Monday, 10 August 2009

GX Week 16

Monday 6th July

It’s some kind of national holiday, Astana’s (the capital city) birthday I believe, so no work today. I spent the morning finalising my answers for my teach first application then after a lunch of ‘salad’ (peas, egg, sausage and potato bound together with lashings of mayonnaise) and bread from the fridge I set off again in search of internet. It was still unavailable in the café nearest us so I took a bus to Mega to try the one I had seen there. I was more expensive at 200 Tenge an hour but had the convenience of an English speaker behind the desk. I paid for one hour but needed to purchase another in order to type all my answers and spend them to my mother for checking. I then met the others in Ken Baba for food and beer.


Totally forgot to write about the toilet incident in the mountains. How could I forget? These toilets were not pleasant. They weren’t dirty as such but being mere holes in the ground surrounded by a tiled floor and concrete walls with the heat of the day and the volume of people they created a foul stench and swarmed with files. Nevertheless Sarah and I decided to brave them one last time before departing on the bus, there being no suitable bushes in walking distance. As I waited outside for Sarah three women approached and despite my attempted protests entered. Sarah escaped with her dignity but as I waited outside they beckoned me in. Unable to refuse I ended up squatted next to a strange woman while the other two smoked, presumably to get rid of the files. Probably the one useful reason for smoking. I heard the words angli and amerikcanka banded about and could only assume that they were talking about me. Well I couldn’t go. I was then faced with the dilemma of how to pull up my shorts without completely exposing myself to which I found no solution. They didn’t even avert their eyes. As I went to leave one asked in English where I was from and my age. I departed to the sound of laughter after replying 22. I hope that they were drunk, as I suspect, and that is not normal practice.

Tuesday 7th July

Ending today with a feeling that can only be described with the expression ‘blerug’. I feel like a spare part at my placement and though the staff say that they want us to do all this exciting stuff with the children they don’t help us do it. They don’t promote the sessions and today we were pulled out half way through to help peel potatoes and then had to pack up half an hour early so that they could set out a birthday meal. My memory stick has a recurring virus so I can’t use it anymore and I’m stressed about losing my files. The teach first application is stressing me out too. Though as mum said I did rather bring hat one on myself. Met the leader of the Young Korean Association after work with Grace, Sarah and Kate, more for something to do than any good reason. He said he wanted to practice his English but was disappointed by the absence of any Kazakh volunteers. I just feel so frustrated here on a number of levels, though admittedly language difficulties are the cause of most of these frustrations. For example if the anti-virus weren’t all in Russian I could probably sort the blimmin thing out myself.

Wednesday 8th July

No playing with the children today which suits me in its way but it is the reason that we are here. Nina was needed to help type a document (the staff will never learn to type at a reasonable speed if they keep getting someone else to do it) and I was left with three shelves of filing from the last 2 years which needed to be ordered by family name according to the Russian alphabet. In England I’m sure this would have broken all kinds of patient confidentially laws. They said just to group each letter together and that there was no need to order alphabetically within them. However I am a bit anal about paperwork so I did it anyway. I was also told, through Nina, that ‘A’ should be at the back of the shelf. I thought this was stupid so rebelled and put it at the front. After lunch we went with Ulbossin to a meeting with two other HIV organisations in Shymkent. We met the same 17 year old girl from the hospital there who had just finished her first English lesson at the centre. Though we can barely speak to each other I really like her. She seems like a lovely girl. Yet sometimes I also feel the gulf created by her illness separating us. At the meeting through Nina’s translation I established that they were looking for extra money, trainings in fundraising, trainers able to speak Kazakh (most international volunteers can’t, cough, cough), for ideas of trainings to run with HIV positive children’s families and trainings for other children at summer camps about HIV transmission. They also spoke of difficulties with anti-retroviral drugs, about how the Kazakh one provided by the government is not as effective as the Russian and how they received some new drugs but weren’t given clear information about dosage or how to administer them. That was an issue that I hadn’t considered before. Finally they talked about how to make the lives of the infected children as good as possible, keeping them together to grow up as a group. I questioned Nina about whether this was the best idea. Wouldn’t keeping them as a group isolate them further from society and fuel discrimination? Nina replied that she didn’t feel the nation was ready to accept these children among them, that even her own mother had said that she wouldn’t want here children to go to school with them. They feel that they must do what is best for the children (though perhaps not development) and that often means educating them at home away from school and the discrimination present there. One woman spoke, her voice breaking, about how when she had given birth at 40 the family considered it a miracle and worshipped the child. Yet then her son contracted HIV and now even her husband, his father, doesn’t want to know them. I suppose they do form a separate group, 194 children all infected from blood transfusions and infected needles in two Shymkent hospitals during 2006. There must be so much anger but I don’t see it, the parents are just getting on with life as best they can, maybe the anger has worn down over these three years. At the meeting it seemed that they talked about a lot of things that they needed to do but not about how to actually do them let alone put any plans in place. I suppose it is a good thing that these organizations are meeting together at least. While there we meet a lady from Orken, Ben and Aigera’s placement, and learnt that they have agreed to buy the materials we need for our play sessions. We also have a promise from Britney, of the peace corp, for materials and staff for a 4 day art therapy session with the children in August. Nina and I are responsible for the planning though. After speaking with Anne-Marie, Ali and Kate for a while who I met in the Mega centre I headed for the internet café where I submitted my teach first application. Will hear back in 10 days

Thursday 9th July

Not a great day for me and to top it off I got groped on the way home by a boy of not more than 14. I was slightly tipsy after our wine and cheese evening with a couple of visiting peace corp volunteers. I was walking down the path by the side of our apartment block. As I started down it I told myself that it was probably a silly thing to do and that I should have stayed on the road. I was aware of footsteps behind me but having turned around to look was unconcerned by the presence of a child. Then just as I reached the end of the path the footsteps sped up and I felt a small hand roughly grab my behind. I wish that I could have grabbed the little bugger and given him a good slap but all I managed was a mumbled “f*** off” which I hope translated. It’s not the first time that I have experienced a certain disrespect to women here. On our way to the Zebra nightclub as Gulnara and I waited by a pedestrian crossing one of a group of men walking the other way grabbed my face and said what Gulnara translated as “my honey”. There was nothing for me to do at work today but I decided to stick around, sitting beside Nina as she typed on the computer, to experience a celebration they were having as they circumcised, in the Muslim tradition, many of the boys at the hospital. As we went to collect our lunch we were invited to join the feast which surprisingly consisted mostly of the doctors rather than the boys and their families. I stuffed myself with plov (rice dish with chicken and carrots) and baursaki (type of fried bread) before praise was given to Allah and we left the table. I did get to see my first boiled sheep’s head but found to my relief that there is not a lot of meat on a sheep’s head and I was not an honored enough guest to receive any. As Nina returned to her typing I went home to do yet more hand washing and then onto the local internet café where the internet broke halfway through my hour. Aware that I had no idea how to ask for my money back or if people even did in this situation as everyone else poured downstairs I remained to type my blog into word. I then joined the others at Mega after spending 45 minutes on a bus longer than I had to by taking the 74 in the opposite direction to normal thinking that it’s route couldn’t be that long. I was wrong. The two peace corp volunteers who agreed to host us, Megan and Kate, were visiting Shymkent to help at a summer camp organized my another volunteer. If they travel for ‘business’ then the peace corp pays. I always find it interesting to meet other English speakers and hear about there experiences. Both girls teach English in small Kazakh villages and say that none of the Kazakh oil money appear to be reaching them unlike in the cities.

Friday 10th July

Beth and Dinara’s GCD on Human Rights began with the GX Team 93 Declaration of Human Rights

  • Freedom of thought (Rory)
  • Right to rest and leisure time (Nina)
  • Free primary education (Grace)
  • Right to life (Olga)
  • Right to food and water (Sarah)
  • Right to shelter (Kate)
  • Freedom of speech and expression (Dina)
  • Right to health/healthcare (Baur)
  • Right to a fair trial (Ben)
  • Freedom from terror (Me)
  • Right to go about daily life in safety and security (Anne-Maire)
  • Right to choice (Misha)
  • Right to seek asylum (Aigera)
  • Freedom of religion (Gulnara)
  • Right to property (Baur)
  • All men and women are equal (Ben)
  • Freedom of association (Olga)
  • Freedom of sexuality (Misha)
  • Freedom to protest (Grace)
  • Right to vote (Me)
  • Right to a clean environment (Baur) – This is the only one that is really absent from the actual UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). I guess that the environment was a major concern in 1948.
We followed this with a quiz on the UDHR.
  • The UDHR was the first time human rights had been included in international law
  • It arose as a result of the second world war
  • It was ratified in 1948 in Paris by 48 nations
  • It has 30 articles
  • The day it was ratified (10th December) is national human rights day
  • An alternative document supported by Islamic nations was designed in Cairo, Egypt
  • The UDHR holds the world record for the most translated document
  • 70% of the British public can’t name any of their human rights
We were then divided into teams and given a number of articles of represent through photographs and drawings we had articles 1, 3, 18, 20 and 23. You can brush up on the articles at the UN website.

Article 1 - All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

Article 3 - Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person

Article 18 - Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Article 20 - Freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 23 - The right to work

The team then discussed their opinions on whether they believed the UDHR to be relevant or effective. We raised issues of enforcement, all countries have (probably) broken it and argued that the language should be simplified so that everyone can know and understand their rights. However the declaration does provide a positive basis for many more laws but as a western bias, as demonstrated by some Islamic nations desire to create their own declaration, and as is the case with all laws is open to interpretation. Next we role played some real life situations of human rights violations. I have a video of our group showing a situation in Luanda, Angola where people have been forcefully removed from their homes without compensation, and some children even killed in their homes by bulldozers, to make way for a luxury housing complex.

The GCD was followed by a reception at Pontos restaurant laid on by the British Council who had come to visit us. Not the whole council obviously, just the director, a former Kazakh/UK exchange programme supervisor and another employee. The food was delicious, stuffed aubergines and peppers, marinated meats and battered chicken, hot cheese pastries and fresh fruits to name a few. It was so good to taste flavor again. I stuffed myself silly before our team took over the microphone in the thankfully empty restaurant and engaged in a little karaoke minus the music.

Saturday 11th July

Meeting at 9am we boarded a bus presumably paid for by the British Council and embarked on a rather uneventful, excepting the photo opportunity that was a herd of camels, bus journey to Turkestan and the famous mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi. Something I believe that all the UK volunteers at least had been wanting to visit since seeing its picture gracing the cover of the Bradt guidebook to Kazakhstan. We stopped on the way at the mausoleum of Arystan Bab. As the majority of the team tried the holy waters I wandered off alone to look at some smaller mausoleums of Kazakh Khans. Another group of visitors gestured for me to enter and were even more welcoming once they realised I was English. What I assume to be the caretaker after asking if I spoke any Kazakh or Russian and receiving the answer that I spoke a little Russian preceded to tell me what I guess was the entire history of the mausoleum. I understood very little but smiled and nodded along politely. Turkestan was definitely worth the long journey. The mausoleum would have been even more impressive had it been finished and the inside not recently whitewashed due to damp obliterating the colourful decorations. Yasawi was a Sufi mystic who at the age of 63 built himself an underground cell where he spent the rest of his life teaching and in prayer not wishing to enjoy a mortal life longer than the prophet. Yasawi died in 1166 and the current mausoleum was built by Tamerlane in the 14th Century but left unfinished upon his death. Working our way around the exterior of the mausoleum admiring the intricate tiling Beth and I came upon two English men. One was cycling from South Korea back to the UK. At the time I didn’t think to ask why. The street beyond the mausoleum was crammed with gift shops but instead of the traditional handmade crafts I had been hoping for the majority of the merchandise was stamped ‘made in china’. Nevertheless I managed to pick up a few souvenirs that I hope will please those back home.

Endless desert like landscape (we even saw a few salt pans) and the side of our bus!


Mausoleum of Arystan Bab

Mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi.

Sunday 12th July

Hung around the host home hand washing, writing my diary, readin
g and feeling bored until 5:30pm when I went into Shymkent to use the internet at it’s cheaper rate and treat myself to the comfort foods of crisps, cake, chocolate and coca cola from Ramstore. Back at home while cleaning our bedroom floor I discovered that Gulnara had the Global Citizenship extension cards in preparation for our GCD and started enthusiastically updating my learning journal. At 9pm I received a call from Anne-Marie asking if I was okay and if I was going to the Korean restaurant tonight, something I knew nothing about.

No comments: