Posts tagged Tamerlane

“I’m just sayin’…” vs. “Have a good one!”

Yesterday I wrote about two post-Soviet expressions I find endearing in my former students’ essays.  Today, I will write about two expressions that Americans use which are in the above title.  The latter, “Have a good one” is one I have never gotten used to. I believe it started circulating in the 1980s, maybe earlier.  Hearing “Have a good one” got on my nerves where I would want to ask the well-wisher, “one-what?  Have a good evening?  Have a good dinner?  WHAT!?”  To me it ranked up there with what seemed to irritate everyone when someone like a bank teller or a sales clerk might end the transaction with “Have a nice day!”  I know it was intended to be chirpy nice but without any real feeling behind it.  I think we have all moved away from THAT expression because it is empty of meaning.

This other expression that Americans have grown fond of using, myself included, has a different ring to it.  “I’m just sayin’…” may have come from a t.v. show for all I know (having lived in other countries for as many years as I have, I readily admit that I don’t know the origin).  In any case, this has the air of knowing something others may not be aware while adding a kind of “aw shucks” attitude of getting it out there without appearing like a know-it-all.  It works something like this…

I recently read in an American’s blog about Kazakhstan that there was a fire at a brand, spanking new mosque in Astana on Jan. 13th of this year.  I can picture the location close to the Pyramid in the new part of Astana.  Apparently, Khazret Sultan was the largest mosque (able to fit 5,000 worshippers) in Central Asia and was not entirely completed yet.  No fire alarms were activated and thus the fire trucks were a bit delayed to the blaze to help extinguish it.  Unfortunately, one person died and I’m not sure how many were injured.  From reports about how the fire originated, it was said to be welding equipment that burst into flames.  Was it arson or was it REALLY an accident? (I’m just sayin’…)

Okay, let’s go back to Almaty when they were building a new airport there.  From the prior airport where my husband and I flew in and out back in 1993 to 1995, they definitely needed an upgrade.  Apparently, the contractors and builders of the new airport had it nearly completed and they wanted more money.  Their demands were not met and presto, the airport all burned down.  Supposedly, the combustion started from a kitchen fire, I’m thinking this was probably around 2005.  Or maybe it was soon after “Air Force One,” the movie with Harrison Ford in 1997. At the beginning it was filmed where the hijackers had the big jet land in Kazakhstan. (That segment was probably filmed in Moscow, Russia)

An Iranian friend of mine in Almaty was telling me this story of the fire (which I had never heard about)and  how she had to wait in people’s dachas near the airport for the flights coming in.  Pretty dismal.  Now Almaty has a newer airport to replace the old one and the other that burned down.  Was it arson or was it an accident?  “I’m just sayin’…”

One final and I think interesting note.  The president of Kazakhstan was reportedly at the Russian Orthodox church during Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 6th.  I heard this from a friend on Facebook who personally met him there.  You see the power of social media these days?  I would not have known about the fire at the new mosque in Astana and I would not have thought the president would actually celebrate Christmas with other foreigners.  However, I do know that Kazakhstan wants to promote the idea that they are a nation of PEACE and can co-habit with many ethnic groups and different religions.  Just take a tour to the top of the Pyramid and you will get the sense that THAT is what a HUGE table in the center is all about. Negotiations with people from all over the world with more than contrary viewpoints.

What I can’t get over is when I asked my Kazakh students about their ancestors, some were full of pride that they had ancestry going back to Amir Temur.  This king was also known as “Timur, the Lame.”  He was considered charismatic and never gave up.  Also known as Tamerlane and he ruled by the strength of his army and with great unity.  Or how about Zahiriddin Muhammed Babur.  Supposedly his conquests were in India but my Kazakh students like to go back to the late 1400s where Babur supposedly won victories against India that had armies four times his own.  You ask Kazakhs about their distant but glorious past and it will be mingled with bloodthirsty battles.

So fast forward to present day 2012, what is REALLY going on in Kazakhstan these days? What about those workers on the mosque and other new buildings all over Astana? Are they really in unity about the current president’s objective to make Kazakhstan look good and peaceful to Catholic, Jewish, Russian Orthodox and Muslim all alike?  All faiths are peacefully represented with their own buildings in Astana, cathedral, synagogue, church and mosques.

I’m just sayin’…”Have a good one…with THAT!”

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“I Write as I Please” 1935 Book (Part VI)

I am sure some in my reading audience wonders when this old, yellow paged book will ever end. I know from looking at my statistics that my reader numbers have jumped up instead of gone down. That indicates to me that I have some serious thinkers who know about the truth of Soviet Union’s dark history.  It wasn’t pretty.  I know because I am in the middle of reading John Noble’s book “I was a Slave in Russia.” Not sure I want to take notes on that book, it’s too surreal with all the agony and pain he witnessed and lived to write about it.

I’m up to page 288 in my notes for “I Write as I Please” and this is the best part where Walter Duranty writes of his experience going to Central Asia.  Of course, he is more interested in Uzbekistan but this is some shared history with those people who live in Kazakhstan too.

p. 288 James Elroy Flecker wrote a play called “Hassan” and a poem “The Golden Road to Samarkand” – Tamerlane’s proud capital [I will try to find by googling that play and poem to see if it is still around]

Walter Duranty wrote about F.G. Burnaby – hero of “Ride to Khiva” – reached ancient city far south of Aral Sea at Khiva, dikes built when Sumeria ruled Mesopotamia

Khan rebelled in 1922 against the Bolsheviks [what is in Kazakhstan’s history books about THIS event?]

p. 292 – WD wants to see Tamerlane’s tomb and they want to show dam and tobacco factory

Molly Van Rensselaer Cogswell was the hero because she rescued W.D. and two other veteran reporters Jim Mills with A.P., and Ed Deuss with Hearst so they could see the Registran instead of going to a boring factory that was built by the Soviets and hosted by the Soviet officials on this important junket [at least W.D. had his interest in history to spur him on to see the actual historical sites]

Lord Curzon praised Samarkand

Russian archeologist had been there since 1890 – earthquake in 1886

Mosque Bibi Khanoum – Tamerlane built in memory of dearest wife suffered damage dreadfully

p. 295 Bokhara

Ermin fled to Afghanistan in 1920-21 when Red Army advanced, he financed the “Basmachee” religious uprising against Bolshevik in 1922

p. 297 – kill those who are insane – admires the comet German regime with sterilization

p. 300 – “I Re-write as I please” (chapter title) rushed into collectivization – desirable in theory but it meant in practice mismanagement and woe.  Rescued by Political Section from the militant communists

W.D. wrote that “people suffered greatly in the the process of 1928-1933” [that would be an understatement]

p. 301 – Even to a reporter who prides himself on having no bowels of compassion to weep over ruined homes and broken hearts, it is not always easy or plan and to describe such wreckage?  [W.D. hearkens back to the cost of war and what he lived through during WWI, seems that nothing could top what he experienced as a war correspondent, his experience seemed to trump all others’ suffering under communism]

p. 302 – “unprecedented capital investment in socialized industry and has simultaneously converted agriculture for narrow and obsolete individualism to modern Socialist methods…their cost in blood and tears and other terms of human suffering has been prodigious, but I am not prepared to say that it is unjustified.” [so in other words, W.D. is willing to say “the end justifies the means”]

“ex malo scilicet bonum” =  “don’t let yourself be defeated by difficulties you must try to turn them to your advantage.” [Did W.D. turn others’ suffering to his advantage by writing this book “I Write as I please?”

p. 304 – W.D. noted that the Bolsheviks used language by deliberate intent words incomprehensible to all save adepts.  Their aims and ideas were magnificent but their methods distressing.

Does the end justify the means?  [W.D. had to ask himself that question over and over again, I’m sure]

(to be continued)

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“The Big Red Schoolhouse” (Part III)

What is with this spy swap thing, the Russia’s 10 for our four? Are these four really Americans? I’m not sure that is an even exchange, someone needs to brush up on their math skills.  Or are we working on diplomacy skills instead?  In any event this is all an education about what went on during the Cold War period and seems all very ludicrous to me.   I wonder what Irving R. Levine would say about this because he was suspected of being a spy but was not.  I’ve been accused of it as well, a “spy” could mean that you know more than you are supposedly to know about a certain country.  All very strange.

The following quoted material is from Irving R. Levine’s book published in 1959 titled “Main Street USSR.” This particular chapter about education has real meaning to me as a westerner in the capital city of Kazakhstan.  If my blog readers are involved in some way in education in Central Asia, what happened 50 years ago streaming from Moscow is still relevant today.  I’d be interested in your comments about your observations.  For now enjoy what Levine wrote in his chapter “The Big Red Schoolhouse.”

“Russia’s largest institution of higher learning is Moscow State University. It is more properly called “Moscow State University in the name of Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov,” in the Soviet fashion of appending the name of an honored individual. Lomonosov was a Russian scientist and writer who died in 1765, after writing a history of Russia, a Russian grammar, and reforming the Russian literary language. Old buildings of the university are situated on Manege Square across from one segment of the Kremlin’s wall. In 1953 a thirty-two-story skyscraper was completed on a fast-growing edge of the city, known as Lenin Hills. The broad base of the edifice rises eighteen stories and only then begins tapering toward the tower which is crowned, as are most of Moscow’s nine skyscrapers, with a huge hammer and sickle.

It is a splendid building with roomy classrooms, laboratories, a large auditorium, and elevators that rise faster than most manufactured in the U.S.S.R. This is probably one of the few universities in the world where a guard stands at the entrance and admits only persons presenting identification cards as students or members of the faculty, lie enrollment is nearly 18,000 students in 12 faculties and there is a staff of 2000 professors.

Somewhat less imposing and more typical is the Uzbek State University dedicated to Alisher Navoyi, the founder of Tadzhik literature. A low, gray stone building on a tree-lined boulevard in Samarkand houses the administration building and some classrooms, its entrance graced by two silver-painted statues of young men, one in civilian clothes and the other in aviator’s garb. Two other three-story buildings comprise the university’s property besides several small dormitories scattered elsewhere in this ancient central Asian city.

The university was founded in 1927, seven years after the area, now known as the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, was incorporated in the U.S.S.R. This was a region of illiteracy under the despotic rule of the Emir of Bukhara, who kept more than one hundred wives and concubines, whose word was law, and who devised such excruciating systems for torture as a twenty-one-foot deep pit of scorpions and other insects native to this desert region. Victims were lowered into the pit and left there to endure a horrible death. Whatever more refined forms of oppression the Communists devised for those who resisted their rule in Central Asia, they also established universities, and more than a third of Uzbek state’s teachers are Russians even now.

There are four faculties. Physics and mathematics comprise one faculty. The philological faculty consists of departments of Uzbek, Tadzhik, and Russian literature and language as well as a foreign language department where English is taught. The third faculty is for biology and geography. Finally, there is a faculty of historical studies.

Day classes in these four faculties are attended by 7200 students. There are 1900 in night classes, and 3800 adults take courses at the university. Uzbeks and Tadzhiks, the native peoples of dark skin and oriental features in this vast region bordering on China, Afghanistan, and Iran, comprise 70 per cent of the student body. There are 28 nationalities attending the university. The Rector, an Uzbek, received me in his office, and with members of the faculty we sat at a red-baize-covered table placed at right angles to his desk. It was a typically furnished Soviet office with a portrait each of Lenin and Stalin on the wall across from a painting of the Tadzhik literary hero, Navoyi, seated cross-legged on a rug, dressed in a red native robe and a turban. Except for that touch it might well have been an office in Moscow rather than in Samarkand, one of the oldest cities of the world, the proud prize of conquest of Ghengis Khan and Alexander the Great and Tamerlane. The Rector a short, dark man in his fifties, spoke intently and devotedly of his university.

As in lower grades in Central Asian schools where there are separate schools for instruction in Russian, in Uzbek (a language of Turkish root), and in Tadzhik (of Persian origin), so there are classes in each faculty in each of the three languages.

The university has 36 laboratories, three scientific museums, a library of 600,000 volumes, and a teaching staff of 300. In the first thirty years of the university’s existence 5500 students have graduated. With pride, the Rector said that about 50 of these had gone on to achieve doctorates and professorships.

Now freshman classes consist of 450 students, but in the early years of the university there were only 60 admitted each year, which accounts for the relatively small number of graduates in more than a quarter of a century. Women comprise more than a third of the student body. In a recent freshman class of 450, women accounted for 148. An increasing number of applicants admitted each year are demobilized soldiers and young people who had worked for two years after completion of ten-year primary and secondary school. Of the freshman class of 450, 26 were discharged soldiers and 92 had worked for two years. Refresher courses are offered nights for workers who intend to apply for admission, and the armed forces have similar courses. The Rector was vague about the exact point handicap enjoyed in entrance exams by the preferred soldiers and workers. The impression was that it is rather flexible, and that every benefit of the doubt is given to former servicemen and workers, regardless of their entrance-exam marks, if It is felt that they can cope with the course of study.

“If a score of 20 points on the entrance exam is needed to enter the University,” explained the Rector, “a man who has worked for two years may enter with only 18 or 19 points. It varies with the competition and with the particular faculty as well as with the number and quality of applicants in any year.”

Students who maintain at least a three average receive an allowance from the state known as a “stipend.” The amount of the stipend varies with the students’ marks and increases with each year of a student’s course. Roughly it runs from 300 to 700 rubles ($30 to $70) a month.  An excellent (all fives) student in the freshman year would receive 360 rubles ($36) a month, and in Ms final year the student, maintaining his high marks, would get 700 rubles monthly. (In the case of a student whose parents’ income is less than 500 rubles or $50 a month he would receive a minimum stipend, even if his average was less than three. )

All books required for courses are available in the university library, but a student may wish to use part of his stipend to purchase his own. Books are reasonably priced and seldom more than 15 rubles ($1.50) a copy. Students who live at home usually use their stipends as spending money for clothes, movies, theater, newspapers, and occasional meals eaten out.

It’s possible for a thrifty student living at home actually to save something each month from his stipend. The 1400 students who live in the university’s three dormitories, or hostels as they are called, pay 15 rubles ($1.50) monthly for their crowded quarters.

The starting salary of a first year instructor is 2000 rubles ($200)a month and increases to 2500 rubles($250) by the fifth year. Two hundred and twenty members of the teaching, technical, and maintenance staff of the university are members of the school’s unit of the Communist Party, the largest Party unit in Samarkand. Eighty members of the unit are students, and 90 per cent of the rest of the student body are members of the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. The dominant role played by Russians in the control and management of the Central Asian Soviet Republics is reflected in the fact that one third of the members of the university’s Party unit are Russians.

Like other Soviet educational institutions, the Uzbek State University sets a rigorous course of study for its student body. Classes are held six days a week, six hours a day, for all faculties. Of this, two hours a week is spent in the study of Marxism-Leninism, ideological training in the principles of Communist doctrine.

There were 180 students studying English at Uzbek State when I was there in 1958. They were divided into ten groups five Uzbek-speaking groups and five Russian-speaking. Freshmen majoring in English spend half of the thirty-six hours per week of classes in English courses. After the freshman year the number of hours increases. Lea Rosett, a serene-faced Russian woman with graying brown hair pulled back in a bun, is head of the English department. She had never been abroad and has few opportunities to converse with English-speaking people. She was delighted with the opportunity to practice on me. She spoke slowly, as if to make absolutely sure that she used the proper tense of the verb, but her pronunciation was good and her vocabulary versatile. Mrs. Rosett had received her degree at the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute and had worked for two years in the 1930s as an Intourist guide, showing American and British tourists around the former Russian capital. When war broke out in 1941 she and her family were evacuated to Samarkand. Her husband is a professor in the university’s Mathematics Department. They have a twelve-year old son who attends a Russian language school and is already well advanced in English, says his mother.

It was obvious after a brief conversation with her, that this woman of wide cultural interests and tastes found life in provincial, backwater Samarkand drab and limited. She insisted that they were free to leave any time they wished, but whenever the question came up her husband was called in by the Rector and other university administrators and told how valued his services were in Samarkand and how badly he was needed. Mrs. Rosett explained that many honors and awards had been bestowed upon him, “and he feels a responsibility to remain here.” Members of the faculty are provided with small houses, better living conditions than they might find elsewhere, and this also serves as an inducement for remaining.

Three women, teachers on Mrs. Rosett’s staff, said that I was the first English-speaking person they had ever met and talked with. To compensate for the disadvantage in trying to teach a language they rarely heard spoken, the teachers hold a weekly conversation circle in order to practice English among themselves. The English Department has a speech laboratory with tape-recording machines to enable students to listen to themselves, but, lamented Mrs. Rosett, there was not a single copy of a large Webster’s dictionary in all of Samarkand.

Specialized training at an institute is one of the few roads to success in Russia. There are few other steps by which a young man or woman can climb the economic and prestige ladder. Unlike capitalistic countries, a young man with natural acumen does not have an opportunity to start a business on a shoestring and build it by effort and talent to a large chain of stores. A boy just out of secondary school cannot count on being taken into his father’s successful enterprise because father in Russia owns no enterprise. Membership in the Communist Party, itself the main portal to success in Russia, is open largely to those who have some special talent or skill to offer the state. Thus the number of applicants each year for the Soviet version of college far exceeds the space available, and competition is keen.

There are other reasons, too, for the crash of applicants. Family financial standing plays no role in the decision to continue education. It is not a question of being able to afford it. Tuition now is free. Also, the fact that good marks and scholarship are encouraged from childhood contributes to stimulating interest in higher education among youngsters. The smart boy or girl is seldom the butt of teasing as a teacher’s pet. There is no aversion to “eggheads’* at any age in Russia. Unlike American schools, where the star athlete is likely to be campus hero, students in Soviet institutes have less diversion of this sort. There are teams, but no program of intensely competitive contests among schools with cheerleaders and pre-game bonfires. School, whether grade school, high school, or college, is intended for study, and the emphasis is on high marks in the classroom rather than on a high score on the football field. Even so, occasionally there is newspaper criticism of over-emphasis of sports in some schools.”

(to be continued)

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