Friday, July 14, 2006

Chicago Blog

Seems I got into the habit of blogging, and will continue, though now that I'm not in Kazakhstan it will probably be necessarily more self-absorbed and boring than before. I imagine the audience as being two groups: my old friends from KZ who want to see pictures and hear how I'm doing, and myself. The new blog will be at Enjoy, if you want!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Барып Қайт Балам (Come Back My Child)

Барып Қайт Балам (Come Back My Child)

Барып қайт балам, ауылға туған барып қайт
Шалғынға аунап, құлындай ойнақ салып қайт,
Ер болып келер біз жақтың азаматтары
Намысты соның көкірегіне жағып қайт
Барып қайт
Барып қайт балам
Ауылға туған барып қайт.

Белесі белі, жоқ әлде мидай дала ма?
Қарамай жанын, қалдырмай бәрін арала,
Шомылып арзан барғайсың күміс көліне
Іздерім жатқан секілді менің жағада.
Арала бәрін
Орман ба, тау ма, дала ма?!

Болар деп қандай сұрайтын едің жайлауды,
Сыбағаң үшін бір қозы сонда байлаулы.
Аңқылдап келіп, арғымақ тартар ағайын,
Алтынды - зерлі ер тұрмандары сайлаулы.
Қайтарсың өзің көзіңмен көріп жайлауды.

Ауылың жайлы қиялыңменен елесің
Айналып шыңға, ғажайып күнге енесің,
Атаңмен марқұм, бабаңның сонда бейіті
Соға кел қалқам, елемей кетті демесін
Соға кел қалқам, елемей кетті демесін

Басына барсаң түс ауа кетпей ерте бар,
Қасыңа жаным жөн біреу еріту бар
Атымнан менің, топырақ таста иіліп,
Әкеңнің осы сағыныш күйін шерте бар
Шерте бар
Әкеңнің осы сағыныш күйін шерте бар

Ертелі - кешті қуалай бермей ойынды,
Бір уакыт қарғам, арманға жүздір ойыңды.
Көпшілік өзі сынағыш келер мұндайда,
Абайлап басып, түзетіп ұста бойыңды.
Абайлап басып, түзетіп ұста бойыңды.

Барып қайт балам ауылға туған барып қайт
Шалғынға аунап, құлындай ойнақ салып қайт,
Біз жақтың тазы ибалы келер құлыным
Жарқ етіп,жайнап жанарын шоқ болып қарап қайт.
Барып қайт,
Барып қайт балам,
Ауылға туған барып қайт.
Барып қайт,
Барып қайт балам,
Ауылыңа туған барып қайт.
Барып қайт балам,
Ауылыңа туған барып қайт балам.
Барып қайт балам.

Come back, my child, to the village of your birth, come back,
Come roll in the meadow, return like a colt to frolic,
Come become a man, and returning, learn in your heart
That our generation is proud
Come back
Come back, my child
To the village of your birth, come back.

Are the mountains high, or is the land untouched?
Visit the people; walk through the village neglecting no one,
And do come to bathe in the open silver lake,
My footsteps lie as if in sand.
Walk through,
Go everywhere,
Whether it is forest, mountain, or field.

What kind of pasture is it, you always ask:
There is sheep in it destined to be slaughtered in your honor.
Your attentive brothers will come and give a purebred horse,
The very best men of our village are ready.
The pasture,
When you return and with your own eyes see the pasture.

Your fantasies and imagination are tied up with your village,
Rising to the wonderful sun, circling the mountaintop,
Your grandfather and great-grandfather are departed,
Visit their graves, my child,
So that they might not say that they are forgotten,
Let it not be said,
My child, come that they might not say that they are forgotten.

When you go to the headstone, go not in the afternoon, but early,
Go, my love, with a wise, holy man by your side,
Prostrate and throw earth on their grave for me,
Your father feels great longing for them,
Your father feels great longing for them.

Do not only play games from morning to night,
Sometime, my darling, turn your thoughts to your dreams,
In such times, many men are observing you,
Step carefully, carry yourself straight and true,
Carry yourself,
Step carefully, carry your body straight and true.

Come back, my child, to the village, come back, my child
Come roll in the meadow, return like a colt to frolic,
Our common men are always well-mannered, my child,
As if a firework, return, and seeing, with shining eyes become a cinder,
Come back,
Come back my child,
Come back to the village of your birth.
Come back,
Come back my child,
Come back to the village of your birth.
Come back my child,
Come back to the village of your birth.
Come back my child.

My Last Post in Kazakhstan

Today is my official COS date. That means tomorrow, I'll no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I haven't posted much in the last month because I've been so preoccupied with saying goodbyes. Saying goodbye is hard, and there are so many people in Kokshetau and Kazakhstan that I love and will miss very much.

I may continue to post as I continue to write about Kazakhstan to help me remember things and sort out what this all meant. However, for my last post as a volunteer and my last post from the actual territory of Kazakhstan, I want to give you a translation and recording of my favorite Kazakh song, which happens to be apropos my situation.

My tutor and I spent many hours translating this. Our routine was this - she would read a sentence and translate it in its entirety into Russian or English. We would then translate each individual word and identify its conjugation or declination. Then the final and laborous part would be trying to put them all together to see how the meaning was connected to the actual words. Many times, the words combine in ways that seem to an American to completely depart from their individual meanings, and the grammar, which is both poetic and antiquated, ties them together in ways that has to be worked out more like an equation than a sentence. Of course, these difficulties are not a feature of Kazakh, but of the difference between Kazakh and English. Trying to cast English phrases like “if we’d had the run of the place, we’d have shown them what’s up” into a Kazakh framework would be equally cryptic.

After going through the Kazakh word by word, I sat down and tried to make it sound good in English. Unfortunately, one is stuck translating single, elegant Kazakh words with long, unweildly English phrases. Consider the song’s emotional “демесін”, which ambiguously means either “let it not be said” and “let them not say”, and “мұндайда” which is best translated with the clunky English “in situations like these”. And there are phrases like “Әкеңнің осы сағыныш күйін шерте бар, шерте бар”, which is literally something like “your father’s missing-ness dombra-song-without-words strumming exists, strumming exists”. The whole phrase is an idiom and has to be translated as an entire sentence, but the music puts extra emphasis on the “strumming exists” part, and that repitition has to be translated. What should go instead of it? Also, how can you translate into English cultural words like “жөн”, meaning a good man who knows Muslim prayers to be said at the grave of a relative, or “сыбаға”, meaning the special parts of the sheep that are reserved for the most honored guests at a Kazakh feast? I don’t think I ever really grasped the ambiguities of “аралау”, (and it shows in the translation). Even the main theme of the song, “ауылыңа туған барып қайт” (“return to your village where you were born”), simply cannot be translated into English retaining both the elegance and the meaning, since the “your” and “to” are translated as a single suffix, and the entire English clause “where you were born” is compressed into a single aspect of the Kazakh verb “to be born”.

In a word, this was great fun. Exactly these difficulties are what makes learning Kazakh so rewarding. I hope you enjoy it. I know some Kazakh speakers read this blog, and if you find errors or want to suggest improvements, I would be very glad if you let me know.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Classroom Management.

My classroom management has improved a lot since I've been here. I'm not sure if this is good or not. There are obvious reasons why it might not be. For example, a strict classroom is generally less fun than a noisy, somewhat out of control class, and students obviously learn better when they're having fun (all other things being equal). But my the way my attitude towards discipline has changed is interesting.

When I came, I had these ideals of classroom management:

1) I should treat the students as equals, explaining and justifying disciplinary action.
2) I should keep a sense of humor.
3) I should create clear rules that are followed consistently.

These sure look good here in wordpad. But at one point or another, every one went out the window, either accidentally or systematically.

I gave up on (1) mostly as an anti-whining measure. Students were not interested in a rational discussion of whether or not they had deserved to be reseated next to a girl to shut them up, they generally wanted to prolong the whining as long as they could, because as long as someone is listening to your whining, there's hope that you won't have to sit next to Ainur.

(2) has unfortunately lost a lot of ground, as have many of the other things that require a sense of humor, just as a result of my being here. I have a student who is pathologically unable to listen to anything that is not a response to a direct question that she has asked whom I always scold for making me repeat instructions three or four times. One time I was drawing a graph in a particularly frustrating math class, and someone said in Russian that there were axes already drawn on the other side of the fold-out chalkboard. I didn't understand them the first two times they said it, and only after the third did I look and see what they were talking about. The non-listening girl said, "Well, if you listened the FIRST time," which made the whole class laugh. If I had been a student, it would have made me laugh too. But I was frustrated that day, and I guess the look on my face was pretty venemous when I turned around, because the class immediately went dead silent. A few hours later I felt like a bad person. A sense of humor is a tough thing to maintain constantly.

But (3) is the interesting one. One major problem that Americans face is that we can't scold people. There's no detention in Kazakh schools, so the major way that students are disciplined are through dressings-down. I suppose it's because they culturally respect authority, but here a zavuch can make even the hardest eggs break into tears only by scolding them about the way they're dressed (which I can't really imagine happening in an American high school). This option is not available to me, because when I scold in Kazakh, or even in Russian, I'm funny, because I make grammar mistakes. The angrier I am, the more and funnier the mistakes I make. I'm very familiar with the look of a student's face trying to look contrite while also trying not to laugh. I can drag students to other teachers to have them scold them, but that can't be done too often. I have a punishment defecit.

One way to make up for this is fear. By administering the few punishments I have (reseating students, making the class do silent work, or kicking a student out of class) less consistently, and never giving in to protests of injustice, I can instill fear in the students. The first hint that I might be getting angry makes them think that the next moment they could be kicked out of class for talking to their neighbor. One really doesn't have to administer very much acutal punishment to create fear, as long as it is done with some degree of arbitrariness and surprise. If I may flatter myself, the Peace Corps has taught me a lot about creating fear in children. It is not just, but I do it with their best interest in mind - by controlling the classroom, it allows me to lead the class and help them get an education, right?

I wonder, though, if I'm losing the war to win a battle. It's a teaching cliche that you teach the student, not the subject. The last thing the world needs is more people who fearfully obey orders and believe that punishment is delivered to the weak by the strong according to whims and not justice. Ultimately, I may be making my punishments arbitrary with a just cause in mind, but this is certainly lost on the students. Is learning how to factor quadratic expressions worth this? The answer is not clear. But I can imagine a dictator, at the head of a state and not a classroom, asking himself the same question, and it makes me want to tolerate a little more rowdiness.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kokpar Videos!

Jake, I, and other volunteers, pretending to be the press (though nobody actually asked us what we were doing), left the stands to go down onto the Kokpar field in Shymkent this Nauryz. For those who weren't reading this blog last year, Kokpar is the traditional Kazakh goat-carcass polo game, variants of which exist all over Central Asia. The players are all on horseback, and they compete to throw a goat carcass into dug-outs on either side of a playing field.

This year, because I was so close, I got a lot of great pictures, and even took some videos. These two videos show most of the play for one of Sairam's two goals during the game, from the beginning where two riders vie to take the goat out of the starting circle, to the general melee that ensues after the goat has left the circle, to the goat-goal itself. Sairam won the day, beating Shymkent in a 2-0 upset.

Video 1

Video 2

Name That Tune!

See if you can name this tune. Here's a hint!

Photos Up!

I've been meaning to post some photos for a long time, and only just now got around to it. You can find them on the left with the rest of the pictures, or here:

Nauryz 2006

America, Thanksgiving, Amylene, Party

Uralsk Language Camp

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Adventures In American Tech Support

Dear Expedia,

I am an American living in Kazakhstan, and I want to buy a one-way British Airways ticket on June 9th from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Washington, DC through Expedia. No E-tickets are available, so I need to buy paper tickets. At the top of the check-out web page, you have a payment option for “international delivery”, but at the bottom of the page, where I would enter my Kazakhstan mailing address, you say that you will not mail tickets internationally. Can you send paper tickets to Kazakhstan or not? Let me add that I have a P.O. box, not a physical address.


Dear Ryan,

Thank you for contacting us about ticket delivery to an international address.

It is at the carrier's request that we issue an e-ticket, if an e-ticket is available for the flight that you have chosen. Due to the new airline policies on ticket purchases, we are not able to convert an electronic ticket into a paper ticket. After the purchase is completed, you will receive an e-mail that includes your itinerary information and confirmation numbers. You will not receive paper confirmation, receipt or tickets. When you check in for your flight, give the ticket agent your name and flight number, or provide a printed copy of your itinerary. You must always provide a government-issued photo ID.

If the e-ticket option is unavailable for your flight, you will receive paper airline tickets. Paper tickets will arrive via express delivery service excluding weekends and holidays, as indicated on your Billing and Delivery Information page. charges a nonrefundable shipping and handling fee for paper tickets, which is applied to your credit card at the time of purchase.

International delivery exlcuding Canada will be $36.99 (US Dollars). Tickets should be delivered within 1 to 4 business days depending on destination country (weekends and holidays excluded.)

Delivery to Canada will be $24.99 (US Dollars) and tickets should be delivered within 1 to 2 business days (weekends and holidays excluded.)

If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 25548756. You can also visit the "Customer Support" page () for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing


This was obviously a computer-generated reply, and it does not answer
my question. Could a person please read my question and answer it?


Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for contacting

The correct response has been sent regarding your questions. If you have any further questions, please reply to this e-mail.


My question is: does Expedia mail tickets internationally or not?


Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding using an international credit card.

You may now use an international credit card to purchase flights, hotels and cars. Osn the billing and delivery page, you will first click on the "Non USA billing address" option. The page will refresh and allow you to enter your international billing address.

E-tickets, which are more convenient, means that no actual tickets will be delivered to the address supplied. In this way, you could purchase flights for your friend or yourself and not have to worry about ticket delivery, because the ticket would be set up with the airline directly and only an itinerary copy and photo ID would be required for check in. Please note that e-tickets are normally required by most airlines, although some carriers require paper tickets. You will be advised whether a ticket is electronic or paper at the purchase and billing section of our purchase process.

For more information about e-tickets, please paste the following link into your browser:

If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 25548756. You can also visit the "Customer Support" page () for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing
Jennifer Customer Support Team


This is awesome. Let me take out the offending keyword: will you mail
tickets to Kazakhstan?


Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for contacting us about ticket delivery to an international address.

It is at the carrier's request that we issue an e-ticket, if an e-ticket is available for the flight that you have chosen. Due to the new airline policies on ticket purchases, we are not able to convert an electronic ticket into a paper ticket. After the purchase is completed, you will receive an e-mail that includes your itinerary information and confirmation numbers. You will not receive paper confirmation, receipt or tickets. When you check in for your flight, give the ticket agent your name and flight number, or provide a printed copy of your itinerary. You must always provide a government-issued photo ID.

If the e-ticket option is unavailable for your flight, you will receive paper airline tickets. Paper tickets will arrive via express delivery service excluding weekends and holidays, as indicated on your Billing and Delivery Information page. charges a nonrefundable shipping and handling fee for paper tickets, which is applied to your credit card at the time of purchase.
You will be advised on the Billing and Delivery page if e-tickets are available or if the reservation requires paper tickets.

International delivery exlcuding Canada will be $36.99 (US Dollars). Tickets should be delivered within 1 to 4 business days depending on destination country (weekends and holidays excluded.)

Delivery to Canada will be $24.99 (US Dollars) and tickets should be delivered within 1 to 2 business days (weekends and holidays excluded.)
If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 25548756. You can also visit the "Customer Support" page () for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing
Austin Customer Support Team


Expedia sent me badgers instead of tickets! I thought maybe the
flight information was tattooed on the badger skin, but I shaved them
all and found nothing! You owe me ten thousand dollars in medical


Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for your e-mail.

We have received your e-mail request, but we are unable to determine your question or issue. If you require assistance, please provide additional information and re-submit your request.

Thank you in advance for providing the information for us to better assist you.

If you have further questions regarding this issue, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 25548756. You can also visit the “Customer Support” page ( for more customer service information.

Thank you for choosing


Adventures In Russian Tech Support

Besides my first letter, all the following correspondence was in Russian over email.


(In Russian: I know English better, so I’m going to write in English. If you don’t understand, write back and I’ll try to ask in Russian.)

I am trying to set up netlock on the small network of an English
language resource center. We have one ADSL modem that connects to the
internet, and a LAN that is simply a hub connected to the server's
ethernet card. I have installed netlock successfully, but cannot make
it track internet traffic.

I have configured a transparent internet connection, and it works
correctly when the server part of netlock is not running. (I.e., I
can open mozilla on the client and download web pages.) However, as
soon as I start the server, the client loses connectivity. There are
no proxies operating on the server.

Here's how the server is configured:
Интернет-настройки - LAN
Задействовать интернет возможности - checked
Non-counted IPs - (all the LAN is in here)
100% of traffic is counted

There is only one active тариф, and it is set to разрешить интернет.
Traffic groups has only one group from to
There are no forbidden ip addresses.

The client has communication with the server. The cost of time, for
example, is counted correctly.

I have no idea what the problem might be. Otherwise, it's a great
program. If you can fix this, my orginization will buy a copy.

Ryan Giordano

ps. I am leaving for America soon, so the sooner you can help me, the better.


You wrote:
-My message-

1. Read the program instructions again, everything is explained in detail there. Maybe you set up the program wrong.
2. On the server, there should be two network cards: one pointing to the internet, and another to the client on the local network. Otherwise there will be no accounting of traffic.
3. Be sure that in the internet setup widow, the correct internet adapter is selected, that is, the one that is connected to the client.
4. You wrote that there is no internet access, there’s a chance that the internet is set up correctly, but there is no “charge” set up with pre-paid internet.
5. If you use W2K Server SP4 then sometimes there is a problem with the network driver.



Everything you advised is already done. (I’m using WinXP.) I read the program help, and asked the administrator of a certain internet café that uses Net Lock, and neither they nor I could find a problem in the basic setup. That’s why I’m asking you.

Please, read my previous letter carefully, (in it I explained that I already did everything you asked) and tell me where else the problem might be.

Thank you,


You wrote:

-My message-

From your description I don’t see any reason why the program doesn’t work, it looks like everything is set up correctly. Maybe there are other network programs installed on The server, or you didn’t install a pre-paid internet charge when you started the client, and that’s why the server is blocking the client’s internet traffic. I don’t see any other reasons.


Ok, we figured out the internet. The internet works, but the program doesn’t count internet traffic – the amount of traffic is always 0+0+0, no matter how much internet we use.


You wrote:

-My message-

That means you turned off the traffic-counting system, or you let traffic through around the program.

How could we have turned it off if we just installed the program and changed the IP
address on the client and server (like it advises in Help). The internet works. The program sees the clients on the network.


You wrote:

-My message-

I have no idea what you’re doing over there. And I don’t have the capability to help you from here. If you read the directions carefully, do everything written there, and it doesn’t work, then I could only help you if I was there with you. To the general question “the internet doesn’t work what should I do” I can’t answer from here, I can only tell you read the directions again...


Look, it’s not a general question – the question is, what could stop netlock from counting traffic, if everything else works? Earlier, we used the proxy-server UserGate; even though we deleted it, maybe it’s still causing problems?

Please help us. It’s profitable for you, because we’ll buy your program if we can fix this problem.


You wrote:

-My message-

If you do everything in the instructions, then I can’t say why exactly this problem happens (I can only guess), almost everyone, even without any experience installing programs, is able to install the program the first time. I am answering your question in the greatest possible detail. There are three possibilites:
1. You did something wrong – you need to read the instructions carefully.
2. Some network program is causing the problem – delete it.
3. Bugs in Windows or in NetLock – unlikely, and I’m unable to help at all with these problems.
Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more definite than that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Grad Schools - Results, Mostly

My mom and I made a bet whether or not I would get into more than half of the schools I applied to. The wager is lunch in whatever city I end up. (I said I wouldn't make it, and my mom said I would.) The results so far are:

University of Iowa

University of Texas Austin
Washington University
University of Michigan
London School of Economics

You'll notice that we're tied - I still haven't heard from the University of Southern California. Perhaps I should mail them embarassing photos of myself and try to sabotage my application. However, in what was probably the most stressful decision of my life to date, I decided that the city where we'll have lunch will be London. The nature of the program is what puts it most clearly above the others - at LSE, I'll study econometrics and mathematical economics rather than, for example, international development policy at Harvard or industrial engineering at Berkeley. The prestige of the program is another factor, though a much more uncertain one. To go to LSE, I will have to take out loans, whereas I could go to Wash U or UT Austin with a TA-ship or fellowship. I've been unable to discover to my satisfaction whether the quality of education at a higher-ranked school will really be significantly better, and even worse, whether I am looking at the choice rationally and not letting my pride make the decision. Like any good simian presented with insurmountable uncertainty, I asked my friends, acquaintences, and no small number of total strangers what they thought, and most of their advice pointed to LSE. My own gut agreed with them when I woke up first thing in the morning, so today I mailed my acceptence, and That is That.

So this summer I'll be in Chicago living is Casa Jacobo in Printer's Row, wallowing in friends and family and trying to make up for my lack of economics education as an undergrad with a tutor. If any of you want to offer me a job where I can mostly read about economics all day, drop me a line. Right now, it looks like I'll be on the Easy coast mid-June, and in Chicago by the fourth of July at the latest. And just as soon as reverse-culture shock starts to set in early September, I'll be off again. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Kazakh For Non-Kazakhs

This is an article I wrote for the Vesti responding to another volunteer's criticism of the way Kazakhstan is promoting the Kazakh language and culture at the expense of Russian.

In the language section of the previous Vesti, on the page before George Wunder’s fine article titled Language and Nationalism in Kazakhstan, Kazakh readers found this poem:

Strength Diminished

The majestic banner has fallen
Yesterday a hero; today fearful, cowering,
The bright soul is in shackles, forgotten by freedom,
The cold-blooded heart scarcely beats.

The eagle’s wings are clipped,
The thunderous nation, once strong as the day, is silenced
The heights of the Altai and the golden ancestors are not remembered,
The Khans and the heroes are forgotten.

Nationality, unity, manliness, energy, the happy conscience,
Everything that was, all this has been destroyed by hateful fate.
But there is one sign as precious as the golden day –
The shining star, the language of our ancestors, you remain!

Though you may long lay unused, my language,
My clean, deep, brave, strong, broad language,
May you be happily bound with the friendship
Of the scattered Turkic children, oh my language!

This was written by Maghzhan Zhumabaev, not to celebrate Kazakh independence, but to lament Russian rule and express hope for the future – Zhumabaev died in 1938. Many of you may who were in Shymkent may have noticed the billboards with Kazakh poems and pictures of Kazakh landscapes or symbols – many of these are poems praising the Kazakh language. One read, “Is there any mountain higher than language? Is there any sea deeper than language? Is there any wealth more precious than language?” and another, featuring a grandmotherly but condescending old lady, scolded “My goodness – have you really forgotten your mother tongue?” As George points out, many of the symbols chosen to create a Kazakhstan national identity (such as yurts) are anachronistic, particularly for urban and wealthy Kazakhs, and others, like the Golden Man (a Sak) and Al-Farabi (a Persian) seem a little forced. But the Kazakh language is a present and meaningful symbol of Kazakhstan’s statehood. Calls for the Russian language to maintain even its present status in the next ten years ignore the Kazakhs’ deep identification with their language. And as the future existence and independence of Kazakhstan seems more and more assured, Kazakh nationalists are getting bolder. Kazakh is not going anywhere.

The problem, of course, is that the language is associated with the Kazakh identity, not the Kazakhstani identity, and the present course stands to alienate everyone except Kazakhs. This would be catastrophic for Kazakhstan I agree with what George wrote, but would like to elaborate on it from the perspective of someone who was lucky enough to speak both languages while he lived here, and suggest what we, as volunteers, can do to help.

The decisive matter is whether or not Kazakh will continue to be a divisive force. Certainly, some people are using it today as such, from the marshutkas to the Mazhilis, and the hypocrisy and thoughtlessness of this can sometimes be painful. A woman on a marshutka indignantly scolds the driver for playing Russian music instead of Kazakh, and then when she answers her cel-phone speaks only Kazassian (that is, Kazakh grammar with Russian vocabulary). The Kazakh director at an English language conference accuses the non-Kazakh speakers in the audience of “ignorance” in his closing speech. My Kazakh host mother, who was educated in a Russian school and had Russian-speaking parents, feels genuine guilt at not knowing her “mother tongue”. We all have scores of examples.

However, at least here in the urban North of Kazakhstan, Russians and non-Kazakh speaking Kazakhs show incredible patience for this. Many of the Russians I speak to at least give lip-service to their desire to learn Kazakh. My host mother and I usually get at least a minute or two out in Kazakh before switching to the comfort of Russian. My Kazakh friends who have Russian-speaking children express concern about their children’s future rather than anger at the state language policy. In fact, the only people I know who are indignant about the divisive nature of the Kazakh language are Americans; everyone else seems to at least ostensibly accept their responsibility to learn the new state language.

Also, though the dominance of the Kazakh language is now the de facto dominance of the Kazakh nation, I don’t believe that most Kazakhs believe this is or should be intentional. I have a great advantage as a foreigner, of course, but as a Kazakh-speaking American I feel accepted as at least a proto-Kazakh. (I even sometimes refer to myself as Kazakh, and though it may provoke a smile, it never provokes a correction.) In fact, the genetic ties between “ethnic” Kazakhs are much weaker than the linguistic ties, and if a Northern Kazakh who looks Korean and a Southern Kazakh who looks Uzbek can be in the same nation because of a common language, it gives some credence to the idea that other nations could join to some degree as well.

This is all idle speculation, though, since no matter how much a Russian is willing to learn Kazakh, there are few good opportunities to learn it, and no matter how accepting Kazakhs may be of non-Kazakhs speaking their language, there aren’t very many of them to accept. Certain things are lacking that Peace Corps can do nothing about – decent dictionaries and good, widely available Russian-language Kazakh textbooks, for example. However, the greatest deficit is in teaching methods. Every child in Kazakhstan takes a substantial amount of Kazakh language instruction in school, but the classes are taught as if they were teaching Kazakh literature courses for Kazakh speakers, not a foreign language. If the teaching methods were improved, a whole generation of non-Kazakhs who are at least basically competent in Kazakh is possible.

And who has the best access to new teaching methods for foreign language instruction in the villages of Kazakhstan? It’s us. Imagine Peace Corps volunteers organizing teaching methods seminars for teachers of Kazakh in Russian schools, offering basic Kazakh classes through their resource center, or organizing translation of some of our books of teaching games into Kazakh. (If you’re the vindictive type, you might also enjoy imagining the best ethnic Russian English teachers you know giving lessons to certain self-righteous Kazakhs you might know about how to teach their own language.) The English language education system in Kazakhstan has gone through a lot of reform during the time since independence, and I believe local administration may support efforts to reform the Kazakh education system likewise, out of nationalism if nothing else. Because of the language barrier, this is something that most of us will have to do by proxy, of course, through our counterparts or other local teachers, and it won’t be easy, but the resources are there. In the city school boards, a single person answers for English, Kazakh, and Russian. I spoke with ours, and she expressed strong interest in doing a seminar for Kazakh teachers before I leave, and our English resource center director also agreed to start offering a basic Kazakh class. (It almost makes a fellow want to extend.)

I believe the acceptance I described above, of Russians for a new language and Kazakhs for non-Kazakhs speaking their language, will not last forever. Kazakhstan has a window in which to teach its non-Kazakhs the Kazakh language and Peace Corps has the resources to help, at least a little. It is possible that this is almost as important to the future of Kazakhstani democracy as learning English. It would be exciting if a few volunteers after Kaz 15 up tried to take this on.

Little Bird Actually Leaves. I Consequently Learn Something About Myself That Makes Me A Bit Mawkish. I Myself Am Leaving Soon.

A week after my last conversation with Little Bird, I saw him again in the stairwell.

"Rauan!" he said. "How lucky I ran into you! I'm leaving tomorrow! Let's go get a drink! M-----f---, I have a hangover. Do you have anything for a hangover?"
"Sorry, man."
"But I'm leaving tomorrow, we have to have a drink."
"You're not leaving, Little Bird. You've told me a hundred times that you're leaving, and you never do."
"No, man, f--- me, we were supposed to leave this morning, but there was a problem with the money. Tomorrow the bank'll give us the money and we're f------- leaving."
"Look, today something happened, and tomorrow something'll happen too, and the next day."
(A minute of good-natured swearing followed, which I won't try to render. Then:)
"Look, Little Bird, I'll see you when I go through Russia this summer."
"Really? You'll go through Omsk?"
"Yeah, probably."
"Well, I'll be in Omsk!"
"How will I find you?"
We stare at each other. Finally, I say,
"F--- it, man, we'll run into each other."
"Yeah, of course!" he cried, and slapped me on the shoulder. "Whatever, we'll find each other!"

The next day I was walking back to my apartment, and as I was thinking about what Little Bird had said and how I could make a story out of it for my blog, I rounded the corner and saw a moving truck in front of my stairwell. Cursing and shouting came from inside it, voices I thought I recognized, and coming around the truck I saw that it was, in fact, Little Bird's older brother inside.

"Rauan! This is it, we're leaving," he said. "Um...we'll see each other somehow," I said, thinking of Little Bird's friendly, nonsensical response the night before. "What the f--- do you mean? We're leaving," he said, and turned back to pushing furniture around inside the truck. That's not a very story-worthy thing to say, I thought as I walked into the building. Passing through the entrance I saw some girls I recognized vaguely as the Little Bird's friends. One of them asked me if I wasn't hot in my fur coat. “Yeah,” I said, “But all my other coats' zippers are broken.” "All the other coats' zippers are broken," one of them repeated, and I said, “Yeah,” and went upstairs.

Coming to my floor, I heard loud voices upstairs. Little Bird was probably up there, having a last drink with all his friends. I had had classes until 7pm, and I was tired. I didn't really want to go drink and struggle to understand emotional jargon. I don't like saying goodbyes under the best of circumstances. "And anyway, he's more of a story to me than a person," I said to myself, and opened my apartment door.

There are natural limits, of course, to the relationship you can have with a person when your interactions are mostly trying to avoid drinking with them and you understand only thirty percent of what they say. But I shocked myself with my own coldness – “more of a story than a person”. It was true – I perceived my relationship with him was more like a spectator to a movie, or an author to a vignette, than one man to another. By relating to him like this, by writing about him, he became comic, not tragic. His drunkenness, his exuberance, and his absurdity were all easy to take if he was just a character.

I changed clothes and went out to find him, but the truck had left.

In the last few years I’ve become aware that I often try to live like I’m writing a story. I imagine more than a few other volunteers are like this too. This might play a large part in why we choose to join Peace Corps. Who doesn’t get a little thrill imagining themselves as an old man or woman, beginning a story to their great-grandchildren, “Well, when I was in Kazakhstan…”? Many of us have blogs, and many of us have experienced the thrill of being found interesting by total strangers. Writing helps us deal with our frustrations by distancing us from them, by making them into abstractions. When our frustrations are people, we can turn them into characters, and this allows us to grin at them rather than feel helpless or angry.

But this is a terrible way to relate to people we care about. Other than say goodbye, I don’t think I really would have done anything differently with Little Bird if I had had the chance. But when I realized my attitude towards him that evening, it frightened me. If I am treating Peace Corps like a story, do I – even a little bit – look at my counterpart this way? My host family? My students? Of course, I have more closer relationships with them, I have strong feelings for them as people, I know the nuances of their personalities, but soon enough – in less then two months, as I write this – all that will be left of many of the people I know here will be the memories I have about them, the stories I can tell about them.

Similarly, we will also shortly become stories. Volunteers are remembered, but by most people only as characters, even caricatures. Ask townspeople about former volunteers, and they will all produce the same sort of coarse details, good and bad – D_____, who spoke Kazakh, S_____ who never came to class, R_____ who started Girls Club, B_____ who drank.

That we all become stories to one another is a natural consequence of living in a relatively remote country. Many of us may never visit again, and even those who do will not find the same place they left. Flesh and blood Kazakhstan will become for us an idea and a memory; physical separation will bring with it cognitive separation, and the people we love will become characters. What’s more, people at home won’t even be as interested in hearing our stories as we would like. Not until we have great-grandchildren, anyway.

In the last few months, most of us are working on our legacies – passing on our projects, making our last lessons memorable, and giving presents for people to remember us by. In one sense, we’re patching up the stories about us that will be left behind. But in the bustle of my last months, Little Bird reminded me of this – we will have stories for the rest of our lives, but we won’t have the real thing for much longer.

Knowing this, I, for one, am going to make sure to spend quality non-narrative-worthy time with the people I care about. That means long teas with my counterpart, leisurely breakfasts with my host mother, chatting in the hallway with my students, and lazy arguments about pop music with my host brother. This is what I’m losing, and even though I may have come into the Peace Corps to collect stories, it’s these mundane moments that I’ll miss.

A Little Insulting.

A few times a year, certain city schools are required to have English language "conferences", where a few teachers give "open lessons" (which are usually very closely stage-managed (except for mine, which causes my students a lot of stress)) for other city teachers and the school board.

School number three had its turn this spring, and my school produced this graph for it. The Kazakh reads, "The M. Gabdulin School Number Three (keshinindek?) English Language Subject Quality Achievement Graph". (Sorry, that one word isn't in my dictionary.) Among all the teachers in my school I come in last both years, at fifty.

Before you all start saying, "His quality achievement is only fifty? Kick the bum out!" let me explain. Before the conference, one of the new teachers approached me and asked me what my quality was. "What?" I asked. "We have a special system for measuring quality here," she said, and proceeded to laborously explain to me a process that in the end was the percentage of fours and fives that I give. (A five is like an American "A", a four is like a "B", and three and two are "C" and "D" respectively. Nobody gives ones.)

I said that wasn't a very good measure of quality, and we started to argue. "So if I want to improve my quality, I should just give more fives?" I asked. "No, no, you can't do that," she said. "You only give them fives if they deserve it." "But we don't have any standards. The student I think should get a five may only get a three in your class." "No, you measure their ability to speak English," she explained. I tried to explain that I grade on a curve, so I always give the same percent fours and fives, but I give it irrespective of the students' actual acheivement. We went back and forth for a while like this, getting nowhere. At first, in my frustration, I refused to tell her my "quality", but in the end I gave in. Partly, I thought it wasn't worth making a very big deal out of, but partly I hoped that it would look absurd if I, as a native speaker, had the lowest quality out of all the English teachers.

My plan backfired. I was teaching the weak group of my seventh grade math class about graphs today, and one of our "rules" for drawing good graphs is that one must always label the axes so that the reader knows what is being measured. This graph was hanging in the room, so we all stood up to look at it. I asked them what was wrong with it, and they floundered. I tried to prompt them by asking, "I am fifty and Zulhia is eighty...what?" They guessed height and age before someone finally realized that they didn't know because it wasn't labelled. Then one girl observed that according to the graph I was the lowest-quality teacher in the school. I asked her what she thought of that, and she answered in Russian, "Oh, don't worry. It's just because you're inexperienced."

Engineer Guilt.

Put very simply, one of the reasons I left HP to come to Kazakhstan was to do good. I enjoyed making printers, but felt that there were problems that needed more urgent attention. So I came here and started teaching math in English to students who need English and new approaches to math which is unequivocally a good and necessasary thing. The irony is that Kazakhstan didn't supply me with a textbook, and I was only able to do my work because my school HP printer. It's one that I helped devlop, no less.

I had a simplistic notion of what is useful. Most people at HP were making printers for the paycheck, but they've enabled me (and teachers all over Kazakhstan) to do our valuable jobs. The same goes for my homeys at Micron, Intel, and the University of Illionois. If you feel like you're selling out because you're only analyzing defects in memory chip manufacturing, don't be so hard on yourself - I need your memory chips to get the resource center's internet cafe going.

On the other hand, in _The World Is Flat_, Thomas Friedman has a story about HP that was supposed to be about the power of the profit motive to make positive differences. "HP is not an NGO," he began. "HP began with a simple question: What do poor people need most that we could sell to them?" He describes one part of HP's Global Village project, where HP gave a digital camera, photo printer, and solar powered generator to a group of village women in Africa. Sure enough, the women quickly learned the new technology and started a productive business. At the end of the project, HP asked for the technology back, but of course, the women wanted to negotiate a deal. According to Friedman, the deal they struck was to rent the equipment -- at nine dollars a month. How long do you suppose it will take before HP makes a profit off of that deal? Do you think they'd let me rent it for that rate?

Actually, even if they never make up the price of their training sessions and equipment, I'm sure they've already got their money back in advertising. HP did a good thing even though it wasn't profitable in the short run for the sake of their image. Similarly, there are still plenty of jobs that clearly need to be done that the market doesn't recognize adequately, like starting not-for-profit internet cafes is Siberia. Just like HP is willing to "lose money" on a deal for the sake of its reputation, people do these underpaid but necessary and good jobs because of pride, charity, or...guilt. Though there are many more engineering applicants at HP than there are spaces available, there are a shortage of talented volunteers.

My fellow engineering professionals, your work is needed. But if you've got it, don't set that guilt too far aside.