Posts tagged Socialist

Why I Continue to Blog in Kazakhstan

Always nice to meet my blog readers as I did yesterday at Astana’s annual Charity bazaar.  I met an ambassador’s wife who was buying some books from our book table.  How she knew it was ME who wrote this blog, well it never came up. But she DID say she enjoyed reading my daily updates and asked where I got all my material.  I told her that I get much from my own Kazakh students or my classroom experiences. Some days I run a little dry, other days I have too much to write about and wonder which direction I should go.  Other things I experience as a western teacher in Kazakhstan remain unwritten and if it is important enough, it will pop up again.  She only owed us 1,000 tenge for the two books she bought, she ended up giving 5,000 tenge instead not wanting the change.  She knew this was for charity and she told me that my blog helped her to see Kazakhstan through western eyes which in turn helped her to like her new environment in flat Astana.

The other day I received an e-mail from a reader who is Kazakh but living in the U.S.  What a thrill for me to get her message about Kazakh rugs.  Tomorrow I will share with you about the reaction from my American friend who has been doing her own anthropological work on this very challenging topic.  This may help explain why I continue to blog in Kazakhstan, there is soooo much to write about and so few writers.

I did not edit anything from this message from the Kazakh woman, so that it will be convincing that this Kazakh woman is authentic in her earnestness to get the word out about the importance of Kazakhstan’s history being soon lost forever. She believes, as I do, that if more people don’t take up the cause of putting the fragments back together of this broken rug, the proud history of Kazakhstan will be lost forever. May that not be so…

“Dear Kazakhnomad, Thank you for your attention. Thank you for your blog. This is very important that you try to tell your story about new country.

I do feel like my country was forgotten at the edge of world history. And you open new corner of the history with your blog and the story of Kazakh rugs. I’m really grateful for this.

Soviet government didn’t allow any private business for any soviet citizen. This government plus KGB destroyed millions lives of rich farmers and businessmen in 20’s, then 30’s and made them a factory slaves of new Socialistic Industrial world.

Many of those farmers tried to live in villages and still be a hunters, farmers, to feel like a “free man on a free land”.

My granddad was one of them. He was a miner at first. He was working at Ural gold mining. ( Ural mountains or real name is Jayik, are north from Astana). And meanwhile my granddad was hunting and a small farm with 3 horses, 4 cows, 10 ships, 10 goats, and bunches geese, ducks and chickens. His wife and 10 kids were helping him to take care of their little farm.

So they all live in Russian part of our land. It was all Kazakhstan, lately teared apart by Soviet government.

My granddad would cut a ship’s hair, wash it, color different vegetable dies, and make Kilims, flatwoven carpets. He would probably make other carpets too, but he didn’t have a loom. It was almost impossible to find a loom at that times.

Once again, Soviet Government headed by KGB expropriated everything from farmers during “raskulachivanie”. This is a term Government created for their robbery of honest farmers.

So officially you won’t be able to find a law “no handwoven carpets”.  It was a law no profits, no Bazaars, no flea markets, no profits for private artisans. But people tried to survive after world war 2. They had baby boom and tried at least barter their art for food or clothing. So did my grandfather’s family. It cost him a life. He spent 6 years on WW2, but couldn’t survive “peaceful” Soviet time.

I do live now in USA. I love this land, Navaho arts reminds me a lot of my Kazakh arts.

Thank you for your kind view at my poor country. Poor, because many memorials of Kazakh history was stolen, destroyed, forgotten. Kazakh people do not remember their own REAL history now. Only old people, like my grandma, can tell a little.

I was lucky, I remember my greatgrandmom. She spoke Kazakh&Arabic, no Russian language. She couldn’t communicate with me.

I grew up with my grandmom and she thought me a little of her art.

I came to USA, and I was lucky to rediscover real Kazakh history.

SInce you live in Kazakhstan, you might be know that our culture is Turk’s. We are Turkic people. If you don’t know, you can google “Turkic people” at wiki. We look Mongolian, cause we mixed with Mongols. This is why our rugs look so similar to Turkish rugs, Uzbek rugs, Kurdish rugs. Armenian& Azeri people try to tell that geometrical Kazak rugs is their art. This is not true. But nobody even argue, because Kazakh people don’t remember their history anymore and not interested to protect their rights on Kazak rugs.

I know a little of this, because I was working with Turkish rug dealers. I like to google “Kazak rug” and see what is interesting in web. This is why I found your blog.

Thank you so much for your great job. I understood that you are American only after I posted my comment already, sorry.

I have another concern about Kazak rugs. I know some not very honest Western people who come to Kazakhstan get our antique rugs as a present from locals and collect them. This is not right to take an advantage of too kind and uneducated Kazakhs.

This is why I thank you so much for your great job. This is important to educate our people, to tell them how rich and great is their history. I wish they would make “Kazak rugs&Kilims” museum their and understand their real value.

I wonder what brought you to Astana and what state are you from? 🙂 I traveled a lot cross USA and learned a lot about this wonderful country and people. I actually think that USA and Kazakhstan are very alike and people are very similar too. Open, kind and smiley.

Pls keep in touch I’d be happy to talk to you more.”

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Encounters with Soviet People (Part II)

Perhaps some of my readers may think it odd to write about Soviet people when the Soviet Union was dissolved 17-18 years ago but the Soviet mentality still exists.  I know, because I will be teaching English this fall semester once again in Almaty, Kazakhstan at a “westernized” university. The following quotes I typed up ring true even today in Kazakhstan.  My guest writer, Frank R. Thoms, for this series on “Encounters with Soviet People” was maybe a Fulbright Scholar for several months in Alma Ata (as it was known back during Soviet times).  I have never met this writer but appreciate his unpublished document he left behind with my friend Tatyana about his experiences in secondary schools, specialized schools of English in Almaty.  Maybe some of my Kazakhstani teaching colleagues knew of Frank R. Thoms.  I would love to meet Zoya of whom he writes about.

p. 99 – “It was not many years ago, however, when the evaluation of Soviet teachers was based on the performance of their students.  Though this practice has been abolished, its residue remained.  National Teachers Day aside, teachers do not receive much respect from students or parents.”


p. 108 – “I preferred to teach from the curriculum, to mingle with the texts of their lives, their daily fare, rather than to use my own material.  It was enough difference that I was an American.  Though I enjoyed addressing larger groups, I preferred the classroom where I could mix with the students and their textbooks.  Somehow I felt that the texts would be a bond between us after I left.  As the same texts are used in all schools, the lessons become a shared memory within the school and throughout the city and the country.  Mention “What is More Useful” or “The Black Cat” and all students of English in special schools will remember.”


p. 110 – “I then labeled the Stages of History, putting each one higher and to the right of the other.  Everyone recognized what I was doing.  I then wrote ‘Socialist” slightly higher and to the right of “Capitalist”, and put “Communist” higher than that.  I added another live above “Communist” and put a question mark.

“Marx said the dialectical process is inevitable,” I continued.  “Do you agree?” Everyone nodded.  “It must go on and on.  If that is true, how can the end of history be Communism?”…The students were perplexed.  I think it was more than my American dialect, as they had met American teachers before.  But it might have been the first time in their schooling that they had been asked to evaluate Marx’s theoretical realities.  School learning required that they memorize texts or at least be able to retell it.  With so much to cover at each lesson there was no time for discussion, for reflection.  By the eighth year many students became numb to the disparity between the texts and their own realities; some were already cynical and most were bored.  In asking them to consider the implications of what they had read was another matter.”


p. 111 – “In the classroom, after all, a teacher is a teacher and students are students, adults and children teaching each other, learning from each other—at least that’s the way I have always done it.  I cannot see myself as “the teacher,” the one who knows, and “the students,” the ones who must learn from me.  It has never worked that way…

Zoya was fascinated with my teaching methods.  After the lesson on Marx, she said she wished she had been one of my students.  “You teach them to think.”


p. 112 – “The ebullient feeling that had permeated the room during the break vanished.  Her [Zoya] voice took on another rhythm.  The structure of the lesson in the text seemed to absorb her personality.  It was as if an Inspector had walked in, an Inspector who looked for the lesson to be performed as designed in the teacher’s text with each question, each explanation, each step to be carried out exactly as written.  I had heard that Inspectors could be that precise.  Zoya became “Soviet teacher” and her students become “Soviet students.”  The lesson materialized as if it had come from the book I read about Soviet education.  The children responded to her as if they were automatons, and she spoke to them as if she were on a language-lab tape.  When in pairs practicing dialogues, her students spoke to each other – back and forth, back and forth—without feelings, without emotion.  Nobody was having fun.  Nobody was charged with energy.  Nobody was thinking.  Everybody appeared bored.  They acted bored.  Yet everyone was involved.


…the lessons were more methodical than mine as teachers asked predictable questions, and students responded with predictable answers.  Because they were speaking from memory and retelling the texts, participation was guaranteed.  Besides, Soviet teachers can not tolerate silence as there is too much to cover.  Nor do they allow for mistakes as students are subject to being graded every day.  Therefore, methodical routines improve chances for success.  Success is better for everyone.  For students, good grades mean better choices after graduation; for teachers, they mean better evaluations.


…They spoke when asked and presented dialogues—retold, repeated, regurgitated without hesitation.  The voices were robotic—Zoya’s as well.  And the rhythm of the lesson, a relentless pattern: a question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting; another question, hands raised at the elbow, standing, speaking, sitting.  If a student hesitated, the rhythm paused…No time for silence, no allowance for patience.  Too much to cover, too much to do.”




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