Last week when I went to the KarLAG in Dolinka, 50 km. away from Karaganda, I did not know what to expect of their museum when comparing it to ALZHIR in Astana. Also, I didn’t know how the museum would preserve the memory of those imprisoned as “Enemies of the People” in the 1930s-1950s. I wish I had taken more photos, I only took a few. The longhand letter in Russian was written by a survivor in 1996 and was one of a collection of many letters on the wall of the former hospital, now called “Museum of Memory of Political Repression Victims Measures.” What I recall the museum guide said about this particular letter was that the person who wrote it was an orphan, his parents had either died enroute to Kazakhstan or there in Dolinka. The letter related how they, as young children, had to make bricks “manually” or rather by using their feet. I’m amazed at the good penmanship of the writer despite the fact that children of prisoners at the KarLAG probably had no opportunity to get any education.
What a contrast to the vibrancy of the KarSU Computer Lab at the big university in Karaganda where there were 50 high speed Internet computers equipped with the latest in technology. I gave a very brief talk to some of the conference attendees who were exploring the most efficient way to conduct tri-lingual classes with the new governmental edict for all teachers to know how to teach in Kazakh, Russian and English. We think being bi-lingual is something in the U.S., here the people of Kazakhstan hold an earnestness to know THREE languages! The next morning I gave an hour and half workshop with about 55 eager English teachers from the Foreign Languages department who want to learn more about electronic research databases. They have invited me to return to give another workshop in January of 2009. I look forward to it since it is nice to be valued for what I know, even though it is only in English.
Afterwards we had a very good discussion when I was through showing my powerpoint presentations. Why is it that westerners do not know about Kazakhstan? Reflecting on this now, shouldn’t our own American educational system have higher goals to achieve to know world geography or world history better? We all agree we live in a globalized world, right? Seems that many in the West do NOT know about Central Asia or even where Kazakhstan is located. One of the participants wondered aloud why Kazakhs are expected to learn so much about the world and its history while Americans seem to not care about them. That makes me sad about our own guilty complacency. However, despite that, my charge to the teachers was to encourage their Kazakh students to write more in English about the great and wonderful history that Kazakhstan has. I think if enough westerners were exposed to the vastness of this country that is not only wealthy in natural resources but also rich in traditions and culture, they would be willing to adventure to Kazakhstan to find out for themselves.