Posts tagged Uzbek

“A pair of shoes, a warm sweater…”

Thankfully I’m hearing from at least three of my informants in Kazakhstan about the incremental progress we are making to help combat this tragedy of slavery. So many sad stories I read off the Internet about what people do to other people who are powerless. Not only women and children, but men as well, are trafficked into Kazakhstan from other countries.  Below you will read an update I received about 11 Uzbek men who escaped cruel and inhumane punishment with the ongoing building construction that continues unabated in Astana.

The way I stay upbeat is creating “Card-Again” greeting cards that are used cards will eventually be bought and put back into circulation. Over the course of a month, we have collected at least 6,000 cards to refurbish.  Many of us ladies have been busy on weekend retreats working on Christmas cards to be ready for the holiday season to sell.  The profits will go to shelters in Minnesota since we have some of the same problems with human trafficking as Kazakhstan does.  I’m hoping that we can eventually move our card making operation to be a kind of cottage industry in Kazakhstan for those women who are getting rehabilitated or who are waiting for their court dates so they can testify against the traffickers.  Often the wheels of justice move slowly no matter what country you live in, Kazakhstan or the U.S.  One person informed me of the following:

“…a collection of clothes I made for 11 (yes eleven!) Uzbeks who were rescued from labour servitude thus were in urgent need of basic necessities.  I still do not know the details (will send them when I have them) but thought the action taken might be useful publicity in your local area to show what is being done by expats locally (mainly British teachers and recently arrived American staff). I will keep you informed of any future activity…”

The following was added as a thank you, written by a Kazakh national for the expats’ efforts to collect clothes for these men.

“On behalf of me and my colleagues involved in the shelter work here in Kazakhstan, I want to express our greatest gratitude for your continuous support. The victims of human trafficking are often brought/rescued with no personal items and we are often in desperate need for clothes, shoes,  hygienic items, towers, bed clothes etc. Therefore, your donations  are very important for us since no other organization or grant can cover the costs of this items, not to mention the difficulties  of purchasing new. We want to assure you that every piece of men or female clothes you donate reaches  the hands of those in need.

A pair of shoes, or a warm sweater means so much for these people accustomed to be  treated  badly and inhumanely.

Once again, and all your colleagues involved in  this important and generous initiative, THANK YOU!

Hope that our cooperation will continue on the benefits of all involved in this process,

Sincerely, xxx

The photos below are the actual chairs which turn into beds that escaped trafficked women can use in a small two room flat that functions as a shelter.  Tomorrow I will continue with more correspondence about this shelter in Almaty that my American lady friends helped buy the chairs/beds with their work at a rummage sale several months ago. It is gratifying to know that though we couldn’t outright send the leftover clothes that we didn’t sell to Kazakhstan because it is cost prohibitive, we donated to another charity. The money we DID make was turned into necessary tangible items the trafficking shelters need in Kazakhstan.

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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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Sweet Seamstress and One Bedeviled Bus Driver

About a month ago I bought a purple silk scarf from an Uzbek dealer at a craft bazaar, about $10 a meter. I bought two meters.  However, it was unfinished and needed a seamstress quickly before it frayed anymore than it had already.  I’m glad one of my teaching colleagues recommended a seamstress in the underpass by our university.  I took the scarf to her and she charged about 200 tenge for doing about 5 minutes worth of work.  I paid her 300 ($2) and am pleased with the results. 

I’ve been too busy with student papers, office hours, team meetings, Photo contest entries, collecting books for the Charity Bazaar this upcoming Saturday to even THINK about going to the Green Bazaar to buy new buttons for my winter coat that I bought at a second hand store several months ago.  It will get done eventually but right now I’m pleased with how inexpensively one can live in Almaty once you get passed the high rent prices and expensive airfares.

Had another incident on the bus last night.  I have some VERY strong words about drivers who think their cargo is fair game for immediate, indiscriminate stops.  I’m convinced they look in their rearview mirrors to see which passengers are not gripping the bars tightly enough.  Just at the last stop when I was bracing to give up my 50 tenge coin, the bus lurched to a full stop and I flew forward 2-3 meters, still standing upright almost next to the driver.  He thought it was funny, the conductor collecting the coins thought it was hilarious too. 

I don’t understand Russian but I could tell what an older woman was muttering to me who got off the bus after me.  She doesn’t dare get up from her seat until the bus has come to a complete stop.  Yes, I’ll heed that lesson for next time since I don’t want to be found sprawling on the bus floor as I saw another woman do because of some of these dedeviled bus drivers.

Now I need to find an inexpensive haircut somewhere in Almaty. One who doesn’t take fiendish glee in cutting too much hair off in this cold, winter season. Any suggestions?

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Gaukhar’s Grandfather Survived Stalingrad

I want to tell you about the story that I heard from my mother. This is a story about the person who was a commander of division in land forces, a very good carpenter and he was my grandfather. My grandfather was born in 1922 in a small village. There were two children in his family, he and his younger sister Kopey. They had very close and friendly relationship. In 1938 he studied in the technical college. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish that college because of the World War II.  For many people war is a very bad memory that they don’t want to recall. He participated in the great battle “Stalingrad“. He got a medal for courage. They often carried out reconnaissance. He had two serious wounds. His first wound was on the foot and his second wound was in the abdomen.

As my grandfather was recalling, before the battle the soldiers were very hungry and one Uzbek said that he could prepare something. He made plov and fed his comrades. Then my grandfather and Uzbek rested in the trench when suddenly a mine detonated and the Uzbek died. After the battle my grandfather suffered from the pain and his friend didn’t leave him. He would die if his friend had not helped him. Because all soldiers who stayed there were killed by other soldiers.

In 1945 he returned home and started to work as a carpenter to build houses. Also he repaired cars. He brought up eight children and educated six of them. My mother told me that she loved her father more than her mother. He was serene and never punished his children. He worked all his life. At that time he earned enough money. But all his money he sent to his children in order to educate them. He built a house where my mother and her brothers and sisters grew up.

Finally, I want to say that I couldn’t imagine how my grandfather, in spite of what he saw, was such a good father and he never complained about his life. He died in 1987.

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“Yes, You Can!” Sayings and Proverbs

“Simplicity is the beauty that decorates humanity.”  I don’t know what the origin of that saying is, whether it is Uzbek or not, maybe my Kazakh readers might know.  The next one is Uzbek for sure but might apply to other Central Asians:  “Uzbek women prefer to be a mother of scientists rather than being a scientist.”  From a British male perspective, this is what George Bernard Shaw penned: “When I was a young man, I observed that one out of ten things were failures.  I did not want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work.”  I’m sure Shaw’s mother was proud of him.


A Russian proverb is interesting to read while living in Central Asia which is traditionally known as an oral culture: “It is better to see once than hear 100 times.”  Obviously whoever voiced that was NOT an auditory learner.  A Kazakh proverb which also relates to education is:  “The better you grow up the tree, the sooner you eat its great fruits.”


Dale Carnegie was known to have written:  “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”  I’m not sure who wrote the following but I appreciate its wisdom:  “We know who we were, who we are and who we are going to be; likewise, I know who I was and who I am going to be in the future, and that is what I have been working on since I remember myself.”


Finally, the following is written by John Wesley which means living life to the fullest with a “yes, you can” attitude and work ethic:


Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as you can.



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“Shell That Saved Lives” Dinara’s Grandfather

Having grown in peaceful time younger generation seems to be unaware of war hardship and human casualties. The only time we remember to treat war veterans is 9 of May, the Day of Victory. A story of my dad’s grandfather is a proof of how immensely important one single action may be in human life.

The war has left deep traces in his soul. Dead bodies of friends and mates all over the place. Oppressive feeling of despair. That day grandfather will never forget. Grandfather Abutalip served as antitank rifleman. Since antitank rifle was quite heavy missile, it needed two people, one to shoot and the other to carry shell. Abutalip had an Uzbek mate, who usually carried three shells. This Uzbek mate lived from hand to mouth before the war period. In order to send something to his starving family in Uzbekistan, he used to take off watches from German soldiers dead body. Whether the burden of these watches was heavy enough, or for some other reasons that day he took only two shells.

They were attacked by German soldiers. Hysterically, people running to and fro in  a debilitated moment. Having heard the captain’s command, soldiers came into position. After shooting from anti-tank rifle, grandfather had to quickly reposition himself in order not to let the enemy identify the source of shells. One shot: Tarts! It overshot a target. Quickly, grandfather took his rifle and was running to relocate. Having looked backwards he saw that his Uzbek mate was not running after him. He ran back and in a split second a grenade exploded just in front of him.

When he was able to see something through that smoke he spotted the Uzbek, who was heavily injured. With one hand he was trying to get his fallen entrails back into his stomach. Grandfather approached him seeing horror on his face. Knowing that these were last minutes of his life, his Uzbek mate stretched his hand with watches to the grandfather asking him to take it. With heavy thoughts of inevitable death the grandfather closed the Uzbek’s eyes. Tears desperately ran down his cheeks. Yet, he had to pull himself together.

The battle was not over yet. He shot a glance over the place in search of missile. The value of this shell was far much invaluable than the watches. At last, he spotted one shell. Taking it, he recharged the rifle as fast as possible. Only by that time he saw how close the German tank “Tiger” approached them. There was a last shell to shoot. Maybe a last thing he would ever manage to do before death would grab human lives. Shot banged. A “Tiger”, a tank that was deemed to be undestroyable, collapsed! The enemy was taken aback. They thought that there might have been much more anti-tank rifle (actually, grandfather’s anti-tank rifle was one of few left). Taken aback by destruction of “Tiger”, the enemy retreated. If there was not that last shot from antitank rifle, fascist might have been more persistent in their attack, killing more numerous soldiers left.

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