Posts tagged Bishkek

Victims of Sex Trafficking Need to Bravely Tell their Stories

I’m glad that someone from Almaty, Kazakhstan wrote to me about a correction in an earlier blog I did about shelters for victims of human trafficking.  I wrote about monies made available to their human trafficking shelter by the Kazakh government, it was simply a minimal amount.  I hope to hear more from this Kazakh person involved in an NGO helping those people coming out of sex trafficking and re-entering their own society.  I need her permission to print what she commented on and hopefully how and why she got involved in this business of freeing up victims from sex trafficking.  Everyone has a story…

Here’s the problem with Central Asia and getting the TRUE story from the victims, it is a shame based society.  The Kazakh or Kyrgyz women who were tricked or kidnapped and forced into prostitution will not tell on their tormentors for later prosecution if they are captured.  If they did, these women fear for their lives as well as the lives of their family. The traffickers know how to manipulate the situation to their advantage.  It doesn’t help that the judges can be bribed or bought off with the money traffickers make off of their victims.  The vicious circle continues.

See the following link about how one American woman gained the trust of a woman who had been sex trafficked and eventually freed.  Also, go to the end of this story and view the map of the world and see which countries are in the most trouble reporting this problem.  There are four tiers, the U.S. and Canada are Tier 1 along with Europe and Australia.  Troubling to see the countries that are in Tier 4 and I think Kazakhstan is becoming dangerously close to this. 

Easy for me to say in the comfort of my own home but “victims of sex trafficking need to bravely tell their stories.” Thus they would put an end to the traffickers million dollar business that ruins lives.  Oh, the blogger that puts out pictures of teen girls from Kyrgyzstan for men up to their 50s to date, yeah, the authorities are on to you. Sicko!

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What ELSE Hillary said in Bishkek

Apparently when Hillary was in Astana there were about 200 people in her delegation.  I was just at the Radisson today where she and all others stayed for two days.  Some other guys and I brought in 15 boxes for the book sale tomorrow for the Charity Bazaar.  People are STILL talking about the summit, getting back to normal.  (If you call way below zero temps normal?) At least the wicked wind isn’t blowing as hard as it was during the summit.

I had an epiphany moment this morning when I woke up.  I had talked to my PDP class yesterday about people back in the U.S. not  hearing or knowing about this summit conference that involved up to 65 nations. I know that realization was insulting to some Kazakhs who saw all the money that was poured into this extravagant show in order to make it happen. Perhaps if a bomb or something had blown off somewhere, the media might have been all over it. Kind of like what happened at Tianamen Square back in 1989, that is when CNN and 24/7 news coverage really took off.  But no, this was a peaceful conference and it stayed that way because of all the extra precautions to keep everyone safe.

My epiphany is that journalists have their Mr. Bottomlines editors and publishers.  Too much expense would go into the airfares alone to get to this summit by the most earnest of journalists. Astana isn’t cheap once you try to find food and shelter either!  I know one blogger recently wrote she would have gladly come to Kazakhstan but it would have cost her $4,000 roundtrip.  That’s what we are talking about people, Kazakhstan is close to the “ends of the earth”  Through no fault of its own, and I know some Kazakh people would be greatly offended  by this statement, but it is NOT easy to get to Kazakhstan.

Hillary was here in Central Asia back in 1997, she kept referring to that last trip she took in her speeches, interviews and town hall meetings.  She could have come on other junkets a lot earlier but she got a lot of mileage out of this most recent trip to Astana and then to Bishkek.  Hillary seemed genuinely pleased to be in both places and I kept looking for her to emphasize even more strongly about human rights issues.

I was very interested in what Hillary said in Bishkek when she made a quick trip there after spending a few days in Astana.  She was answering someone’s question about the color revolutions.  I thought her answers were well-informed.  That is the kind of person we need in office right now, someone who knows their history and stands up and talks about hard issues.  Very difficult issues face Central Asia because it takes many years to untangle all the webs of deceit that went on during the Soviet period.

Apparently Hillary is not going to run for the President’s office in 2012, which I find hard to believe. But she made that announcement in the last few days.  I can’t imagine keeping up the pace she did in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere. She has been doing just that for the last 20-30 years.  I think she wants to rest and maybe retire from public scrutiny.

That’s the thing about democracy, I can say or write if I don’t like her and people are okay with that. To each his own.  But there are places, even in Central Asia, where you would not DARE to say something against your elected official in office.  I found it very interesting to read through the Larry King interview of Putin.  Yes, now THERE’s an election to watch in the next few years. Read on what Hillary said to her Bishkek audience about democracy and elections and revolutions.  I got this off of this blog with the screen name of “Still4Hill.” Loyal Hillary supporter.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “Well, first, let me say we did not control or direct any of the Color Revolutions. The United States has always stood for democracy. We have always encouraged people to speak out for human rights. And we were very pleased when the former Soviet Union dissolved, and people were given a chance to go back to their own country, have their own governments, and chart their own futures. But that’s a relatively short period of time in human history, because, remember, it was 1989, 1990, 1991 when all of this happened. So 20 years is not a lot of time for countries to have a stable, functioning democracy.

But I think if you look at all of the countries that came out from under the Soviet Union – Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, all of these countries – they are functioning very well. They are members of the European Union, they have solid democracies, they have free market economies, they respect human rights. I think Georgia has economically developed very well…

Well, there is a lot to admire about what Georgia has accomplished. Georgia has accomplished economic growth, Georgia has accomplished some important reforms against corruption. Georgia has some challenges. And, of course, they have a real problem with Russia. They had a war in 2008, and they had lost two of their provinces, which Russia claims are not independent nations that they have recognized. So, Georgia, under very difficult circumstances, has accomplished quite a lot.

Ukraine, after the Orange Revolution, had an opportunity. But I will tell you, one of the problems in Ukraine is that the people in the government could not figure out how to cooperate, and they could not make decisions. And, as a result, they did not produce the kinds of changes that people expected after the Orange Revolution. They have a new government now. Their new president is trying a different approach, because, of course, they neighbor Russia. Russia was quite concerned about the Orange Revolution and about the elections that brought reformers to power. So now the new administration in Ukraine is trying to get along with Russia, Europe, and the United States, everybody. And they are trying to do a balancing act. We will see how it works. Not clear yet how it will work.

Kyrgyzstan, in my view, has a second chance with what you have just done. You had some real difficulties with coming out of the authoritarian regime imposed by the former Soviet Union. And many of the people who have come to power immediately out of the old Communist Party apparatus knew nothing about democracy. You can’t really expect someone whose only experience was in a totalitarian system, a command economy, to automatically understand everything about how complicated democracies are.

So, I think you are off to a good start, but it is just a start. Elections are just the beginning, they’re not the end of the democratic process. So you have a lot of work ahead. And the people have to hold the leaders accountable for getting together to solve problems, because that’s what democracies have to do. So, I hope next year, year after, in 5 and 10 years, we will look back and say that Kyrgyzstan is setting the model for this part of the world. And that’s what I would like to see.” (Applause.)

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Astana All A-Buzz After the Summit

One of my regular taxi drivers this morning was in earnest to talk to me about the GREAT summit which finished yesterday in Astana. Over fifty-five countries were represented with some of their top leaders.   EVERYONE in Astana is still talking about it and even with my limited Russian listening comprehension and the driver’s German-Russian-English-Kazakh combinations of speech, Yaheya got some of his points across.  As we drove the short distance from my flat (worth 500 tenge to him) this morning to the university, we saw policemen in their blue camo uniforms still standing at every bus stop and police cars everywhere.  I can only imagine that it was even more heavily secure during the two days of the summit.  I wouldn’t know, I was cooped up for those days in my flat. Yaheya explained there were police who were brought in from neighboring cities. We were ALL made to feel secure, that’s for sure.  Those poor policemen standing outside for hours on end would have been cold too because it was a very harsh, strong wind from the west.  How did they cope those two LONG days during the summit?

How did the people who attended the LONG summit, cope? My loquacious driver wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton. Yes, I’m sure she made quite a hit and now she is in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Brave woman. The name Monica came up and so I knew where our conversation was heading. I insisted I didn’t understand what he was saying. I actually feel sorry for Hillary, she has had the equivalent of wikileaks 100 times over throughout her very public life, so she must have a very thick skin by now. Enough about Hillary, or is it?

Had fun in my Friday class of English for some of the university librarians who need to brush up on their speaking skills.  On one of the handouts I used today with a few of my remedial learners, the questions were such 1) what is your name? 2) How old are you? 3) Where do you live? 4) Do you have a car? 5) What languages do you speak? 6) Do you smoke? 7) What music do you like 8 ) What TV programmes do you like? 9) What food do you like? 10) What newspaper do you read? 11) What sports do you play?  With four women, some older and others younger, I was able to give them different identities based on the latest Summit.  The first was to answer all 11 questions as if she were Hillary, next we had Sarkozy represented, then Medvedev and finally Yanokovich from Ukraine.  We were laughing at the creativeness of the answers, thinking how absurd some of the questions were posed to these very important people.  When asked about which cars they drove, the one person answered, Zaparocha, Lada and Niva.  When asked about food, the person in French character said escargot and then the Russian word for frogs.  What we really laughed about was one of the characters when asked about what newspaper he read – “nothing.”  Oy, one of these politicians is known to my adult learner students as a non-reader.  Anathema to librarians!!!

If you really want to know more about why the banners, displays and billboards all over Astana, go to the following website. Alexandre Keltchewsky, the Ambassador of this organization in Kazakhstan came and talked to our international women’s group in October.  I have my notes about what he talked about somewhere, I may retrieve them and blog about it tomorrow. To sum up, this was the seventh such Summit in this organization’s history. Previous summits were held 1975 in Helsinki, 1990 in Paris, 1992 in Helsinki, 1994 in Budapest, 1996 in Lisbon and 1999 in Istanbul.

Then for my last class of the day today, I had my PDP students look at the results of my survey in ppt format on Web Survey Master.  I got 26 responses so far from my expat friends in Astana and Almaty about “expat’s impressions of Kazakhstan.” Some of the answers were hilarious, others candid and sincere.  One of my students said this wasn’t PDP class anymore but “laughing class.”  We had a good time talking about the results while I was trying to stress true and accurate statistics.  We ended on an even higher note with watching Sir Ken Robinson giving a talk on about “Education Kills Creativity.”  Quite a funny speech with very good examples.  We clapped at the end just like the audience did.  So ended our day, a post-summit kind of day with more excitement to come next week…stay tuned!!!

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Kazakh Students’ Reaction to “Two Kyrgyz Women” (Part II)

I started writing what the students thought of “Two Kyrgyz Women” which I had assigned to them over the weekend, just the first part.  It got too long, so I cut it in half. If you read yesterday’s blog, you will see the other reactions and feedback I wrote down as they discussed.
  • Ainura had been accused of having “white hands” meaning she was being too delicate to do the hard labor.  However, her calloused hands proved that she had worked hard in the tobacco fields and that she had not suffered the same fate as the other woman in “Two Kyrgyz Women” who was forced to be a prostitute in a brothel in Dubai.
  • Maybe this was God’s will that this woman suffered in this terrible story in order to save the lives of others who might fall into the same trap
  • Someone mentioned that it is the husband’s job to support his family but it was Ainura’s husband who claimed “Nobody’s getting rich by working.” Such a defeatist and fatalistic attitude prevails. The futility of Kyrgyzstan’s economy would make people slip into alcoholism as a kind of panacea
  • The Soviet Union when it fell apart found many males without jobs and no hope for the future, they started drinking. Some laborers will trust the recruiters out of desperation.
  • Someone mentioned they had visited Bishkek in 2005 and said that many in Kyrgyzstan are not educated. Kyrgyz people don’t know about the outside world, they may be rich in soul and they might believe everyone.  They can’t imagine cheating others because they wouldn’t do it amongst themselves.
  • Ainura’s decision to try an opportunity and her decision to go after it is no different from an educated person’s desire to disappear from a bad situation.  Many understand “the grass is greener on the other side” no matter how rich or poor you are.  Life always seems better over there.
  • Everything depends on a woman.  The saying “Man is the head but the woman is the neck.” She is the one who has power to turn the head to the right or left.
  • There was a comic strip about bride kidnapping in Shymkent and if you are kidnapped as in the cartoon, you may call out for help, even call the police but they will not help the poor girl. She may even die, the police will not rescue.  How much more for those who are poverty stricken and out in the rural areas working as slaves, the police will not help them.
  • Thirty-forty years ago, maybe people would have trusted, but now they don’t. You can’t trust anybody.
  • Due to lack of education, many in the rural area have no idea about the globalized world
  • Someone looked up what charity organizations exist in Kazakhstan, she was searching for groups on Facebook to see what she could join to help
  • The people who have lived through the slavery and returned to their families can’t even tell their families about what they went through.  Their families are too old-fashioned to even believe that such cruelty in the outside world could even exist.
  • Returned people are closed up, they may be able to communicate what happened to people they don’t know, but they would NEVER tell their relatives about it because nobody would understand, they would NOT be believed.  Prejudice and gossiping is a powerful thing to fuel shame in the villages.
  • Especially these two women could not talk about what they experienced to their mothers.  They couldn’t even talk about the problems they had with their husbands which drove them to this exploitation in the first place. Their husbands were not providing for them and their children, so they took matters into their own hands.
  • There is definitely a generation gap with the older generation not knowing about the globalized world
  • Don’t blame Ainura for taking this chance that turned out so badly.  Many educated people try to escape their problems too.  Though someone thought she was irresponsible for taking her child with her.  She should have left her child with the grandmother
  • One last story about kidnapping.  There was a man who was married and had a child.  He went into the army in Chymkent and he served as a soldier for two years in Atry, an area known as a dark hole close to Chymkent.  After two years his commander sold him for 5,000 tenge to work in the fields.  He was there as a slave for five years. This slavery exploitation is not only about women, men are enslaved who are desparate as well.
  • One final comment is that the Kyrgyz and Kazakh people are close brothers, this book connected deeply to the Kazakh teachers who read about the first woman in “Two Kyrgyz Women.”

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Kazakh Students’ Reactions about Ainura in “Two Kyrgyz Women”

Today I had the author of the book “Two Kyrgyz Women” come to my office and pick up four big, plastic bags full of clothes that my American friends had donated for the shelter for escaped, trafficked women.  Marinka was so thankful for what she knows the refugee women at the shelter need. To me, it was interesting that I met a few hours later with my adult students who were assigned to read about the first woman, Ainura in this short book by Marinka.  I’m thinking it would be good for my students to meet for themselves this amazing author, we shall see…  Marinka is doing her part to bring awareness to others in the expat community about this tragedy that has been preying upon the Central Asian mentality. Why not get Kazakh educators to be as aware as well.

The following are the comments that I wrote down as quickly as I could. We could have gone on for two hours, but I had to stop at one hour.  These teachers all had something to contribute to the discussion and it was a delight for me to let my voice rest after having given a lesson to the university employees the hour before.  Here’s what I can read from my writing about what was discussed:

  • I can’t even imagine Ainura’s life with no TV, no contact with the outside world.  The Kyrgyz have next to no opportunities to better themselves.
  • I tried to imagine myself in Ainura’s position and it was heartbreaking.  Ainura was able to compare both sides and she found out that her previous life of poverty in Kyrgyzstan was better than slavery in Kazakhstan.
  • Someone suggested that this book be translated into Kazakh and Kyrgyz to help people in the villages understand the reality of what has happened to their own. Awareness should be made among those people who are living back in the 19th century and very naïve to the brutalities of the outside world in the 21st century.
  • Why did Ainura take her 2 month old son with her to this unknown future in Kazakhstan?  Several thought this was very irresponsible on her part.  However, someone sided with Ainura and said that she believed the recruiters who said that it would be fine to take the boy along with her.
  • This story is about globalization vs. rural areas.  Ainura was brave enough to strike out on her own to better her life.  However, one person said that we don’t appreciate what we have.  Some want to possess more and more.  She even admitted “shame on me for wanting more” she knew she was no different from Ainura.
  • The brutality of what these women and men went through at the tobacco plantations, they were inhumanely treated like animals.  Someone made the comment that if this is happening in Kazakhstan, then as a nation, it will never grow up.  Sure politicians may kill each other, some kill themselves but to kill your own people. The country will not progress.
  • Many people in Kazakhstan would prefer NOT to believe that this kind of slavery is going on.  First is to be suspicious about where Ainura’s story is true or not but after reading this account, it is hard NOT to believe!  Very convincing account.
  • Ainura was afraid of losing her baby boy to kidnappers who might have sold him to be sold for body parts in China.
  • Someone had heard of a story of a farmer who had held a man for 14 years and made him work as a slave.  Finally, the farmer was caught for his inhumane practices.
  • Freedom was what someone mentioned, we don’t appreciate freedom until it is taken away.  We should be grateful for what you have, be satisfied.
  • Someone from Aktobe said they held prejudice against the Tajiks and Uzbeks who use children to beg for money, some are gypsies.  But then after reading this book it made this person realize that they really have been trapped in a surreal and sad reality.
  • This Kyrgyz woman was lucky to return home to her family but maybe she is just 1%, what about the others who are still trapped in their slavery? 
  • Back in the time of the USSR, many people who had been separated were searching for their loved ones, returned home to their homeland. This is similar where the women returned to their roots but could not talk about it.
  • Someone mentioned they were so touched when Ainura returned to Kyrgyzstan and kissed the soil that had given her poverty.
  • (to be continued tomorrow)

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Met Author of “Two Kyrgyz Women” and Book Club Questions (Part III)

Having read “Two Kyrgyz Women” twice and then meeting the actual author was a thrill for me the other day. (please read my two prior blog entries) If you haven’t read the book yet, somehow try to get a copy.  Spoiler Alert:  the following answers to our Book Club generic questions may give away what actually happens in this gripping account.  Still, I think you should read the book because it is short and succinct.  All who read about these two Kyrgyz women’s account are made aware that slavery, whether labor exploitation or sex trafficking is alive and “well” in Kazakhstan.

Book Club Generic Questions

1)      What is the book about? (ideas, not the plot)

2)      What are the important themes?

3)      Is the book driven primarily by plot, theme or characters?

4)    Discuss the main characters:  what are their distinguishing traits and characteristics? Which are the most important relationships?

5)   Who are the most important secondary characters?

  1. What makes them memorable?
  2. Do they help move the story forward?
  3. What other reasons would the author have for introducing them?

6)      Discuss favorite or revealing scenes.

7)      What were the most significant flaws or problems with the book?

8 )      If you were the author what changes would you make?

9)      Did you enjoy the book?

10)   What do you think was the author’s reason for writing the book?

11)   Do you feel it was directed at a particular market or segment of society?

12)   Would you recommend this book to others to read?

My answers:

1)      What is the book about? (ideas, not the plot) Slavery exists today, we need to be aware of it if we care about other human beings who are trapped in poverty. These people whether from the villages of Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan are desperate for a way to make more money, even risking leaving their families behind.

2)      What are the important themes? Mothers love their children, some will leave them for a better job in a far off country so they can send back money for a better life for them.  Men also suffer but they seem to be the ones perpetuating the problem. Much was learned about the Kyrgyz culture and the rituals they have about marriages (bride kidnapping), funerals, babies, leave-taking from home.

3)      Is the book driven primarily by plot, theme or characters? The two characters had two different experiences but were similar in some ways.  They were both fooled into thinking they would have a decent paying job that would help them with their families but one was used as a common laborer in the tobacco fields in Kazakhstan, the other as a prostitute in Dubai.  Both escaped and felt it important to tell their story so others don’t fall into the same trap.

4)      Discuss the main characters: what are their distinguishing traits and characteristics? Which are the most important relationships? Ainura seemed a simple woman with a very poor past, she had an alcoholic husband and he was always a big dreamer. Her husband had sold her father’s prized horse, he was a reckless, irresponsible man. Her husband wanted to make money for his family, but he was wedded to drinking and he abused his wife Ainura.  Enough so that she went over the edge to leave her other children with the promise of a job in Kazakhstan. She took her two month old son with her. 

However, Gulmira was more educated than Ainura and had a loving father and two older brothers.  Her father died suddenly and she married someone she met at university who was an economist.  He thought like an economist and dreamed big also.  Turned out he was in the wrong political party (Akiev supporter) and was a womanizer.  He was irresponsible in that he bought a fancy sports car, was in a car accident and owed lots of money to a VIP.  It was Gulmira who was driven to the edge and trusted her brother’s wife who was in the sex trade business.  Gulmira felt she had to make money to help raise her family because her husband wasn’t capable of it.  He seemed to be a momma’s boy.

5)      Who are the most important secondary characters?

  1. What makes them memorable? The first story doesn’t really have a hero except for Ainura who made it back to Kyrgyzstan alive with her baby boy.  The second story clearly shows that the French journalist was the hero to Gulmira because he did not want to use her as a prostitute, he helped her escape.
  2. Do they help move the story forward?  Ainura might have died at the tobacco plantation had she not been sent to the old couple where she tended sheep for them.  Definitely the French journalist helped Gulmira otherwise she might have been beaten or gang raped, end of story. There might have been others who helped that are left out of the story for security reasons.
  3. What other reasons would the author have for introducing them?  As we found out from the author, it is sometimes the “clients” of prostitutes that help them to freedom.  In this case Gulmira had a man who took pity on her, her other sister-in-law helped her get connected to the Kyrgyz consulate.

6)      Discuss favorite or revealing scenes.  My most favorite part in the book was when Gulmira was smart enough to have brought along with her an English/Russian dictionary. She secretly sat in the bathroom and memorized the lines that helped save her, “I am not a prostitute, I am a mother of four children. I want to go home to Kyrgyzstan, help!”  As an English teacher, I can tell my students that knowing English can help save your life!!!

7)      What were the most significant flaws or problems with the book?  It needs a stronger editing of the spelling or grammar.  It is written very eloquently, it is a labor of love but some of the pages are missing or added on so I think a different publisher needs to be found.

8)      If you were the author what changes would you make? If there is a second edition that is published, I think the author should add what has happened to the two Kyrgyz women since their return to Kyrgyzstan.  Also a timeline charting the years where they were such as in Gulmira’s case because it is a longer time line from about 1993 up to 2007.  It would help to know what happened when.

9)      Did you enjoy the book? Absolutely!  It is very stirring to read these real life accounts but very sad to think there are thousands of others who have not been freed and have died or are trapped in this kind of slavery.

10)   What do you think was the author’s reason for writing the book? To inform the rest of the world that slavery is still going on and a few criminals are profiting in this very lucrative sex trade. This needs to change and the criminals, traffickers and clients need to be put behind bars.

11)   Do you feel it was directed at a particular market or segment of society? Yes, it was directed to the expat community who read English to be aware that they can do something about this.  Perhaps they can put a stop to these human rights violations by insisting that strict laws are enforced against the people who transport the laborers or sex trade victims.  Strict laws should be against those who are the clients, the “Johns” should be penalized.

12)   Would you recommend this book to others to read? Yes, I would want my friends who have prominent positions in the expat community to be aware of this problem.

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Met Author of “Two Kyrgyz Women” (Part II)

What’s interesting is the sex trafficker’s advantage.  This business is very lucrative.  There may be some high investment initially with travel costs but low risk at being caught or even fined once the girls are doing their jobs as prostitutes.  For example, if one is in the narcotics trade, the risk is much higher if one would be found out crossing the border with drugs on his person or belongings.  Guilty, caught red-handed.  However, if a man transports 20 village girls from Kyrgyzstan to Dubai, he may get off very easily. This criminal may sit cozily in business class all suited up, but the girls are back in the “cattle section” of the plane.  If the girls so much as suspect their future employment and say anything about what the trafficker is really doing to the customs authorities, that is, if they know where they are really being taken to, then he would say, “I’ve never seen these girls before in my life!”  Very difficult to pin the blame on those who transport the girls to other countries for this illegal activity.  Three are involved, the unsuspecting girls, the transportation go-between and the madame who runs the girls lives once they are “trained.”

Thailand has a problem with this sex industry but it used to be that Ukraine and Moldova had a HUGE problem with sex trafficking.  Marinka stated the ratio of girls who were brought into the sex slave trade and brought to countries like Turkey, Dubai or Europe.  Now that there are better laws that protect these girls and go after the handlers, these criminals have moved their operations to Central Asia.  Some are so confident in what they are doing that if a Kyrgyz girl is wise to what is happening, they will use the line, “I’ll tell your relatives what you did” and that keeps the girls from turning the handlers in.  In the case of the Kyrgyz woman interviewed in the book that Marinka wrote, she was threatened that the border guards would gang rape her if she didn’t comply with the madame’s wishes.  Oh, the ugliness of it!!!

It used to be that the borders between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were very open. I know this is true because I lived in Bishkek from 1993-1995 and my courtship involved my husband coming from Almaty in his “trusty” red Niva to visit me. Only a pole for an arm to stop cars going through and maybe one guard.  But NOW there is an arduous checkpoint and it can take hours to get to the other side.  I was surprised when Ken and I returned to Kyrygzstan in the fall of 2007 to visit our friends who still live in Bishkek to find out about this extra layer of paperwork of getting visas and having them checked.  Perhaps because of all the illegal activity between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the border guards perhaps make a profit by turning a selective blind eye to this.  I was saddened to see that little Bishkek had all the casinos lined up along the main road because it was outlawed throughout Kazakhstan.  Why can’t the strict outlawing of prostitution be enforced in Kazakhstan? Why?

Back to our Book Club discussion, we were wondering if the two women who were featured in Marinka’s book were back with their families, if they were okay.  Marinka confirmed that both women were with their husbands again.  After what we know they went through, it is unfathomable that they went back because they were treated so poorly by their husbands, then became slaves, then back to pitiful marriages.  It defies western logic, as Marinka told us.  The one driving force for both women she interviewed was the welfare of their children.  One was at the shelter for the span of six months but she eventually went back to her husband.

Marinka quoted the sum these women who are involved in the sex trade make.  To us, it seemed a large amount but they were always threatened with having to pay back their transportation fee of $7,000 airfare and of course the handlers get a big percentage of the money too.  In the case of the second woman in the book, Gulmira, it was her “client” who helped save her.

What I liked best is that Gulmira had memorized from her Russian/English dictionary. “I am not a prostitute. I am a mother of 4 children. I want to go home to Kyrgyzstan. Help me.” Learning those words in English and repeating them often enough is what convinced the French journalist to help her get to the Kyrgyz consulate in Dubai.  As an English teacher, I can say that English saved her life!

Marinka said that often it is the “clients” who help sex trafficked girls to their freedom.  They can see that the girls who are sent to them are merely slaves and put in this job against their will. In this case, the male hero of the book had a wife and family back in France and his Dubai hosts would send him girls.  He in turn would pay the girls the expected money but let them go free without any sex.  If only the “Johns” who exploit these girls would wise up and not be a part of the demand, then the supply would decrease.  Perhaps if the clients were penalized, it would lesson the supply as well. One would hope that such painful suffering and anguish would stop especially where there is already so much poverty in countries like Kyrgyzstan.

Marinka is a lawyer by profession when she was asked what started this passion of helping girls in shelters who had escaped from the sex trafficking.  She mentioned something about the Palermo Protocol which I’ll have to look up but that gives the definition of what trafficking really is.  We live in a sad world where morals and values are all to shreds when the institution of marriage is broken down and sex is used in this despicable manner.  Our book club touched on the fact that women’s issues are so taken for granted by those in developed countries when polygamy is on the increase in places like southern Kyrgyzstan, especially in Osh where the latest unrest had happened in June.

I had a very good day yesterday because I realized anew how very fortunate and blessed I am as an American woman.  I am married to a wonderful man and teaching very bright Kazakh students who love English and want to read whatever they can get their hands on.  May they rise up and be informed of how they can help their own countrymen and women.  May they right these wrongs by writing about it!!!

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Met Author of “Two Kyrgyz Women” at Book Club

Yesterday was a busy day for me, but rewarding.  First, at work, there was a birthday party for a 23-year-old male, and we all trundled down to the conference room to help celebrate with three cakes and other food. Then I went to the Book Club meeting, then I took another taxi to meet my ten students at the American Embassy Resource Center.  The highlight of the day for me was to meet Marinka, with about 10 other international women. She is the author of the book “Two Kyrgyz Women.” However, the highlight for my students was to see the wealth of books (about 800 volumes) and magazines at the Resource Center.

*Much misery is all around us that more westerners should be awakened to if only they cared about their fellow human beings!!!

I’ve looked back a week ago to when I blogged about the eloquence of Marinka’s  writing. She was just as articulate and passionate in speaking on this topic of human trafficking yesterday.  She started talking about internal trafficking that was inside of Kazakhstan.  Many of the saunas that are in the suburbs of Astana really serve as brothels.  Because of the huge gap between the famously wealthy people in Almaty and Astana and everyone outside in the villages or what is referred to as “regions,” Kazakh girls are lied to, thinking they are going to the big city to make some money.  Instead, they are fooled into being victims of sexual exploitation.  Some girls may be at bars where something is dropped into their drinks and they wake up to find themselves in this terrible, compromised situation.

Not only is there sex trafficking happening in epidemic proportions in Central Asia but there is labor exploitation as well.  Many men from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who can’t find a job in their own country will try to find work in Kazakhstan only to find they are virtual slaves working long hours for very low pay — like $50 a month.  Some are illegal immigrants. Without papers, they are defenseless against the system but they are so desperate to send home money to their families.

Marinka had interviewed one Kyrgyz man who had been virtually a slave in Russia for 3 years.  He was working at a construction site and was with other illegal immigrants who were housed in a barn with animals. These men were barely fed and when he finally returned home to his wife and children, he looked 20 years older.  So, the men we see in busses who are carted around the city from one construction site to another don’t look happy.  One obvious reason would be especially when it starts getting very cold in Astana, they are in harm’s way with not only being malnourished but freezing in the cruel winters of the north.  They are closely guarded property, as if on a chain gang, because whoever hires them extracts much labor without having to pay what they are worth.

Because Central Asian countries are shame-based societies, whether those trafficked people are men or women, once they DO gain freedom and return to their families, they will rarely speak up what tragic ordeals they went through.  Those are the fortunate few who do re-enter their old world of poverty.  For many, that is what got them involved in unwittingly becoming slaves in the first place.  Sadly, deep prejudice goes against those girls who have been sexually exploited so they especially will never say anything about being in the sex industry. A self-perpetuating problem because of the silence.

(to be continued)

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Red Cross Talks: People Quakes and Earth Quakes

My husband and I went to a AmCham (American Chamber of Commerce) meeting the other night and heard two different speakers from Red Cross talk on Central Asian issues. Lots of facts and figures were put up on the powerpoint that we witnessed once Drina Karahasanovic was introduced.  From my notes I gathered the following:

186 countries have National Red Cross and Red Crescent

1919 was when the Intl. Federation of Red Cross was formed (wondering if this is a result of the one million Armenians who had been killed in a genocide in 1915 or if a direct result of WWI?)

Drina focused her talk on what happened in southern Kyrgyzstan after early April when the interim government was still settling in after the Talas and Bishkek violence.

June 10 – interethnic tensions

June 12 – Uzbek border opened (90,000 passed through)

June 14 – new Kyrgyz government requested international support

June 17 – 75,000 were registered by Uzbek government and put in 50 different locations

June 25 – referendum

Aug. 10 – Kyrgyzstan lifted state of emergency

What are the needs of 375,000 IDPs and refugees still after the summer problems in Osh?

1)   psycho-social needs for adults and children who witnessed the violence

2)   food and non-food items – shelter, safe water

3)   promoting social inclusion and culture of non-violence and peace

So far, 30,000 IDPS have been assisted

Many Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan are wondering how they will make it through the winter without houses and lack of food

Even though Red Cross had their “ear to the ground” and knew the Ferghana Valley has much racial tension, they were surprised at the magnitude of the problem, how it escalated so quickly.  That is a hot spot to keep watching

To know more about what the Red Cross Intl. does in other hot spots, check out or

Next, a representative for the American Red Cross (ARC) was a man of Pakistani origin named Augustine Gill.  He touched a bit on the flood in Pakistan but focused more on the problems in Central Asia related to earthquakes.  Augustine said that for every $2-3 spent on prevention it could save $7-10 in relief.  The obvious result of politicians not agreeing on locations and thus not spending money on dams that were needed, it created many homeless people.  22 million have been affected by the indecision of government and 2,000 people died as a result.  He mentioned something about “Restoring Family Links” which is something about reuniting families after a catastrophe when they are seprated.

The point was well taken that Central Asia has many major cities that are in the earthquake zone.  How much money could be spent NOW to make sure buildings are up to code so that lives and structures are not lost when the eventual earthquake hits.  They predict in the next 10-15 years.  Almaty and Bishkek are two cities high on the list of risk levels.

I know from when I first arrived and  lived Bishkek in 1993, there were standing some non-structurally sound buildings.  Where the first Peace Corps building housed their office was in a vacated hotel that had been damaged by an earthquake which had happened maybe 10-15 years earlier.  In Almaty there was a HUGE concrete walls built to stop mudslides coming down to the city. I can’t remember when but maybe in the 1960s a whole town was demolished close to Almaty due to a tremor and mountain mudslide.  I know I wrote in my blog several years ago about that.

So, there needs to be behavorial change issues that have to happen.  The Ministries of Emergency in each country need to be prepared with escape plans and food and water preparations for those people affected by earthquakes.

Now that I live in the safety of Astana, I’m thinking with all the empty apartment buildings that keep going up and being filled with hard working young people, if an earthquake happens in Almaty…well there would be homes and office buildings ready to take those who move BEFORE the big one happens.  After the earthquake that is bound to hit, then Astana will be a bustling, busy city.

I talked yesterday to an older woman from Taras who still has property in Almaty, but she has moved up to Astana to work at the new university.  She said wryly like a died-in-the-wool Californian might say, “Yeah, they are always talking about the next BIG one…”  She doesn’t believe it will happen and thinks it is just a scare tactic.  Hm…talk to those people in Japan or Turkey or China about earthquakes.  I’m just saying…

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Letter dated Oct. 12, 1994 – Kyrgyzstan

The following letter is the last of this series I found and retyped for my blog audience.  It reveals what I was experiencing 17 years ago while still single but about to get married to a man I met in Almaty, Kazakhstan on May 2, 1993.  It was a long courtship for Ken, but it was a necessary wait and see period for me since I had finally enjoyed being single and LOVED my work I was doing with Fulbright.  But all good things have gotten better for me and Ken, we are in Astana together now, where we are supposed to be.  Hey, it’s better than being in Afghanistan, which the salaries for both of us are very tempting, but no thank you.

Oct. 12, 1994

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15. This verse is what Ken is having inscribed in our wedding bands.  We will get married in several months and have our honeymoon in Israel.

There was a close call with my dad two weeks ago where he had to be hospitalized from some strange intestinal ailment.  It was a three hour long operation and put a scare into my whole family since it happened so suddenly.  Ken was right there beside me by telephone, praying through the difficult times of not knowing what was happening with my Dad.  Fortunately, my dad should be recovered in time to walk me down the aisle on December 24th.

It is right to marry Ken after knowing him for over a year.  I could have missed it, I could have let him go.  I cannot believe that someone could really love me and put up with me for LIFE!!!

It is not unlike my Russian friend, Tatyana, who lives in Almaty and I want her to be one of my bridesmaids. She simply can’t believe that I would fly her to the States to be a part of our wedding.  It means getting a letter of invitation, a visa, her passport in order, plus the plane fare arranged.  I told her in June to make the necessary preparations by writing friends of hers in the States so she could stay with them after the wedding.  It hasn’t happened because of her unbelief and the time for buying airfare tickets is NOW! Because she thinks something could go wrong with her Kazakhstan government not granting an exit visa, she doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  Inertia was winning.  People are still steeped in their old way of thinking.  They have been programmed to think negatively.  Thinking it will not work, it will not happen.

I also want to bring Jyldyz, as a traveling companion for Tatyana. She is a Kyrgyz, 16 year old girl who will play violin and piano at our wedding.  She will fly with Tatyana to New York from Moscow and then into Chicago.  They will take a bus to Minneapolis from there together. The two girls will have an extra week or two to do what they want on their own (while we honeymoon).

Back to reality here in Bishkek, the downside of being the only American English teacher is that I have a heavy teaching load this semester.  It is like giving an essay test to 60 students and returning their results to them each week.  Each student’s assignment takes about 10-15 minutes to grade.  The decision was made by me to give up my Fulbright grant at the end of January, four months early.  That is when Ken and I will get marriage AGAIN in Bishkek for the benefit of my expat, Kyrgyz and Russian friends but mostly for my students.  I will move to where Ken’s job is, either in Almaty or Washington D.C.  We are expecting great things together!!!

Ken and I have two households stored away in the States and two separate ones in Central Asia to put together once married.  We do not need more THINGS!!!  If you feel really compelled to give, I would encourage you to consider New Life Family services as a worthy opportunity.  I really hope to see you on Dec. 24 though I know it is a very busy, family time.  We are coming from the “ends of the earth” to celebrate with you God’s love and grace in bringing two imperfect people together.  Love to all…

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