with the Ministry of Education.  Supposedly we have a western brand of education and the classes are to be taught in English.  (There exist many different Englishes in the world.)

Therefore, some of our dear Kazakh students who are learning their own Kazakh language along with knowing Russian need to know English as well.  Add to that their needing to be competent in using the computer to access information besides the computer games they love to play.  I see at least three problems and I know of many more which should to be eradicated from our university.

First, we have a few liberal, left wing liberals from the West who are promulgating their anti-God, anti-religion, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity dogma to the Kazakh people who have had enough of the tripe handed to them.  They are eager to re-discover their roots before the tsarist government of Russia came to Central Asia (although they helped them from being annihilated by another foe).  After that was the Soviet propaganda of collectivization that destroyed Kazakh families.  So, there may be good reason to be skeptical of the West’s brand of education.

Second, you have Muslims from third world nations who speak a different kind of “English” teaching in subjects that are difficult enough for our dear students.  But it is not the Kazakh students fault for not understanding them.  Sometimes we as native speakers of English can’t understand these professors either!!!

Third, we may have especially in the MInistry of Education in Astana and other Kazakh university people who are really just former Soviet, communist leaders.  They love to accept bribes where plagiarism and cheating is rife.  These practices go on in all other universities in the country of Kazakhstan. However, our university maintains it is free of all that so that we can assess what our students REALLY know.  Our university’s motto is “Education to Change Society” really wants to end “the ways of the world.”  Some graduates of our university feel defeated when they go out and find the rest of their country isn’t changing. 

We have Kazakh students who are starving for better education in their country but we still have an “elephant in the room” that needs to be removed.  Reminds me of the quote about the starving Kazakhs from “The Silent Steppe” where on p. 189 Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote:

When you look at archival documents relating to those tragic years, you can see how much public money was spent not only on industry, but also on endless conferences attended by thousands upon thousands of people all over the Soviet Union.  The funds squandered on these alone would have been sufficient to save many lives.  Tragically, however, our leaders were more concerned about receiving accolades from Party delegates than they were about the deaths of working people.

 

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Two-headed Serpent from Kazakh Folktales

Contrary to what some extreme left-wing liberals from western universities promulgate, Marxism and communism destroyed Kazakh families (as well as other families in the former Soviet Union).  The following Kazakh folktale is recited from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s mother in his book “The Silent Steppe.”

 

p. 260 ‘Remember the old folk-tale about the two-headed serpent that conquered a kingdom and forced the people to provide it with a goat and young girl every month by way of a tax?  It threatened to kill off everyone if they didn’t say yes, so the people agreed to pay.  The families would take it in turns to deliver the victims to the serpent; it would gobble them up straightaway and then sleep peacefully for the rest of the month.  But as soon as it woke up, it would demand more food.  There was another bit in the story about how the parents used to suffer the night before they had to give their daughter up to be sacrificed.”

 

The next quote shows the destruction of the family structure according to Kazakh traditions during the era of communism.  (I make no apologies about being anti-communism, anti-socialism and anti-Marxism)  I am very thankful to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s writings to point out what he experienced under the two-headed serpent.

 

p. 170 Apart from consistently not having enough to eat, what drove my uncle to despair was the way Communism had undermined the foundations of family life.  He did not have any children of his own, but he had adopted his brother’s young daughter and his elder sister’s son.  It was a common practice among Kazakhs to adopt a relative’s child, even though the biological parents might still be alive, in order to reduce the strain on a family which already had a lot of mouths to feed: the parents for their part took an oath that they were giving their children up voluntarily, and would never demand them back or consider them as their own.  This was strictly observed even after the adopted parents’ deaths – although the biological parents might take their children back, the children retained their adopted parents’ surname and continued to be regarded as their offspring.  It was not just that people were afraid of breaking an oath they had made before God: their principles also forbade them from doing so.

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A Serpent in the City of Apples

“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.  And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gen. 3:1-4

 

The Serpent was wily enough to misinterpret the one law that was set down for the first pioneer settlers of this planet Earth besides telling the First Couple to be fruitful and multiply.  So too do misinterpretations of RULE OF LAW abound on our campus that was formerly a Communist party school which happened to be anti-family, anti-freedom and anti-truth.  The serpent still prowls around our campus that is supposedly the Tree of Knowledge in the City of Apples and the rest of Kazakhstan. 

 

I believe the serpent doesn’t want anyone to know how to cite other people’s research correctly [better known as plagiarism] and also the serpent is VERY into Vanity Press publications and publishing “scholarly articles” on the Internet.  Unfortunately for him and others of his ilk, there is good reason to have one’s writings peer-reviewed and not put on the Web that might be here today and gone tomorrow.  The serpent will ultimately be stamped out and crushed under the foot of Truth.

 

Perhaps there is good reason for the Kazakhs, in the City of Apples, and in the rest of Kazakhstan to be skeptical of change, especially rapid change according to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, the author of “The Silent Steppe: A Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin.”  He wrote that his people need to keep up with the changing times when he laments on  p. 147 The way we Kazakhs have always clung to the past has proved disastrous for our people – and yet this stubborn habit still sometimes obtains [remains] at the start of the twenty-first century.  To say that the fear of innovation hampers our development and leaves us lagging behind is an understatement.

 

However, Shayakhmetov knew only too well the ills of communism that tore his own family apart during the collectivization period of seventy years ago.  On page 170 he wrote: Apart from consistently not having enough to eat, what drove my uncle to despair was the way Communism had undermined the foundations of family life.  Unfortunately, there is something more insidious lurking around the “hallowed” halls of our institution of higher learning in the City of Apples. One particular serpent who is known for sexual harassment is also known for his e-mail harassment by restructuring and misinterpreting the understood “givens” where RULE OF LAW presides in real democracies.  Apparently there are too many “Alpha males” (who are really omega males) without their wives or families (if they have any?) residing at our university, need I say more?

 

No, Eve is not to be blamed for the ultimate fall of man, the serpent is.  Sexual harassment started at the beginning when the serpent beguiled Eve with his cunning questions about God’s ultimate authority in the Garden.  Some of you dear readers may dismiss the Genesis story but those of you trying to do your job of teaching and researching for the benefit of the glorious nation of Kazakhstan in the City of Apples know of what I write.

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A. Solzhenitszyn in the City of Apostils

“One person speaking the truth has more power than a whole city living in falsehood.”    Aleksandr Solzhenitszyn

 

I am currently living and teaching in the City of Apples or Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Just yesterday I received a rather opaque e-mail where about 20 of us at our “institution of higher learning” need to do some extra paperwork which involves an “apostil.” Many of us wondered, “What is an apostil?”  Not to be confused with apostles or apples, of course.  This e-mail was the second of its kind within a week that I have received which is full of blathering legalese.  Supposedly our university touts itself as being unique and having a “high level of openness and transparency.”  I would agree with Aristotle when he argued that “the only way one can discover the true character of a regime is to analyze in depth the characteristics of its leadership…”

 

 

Reading through the first message, with the help of a friend who has a law degree, I found that the author of the e-mail was making fallacious claims about certain laws concerning the misuse or abuse of our use of electronic research databases.  This person was using a bullying tactic by interpreting the law which had nothing to do with my pedagogy whatsoever.  I have the backing of several in our academic community who understand the use of electronic databases the same way I do.

 

Unfortunately, there are those who are suspicious of the Information or Computer Literacy that has taken over in the West.  No more can you apply for different grants or answer the distant “call for papers” without doing it electronically.  Gone are the days of mailing in your application through the regular postal service, our globalized world is getting smaller thanks to the Internet.

 

So, where is our leadership in protecting foreign faculty who come to the land of apples and apostils?  According to Kazakhstan’s President N.A. Nazarbayev in reference to our university, “Everything here is done to the highest standards, there’s no need to go abroad to study.”   Therefore, we as foreign faculty are making it more affordable to have Kazakhstani students study at our institution rather than have them go abroad to the West and find out that the standard in writing and computer literacy are far higher than earlier suspected.

 

Lately I’ve been reading a very riveting book titled “The Silent Steppe: A Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin.”  Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, is a man in his eighties whom I highly respect as an educator, caring deeply about his country of Kazakhstan.  He wrote the following on page p. 146 “Writing these words now, so many years later, I find myself thinking long and hard about the past.  For years our ancestors lived under a tribal system where relationships were based on mutual help: they were convinced of the enduring worth of their centuries-old principles, and perhaps as a consequence used to regard any innovation with suspicion, fear and even disapproval.  They were conservative by nature and clung to what was familiar: why else, in 1932, when the population of Kazakhstan was in the grip of a terrible famine, did our two families of fugitives head for a starving aul – where a year before they had been robbed, prosecuted and deported – instead of staying in Ridder, where they were getting limited but at least regular food rations?”

 

What would Solzhenitszyn say NOW about Kazakhstan if he were to ever return to this land?  What would he write about our university which requires “apostiled” documentation of their foreign faculty?  Just curious.

 

 

 

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Proverbs and Sayings from “Silent Steppe” (Part II)

Quotes taken from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s book titled The Silent Steppe (Part II)

 

p. 105 Nevertheless, he [Uncle Zhantursyn] enjoyed giving instructions whenever he could, repeating over and over again, ‘When you do a job, you’re doing someone else a favour, and when you learn something new, you’re doing yourself a favour.”

 

As a popular saying puts it, “if you want your horses to go faster, use oats and not a whip.”

 

p. 106 “The people of Kalmakbai strictly observed their time-honoured traditions, and treated us newcomers with great kindness and consideration.  It was here that I first heard people cite the popular saying, Your duty to your neighbor is as sacred as it is to God.” And I think I understood what it meant when I saw how attentive our neighbors were to us.

 

p. 116 “Three families with thirteen people between them now had to live together in one large room.  As the Kazakh saying goes, “By spring, fat stock grows thin, and by spring thin stock’s nothing.”

 

p. 135 “This dreadful catastrophe did not, however, become as rampant that year in the northern, north-western and agricultural mountainous areas of Eastern Kazakhstan as in the rest of the country.  But as the popular Kazakh saying goes: “Once one family’s going hungry, soon the whole aul is, and once one aul’s going hungry, soon there’s a famine nation-wide.”

 

p. 136 The adults kept talking about the starving refugees being brought here and housed in the barrack.  As a child, I had no idea what the Kazakh word for ‘starving’ “asharyk”, meant and when I asked, Father and Mother started flapping their hands and exclaiming fearfully, “Be quiet, Don’t say that word!” And then they began whispering, “O Allah, may this misfortune pass us by!”

 

p. 154  I have tried to contribute by at least reminding my children (who have always lived in towns) of the duty families have towards needy relations.  Every living creature has to take care not only of itself, but also of its descendants who will ensure the survival of the species.  And as a popular Kazakh saying puts it, There is no life without movement”; constant activity is required to sustain it.

 

p. 155 You see, a Kazakh man was traditionally duty-bound to look after his wife’s parents or, as the Kazakh saying put it:  “Once you’ve cut the corn, you mustn’t burn the straw left behind.”

 

p. 171 “Yet when he told me all this – since there was nobody else to pour his heart to – he still showed extraordinary generosity of spirit. The children of your sisters and daughters, as people used to say, come from another clan, while your own daughters are destined for another clan.”

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Proverbs and Sayings from “The Silent Steppe”

Quotes from The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

 by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published by Stacey International, London, 2006

 

p. 10 We would celebrate with folk songs and music, competitions for improvising poetry, and different kinds of sporting contests.  This is how life was while I was growing up in our small aul, with its half-dozen yurts belonging to close relatives.  But the Soviet authorities brought it all to an end when they introduced collective farms, and gave the terrible name ‘kulak’ to my father and Uncle Toimbai.” 

 

p. 22 – My father began speaking, “…Remember the popular old saying: God has no wealth.  He gives it from one person to another.”  Well, it now appears to be true.  The authorities and aul activists have taken everything away from the rich and handed it over to idlers and made some of us extremely poor overnight.”

 

p. 32 “In 1930, the main topic of conversation was the daily news brought to the steppe by word of mouth (the so-called uzyn kulak – ‘long ear’ of the steppe telegraph), which was our only source of information.  Because we did not have radios or telephones, or even a postal service, it could take up to a year for information about new laws or important events to reach the far-flung regions of the country.

 

p. 33 – “Everything that’s been said here is complete rubbish.  And the bit about the collective farms and communes – they’ve all been thought up by the aul activists.  What good is Lenin’s wife to us lot here when all the power is in their hands?  The power’s completely gone to their heads and made them barking mad because they have no idea what to do with it.  People who have never managed to run their own affairs are now in charge of people’s lives.  How can a society be run by people who never obeyed their grandfathers or listened to their wisdom?  It reminds me of the old saying, “When there’s no lord, a slave will take his place, and when there’s no dog, a pig will guard the yard!”

 

p. 52 “Where the front wheel goes, the back wheel has to follow…”  Now I know what that saying means.  He was referring to his elder brother Toimbai’s dispossession as a kulak in a similar way the year before.

 

p. 62 “We children could tell how much the grown-ups were suffering by the way they kept sighing deeply and sadly repeating the old Kazakh proverb, “Poverty is fine as long as there’s something in the pot.”

 

p. 80 “We Kazakhs have always treated anyone related to us through marriage with great reverence.  As a popular saying put it:  ‘In-laws should be venerated like God.’

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