Saturday, 3 October 2009

GX Week 19

Monday 27th July

I believe I have solved the mystery of the missing fortune tellers in the central bazaar. The central bazaar used to be around three times its current size, stretching across the building sites, parkland and a manmade lake that now surround it. A few years ago (obviously after the guidebook was written) the authorities decided to knock down most of the central bazaar and move the sellers out of town creating Samal and Bekjan bazaar, among others probably, in the process. I suppose the central bazaar did not fit with their idea about what a ‘developed’ town should look like. Today Nina was in Almaty attending a friend’s wedding with Anne-Marie so as we had agreed on Thursday I did not go into our placement. Instead I visited Interlink, Sarah and Dinara’s placement, and joined in their conversation club. Today’s discussion was about tradition and culture but turned into a talk mostly about British holidays and celebrations. After lunch at Dinara’s host home I dropped into the Business Women’s Association to use the internet before taking a trip to the supermarket with Grace and Aigera to yet again debate the best brand of Vodka to take home.

Entrance to the Central Bazaar

Tuesday 28th July

No one wears a watch here yet are interested in what the time is so I get asked for it generally once a day. Today I got asked twice. Having failed to plan this week last Thursday Nina and I decided at the last minute to do painting and drawing with the children depicting people and families. We were both feeling tired and lazy, Nina rightly so having only returned from Almaty that morning. Luckily the children were in a generally calm mood. In the afternoon I watered the garden, always the same part, while Nina did some more typing. Later I walked to Ken Baba park where I encountered Anne-Marie. She told me of yet another encounter with the police. Their bus was stopped at a checkpoint outside Shymkent and Anne-Marie and Nina were taken off the bus while the bus driver threatened to leave without them. There was the same hassle over the lack of a registration stamp despite our copy of the new law and they objected to Anne-Marie carrying a copy of her passport rather than the original. Apparently the officer scoffed when Nina explained that they were volunteers saying that they didn’t need any help in Shymkent and then asking how he could tell that they weren’t prostitutes. Eventually Nina was taken to a back room where the officer searched her bag and attempted to take her money as a bribe but she refused. It is appalling that this is allowed to happen. Back in my region of CEBEP, pronounced sye-vir meaning north, I used the internet café, briefly conversed with Gulnara, did some washing then spoke to mum on skype.

Wednesday 29th July

Today Nina engaged the children and what seemed a lot of their parents in making pictures by cutting and sticking coloured paper while I supervised those to whom art did not appeal. I prefer to stay away from mess if I can help it. Nina had a meeting in the afternoon with Anne-Marie and Malika to discuss their GCD and new host home so we finished our work straight after lunch. I took a walk to the traditional shop Gulnara had mentioned on Takye Khan. It was nice but nothing I hadn’t seen before and quite expensive, though it did look good quality. I then enjoyed a watermelon flavour ice cream (there is far more variation in ice creams and chewing gum for that matter available here than in the UK) and settled in Ken Baba for an hour to read my book. I then moved to Mega to do the same there taking the opportunity to do a vodka price check on the way. How can Snow Queen be 2000T and upwards in Ramstore and Imram yet 500T in the wholesaler? It does make me doubt it’s legitimacy. I met Kate in Imram and we chatted a while, again in Mega, before heading for the internet café together at 6.

Ken Baba

Thursday 30th July

Finally got our delivery of materials from Orken. Nina and I excitedly counted the shiny new boxes of paints, pens, and paper in the large cardboard box that greeted us upon our arrival at Ulbosyn’s office this morning. We proceeded to use some of our new cardboard to make masks with the children. Some of them making dragon masks as planned, some nor. We ended up with a pretty scary dog and babushka (grandmother) at the end. They seemed to really enjoy acting out scary dragons at the end and taking it in turns to lead the human train making up our dragon. We were released from our usual watering duties in the afternoon by the staff’s inability to find the hose pipe, so we finished work around 2pm. As usual I set out to find something to occupy myself until 6pm and cheaper internet, reluctant to return to a host home where I get bored out of my mind. I took a turn about the central bazaar and then headed for central park which I found to be lifeless and unkempt in comparison with Ken Baba despite the numerous people occupying the benches and a small army of orange florescent clad workers doing a fair amount of digging. From here I walked the fair distance past the Kazakhstan cinema to Abiya park which too seemed lifeless compared to our earlier visit which had been later in the day when the cafes were open, the fair ground rides running and karaoke blaring from loud speakers. Nevertheless it occupied my time and I came across a memorial to the Afghan war which I had seen pictures of but had no idea where it was. I returned to mega spending an hour or so reading my book and eating Madalen’s ice cream before heading to the internet café. Even after using the internet for an hour I was still reluctant to go home so I went back to Ken Baba, purchasing a coca cola on the way, and read a bit more before walking the 5 minutes back to Mega to catch the bus.

The Kazakhstan Cinema. Love the 60's architecture

Ferris Wheel in Abiya Park

The Honor Obelisk

Afghan War Memorial

Friday 31st July

Anne-Marie and Nina’s GCD on Poverty started with ‘Poor or Not Poor?’ a game show where contestants from around the world tried to convince the audience that they were truly poor. The game demonstrated relative, where people are seen to be more in comparison with others, and absolute poverty, where basic life needs can not be met, as well as the team’s perceptions of individual culpability. We then took a look at the varying definitions of poverty which range from the narrowest definitions based on income and wealth to the widest definitions which take social exclusion into account. The definition provided by the United Nations Development Programme is: ‘Standard definitions of poverty usually focus on lack of income or economic deprivation but poverty also encompasses the lack of access to education, basic healthcare, or clean water, or to influence political process and other factors that matter to people.’ Next we looked at poverty lines which are a means of measuring poverty. They show the minimum level of income deemed necessary to achieve an adequate standard to living in a given country. The international poverty line, set by the World Bank, is $1.25 a day. The EU sets is poverty line as below 60% of the median (excluding housing costs) in the given member state. That makes the poverty line in the UK for 2007/2008 £115 a week for a single person and £322 a week for a family of four. After this a homeless man named Bob, fantastically portrayed by Ali, ambled in to inspire the team to brainstorm reasons as to why Bob might be poor: alcoholism, unemployment, bankruptcy, family breakdown, no relatives, difficultly in obtaining housing, disease, despair, divorce, no welfare, depression, can not receive benefits, mental illness, prejudice, disability, recession, drug addiction, low wages, coming out of the armed services, immigration, born into a poor family, social inequality, welfare dependence and indebtedness. Bob is an example of individual poverty. The majority of reasons why he might be poor are personal circumstances. Next we looked at the causes of global, country, mass or group poverty: political instability, lack of natural resources (although most of the world’s poorest countries are rich in natural resources), exploitation of natural resources, disease, drought, government mismanagement, environmental devastation, globalisation, debt, unjust distribution of funds, armed conflict, corruption, greed, lack of education, aging population, oppression, colonialism, poor infrastructure, natural disasters, foreign owned companies, unfair trade, reliance on foreign aid, caste system, land used for cash crops (coffee etc.) rather than local consumption, population growth, inflation, lack of investment in basic services, crime, hereditary debt, economic crisis, authoritarian regime, global warming, lack of aid. We then looked at organisations that tackle poverty, matching their names with their descriptions.

Non Governmental Organisations – Organisations that work in the charity, non-profit or voluntary sector especially in the development field.

World Trade Organisation – Provides a space for countries to negotiate about trade. Traditionally controlled by the G8 but is increasingly challenged by some G20 countries.

G8 – Annual meeting of the heads of the US, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Japan and Russia to discuss global economic and political issues.

G20 – An alliance of countries including the G8 countries but also others such as South Africa, Brazil, India and Indonesia.

United Nations – All countries are members. It runs peacekeeping and development programmes.

International Monetary Fund – Decides who gets loans of money to help with debt. Poor countries often have to reduce spending on health and education and open up their markets to competition from the US and the EU to get loans.

World Bank – Decides on loans of money for aid and development. The G8 practically controls it. Most money has gone to big projects.

After this task we were split into pairs and given roles to consider such as individuals on poverty. We had to decide who we needed to help us and how we could help in the fight against poverty. The pairs then attended ‘The End Poverty Meeting of Meetings 2009’. In attendance were: individuals in poverty, individuals not in poverty, NGOs, community groups, the media, the government, and international organisations. Each pair took it in turns to take the ball of string and pass it to the other attendees whose help they needed. Needless to say that by the end we were all connected by numerous pieces of string demonstrating that the best way to tackle poverty is a combined and coordinated effort from all groups. We then watched Anne-Marie and Nina’s poverty video in which they interviewed people around Shymkent and a few visiting Americans about their views on poverty. From the local population laziness and alcoholism were mentioned a lot along with crime as a consequence. When they asked a child about what would happen if poverty got worse and no one tried to stop it he replied ‘it would be sad.’ By far my favourite interviewee however was a disabled man who I have seen begging outside our placement. He described Nazarbayev as a ‘mother******’ and then asked Nina to buy him a beer. The girls worked a number of facts into the video.

Almost half the world’s people (3 billion +) live on less than £1.20 ($2.50) a day

1 billion children (1 in 2 of the world’s children) live in poverty

10 million people die every year from hunger related diseases. 4.5 million of these are children

The GDP of the 41 heavily indebted countries is less than the combined wealth of the world’s 7 richest people

The UK in 2008 gave 0.43% of its national income to aid. The US gave 0.18% and Sweden gave 0.98%. In the 1970s the world’s richest nations pledged to give at least 0.7%

13.5 million people in the UK (23%) live in poverty

The difference in live expectancy between the richest and the poorest people in the UK is 11 years

4 million children in the UK (1 in 3) live in poverty; one of the highest rates in the industrialised world. In London it is 4 in 10.

In Kazakhstan poverty is the highest of the oil rich regions. The highest rate of poverty is found in Kyzlorda, 37.5%, and the lowest in Almaty, 12.1%

In Almaty’s only homeless shelter 4,938 people were registered there over a period of nine months in 2008

During the same nine months Almaty police found 317 homeless people who had died on the streets

Of Almaty’s homeless 1000 use to be in the army

In September 2000 189 countries signed up to the UN Millennium Development Goals. The first goal address poverty and hunger.

Target 1: Halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day

Target 3: Halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Make Poverty History launched in 2005 as the UK hosted the G8. As a collection of charities it made history as the biggest ever anti-poverty movement of its kind

The last event of the day was a speaker from the charity Crossroads Central Asia. Their tagline is “where need meets resource”. They recycle the world’s unwanted goods, distributing donated goods (which maybe discontinued lines, surplus stock, or goods from office moves) around the world to organisations that need them. Examples of poverty he had seen in the region were a single mother in Kyrgyzstan trying to live on benefits of $4.60 a month and a family in Kazakhstan with a 25 year old disabled son who had never had a wheelchair before. They had carried him.

When the GCD finished Gulnara announced that we had been asked to mop the floor of the kitchen, toilet and the room we use. We thought that this was reasonably fair and got on with it only to find that the kitchen floor was filthy and then told that we also had to mop the hallway and that we shouldn’t use the kitchen sink to fill the bucket. Everyone that was cleaning (who generally seem to be the same people who always tidied up at Northgate) got pretty annoyed. Once we had finally finished cleaning at the Business Women’s Association we spilt up as usual with some of us including myself going to Caravan in Ken Baba, some of the Kazakh volunteers going to the cinema and everyone else going home. The rest of the evening was very strange. After departing from my bus back from the centre I was walking along our road in near darkness munching a packet of crisps when I became aware of a man walking too close. I tried to out pace him but then he stopped and said hello followed by something I didn’t understand. I quickly apologised said I was English and tried again to walk away from him but he carried on talking and I began to realise that I recognised him. He nodded vigorously at the mention of Nassima’s name and I recognised him as her youngest daughter’s fiancé. I established that he had come to use the internet and we walked to the apartment together during which time he produced his mobile phone, dialled a number then smiling handed it to me. I said hello a number of times and announced it’s Catherine before a rather angry and suspicious sounding female voice asked ‘what do you want?’ at which point I handed the phone back. Nassima was not at home and he settled himself at the computer talking to someone on skype before beckoning me through a few minutes later. I recognised the face on the screen as Nassima’s youngest daughter who is in America on the work and travel programme. We made small talk for a little while before she informed me that her husband to be had just come from work and was very hungry. Would I make him something to eat? It took me a second or two to realise that she wasn’t joking. Wondering what part of America she could be visiting I informed her that there were some sweet breads that Nassima had made in the kitchen. ‘Yes that will do, anything, and make him some tea’. I could only stare at her for a moment before telling her expectant looking face ‘okay, I’ll go now.’ As I was trying to light the hob the husband to be reappeared and refused my offers of bread and tea so I left him to it. Then thankfully Gulnara came home and agreed that if he was hungry he was more than capable of finding his own food.


Saturday 1st August

The mid phase review. Around 10am our bus pulled up at a house along a typical village road with mountains to its rear. Most of us looked around vaguely. ‘Is this it?’ ‘Are we here?’ This wasn’t what we were expecting. I had been imagining something rather more isolated and summer camp like. To my amusement the outdoor toilets I had been expecting weren’t there either. Instead we were treated to indoor, fully flushing, European style toilets as promised by the website Grace later informed me. Beth, Dinara, Malika, Kate and I are staying in a cottage behind the main house consisting of two twin bedrooms, a single room and a wetroom/toilet. The boys and the rest of the girls are staying in two fully furnished houses down the road which appear to be rented out in some way. After settling in we enjoyed a delicious lunch of soup followed by spaghetti with a tomato sauce. I as usual when presented with the opportunity, stuffed myself. After lunch we started the MPR proper. Among many games and energisers we discussed counterpart relationships, drawing the ideal counterparts and evaluated the programme supervisors. The latter caused quite a bit of controversy. After everyone had filled in their forms we decided to have a team discussion about any other problems with the supervisors and then bring them to Ali and Malika as a team rather than the comments come from individuals. However despite our attempts to explain other wise two Kazakhstani members of the team believed this exercise to be little more than bitching and backstabbing eventually leaving the conversation. After a dinner of stuffed peppers, also delicious, we found out that the horse riding we had arranged for tomorrow wasn’t possible as it was too late notice for them to bring the horses down from the mountains. We are going to try and sort something out for Monday. Rather than getting used to it I still find the continual lack of organisation frustrating.

Sunday 2nd August

After breakfast of eggy bread (or French toast if you are being posh) we talked about host homes using a traffic light system. Other than food and location Gulnara and I were unable to agree on anything though I believe that mostly comes from my inability to communicate with Nassima. Then we got out the problem box… Empty at the last mid phase review this time it was on the verge of overflowing. We discussed some comparatively mundane problems about lack of respect shown at GCDs, people talking, using phones and reading and lack of information given about CADs. Both mine incidentally. I conceded that maybe I need to take a more laid back attitude to CADs. Go with the flow and treat it like a holiday as Misha suggests. After lunch of tomato soup and plov, yum plov, plov, plov, plov, I like plov, we returned to the problem box. I don’t remember how it happened but suddenly Kassym had something of an outburst accusing the group of gossiping and backstabbing and demanding that anyone with a problem with his and Dina’s relationship should tell him now and not ‘run to the programme supervisors’, an issue that surprised me when it came up at our first mid phase review, because that’s like their job. Kassym and Dina have been a couple since pretty much the start of the programme I’ve never mentioned it because I never thought it that interesting or important. Anyway I tried to explain that not everyone was comfortable dealing with things in such a confrontational way and preferred to go through official channels. That what some people were calling gossiping and backstabbing was for the people doing it (because I knew I was being accused even then) a way of venting frustrations. That there is no point upsetting someone and possibly causing conflict by confronting them about something you know you will get over once you have had a chance to cool down. Or maybe it’s something that no matter how many times you bring it up with someone doesn’t change so there’s really no point in telling them anymore but you still need to tell somebody. I also explained again the purpose of yesterday’s discussion about the programme supervisors as again this was referred to as backstabbing. Eventually Sarah and Kate cried and Misha nearly did so. Due to everyone crying we took a break during which time Dina and I went to try and organise the horse riding only to discover that due to problems with timing and lunch it wasn’t possible. When we returned Dina and Kassym’s relationship was still the topic of conversation. I found out later as the problem box had brought up many comments along the lines of ‘what happened to no exclusive relationships?’ which are prohibited by the code of conduct. I was getting rather bored of this so was writing in my notebook that I would much rather be horse riding and doodling when I suddenly heard Dinara announce ‘Well who are this circle of gossipers? I’ll tell you who they are. It’s Grace, Sarah and Catherine.’ Grace left, Sarah burst into tears again and I felt oddly detached from the situation observing it from a perspective of mild amusement. I’ve been accused of gossiping before and I probably will be again because it’s true though I believe the correct term would be bitching. I don’t make up rumours and I don’t intend the things I say to spread any further than those I tell it to. It’s my way of dealing with things and I won’t apologise for it which is what I told Dinara when she came to speak to me later. There’s not much to tell after that. We took another break for everyone to calm down and then reconvened for the work placements session with a subdued air. After dinner, a vegetarian dish, shock! With mushrooms, bigger shock! Malika strode us all down to a river at the end of the village for some enforced team ‘fun’. It wasn’t fun. Everyone still seemed to be feeling slightly uncomfortable around each other and at the point when the rest of the team tramped off into the grassland for some yoga leaving me, Sarah and Grace behind we said we felt uncomfortable being alone together in case we were accused of gossiping. We couldn’t help ourselves though, of course we talked about what had happened. What else would we talk about? That’s the problem with living in a team fro six months. We are the only people that we really have in common. I can talk about my friends at home as much as I like but it’s not interesting for anybody so we talk about each other. I would be greatly surprised if anyone could honestly say that they had never talked about or said a negative thing about anyone else on the team. Almost as soon as I had finished my beer everyone decided that they had had enough ‘fun’ and returned to the house. I briefly joined the others for some watermelon before talking with some visiting Dutch people with Grace and Ali. We needed to talk about something other than the team for a while.

Zhabagly village just outside Aksu Zhabagly nature reserve, and venue for our memorable mid phase review

No comments: