Posts tagged Soviet

Article about Astana

This article about a faraway place was a surprise to read since I have been there, lived there, worked there…Astana, the new capital or Kazakhstan.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/kazakhstan/articles/astana-newest-city-break-expo/

If you think that this is a hot destination to go to, then be ready to have plenty of money to pay for all the extras.  Also, it is a blend of old Soviet in the old part of town with the new era that has unusual architecture.  The locals have their own names for some of these buildings…I’ve written about them in my earlier blogs.

For now, enjoy my artwork that I did that is on display with about 50 other artists.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Blogging is my way to Procrastinate!!!

I have only one more post to make after this one that would make it to 1,500 posts all together on this blog since I started it over seven years ago.  I have not been as frequent posting about Kazakhstan because I am living far, far away from a country I care deeply about.  So few people have heard about this ninth largest country in the world.  There are fewer people who actually live in this country and so the reason seems to prevail, not many people are out there to promote the good things about this former Soviet Republic.

I have lived in the two cities Almaty and Astana, I have visited other places like Karaganda and out west.  I went east to their version of the Grand Canyon, that is all documented on this blog.  I’d have to go back to see how to spell the names of these little known places.  A map would help but right now I am writing this blog because I DO NOT want to be grading the stack of 40 plus research papers that are 2,000 words long with APA formatted in-text citations and a Reference page of eight sources.  I brought this all on myself, it was my assignment for my freshmen composition students.  I want them to learn all that is possible before they go to the next level of Comp II.

Do my 85 students know that I care that they succeed?  I got feedback from one of my more genuine students when he said something to the effect that “not many students like you, but I do because you make us work hard. I have learned a lot from you.”  I guess I don’t go into this teaching gig with the idea of making friends with all my students by giving them the easy As or Bs.  If they are getting the grades they want, they will have worked hard for it or they already came into my class with prior knowledge.  Those of the latter set have had high school composition teachers that took the time to grade their papers in a diligent manner and told them the tough things that they needed to know to improve.

Right now, I should also be looking at the self evaluations and self assessments that I gave to my Comp lab classes, all three of them.  Oy, there is an overload here and I am looking forward to having a break.  I’m no different from the students.  I can fritter away time with the best of them.  I don’t remember working this hard with my Kazakh students even when I taught at KIMEP in Almaty and had 100 students, five classes of 20 in each. That was when I barely got their difficult to pronounce first names down…never mind trying to learn their last names.  I have all of my 85 students names figured out with these American students, some are from Florida, California, Texas…those are the football or basketball players.

We had a fun time decorating the Carnegie last week and it made the local newspaper the next day.  Some of the students seemed pleased that they are featured on the front page and also the group shot of them on the second page.  Well, I had to call it a service learning project, of course. You can’t have a field trip where all they do is decorate the halls of the Carnegie.  They had to learn about electricity in MN which was part of the traveling exhibit display.

I had better get to those papers, the clock is ticking and they do NOT grade themselves.

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Heart wrenching news about Ukraine

Difficult to passively sit back and watch the events unfold in Ukraine as they are moving forward. The Ukrainians have taken three steps forward with their newly elected president but several steps back with what is happening in eastern Ukraine. Possibly the separatists are employing terrifying tactics of their own volition but I think the guy in charge in Moscow is not only encouraging it but aiding them. How do you get sophisticated missiles into the country to take down a Ukrainian plane that is landing at the airport, 49 dead as a result? Where do the tanks come from that are infiltrating Ukraine? Why do they not have their insignias on the armored vehicles or why do the agitator men NOT wear symbols on their clothes to show who they represent? This is an undeclared war that is going on and yet supposedly it is NOT happening because they are simply Russians who are dissatisfied with the Ukrainian government and want Russia to take over.

Meanwhile, the tourist trade is not faring very well in Crimea and that is a beautiful place to be at this time. The Tatars were aggressively moved out when Stalin wanted it for his own Soviet headquarters and now people who are catching on are leaving…that is, if they are able to now. I don’t know if they have the electricity or fuel or food they need. I believe they are living on ration cards now. So sad.

What I know from one of my friends currently living in western Ukraine is that some of the far eastern cities in Ukraine are without food, electricity or a means of transportation. Some people are hiding out in basements of apartment complexes because it is not safe for them to be in their homes or apartments. This means dire straits for those who do NOT want to be in this chaos. However, there are heroes who are doing what they can to help these people who want OUT!

My heart goes out to those who ARE helping people who have no means, Ukrainian unfortunates who are caught in the cross fire. I also know of brave, young men who are involved in the fight to help Ukraine return to order and peace. That is all anyone wants who LOVES their own country.

This makes me think of what would happen in the U.S. if it were to happen like that. Would we have people who would cave in and do whatever they are told by the “government?” Probably so, those who watch tv and are passive because they believe everything they are told by the media. Would we have others though, who would fight for our country to become what it used to be? I would hope so…for our grandchildren’s sake.

Freedom is important and so many people do not have that in their lives. That is the heart wrenching news from around the world. I continue to think about Ukraine…and Kazakhstan.

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Ukraine May have a Temporary Victory

I have been following the events in Ukraine very closely.  Below is a piece written by someone who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine and is in the know. This is good news, if it is true. Even if it is true for now, things could still go south.

Tonight, as I watch the funeral proceedings at Maidan attended by ten thousand people, I reflect on the day that preceded this burial service. In the end, this day could have gone any direction, but it seems at each crucial point (and there were many crucial points) the protesters (and peace) won the day.

Today sixteen statues of Lenin were toppled around Ukraine.

Today many significant votes were taken to restored a gutted constitution.

Today Yuila Timoshenko, the imprisoned former Prime Minister, was authorized by parliament to be set free.

Today the president agreed to early elections.

Today amnesty was granted for the hundreds of protesters who were arrested.

Today no protesters died.

Today neighborhood militias were formed all over Kyiv to protect from looting and unrest.

Today the guy who authorized shooting live rounds at the protesters was fired.

Today, the first day of many, there were no fires in Kyiv. (sorry CNN, I know you like the night shots of the city on fire, but I prefer it without)

….and best of all….

Today Ukraine won a Gold in women’s biathlon relay! – No matter that Putin revoked his loan deal, we’ll take the money in gold.

Many of my Ukrainian friends are talking of today as a new dawn, the tide has turned, a new era in Ukraine’s history. The contrast is striking – yesterday the darkest day since Soviet times, and today the brightest things have looked in a long time. There are even reports as I write this that the president has left the capital, it seems he, along with all sixty five private jets that left Ukraine last night (65!) have seen the writing on the wall and feel that they need to leave or face prosecution for their ill gotten gain.

But in the end the barricades are getting higher not lower downtown. The crowds are growing, not shrinking, and the highest priority of many of the protesters still stands. That is the immediate resignation of the president. As I write there are twenty thousand mad Ukrainians downtown who don’t seem to want to leave without an impeachment or a voluntary resignation, and so far they have gotten everything they want. On the other side, thus far, the president has been very reticent to give up power, and therein lies the problem. At this point it doesn’t seem like if, but when, and more importantly….how, the president will go.

In politics (as in Church history) its much easier for an opposition group come together against something, but when that thing they opposed is removed, it’s a bit harder for everyone to decide on a way forward. That is our situation in Kyiv now too. May Ukraine prosper under a just and fair government for many, many years to come. However, we understand that this complete justice and fairness don’t seem to work always, and I’m sure there will be disappointments in the long term, and the near, future.

This is where the church comes in. The church now has a big role to fill as the country slowly (hopefully) begins to calm down and clean up. Just as people are most receptive to grace when broken, so goes for the country as well. Ukraine is broken now. We have hundreds dead, we have maybe a thousand wounded, we have a burned out center in place of our downtown, we have daily inflation and we have lots fewer cobblestones than we started with. Ukraine is broken and needs renewal that comes as they seek the mercy and grace provided by Christ. Pray that the church will (continue) to fill this need, and now in a more specific way, through it’s service to the community, through cleaning up the city, through writing and thinking with others about the concept of true justice – something that Ukrainians have been seeking, and through preaching the Word.

I’m greatly encouraged by today, and recognize that it is still in a fragile state. Pray for continued peace – and mercy.

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Highlights from Kazakh Readers’ Comments on my blog

I started this Kazakhnomad blog almost four years ago when I returned to Kazakhstan after a gap of 15 years.  My intention was to inform a western readership about this amazing country…the good and the bad.  If you read the following articulate comments written by Kazakhs, you will see that my base of readers is perhaps not as western as I first thought.  I have had comments from Dutch, French, German, Spanish, British, etc.  When looking at my daily hits I can also tell that my blog readers are from Italy, China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc.  What I value most are the comments from the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis who can inform me about their country.  See what you think and feel free to comment…

The following is from one of my former students, naturally she would be flattering.  Read tomorrow’s blog entry and there are some contrary comments:

“I like reading your blog. You write so many useful and educating things. My part of work is so easy, I just read what you have analyzed for hours so even days or years. You bring us a ready dish just to swallow. Reading your topics I even wonder: ”How do you find time and power for all of these?”
 Concerning the above given quotes I want to add that we also have this proverb “It is better to see once than hear 1000 times”. I think some of suchlike quotes are common for all Central Asian countries. Waiting for your next blog and anecdotes.”

Education

“Hopeful view, I’d really like to think in a similar way, but I don’t. A metaphor. If we see education as a house, there was an imperfect but a solid house built at the time Kazakhstan was part of Russia, then the USSR. Since the independence, education has never been on top 1000 list of priorities of the country’s leaders. Too bad so sad, they said. C’est la vie. Now the house is half-broken half-deserted only a pitiful reminder of the past glory, quality and strength. It’s leaking everywhere, the water, heating and sewage systems work sporadically if they do. Power comes on and off. Basically it’s rapidly deteriorating and is nearing a collapse. A complete rehaul is required. If it had been properly maintained, repaired, reinforced and added to, then it would be the same house or even better, but, alas, now it’s in a really, really bad shape comparing to what it used to be.

Yes, too bad they’re beautifying the tip of the iceberg whereas the bottom part is quickly melting away…”

“Glad to hear such praise about our younger generation. I was a bit pessimistic about the way they are, but you actually gave me some hope and a reason to be proud.”

 The following is from another commenter about education in Kazakhstan:

“Yes, teachers are low paid in KZ, it doesn’t matter university or school teachers. I don’t think that there are teachers who work unpaid, at least their salary is government based, so it is paid on time. But nowadays problem of downsizing, every government budget based organization are dismissing their employees, so the others who remain has to work twice. That means much stress, because I think most difficult part of being teacher or for ex: doctor not teach many students or observe many many patients, but the paperwork that has to be done. This takes more time then their direct job duties.”

Bribery and Corruption

“Interesting. Yes, even in the Kazakh army the high-ranking officers force soldiers to build their houses… It’s terrible. There wasn’t much of such shameful exploitation of the vulnerable in the USSR times… It would be something out of the ordinary if something like that happened. The educational system was way, way better at the time. Both of my parents are retired university professors. Many things that you can see happening these days are uniquely Kazakhstan or post-Soviet phenomena rather than rudiments of the socialist system.

And I agree that people in ex-USSR do not trust each other. In the West, the people tend to trust each other except when they see a reason not to. In ex-USSR, people tend not to trust each other except they have firmly proven their trustworthiness to you.”

(to be continued )

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View of Village Schools in Kazakhstan

An American friend has allowed me to reprint an e-mail she sent to her friends back in the U.S.  She might as well be a Peace Corps Volunteer based on the experience she describes which could be “Anywhere, Kazakhstan.”  What she witnessed is in direct contradiction to what western tourists would see if they only traveled to Almaty or Astana.  Tourist be aware!  The glitz of these Kazakh cities with their suburbs full of saunas, serve really as brothels. These seamy places house some of the young Kazakh or Kyrgyz people from rural areas who have been trafficked into the city with a promise of a better job.

If you see the poor education the Kazakh children have gotten out in the village schools, they don’t have a chance to improve their lot in life with the high unemployment in their communities.  The Ministry of Education needs to reward good, hard working teachers with much higher pay instead of punishing those who know the latest in technology and putting them out in the “sticks.”

During the Soviet Union times, Soviet teachers were given better privileges and their mission was to indoctrinate the young Kazakh students to excel in learning what Moscow dictated.  Now, as far as I know, the Kazakh government doesn’t have that in place (yet) and instead there are poorly trained, Kazakh teachers in the village schools doing the best they can with the little they have. The teachers are under paid and overworked knowing they are working with the future of their country. BUT, what is the future of Kazakhstan if the views of village schools continue as they did from the 1950s? Please read on…

“To get to the village, the road was full of potholes and there were a couple of trucks and workers that seemed to be  filling the holes.  I wondered why the heater for the hot tar was being fuelled with old rubber tires.  Then as I looked out over the vast expanse of the steppes, I realized that there was not a tree in sight.

The village has about 5,000 people but only two restaurants.  The buildings are old and there is much evidence of Soviet times with old concrete structures that have been stripped and are only a standing shell.  Fences  and farm equipment are rusted out and most men are unemployed.  The roads are dried, rutted mud and difficult to maneuver.

Once we reached the school, I climbed three flights of stairs to teach English to about thirteen  8-15 year olds.  Of course I needed to use the “toilet”.  It was a large open room with knee to ceiling windows at one end.  There were four toilets or I should say “squatty pottys”.  Here you must step up about 8 inches and then straddle an oval hole with a drain in it.  Two of the 4 were covered with yellow tape so they must have been out of order.  One of the toilets flushed, the other one must be flushed with a bucket of water that the cleaning lady has to get from the pump outside the back of the school.

The  school is old but clean.  The floors are wooden planks that are uneven and have been painted over for many years.  The walls are freshly painted over years of cement repairs so they are uneven and crude looking.  The windows are hip to ceiling and open to the right or left. The wood has been painted as many times as the floor and it is rough and unsightly though they would hardly notice as they know nothing different.

Old green chalkboards are on one wall, there is no clock or decorations, just some plants on the windowsil.  One student took a piece of chalk from her backpack and let me use it as there was none in the room.  The board is erased with a wet rag.  The next day I had only a piece of chalk the size of a small  pea but made it last the whole lesson.

None of the children knew the parts of the body so that was my project for the 3 days I was there.  We did body bingo and I gave them a sticker or a napkin with a $100 imprinted on it.  They were thrilled and out of
control playing games.  Once an administrater checked the class, surely wondering what all the noise was about.

After an hour and half lesson we drove to one of the cafe’s where there were two choices on the menu (rice with meat, carrots and onions or noodles with meat, carrots and onions), The other cafe sells only dumplings.   At 1:00 the second class started at another school.  Here the students wear uniforms, stood beside their chairs when I entered the room and likewise stood to answer my questions.  They were polite and controlled, the complete opposite of the first class.  These children also didn’t know the parts of the body in English so it was easy to play games again and give prizes they cherished.

The same green chalkboard, uneven walls, heavily painted window frames and floors graced the place. As I was again looking for chalk, one young girl gave me a small bag full of white rocks which were used as chalk.  The second day she had a real piece of chalk for me.

I asked these children what their hobbies were and many said they played the dombre, a national Kazakh instrument much like a guitar.  Two boys took crude wooden boxes with some strings with them and I was aware that their dombres were homemade out of wood scraps.

All of the children seemed to live with parents and grandparents and siblings in one dwelling.  I kept thinking what a shock it would be for them to visit my town or my country.  Their lives are so simple and uncluttered. They don’t have after school dance and sports.  They go home to help the family survive.  Their lifestyle is a good example to me  of being content with whatever they have.  We Americans always want MORE and still aren’t satisfied.

Sometimes I struggle with having so much and then watching these children enjoy their lives without the toys and games we think we need.  How warped is our perspective and how shallow is our contentment.  What a privilege it is to witness another side of life…”

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Haunted by ALZHIR Stories (Part II)

The “Arch of Sorrow” is quite a monument in front of the ALZHIR museum in tribute to those terrified voices and plaintive cries of desperate women that have long since been silenced due to forgetfulness by design or sheer neglect.  However, the President of this fine country of Kazakhstan strongly believes  it was NOT Kazakhstan’s fault that so many women were brought by train from all over the U.S.S.R. to this barren wilderness near Astana to work hard or to die due to the deprivation.  Many of these women, who came were from the elite of the Soviet elite, their only problem was that they were married to Soviet men who were considered traitors to the communist cause.

One of my students commented that the train car in front of the “Arch of Sorrow” shows that the war against “Enemies of the People” did not play favorites even with the Soviet upper crust.  The symbolism shows  inside of the train car when you see two kinds of individuals. One that is clearly aristocratic in her bearing and clothes, another who is huddled in a weak mass in thin clothes and barely clad.  [Actually both are not dressed appropriately for the sub zero weather we have been experiencing in Astana this past week.  It will not let up until first of March.]  For the women who survived ALZHIR prison life, it was one cold day after another especially without their loved ones to care for.

One of my former students from Almaty wrote about her grandmother living through this dreaded experience at ALZHIR.  Please see her research paper from December of 2008 where she used different sources and also an interview of her grandma to reveal just how very difficult life was living in ALZHIR.  Looking at all the displays inside the museum and hearing the stories behind the pictures from our guide, after an hour we were all weighted down with just how very desperate and dismal these women’s lives were.

One story still haunts me.  Some of the Kazakh people in the nearby area of the ALZHIR camp knew that these women from all over the U.S.S.R. were innocent of any crimes or at least they knew they were not well fed and many were dying.  In front of the guards, while the women were cutting reeds from the lake, there were Kazakh children holding bags of stones and throwing at the poor women.  The guards laughed and taunted the women saying that even the young Kazakh children despised these prisoners.  When one woman fell down she smelled the stone as if it were cheese.  Yes, in fact, the neighboring Kazakh village had made balls of hardened, dried curd which was meant to feed the starving women.  Many other acts of kindness were shown to these innocent women by the neighboring Kazakhs even at risk of being caught and killed.

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