Today we painted the children’s faces. They enjoyed it, especially when we let them do us. I had virtually my whole forearm coloured in blue. However it did not occupy them for as long as I had hoped. Thankfully they were happy to return to the toys. Over lunch I enjoyed one of Nina’s insights into her culture. We were talking about the mid phase review and about how we would feel when GX is over. She described a situation Anne-Marie had told her about when she had done some volunteering in China. When the time came to leave all the Chinese volunteers cried yet the UK ones did not. I described how we are taught to not show our emotions, to ‘put on a brave face’. How if we are angry we are taught to count to ten before saying anything. Nina said ‘I think Kazakh volunteers just speak then think about it’. After lunch we were to meet with the general doctor to discuss our plans for art camp; renamed from art therapy due to the general lack of therapy. In the end Ulbosyn spoke on our behalf. As I expected he would not allow other children to come to the hospital for fear they would contract infections from those that were patients but he also strangely would not let us advertise the camp until the day it starts. I guess he fears parents saying their children are still sick or other parents admitting children who aren’t sick in order to attend. Nina just thinks he is a control freak. In an attempt to include the children not currently attending the hospital Nina rang Orken to ask if we could use at room at their building but they replied that they only work with the hospital and the children in it which seemed very strange as surely all the infected children will attend the hospital at some point. The enthusiastic yet completely unhelpful attitude of some of the people and organisations here really bugs me. We passed on this onto Anne-Marie when we met at Mega who agreed what I had long suspected, that all we would be doing was a glorified version of what Nina and I do every day. At least Orken have said that they will send along some people to watch and help out. Maybe they will see the need for a more permanent setup of what Nina and I have been doing and start talking about it at least. After meeting Anne-Marie the community farewell committee consisting of me, Kate, Gulnara, Misha and Nina met for the first time. Why did I volunteer for this committee? It started to go wrong as soon as Ali told us we had virtually no budget. The faces of the Kazakh volunteers visibly feel until Nina rang Malika who said we have 20 000 tenge. By the end of the nearly two hour meeting it felt like all we had achieved was honing our argumentative skills around decorations and dress code. The only decision we managed to make was to arrange another meeting for Wednesday. On the way home Gulnara confided that she didn’t really care about the committee as she was more worried about the situation with her family. I asked if she wanted to talk about it but she declined saying only that it was a serious problem with her brother which she hasn’t told anyone about.
Tuesday 11th August
Today we did potato printing with the children which they lost interest in within about 15 minutes but were kept amused by just painting afterward. Over lunch Nina put me in my place, which I probably deserved. We were discussing the farewell and I was airing my objections to the ball idea and wish to keep it simple when she said ‘but what about the people who want to do something special’. She had a point. Maybe I am too used to getting my own way on these committees and/or unable to see outside the box and be adventurous or creative. I still won’t support the ball idea, no one has a dress! But I conceded that we may be able to do something with masks, candles or a giant GX themed puzzle that the guests could out back together, all Nina’s ideas. I really am not that creative. After lunch we tried for the umpteenth time to show a film for the parents. Finally after many weeks we had a DVD, a DVD player, a working TV and no ‘commission’ inspecting the hospital. Though we were lacking on the parent side, there being only one. Just after the film started a nurse arrived and told us that we couldn’t show the film as some of the children had decided that they much preferred the idea of watching a film with us than having an enforced nap. We unplugged the DVD player and gave up on our efforts to do something for the parents.
Wednesday 12th August
Majorly frustrated today. I’m ill and it seems like half the population of Kazakhstan are out to stop us achieving anything. There are just so many institutional blocks and it seems like all our placement supervisors are powerless. It’s not just me and Nina. The rock concert that Ben, Aigera, Anne-Marie and Misha were meant to be organising has been arranged for the same day as another major concert and so is now just an HIV awareness raising event, the original concept lost. All we did today was show a cartoon for the children yet Ulbosyn had been hoping that a visiting government inspector would be able to see how we played with the children. However as the inspector approached a load of nurses hurried us out so that they could clean the room and have the children safely out of sight eating lunch in their rooms along with telling us that we couldn’t sit sideways on the chairs as we have been as we will break them. If I could talk Russian I would have told them that we are far more likely to break them by trying to squeeze our adult sized bums into tiny children’s seats. At least we made progress with the farewell committee, not that we really decided anything but a lot of good ideas were thrown around. I discovered at the end of the meeting however that Ali and Kate had been unable to find anywhere to change their travellers cheques. I won’t go without as I can withdraw money but it added to my frustration and view of Shymkent as a backwater.
Thursday 13th August
Friday 14th August
I will miss all the fruit flavoured chewing gum. After watermelon, mango, strawberry, lime (not recommended), apple and pear etc. mint will just seem so boring. Today was Ben and Misha’s GCD on the mass media. They used the following definition. Mass media is a term used to donate a section of the media specifically designed to reach a very large audience such as that population of a nation or state. We brainstormed how the mass media is used and how if affects people; advertising, new information, education, propaganda, information wars, creates low self esteem, stereotyping, gossip, globalisation, freedom of speech, brain washing, investigation, power, choice, weapon, communication. Next we looked at some statistics from the committee to protect journalists. They were slightly dubious so I shall only give the first one. Between Jan 1992 and July 2009 742 journalists have been killed in duty worldwide. I particularly enjoyed the next session on freedom of speech or ‘a licence to offend?’ The slideshow started with a quote from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “the principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for those we hate”. We looked at the cases of Elephant Man’s homophobic ‘log on’ lyrics, John Lennon saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and a BNP advert that appeared in the Hampstead and Highgate newspaper. The local labour councillor called the publishing of this advert “a shameless pursuit of profits over principle”. The editor replied that “to be able to tolerate those we disagree with is the hallmark of an open egalitarian and democratic society, where freedom of speech and expression are sovereign”. I am an advocate of free speech, even if I don’t always like what I hear and a believer in the philosophy of John Mills (for a summary of John Mill’s view read this) believing that freedom of speech and public debate is necessary to expose the truth. Racial hatred and religious intolerance will still be spoken and some people will always follow it but without freedom of speech it can be forced underground where it can not be challenged and the followers and potential followers not exposed to counter arguments. I did find myself however torn over the issue of the Muhammad cartoons which appeared in that Danish newspaper. That was a step too far, designed to shock and offend with poor timing too. We also watched a film called Olympus Inferno a film showing the conflict in South Ossetia. The story I had heard and accepted was that Georgia had invaded South Ossetia and that Russia had responded with unnecessary force. The film showed a different perspective (the Russian one) and made me question if the story I had heard was the truth. The events were shown as an ‘information war’, a phrase I had never heard but the Kazakhstani volunteers knew well. It means that whoever can convince the most people of their story of events wins. Perhaps I will never know the truth about the conflict in South Ossetia but it made me think about media bias and whether we always get the truth. Perhaps it’s not even deliberate. What can a journalist do if the source is corrupt?
Saturday 15th August
Can anyone tell what this sign means. We couldn't.
Sunday 16th August
Met at 2 in Mega again where we hung around in the food court before heading onto Technopark and then to the Korean café where we had arranged to met everyone but again no one else turned up. So Beth, Sarah, Grace and I enjoyed juice, beer and Korean noodles alone in the café. There we were cornered by Aleria, leader of the Young Korean Association and possibility the owner of the café, who attempted to arrange all sorts of meetings with us.