Slavery Footprint and Uninformed Persons (Part II)

I will continue on the theme of the Slavery Footprint survey which will help explain how this all started for me in Kazakhstan.  That country is so unfamiliar among Americans, they typically mix it up with either Russia or Afghanistan if they DO have a sense of where it is on the globe.  Simultaneous to this and as little known is the topic of slavery and human trafficking among most Americans.  So when you combine the two topics I have a passion about, you come up with a lot of blank faces or confusion.  The following are two fictionalized composite conversations I have had with some uninformed persons:

Uninformed person UP: “Where did you say you lived and taught again?”

Kazakhnomad – KN: “Kazakhstan, for three and a half years. Kaz–Akh-Stan. Difficult to spell, even more arduous to pronounce.”

U.P. “Is that close to Afghanistan?” [for some reason everyone knows how to pronounce that country]

KN: “Not really, the closest neighbors to Kazakhstan are Russia to the north and China to the east.”

U.P. “So, what did you think of teaching in Russia?” [the most irksome question because it means they either didn’t listen to me or they don’t know that Kazakhstan has been an independent country from the former Soviet Union for 20 years.]

KN: “Yes, it is perhaps easy to confuse Russia with Kazakhstan.  However, the Kazakhs look Asian in appearance while they speak a Turkish kind of language which is their native language. It’s true, they DO speak Russian simply because they were under Soviet rule for 70 years.  In order to survive, they learned to speak and read Russian.”

Here’s another made up conversation that I encounter concerning human trafficking:

U.P. “You mean we still have slavery? I thought that was abolished two hundred years ago with Wilberforce and other abolitionists!!!”

KN: “No, today there are about 27-30 million slaves in the world as we speak.  Slavery is worse than ever.”

U.P. “Yes, we hear about far off, obscure countries that have slavery, maybe stone age tribes that are not connected to the 21st century.”

KN: “I first encountered the slavery/master mentality when I lived in Central Asia. But I also saw glimpses of it in my past travels to Hong Kong, living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer, and teaching two years in China.  Mostly though, the master/slave attitude is prevalent in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan because of age old traditions that marginalize women. They also are using many men from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to help build skyscrapers with their oil money they have in Kazakhstan. Sixty percent of the slaves in Kazakhstan are men, they need shelters and rehabilitation for them.”

U.P. “These unfortunate people who are supposedly slaves by your definition and who live in poverty should be thankful to foreign organizations who provide employment opportunities. These people can move up in life to be employed by some tobacco or cotton plantation or on some construction site.”

KN: “With our western sensibilities and code of ethics, yes, employment means honoring a contract where the employee would be treated fairly and would get the wages they had been promised.  Sadly, there is trickery involved where the desperate person is told one thing and then the next thing they know their documents and freedom have been stripped from them, they become slaves…”

U.P. “Hopefully those victims of trafficking will be freed and helped to get a job. Very sad indeed.”

KN: “Saddest of all are all the children in India, China and Africa who are used to help make products for us.  They are missing out on their education to better themselves and have hope for their future.”

So, you see as an embattled educator my mission is to inform people about a region of the world I care about deeply and make people aware of the ugly concept of slavery which is lived out daily in desperate places all over the world.  Even in my own home state of Minnesota or in the neighboring state of North Dakota, slavery is going on.  I found out that in western North Dakota many young girls from the Indian reservation are being brought to the “men camps” near Williston and Dickinson and they are forced or tricked into being “prostituted women.” These girls are forced into this smarmy “occupation” because there is wealth from oil money in western North Dakota and too few women around.  Oil money has perverted many morals in Kazakhstan as well.

What is to be done about the demand? Where are the morals or ethics in protecting those who are powerless?  What can those who become informed about slavery in the world DO about it?

(to be continued)

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    J. Otto Pohl said,

    Being that more people in independent Kazakhstan including a very large number of ethnic Kazakhs speak Russian better than they speak Kazakh I do not think the question is off. Kazakh is only used as an official language to justify racialized discrimination against people who are not Kazakh by natstional’nost. Trust me they catagorize Russians who speak Kazakh as non-Kazakh speakers and Kazakhs who speak only Russian as Kazakh speakers. The categorization of Kazakhs who only speak Russian as Kazakh speakers to give them official benefits happens all the time. Most educated Kazakhs prefer to speak Russian not Kazakh even to each other. They do this in foreign countries even when they think there is nobody around. Russian is also the primary language used in scholarship. Just take a look at the language of most books published in Kazakhstan in the last 20 years. The vast majority are in Russian, not Kazakh.

  2. 2

    kazaknomad said,

    Point well taken about what is going on in a country where it mandates all business and politics tri-lingually by law. Within reason, of course. Russian, Kazakh and English, it gets complicated when working on contracts with every thing written out in triplicate. I think it is nonsense and a charade really. Contracts in Kazakhstan are not honored as we expect them to be in the West. At least that was the experience I had the two different universities I taught at in KZ. “Bait and switch” is more like it.

    That said, I DO believe that the Kazakh speakers I was in contact with especially in Astana are very proud of using their own native language amongst themselves if they knew it was okay to do so. The laws of the land are on the side of making Kazakh a safe language to use. Then there is the other extreme where it is used as a form of discrimination against those who ARE Russian or Ukrainian ethnicity but have grown up in KZ all their lives and happen to know Kazakh. Do they still get the top ranked jobs in administration? No, in some cases as you reveal, a Kazakh who doesn’t know his or her own language and only knows Russian and/or English will get the job over the ethnically, “qualified” Russian candidate.

    I’m glad we didn’t have two languages that were vying for dominance in the early stages of the U.S., it would have made governing so much more complicated. We have our share of problems now with Spanish competing with English but that is a different topic altogether.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic.


Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: