Monday, 24 August 2009

GX Week 17

Monday 13th July

Olbosyn (our placement supervisor) vented to Nina this morning. Nina did not translate at the time as she was listening and trying to support Olbosyn but I gathered that she was complaining. As we left her office Nina explained that she was complaining about her working conditions (she shares an office and people come and go from it as they please), her wages (she apparently earns less than all the other doctors, maybe even the nurses) and she feels undervalued by the director. She believes, possibly correctly, that she is the only psychologist in Kazakhstan working with HIV + children and their families with responsibility for telling the children, when they reach 11, that they have this illness. I think she would like to move to another organisation but fears that the progress she has made at the hospital would be lost. I’m sure that we must have councilors and psychologists who work with HIV + people in the UK but it doesn’t seem to be something we think about when discussing HIV. The focus is always on the medical aspects and discrimination, the ways of transmission and how anti-rival drugs work. We don’t consider the emotional and psychological support required by someone who discovers they are HIV + and the needs of their family. That hospital needs an army of councilors not nurses who seem to sit about most of the day taking long lunches, drinking tea and handing out useless blue aprons. Anne-Marie donned one of these blue aprons today to come and spend some time at our placement. Today was probably our most successful session to date. We lured the majority of the children from the toys and got them to play group games with some balloons and bubbles we had bought. After lunch I did some filing. This time with months in Russian handwriting! I was joined shortly by Nina who had just found out that all the typing she had done over the last week was a total waste of time as somebody had the whole document on disk already. After work I went walking all the way from my placement to near the end of Respublicka, taking photos of sights along the way and buying a green ceramic necklace. I then went to the internet café to research sexuality for our GCD. Back at home Gulnara and I had several disagreements when it came to planning our GCD but after having a an hour to cool off and united against an order than we had to attend some meeting tomorrow with the Young Korean Association we managed to agree on a basic plan.
The Central Bazaar, closed on Mondays
Shymkent University
Fountain by the university
Second World War Memorial on one of the Roads off Tayke Khana/Respublicka but I can't remember which
Memorial on Respublicka. Don't know what it was for but I liked it for it's overt Sovietness

Tuesday 14th July

No matter where I go or what I do in this country there is someone to tell me that I should be wearing a hat. Today I relented and wore the child’s denim hat that I have had since going to Australia in 2004 as I watered the garden at the hospital. Nina and I were both feeling lazy today so were content with the few children we had we did not attempt to lure anymore in from outside. The children reflected our attitude for the most part playing quietly and painting houses, though very few of the drawings actually resembled houses. I kept the picture that I drew of a yurt being particularly proud of it. After work I headed for the mega centre with the intention of wasting some time, meeting Kate and Rory at Ken Baba. I attended a communications committee meeting with Kate before frequenting the internet café to do some more research. Gulnara and I meet with Ali and Malika at half seven where they enthusiastically approved our GCD plans and Malika held up a picture of a gay orgy.

Wednesday 15th July

For probably the first time in my life today I missed cold weather. For a minute or so as I stood sweating and waiting for Nina on the pavement this morning I wished that I could be wrapped up in a coat and scarf with matching gloves against a cold, wet day. It was also a strange day for food. I ate mushroom flavor crisps in the afternoon and fish-free sushi (though I’m not sure that it can be sushi without fish) for dinner. At work today we made lots of noise for half and hour or so making musical instruments from plastic bottles, seeds, stones, boxes and pan lids. I went to the internet café in mega after work, not wanting to visit the same place four times in a row. There I ran into Ali and Kassym, then meet Kate outside Ramstore, then sat with Ben, Olga, Aigera and my mushroom crisps by the fountain outside Imram. shymkent is a big city but it seems that I can always run into someone. It helps that we all always seem to hang out in the same places.

Thursday 16th July

Today Nina and I made puppets with the children, which went down pretty well, then cleaned the corridor with Rosa the cleaner who seemed to be informing just about everyone that came past that we were volunteers. Either she was proud to have someone to boss around for once or she was worried that the other staff would think she had roped some of the patients into cleaning. I pretty much went straight home for once after work but stopped along the way to purchase a fan, an English-Russian dictionary, a cake and an ice-cream. The last of which I think I got completely ripped off on. No single ice-cream here costs 115 tenge. The girl serving was saying something about money. I don’t think she had the right change.

Friday 17th July

The melons here are so good, juicy and sweet. That is what you get for eating foods in season. I never used to like them before. Mine and Gulnara’s GCD came off okay. During a discussion in which the team (minus Grace, Misha and Anne-Marie who were at a summer camp) shared their opinions on homosexuality I was surprised to hear that a lot of the team though accepting of homosexuality and having homosexual friends found the thought of homosexual acts unnatural and repulsive. Four UK volunteers including myself formed a clear minority for not holding this view or a less accepting one. Gulnara presented her medical arguments which covered everything from philosophy to the nature/nurture debate. Believing that this debate will never be answered and feeling that looking for a cause of homosexuality implies that there is something fundamentally wrong with it and unnatural I skipped that entire wikipedia section. I believe that homosexuality has always been present, accepted by some societies more than others, and even celebrated. I also agree with Kinsey (1948) who designed a scale of sexuality arguing that few people are exclusively hetero or homosexual but fall somewhere in between. I also believe that sexuality is fluid. That it can change throughout our lives. The quiz went well. With the teams drawing 1-1 out of ten questions. They were pretty hard. Here they are:
Q1: How many homosexual men are there estimated to be in Kazakhstan?

Q2: In which countries is the largest percentage of homosexual men thought to be?

Q3: In how many countries does the death penalty apply for committing homosexual acts?

Q4: According to an American study what percentage of men have experienced some form of homosexual contact?

Q5: When and where did the first recorded homosexual couple live?

Q6: What percentage of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) adults in the UK regularly missed school as children because of bullying?

Q7: When was homosexuality legalised in England?

Q8: When was homosexuality legalised in Kazakhstan?

Q9: Which was the first western European country in modern times to legalise homosexuality and when was it?

Q10: What event in 1969 is considered to have been the start of the gay civil rights movement?


A1: 209 000

A2: Columbia and Ecuador

A3: 7 countries. Sudan, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Iran

A4: 99% I really don't know where this statistic came from. Maybe they only interviewed students. A rather more likely statistic is that from Kinsey 1948 in which he reports that 46% of the male population had engaged in homo and heterosexual behaviour or 'reacted to' both sexes in the course of their adult lives.

A5:Egypt 2400 BC

A6: 72%

A7: 1967. It was legalised in Wales and Northern Ireland in 1980 and Scotland in 1982.

A8: 1997. Not everyone in the team knew that it was legal.

A9: Revolutionary France adopted a new penal code in 1791 which no longer criminalised homosexuality.

A10: The Stonewall Riots in New York

We then ran an activity using pictures supposedly representing sexuality (a wave, tunnel, STI's, two men hugging and a gay orgy to name a few) to play bingo with during which I got told off for trying to establish exactly how many men were in the orgy. The team then chose and explained if they wished a picture that they felt represented homosexuality. For me none of them did. They were all stereotypical or could be interpreted another way, for example two men with their arms over each others shoulders on a beach could just be friends. For me the only representative picture would be that of a diverse group of men and women, fully clothed, not touching each other, who just happen to be homosexual. Finally before lunch I ran an exercise known as the 'prejudice tree'. A lesson plan from learning and teaching Scotland on tackling homophobia in schools. A tree is drawn with homophobia at the roots. With input from the group the rest of the tree is filled in. How and where homophobia is learnt and reinforced in the trunk, how homophobia is expressed in the branches, how homophobia impacts on individuals in the leaves and then how homophobia can be tackled on the apples of the tree (though maybe they should be axes). After lunch we showed the film 'Philadelphia' which was enjoyable and relevant though less openly homosexual than my first choice 'Brokeback Mountain'. I don't feel like I engaged with this GCD as much as the last one as I was feeling ill. I couldn't even be bothered to get angry when one person read a magazine throughout the film. After the GCDs end, alot of announcements about CADs and Newsletters and quite a bit of standing around Dinara, Gulnara, Sarah, Beth, Rory and I went to Madelyn's in Mega to have a bite to eat or in my case, a coffee, a wrap and some ice cream. There I shared with the others my strange and rather sudden broodiness and desire to marry and settle down. Shymkent's hordes of married and pregnant women must be having a odd effect on me. On the homeward bus a man of my age who Gulnara believed to be drunk (I can never tell) heard us speaking English and engaged us in broken conversation all the way home. After telling me I was pretty and declaring his intention to marry an English or American girl he declared his apparent love for me. Luckily we had just reached our stop.

Saturday 18th July

The drunks, like the man on the bus last night, I rarely notice them. With a naivety or certain tolerance of strange behavior when I see the men lying asleep in shaded areas in the middle of the day I assume that they are just having a rest or I assume that the man on the bus is just genuinely excited to speak English. My Kazakh counterparts however, Nina and Gulnara, see it everywhere. I’ve not a lot to do today so I thought I would take the opportunity to note a few things that have occurred to me in and about this place and/or that are strange to me. Firstly pillows are not pillow shaped. They are square, which means that if I want my head on the edge of the pillow and my feet not sticking off the end of the bed then I have to fold the pillow over the headboard. Then there is the bling. Like a magpie I am attracted to it. Tacky though it is I think I shall have o take a little home. It fits with the cheap 90’s dress sense. No outfit is complete without at least one item loaded with Rhinestones. Yet despite this preference for western fashions and exposure there are still women around who do not shave their legs. Mini-skirts and hairy legs = not a good look. Of the people that we talk to, and there are lots of them, always eager to practice English or just to meet foreigners; they all say that the English accent is easier to understand than the American. That they talk with a foreign accent seems to be of particular concern to people learning English here despite our protests that there are so many different accents within England that it really doesn’t matter and we understand perfectly. Having spent more time here I have noticed more poverty. Beggars, not just the disabled but the elderly and women with children are an everyday sight. One I often see near the Mega centre is a young man, perhaps an out of work immigrant. An old woman near our placement appears to be blessing people as they pass her by. She has blessed me a lot so yesterday I gave her 10 tenge. It’s nothing less than 5p but seems to be the standard amount. If not begging many others appear to be scratching a living through shoe repair, selling fruits on the street or sitting with nothing but a pair of scales charging people for their use. The there are the Kazakhs in our te3am who can afford to and enjoy going out. They did in the UK and do here more frequently now accompanied by the UK volunteers avoiding the boredom of home. Gulnara explained that Global Xchange gives the Kazakh volunteers more free time than they are used to and they want to enjoy it. Once GX finishes work, marriage and study will make clubbing and other social outings a thing of the past. The same cannot be said for the UK volunteers. Especially of those heading for university! I finally left the apartment around 4pm with the intention of walking to the Kasiret memorial at the northern edge of Shymkent. Which I thought was not that far from our host home having passed it on the bus to Turkestan. I then intended to head into town to buy picnic food for tomorrows CAD at a summer camp for orphans and visit the internet café. I made it to the memorial and further to a mosque (or it might be a mausoleum) right at the edge of the city. It was a blimin long way, taking me two and a half hours in scorching heat, but it was worth it. The memorial, in memory of the victims of Stalinist repression, was strangely moving for a couple of marble blocks inside two metal cages. Perhaps it was of how deserted the place was, until it was invaded by a wedding party on the usual hunt for scenic photographs. I saw only two men. One of which was possibly American or English, his Kazakh hat looked too new, but I didn’t stop to ask for fear of involving myself in yet another incomprehensible conversation. Yet as I walked back from the mosque/mausoleum to the memorial and a bus stop I found myself involved in one anyway. An old woman with a young child asked me something and I made an educated guess that she wanted to know the time. I must have been right as she grabbed my wrist and stared at my watch when I showed it to her, but her eyesight was obviously not good and she couldn’t make out the correct time. I racked my memory for the numbers 6 and 30 and eventually managed to get the message across I think. At the bus stop a number of buses came and went until I decided just to get on the first one with a stop I recognized. The no. 70 went down to ordabassy then began to return upward to Ken Baba. I thought it might stop there but it didn’t go past the park. I got off at the first stop I could and after being lost for a mere 5 minutes recognized a building. Luckily I was not far from Mega. I overspent my allowance again on food, drink and some moisturizer then returned home without using the internet as I was too tired.

Random sign post amused me


Steps down to the Kasiret Memorial

The Kasiret Memorial

Random abandoned building
Mosque/Mausoleum thing

Sunday 19th July

Today we carried out our fourth CAD running a variety of play sessions with children at a summer orphanage along with the Young Korean Association. It came off in the usual chaotic and unorganized fashion. We arrived an hour and a half late as our bus driver had got continually lost on the way and while Baur (my art session counterpart) played some ball games with the children I was thrown out of several potential venues for our painting and drawing before having to settle for a patch of dirt next to the toilet with benches substituting as tables at the last minute. For some reason I had formed the impression that orphans would be more accustomed to sharing than the children at my placement but I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as the paper and paints appeared they were snatching and stockpiling materials for themselves. Not that I’m much better. By the end of the day I had scissors, glue, pens, paints and several paint brushes stashed in my bag for the children at my placement. Taking form orphans to give to children with HIV. Looking back I’m not sure if that was entirely justified. The materials weren’t actually the property of the orphanage by the way. They were purchased especially for the CAD by the Young Korean Association. Though apart from the contents of my bag we left what was left from the sessions for use by the camp. Like the majority of our CADs I don’t feel that the sustainability of the action was a great concern, if considered at all. We played with the children for a couple of hours, left behind some paints and plastic bottles, each picked up a child to pose for a photograph then left the camp behind walking up the mountain for a picnic. I left a bit like a cheesy baby kissing politician. It was a fun day but I don’t know if we really did any good.

Making a hand tree

Picnic location
Our chessy picture - 'ooh look at all the good we're doing!'
*now we're going to leave

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