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Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, November 16, 1998

The Blind Leading the Blind

Groping around in the dark, Russian style

Nov 16, 1998, Reuters News Wire

Kazakh blind lost in post-Soviet darkness

By Mike Collett-White

TALGAR, Kazakhstan, - Sabyr Sabasov, a 59-year-old Kazakh, flicks open the face of his old watch, gently strokes the hands with his right forefingers, and tells the time. 'You have to stroke the watch like you do a woman -- softly, tenderly, so as not to move the hands,' he says with a smile. Sabasov is completely blind. He manages to keep his sense of humour despite the struggle he and his sightless friends face.

As winter approaches, the small community of around 300 blind and their families living in the suburbs of the small town of Talgar have no heating or hot water because they cannot afford it. Their meagre pensions are being paid two months late. The economic mainstay of the ghetto is a plastics plant, where 170 of the blind are employed. The factory used to supply the Soviet Union's huge textile industry with buttons of all shapes and sizes, producing up to 500 million units before Kazakhstan won independence from Moscow in 1991.

Its old markets all but lost, output has fallen to a fraction of peak levels. Cheap imports from neighbouring China have further hit its ability to survive. Management and employees alike see little hope of better times, yet they still display the remarkable stoicism familiar throughout the economic wasteland left across vast swathes of the old empire.


'The government has left us to fend for ourselves,' said Kurban Kurakbayev, a 48-year-old factory employee who belongs to the 'group one' blind category, meaning he cannot see at all. 'They pay no attention whatsoever,' he added, pushing plastic halves of clothes pegs into a machine which smoothes the edges. Those lucky enough still to be working in the long, half-empty assembly hall said they were paid around 800 tenge per month for a 40-hour week, the equivalent of $10. The miserly sum is a welcome addition to their state pensions, worth 3,900 tenge ($50) a month for 'group one' cases and 2,500 tenge ($30) for 'group two,' partially sighted people.

Money aside, the work gives people a sense of purpose and welcome company during the day. Pensions are two months late -- September's money will be coming in November -- and many people living in the blocks of flats surrounding the factory buildings face a bleak winter. 'There is no heating or hot water, as we just cannot afford it,' complained Sandugash Yelemesov. The 23-year-old, who has partial vision, lives with her husband and three- year-old daughter in a single small room in a shabby housing block next to the plant.

The climate is still relatively mild in this town in the southeastern corner of the vast, steppeland state of 16 million people, but months of sub-zero temperatures are not far off. Sabasov saved his most caustic comments for the Kazakhstan Society for the Blind, which groups the Talgar community and many others like it across Kazakhstan. 'They receive millions of dollars in aid, but looking around this place you would not believe that the money is being spent honestly.' For all the bitterness, the sense of solidarity among the blind and their families is strong. 'Of course, we stick closely together, help each other out, and, most importantly, keep our sense of humour,' Sabasov said.

And the few amenities which the factory can support offer some respite from the day-to-day worries. A tiny library has a selection of classics written in Braille and taped recordings of thrillers translated into Russian and Kazakh. A doctor is on base until lunch every day for free consultations, and a masseur, himself blind, treats fellow sufferers without charge.


The fate of the blind community in Talgar is linked inextricably to the factory and the future does not look bright. 'There are no prospects for this business as long as the government turns its back on its own producers,' said production director Vladimir Yefimov, who has perfect vision. He said cheap imports from China had forced the Talgar Training Company of the Kazakhstan Society for the Blind to cut production drastically.

Only one of 20 or so huge presses was operating during a brief tour of the main production line. An imposing, brightly-coloured mural of Vladimir Lenin, former Soviet leader and revolutionary hero, covered the far wall of the warehouse, recalling better times. 'We used to make profits of seven million roubles a month before the Soviet Union collapsed, and now we are making one to two percent of that,' Yefimov recalled wistfully.

The factory has the capacity to produce anything from buttons to chess sets and school stationery to plastic airline crockery. But many products have not been made for years as demand evaporated. Many employees, who have been working there since childhood, cannot imagine life without the plant, which was founded 67 years ago and facing its toughest times yet. As he followed the alarm signals set up to guide employees safely around the site, tapping the ground in front of him with a while cane, Sabasov said people refused to give up all hope.

'We all want things to get better. When that will be, nobody knows.'

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1 Comment

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