Posts tagged North Dakota

Norsk Host Fest

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It was good to take my folks to the Norsk Host Fest in Minot yesterday, I believe they enjoyed the entertainment.  It took 4 hours to get there and we left at 6:45 a.m.  Got there at 10:45 and paid for our $40 tickets once we were brought in from the HUGE parking lot by the bus with all their passengers.  For this four day event, it takes 4,000 volunteers to pull it off. They were very organized and knew what they were doing after 40 years of doing this!

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Once inside, we saw the Swedish fiddlers but my main mission was to see my former next door neighbor and friend who had a booth of her beautiful sewing craft. She takes old Norwegian sweaters and changes them into vests or mittens or other things, like purses.  I bought three little mittens that will work on Christmas trees and also some slippers that were made in Azerbaijan. It gives women employment in a place where they don’t have much income coming in.  The website for their things for sale is Azerbaijansocks.com

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My dad, husband and I watched the piano player, Gordon Lindquist do his numbers. I had seen him about five years ago and he pulled out of the piano bench a sheet.  He was going to play “sheet music” which meant that he draped it over the whole keyboard and played through the sheet. Then he put gloves on and played another piece.  Finally, he put on some heavy leather mitts and played again.  For another Victor Borge kind of comedy act, he laid on his back on the piano bench and reversed his hands and played another number. Throughout he had corny jokes to tell.

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I also took in some other old and strange instruments that was from Norway. It was like an autoharp on a strap like a guitar but a bow was used on it like you’d play on a cello. I’ll have to look that up because I’ve never seen anything like it. I also saw and heard a comedy act that has been around for many years, an American Indian guy and a white guy, they were NOT politically correct and that was what was so funny about them.

Much Scandinavian food courts were everywhere. Also, I saw many other booths that were selling everything. There must have been 200 booths at this place with entertainment in many parts of this large complex that also is used for the North Dakota State Fair.

All in all, we were glad that we went and it was fun to see some other friends there as well. Next year we will probably want to stay longer but having four hours to drive back home again on the same day made for a very long day.  Many laughs and lots of smiles which helps to get through our rainy, gloomy day now.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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North Dakota Joke about Wireless and Ongoing Surveillance

Surveillance is important but not the kind that we have been served up lately, it has gone on for decades but not on Regular Joe Citizen of the U.S. Now we can ALL be treated as suspects if we said the wrong thing from 20-30 years ago. Thanks to Edward Snowden for having a conscience about all the power he had as a techie. Now he is back in hiding after his 12 minute video-taped interview from Hong Kong. I watched it and thought he was quite articulate.  The liberal press would paint him as some kind of high school dropout who became a grunt in the Army.  Pretty miraculous to be a low-info kind of guy and to have that much knowledge about computers and access into that many people’s lives. People will long question whether what he did was right or wrong to be a whistleblower.

Granted, Snowden is toast, now that he has been identified.  However, his biggest fear is that nobody will do anything about the intrusive surveillance to keep our government accountable for all the access and privilege they have for what we do from phone calls to texting to what we put up on the Internet. I DO care about what information is held on me because I know what they did to people in the former Soviet Union.  I know what the leader of “the” Russia would like to do to some people who don’t agree with him. I know what they did to millions of people who lived in Ukraine 70-80 years ago who didn’t tow the communist party line.

We watched the movie “The Internship” this past weekend and it was funny in a few places.  It showed how people my age or younger are feeling like dinosaurs if they didn’t get in on the computer technology wave.  Also, it shows that students at age 21 are cynical about their future and do not live the American Dream.  They have high tuition debts to pay back but no jobs to speak of. They may be tech savvy but not much on people skills and not many experiences outside of their virtual world.  It was a sad commentary on both generations. The funniest line in the movie was when Vince Vaughn was trying to explain the concept of Instagram to these geeky teammates of his at Google. He kept saying, “On the line” when he really mean “online.”  The kids patiently listened to him telling him that it had already been thought of before.  He enthusiastically blathered on with “on the line.”  The part with the strip tease bar scene was bad which made PG-13 rating embarrassing.  I think they can’t be believed anymore.

Well, I promised a joke so I’ll end my blog on this funny note.  More a joke on North Dakota but just the same, one that needs to be preserved.

“After having dug to a depth of 10 meters last year, Scottish scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 100 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.  Not to be outdone by the Scots, in the weeks that followed, British scientists dug to a depth of 20 meters, and shortly after, headline in the UK newspapers read: “British concluded that their ancestor already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the Scots.”  One week later, “The Nordic Klub,” a Minot, North Dakota newsletter reported the following: “After digging as deep as 30 meters in corn fields near Velva, ND, Ole Johnson, a self taught archeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing.  Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago North Dakota had already gone wireless.”

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Part II – Minnesota girl’s plight about being trafficked

The following is a continuation of what I posted yesterday.  More awareness needs to be raised about this problem of human trafficking…

Missing child

At age 11, Kayla began attending her old school again. One day she didn’t come home.

“I went through the streets looking for her,” Lauren said. “I just went through hell.”

Six days later, police officers found her at a community center.

Kayla said a classmate had beaten her up, and then taken her home, where the girl’s mother forced her to sell drugs and have sex with strangers.

Other young girls were being prostituted there too, Kayla said.

After police, acting on a tip, questioned the woman, she arranged for her daughter to leave Kayla at the community center.

Movies and television tend to portray pimps as black men sporting flashy jewelry, driving fancy cars and hanging out on street corners. But in reality anyone can be a pimp. Often they’re women.

“Times have changed,” said Sgt. John Bandemer of the St. Paul Police Depart­ment. “There are way more female pimps right now than male pimps.”

Another time, Kayla took her dog for a walk and didn’t come home for five days.

Again, Lauren reported to police that she was missing. Eventually, Kayla called to ask Lauren to pick her up on a street corner several miles from their home.

Kayla had been with a girl she met when she had been kidnapped before. The girl’s mother, another trafficker, drove Kayla around to several houses, where she was repeatedly raped. One of the men who raped Kayla during that time is the father of her baby, Lauren said.

“[Kayla] was so violent after that,” Lauren added. “She had been totally reprogrammed. She was talking to police officers about the ‘great family’ she was with.”

Traumatic bonding

Traffickers apply a potent mix of loving care alternated with violence, threats and dehumanizing behavior to control victims like Kayla.

They offer a false sense of security and love to establish a “trauma bond” with victims, according to Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization in Washington state that works to prevent sex trafficking.

Trauma bonds are similar to Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological response where hostages become attached to the perpetrators and later defend them, a report from the organization explains.

One expert declared traffickers “the most brilliant child psychologists on the planet.”

When Kayla was seven months pregnant, she disappeared again. “I just had this horrible feeling,” Lauren said.

The next day, Kayla asked Lauren to pick her up at an apartment building. During the drive home, Kayla told Lauren she had been with “a bunch of pimps.” One of them wanted to be her boyfriend, she added. She said he had taken her shopping and bought her lingerie from Victoria’s Secret.

Then Kayla told Lauren she was going to move in with him.

At home, when Lauren blocked the door to prevent Kayla from leaving, she yanked Lauren’s hair, hurling her to the floor. Lauren raced to a neighbor’s house to call the police, who arrested Kayla for assault. “It might have saved her life,” Lauren said.

Later, Lauren learned that the pimp who wanted to be Kayla’s “boyfriend” controlled a massive interstate trafficking network.

Pimps often pose as a child’s “boy­friend,” building a romantic relationship to secure the child’s trust and allegiance, even after the relationship changes into one of violence, torture and abuse, according to Shared Hope International.

All children are at risk

To many, Kayla’s story might seem extraordinary. But it’s a story that plays out day after day in cities and suburbs throughout the United States. And it can happen to any child, regardless of socio-economic background or ethnicity, said Linda Miller, executive director of Civil Society. The St. Paul organization provides legal and other assistance to sex trafficking victims, including Kay­la.

“I’ve read a lot that these girls come from bad homes and they’re runaways,” Lauren said. “This isn’t a bad home. [Kayla] has had some issues in her life, her mother was a drug addict, but she’s been given nothing but love from me. I wasn’t a bad parent.”

Despite the trauma and abuse Kayla has experienced, Miller said she holds hope for Kayla’s future. Since October, Kayla has been receiving treatment at a residential center for girls with emotional and behavioral problems.

Parents need to educate children about the dangers of sex trafficking before it’s too late, Joy Friedman of the St. Paul organization Breaking Free said at a June forum on human trafficking. Friedman herself was a sex trafficking victim.

“We need parents to get involved,” Friedman said. “We need you to speak up and say you want [sex trafficking education] in your school so your kids can learn the facts that suburban life is not this shelter box. You do not get exempt because you live out in the suburbs and your mom drives a Mercedes and you have a wealthy background and you were raised right and you went to church. . . .

“Traffickers don’t care who you are,” she added. “Like they say: ‘8 to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, you’re still sellable. Because all we need are your parts.’”

Warning signs of child sex trafficking
» Truancy
» Declining grades
» Delinquency
» Curfew violations
» Running away from home
» Signs of violence and/or psychological trauma
» Underage drinking or drug use
» Unaccounted for time
» Unusual or secretive cell phone or computer usage

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Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking

The following is something I got off the Civil Society website, more people need to be aware of the problems in Minnesota AND North Dakota and also Kazakhstan.

Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children become victims of sex trafficking every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Photo illustration

Kayla thought she was going to a church service. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

The 10-year-old asked her grandmother, Lauren, if she would drive her and her friend Jasmine to a house in the suburbs where the service was to take place.

An hour later, when the girls emerged from the house, Jasmine had her arm draped around Kayla, who was crying. Lauren asked what was wrong. Not to worry, Jasmine replied, Kayla had just fallen.

What Lauren didn’t realize then was that, inside that house in the suburbs, her granddaughter had indeed fallen — into the shadowy underworld of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. It is modern-day slavery.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children are sold for sex annually, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Minnesota ranks as one of the top 10 states for sex trafficking, experts say. It is the portal to the “Minnesota Pipeline,” a series of states through which victims are channeled to New York. Under federal law, however, trafficking, despite connotations, does not require movement of victims.

A person can be a victim of sex trafficking without ever leaving home.

“Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person. All efforts must be expended to end it,” the U.S. bishops said in their 2007 statement “On Human Trafficking.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has played a key role in providing education, advocacy and services for survivors of human trafficking.

Since 2002, the USCCB has assisted more than 2,600 trafficking victims and their families. It also founded the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking.

“In the end,” the bishops said, “we must work together — church, state and community — to eliminate the root causes and markets that permit traffickers to flourish; to make whole the survivors of this crime; and to ensure that, one day soon, trafficking in human persons vanishes from the face of the earth.”

Kayla’s story

At her home on a quiet, tree-lined street in the Twin Cities, Lauren told the story of Kayla, now 13, whom she is raising along with the girl’s 6-month-old baby. She said she hopes her story will help other parents keep their children safe from predators.

To protect the victim’s identity, all names in this article have been changed.

Kayla’s story began in 2006, when Jasmine, who is four years older than Kayla, befriended her at church. The girls’ age difference concerned Lauren, she said, but she didn’t interfere because the friendship was “under a spiritual guar­dianship, so to speak.”

Before long, however, Lauren noticed disturbing changes in Kayla’s behavior.

“[Jasmine] dressed in a real sexual way, and I noticed [Kayla] started picking this up too,” Lauren said.

That wasn’t all. “Her language started changing, she started using more slang and swear words, talking street lingo. And she started being defiant towards me and rude,” Lauren said. “She’d go into rages, she’d throw things, she’d beat on walls. I couldn’t understand where these rages were coming from.”

Kayla’s life hadn’t been perfect. Her father was absent. Her mother, who died when Kayla was 12, was a drug addict. At times Kayla rebelled, but never before had she been violent, Lauren said.

One day, Kayla told Lauren that Jasmine wanted her to steal thong underwear from a Target store. “And she said I have to have sex, too,” the 10-year-old disclosed to her grandmother.

“I was just shocked,” Lauren said. When she asked Kayla how Jasmine had tried to convince her to do things that Lauren had taught her were wrong, Kayla replied: “She said it’s OK to steal because the grown-ups in this society have stolen our future anyway. . . . And, she said that most girls have already had sex by the time they’re my age.”

‘The game’

The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14, according to a 2001 national study. But many traffickers begin “grooming,” or gaining the trust of, their victims when they are even younger.

Instructional books that teach aspiring traffickers how to successfully groom a child for commercial sexual exploitation — referred to as “the game” — are widely available for purchase on the Internet.

In one such book, a pimp with a criminal record writes: “You’ll start to dress her, think for her, own her. If you and your victim are sexually active, slow it down. After sex, take her shopping for one item. Hair and/or nails is fine. She’ll develop a feeling of accomplishment. The shopping after a month will be replaced with cash. The love making turns into raw sex. She’ll start to crave the intimacy and be willing to get back into your good graces. After you have broken her spirit, she has no sense of self value.

“Now pimp, put a price tag on the item you have manufactured,” he adds.

Pimps target their victims at schools, recreation centers, parks, churches, shopping malls, on the Internet — anywhere children can be found.

Often it happens in communities where there is a lot of trust. Or, the trafficker is a family member or acquaintance of the child.

“Gradually,” Lauren explained, “they start teaching the children: ‘The adults in your life are your enemies; you shouldn’t listen to them. This is your new family.’”

Traffickers train older girls — like Jasmine, who was trafficked herself — to groom younger girls.

“The girls that are doing this grooming — and it usually is girls — are trying to get them into this life, saying it’s a great life,” Lauren said. “They work on them gradually, kind of like a pedo­phile does. And they don’t just groom the children; they groom the whole community” by presenting themselves in a positive light.

“Once you’re groomed, you’re blood in the water,” Lauren said. “You’re easy prey.”

Downward spiral

Lauren decided that Kayla wasn’t going to see Jas­mine anymore. She also began home schooling Kayla and taking her to a counselor. Despite Lauren’s efforts, however, Kayla continued to spiral out of control.

Lauren had no idea why her granddaughter remained so troubled — until one day she blurted out that she had been sexually assaulted at the house in the suburbs where she and Jasmine had gone for the children’s prayer service.

Kayla had believed she was attending a prayer service that day, she told her grandmother. But as soon as the girls stepped foot into the house, Jasmine snatched Kayla’s prayer book and tossed it over her shoulder.

Jasmine disappeared with an older boy into a bedroom. Another boy attempted to rape Kayla while shoving a pillow over her face to muffle her screams.

Lauren reported the incident to the police; however, no arrest was made in the case, she said. Often it can be difficult for police to gather enough evidence to arrest “johns” because victims are unwilling to cooperate in investigations. Fed­eral and state laws actually make it easier for police to arrest prostitutes, who are usually victims of sex traffickers.

Around the time Kayla revealed that she had been sexually assaulted, Lauren also discovered that she secretly had maintained contact with Jasmine, despite having lost her cell phone privileges. Kayla would sneak off to a nearby community center to call Jasmine on a pay phone, Lauren said. “It was like she had to check in with her.”

(to be continued)

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Human Trafficking Leads to North Dakota Oil Fields

The following news flash is something a friend sent me recently. She knows I’m involved with this sort of awareness building about human trafficking. Seems that the Super Bowl has the dark side and maybe that can be expected but in red state North Dakota?! Where there’s oil and money (as there is in western Kazakhstan) then you will have all other vices show up.  Read on:

Collaboration to Fight Explosion of Human Trafficking Along MN Roads to ND Oil Fields

 

North Dakota oil fields may be a new market for sale of humans for sex and labor. Victims are driven along I-94 and then north on roads which are normally deserted. Trafficked victims, both international and domestic, are being transported for labor and sex trafficking in the North Dakota oil fields.

In response to these crimes against victims of human trafficking, a collaboration of organizations, including law enforcement, sexual and domestic assault advocates, educators, shelters, and attorneys plan to travel to a conference in San Francisco to receive training in collaborative efforts. Attendees will then train other collaborators.

Collaboration members will work together to provide safety and victim centered services for sex and labor trafficked victims. Those victims will be empowered to testify against traffickers to interdict the flow of sex and labor trafficked victims along Minnesota corridors and the stem the tide of victims being transported north to North Dakota oil fields.

Background:

Recently, police stopped a speeding vehicle along I-94 in Minnesota. The police saw a little girl in the back seat of the car huddled as far away from the driver as possible. Police questioned the driver who did not speak the language of the girl. The police determined that the driver did not know enough about the little girl to be transporting her.

Aliandra (pseudonym) from Central America, had only a bottle of water and the ragged clothes on her back. She was shivering both from fear of the driver and the cold. She looked to be about 12 years old.

The driver of the car told the police that two men were to meet him at the next truck stop to pick up the girl and that they should know more about the kid. The police said, “Let’s go.”

When the police met the two men at the truck stop, they determined that neither one of the men spoke the girl’s language. The two men could not tell the police enough about the child to be in control of her.

The child was brought to a temporary foster home placement. The foster mother’s heart broke when the child whimpered and clung to her.

The enlightened county attorney and judges appointed a guardian ad litem and social worker who contacted Civil Society, a not for profit organization providing legal and case management services for human trafficking victims. They contacted Civil Society by calling the Minnesota Human Trafficking Crisis and Tip Line at 1-888-772-3324.

Civil Society was able to begin to work with the guardian ad litem and social worker who had never encountered a child in these circumstances before.  They were anxious that the child would be deported.

Authorities found that the child had been transported and marched to the U.S. from Central America across horribly rough terrain at night, with little or no food and water. They also suspect that the child had been abused along the road trip to Minnesota. All those dealing with the child realized that she would probably be trafficked again and be forced to make the same dangerous trek again if she were deported.

Law enforcement has noted increased transportation of this same ethnic group along I-90 and then north toward North Dakota in the last year.

There is help under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act for this child. The federal government also provides psychological counseling for victims by culturally appropriate experts, knowledgeable in the human trafficking of children.

The girl is from an ethnic group which has been designated one of the most vulnerable to trafficking by the Trafficking in Persons Report,www.state.gov/g/tip.  This is because of the group’s abject poverty, isolation (they don’t even speak Spanish) and because they have a cultural practice of going into trance-like states. Thus, when they are abused, they may dissociate rather than recognize the abuse.

Poor villagers in Central America are threatened that they be killed or will lose their small plots of land if they don’t send their daughters to work.  Many of them don’t realize or are fooled into believing that their daughters will be working in the fields in the United States like they work in the fields at home. However, children who are labored trafficked are usually also sex trafficked. When villagers receive money from the sex or labor trafficking of their daughters, they often use it to send their younger children to the U.S. to gain more money for the family.

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Seamy Side of the Super Bowl Underbelly

Besides watching the steamy performance by Beyonce, which I could have done without, the Super Bowl was good entertainment from start to finish.  The unexpected second intermission due to half the lights going out after a 109 yard run by the Ravens was another interesting surprise. Two half-times in a row.  I do think that Beyonce could have done better without all the hair flinging, weird dance moves and smoke and fire.  Her act must have tripped up the electric wires with all her sizzle. The sad part of the Super Bowl is that a LOT of the sex trafficking goes on during these big events, traffickers bring young girls in. Sick, sick, sick.  Beyonce does not help in creating such an atmosphere that continues to victimize young women.  Okay, enough about the Super Bowl in New Orleans and all those problems.

The following is something that is a little closer to home.

Collaboration to Fight Explosion of Human Trafficking along Minnesota Roads to North Dakota Oil Fields

North Dakota oil fields may be a new market for sale of humans for sex

and labor. Victims are driven along I-90 and then north on roads which

are normally deserted. Trafficked victims, both international and

domestic, are being transported for labor and sex trafficking in the

North Dakota oil fields.

In response to these crimes against victims of human trafficking, a

collaboration of organizations, including law enforcement, sexual and

domestic assault advocates, educators, shelters, and attorneys plan to

travel to a conference in San Francisco to receive training in

collaborative efforts. Attendees will then train other collaborators.

Collaboration members will work together to provide safety and victim

centered services for sex and labor trafficked victims. Those victims

will be empowered to testify against traffickers to interdict the flow

of sex and labor trafficked victims along Minnesota corridors and the

stem the tide of victims being transported north to North Dakota oil

fields.

_____________________________________________________________________

_________

Background:

Recently, police stopped a speeding vehicle along I-90 in Minnesota.

The police saw a little girl in the back seat of the car huddled as far

away from the driver as possible. Police questioned the driver who did

not speak the language of the girl. The police determined that the

driver did not know enough about the little girl to be transporting

her.

Aliandra (pseudonym) from central america, had only a bottle of water

and the ragged clothes on her back. She was shivering both from fear of

the driver and the cold. She looked to be about 12 years old.

The driver of the car told the police that two men were to meet him at

the next truck stop to pick up the girl and that they should know more

about the kid. The police said, “Let’s go.”

When the police met the two men at the truck stop, they determined that

neither one of the men spoke the girl’s language. The two men could not

tell the police enough about the child to be in control of her.

The child was brought to a temporary foster home placement. The foster

mother’s heart broke when the child whimpered and clung to her.

The enlightened county attorney and judges appointed a guardian ad

litem and social worker who contacted Civil Society, a not for profit

organization providing legal and case management services for human

trafficking victims. They contacted Civil Society by calling the

Minnesota Human Trafficking Crisis and Tip Line at 1-888-772-3324.

Civil Society was able to begin to work with the guardian ad litem and

social worker who had never encountered a child in these circumstances

before.  They were anxious that the child would be deported.

Authorities found that the child had been transported and marched to

the U.S. from central america across horribly rough terrain at night,

with little or no food and water. They also suspect that the child had

been abused along the road trip to Minnesota. All those dealing with

the child realized that she would probably be trafficked again and be

forced to make the same dangerous trek again if she were deported.

Law enforcement has noted increased transportation of this same ethnic

group along I-90 and then north toward North Dakota in the last year.

There is help under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act for this

child. The federal government also provides psychological counseling

for victims by culturally appropriate experts, knowledgeable in the

human trafficking of children.

The girl is from an ethnic group which has been designated one of the

most vulnerable to trafficking by the Trafficking in Persons Report,

http://www.state.gov/g/tip<http://www.state.gov/g/tip>.  This is because of

the group’s abject poverty, isolation (they don’t even speak Spanish)

and because they have a cultural practice of going into trance-like

states. Thus, when they are abused, they may dissociate rather than

recognize the abuse.

Poor villagers in central america are threatened that they be killed or

will lose their small plots of land if they don’t send their daughters

to work.  Many of them don’t realize or are fooled into believing that

their daughters will be working in the fields in the United States like

they work in the fields at home. However, children who are labored

trafficked are usually also sex trafficked. When villagers receive

money from the sex or labor trafficking of their daughters, they often

use it to send their younger children to the U.S. to gain more money

for the family.

Civil Society

1st National Bank Building

332 Minnesota Street

Suite E-1436

St. Paul, MN 55101

Phone: 651-291-0713

FAX: 651-291-2588

http://www.civilsocietyhelps.org<http://www.civilsocietyhelps.org>

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My Summer of 1993 Reflections on Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan

I came across some 1993 correspondence (and photos) that I had written to family and friends back home in the U.S. I shared about my stay in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps trainer to 30 trainees in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Seems some of the complexities of living in Central Asia never change.  However, this had more to do with my working within an American Peace Corps framework in a culture that had other intricate nuances with resulting snafus that we were completely unaware of.  I wrote the following on August 2, 1993:

“Last week I took a rest.  Okay, for a Type-A personality, I’m willing to admit I needed a rest.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with ‘training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working for me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira, a Kyrgyz woman, on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also she knows Kazakh.  Along with my Kazakhstani friend Tatyana [Kazanina], I have a wonderful team to work with. It counters some of the other bad elements I have to deal with in the Peace Corps office.

The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out Peace Corps trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t even know people who might know the answers.  That’s why I was thankful to meet an American woman named Sandy.  She had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the volunteer group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and I really DO love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Washington, D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to August 28.  I really don’t want to stay here (Almaty) any longer that I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the PCV trainees, the dorm and Almaty.

That is why I took my “rest” at a lake called Issy-kul and read “The New Russians.”  I did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and a mile or two wide.  There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful that the PC authorities permitted me to go there. I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota.  I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  Right now, I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to when I will be living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a year.  Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country…”

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My Talks on Two Difficult Topics

The two topics of Kazakhstan and human trafficking are difficult to talk about.  The first is because not many people have heard of Kazakhstan or know where it is. The second, well, trafficking is such an awful truth about people being exploited that we’d just as soon remain ignorant.  I have given presentations on these two subjects that are close to my heart at least seven times in the last year.

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, land mass wise but it only has a population of about 16 million people.  That would be a good reason why not many Americans have ever heard of Kazakhstan. Not many Kazakhs to promote their own homeland, they are often confused with Russia but look Asian.  But they are NOT to be confused with the Chinese either. They are a proud people with a long and colorful history; their language of Kazakh has Turkish roots.

However, the Kazakhs were subjected to much cruelty under the former Soviet Union’s reign of 70 years. A third of their land was used as a penal colony for “Enemies of the People”…think gulags and Siberia and you have an idea of what Stalin thought of Kazakhstan. This beautiful land was Stalin’s dump ground of castoffs from many different countries of the former Soviet Union who didn’t fit the Soviet mold. Many of these so-called “enemies” were highly intelligent, talented and gifted. Think Solzhenitzen who spent some “jail” time in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhs were traditionally nomadic and moved their cattle, horses and sheep from pasture to pasture depending on the seasons.  When the communist elites from Moscow came in, they purposely dismantled and disrupted centuries of traditions and proclaimed the land would be used for farming instead.  Eventually they found out that the Kazakh land could not sustain agriculture, if only the Moscow elites had listened to the agronomists who knew better.

Some North Dakotans already know, Angus cattle are being shipped to Kazakhstan now to once again graze the steppes.  I heard from one woman the other night that the Kazakhs are flying over North Dakota cattlemen to help show Kazakh herdsmen how to take care of these expensive investments.  Many impregnated Angus cows and their calves had died from the initial shipment because there is much to know in keeping them alive.  Of course, the original Kazakh used to know all this about breeding cattle and herding, unfortunately that knowledge was drummed out of them by the Soviet system.

As an educator, I was far removed from anything having to do with agriculture or cattle breeding since I taught for 3 ½ years in both capital cities of Almaty and Astana.  The former capital of Almaty was in the south close to the Kyrgyzstan border, the new capital of Astana as of ten years ago is more centrally located to the north.  In my talks I try to impress on my audience the construction of elaborate, eccentric buildings which are going up with great speed (not accuracy) in the gleaming new capital city of Astana. These edifices are meant to impress foreign dignitaries who come for short state visits with the president of the country. Regrettably these important foreign guests never see beyond the borders of the glitzy cities of Almaty and Astana.  The countryside is a well kept secret that could gain much from tourism except that Kazakhstan is just so far away and difficult to get to.

How did I get involved in my interest in human trafficking? I tell my audiences about how I often saw many sour faced men look out their bus windows as they were being transported through the city to their construction sites.  I know now I was probably looking at a busload of slaves from other countries who were helpless to escape their forced servitude.  They may have come from countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or even Russia and had their passports and documents taken from them as soon as they arrived. Perhaps the threat of being in Kazakhstan illegally kept them silenced. Sadly they had been promised good paying jobs to support their families back home but under their Turkish bosses, they were stripped bare of their freedoms.

Human trafficking is becoming a huge problem or at least my awareness of it has become larger. As much as I would prefer to quit giving talks and making other people more knowledgeable on these two subjects, I keep coming back to the simple fact that no one knows what I know, seen what I’ve seen, or care about those people who are so far away who have gotten themselves in complicated situations.  I keep hearing new stories that are not meant to shock me or break my heart, but they do anyway.  The cruelty of man against man or man against woman continues in different forms such as slaves working in tobacco and cotton plantations, child soldiers, building construction, forced marriages, prostitution, pornography, surrogate maternity, transplantation of organs.

So whatever is going on in the rest of the world fits the Minnesota statute that defines what human trafficking really is: “The recruiting, transportation, harboring or receipt of a person by any means for the purpose of forced labor, slavery, commercial sexual exploitation or other practices similar to slavery.”  [Minnesota Statute 609.281 subd. 5, 2009] The problem is that we have some of these same problems going on in Minnesota and North Dakota, not just in a far off place in Central Asia.

Many statistics can report the same things in different ways but I’ve heard that Minnesota is ranked 10th or 13th in the U.S. for harboring slaves because we have the interstates from TX to Duluth (port city). We also enjoy the speed of travel along our other ribbon of interstate from east to west on I-94.  North Dakota and South Dakota share an interstate on Minnesota’s western border with I-29 making Fargo a hub where traffickers can transact speedy deliveries of their “merchandise.”  Minnesota has rural, out of the way places where illegals can be hidden but we also have the cosmopolitan city of Minneapolis and St. Paul with the diversity of cultures.

That is why any profit made with the sales of “Card-Again” cards after my 30-minute presentations go to “Not For Sale, Minnesota.” They know where to give that money to the shelters in the Twin Cities for victims of trafficking.  We have already given over one thousand dollars to two different shelters in Kazakhstan that was raised last fall by women at my church.  Almost two thousands dollars of donations and profits from my church and sales of cards have been channeled to the “Not For Sale” organization which was started five years ago in the San Francisco area.

Finally, there is something caring people can do besides donating cards to be recycled into “Card-Again” cards or buying these cards or gift bags, they can become more aware on a grassroots level to be more proactive to help those slaves who have no voice or power to free themselves.  Everyone can be a modern-day “abolitionist” if they have a big enough heart to bring about more education and awareness.  Here is an opportunity in the Twin Cities:

Not For Sale, Minnesota has been asked to host a Backyard Abolitionist Academy (www.backyardacademy.org). Basically, this is a mini-version of the academies they put on in San Francisco. It’s great because it allows those who cannot travel to California a chance to get educated on some very important topics. The Academy will be August 16-18 and will feature 4 tracks: Strategic Investigation, Just Market Supply-Chains, Innovative Aftercare and Proactive Faith Communities. Participants will be able to choose two of the four tracks. The cost to register is $129, but students and early registrants (before June 15) will only pay $99.

[A side note, I haven’t meant to offend anyone in Kazakhstan but apparently this blogsite has been blocked from any followers in Kazakhstan being able to read my updates.  Let me know if this is just an isolated incident because several people I know in Astana are not able to access this blog. ???]

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Seasons, cycles of life and human trafficking

Sugar beet harvesting is over in the Red River Valley. We live in a very shallow and flat valley to be sure.  Where I grew up in Minnesota and live currently we are oriented to very distinct seasons. Now we are fully into the fall season where the temperature doesn’t know whether to be cold, cool or warm. The trees have resignedly given up their leaves. We, as apprehensive northerners, are resolutely waiting for the 200 inches of snow that is promised by the seasoned weathermen.  Oh my, will it be too much to enjoy creating good x-country ski paths?

Sometimes I wonder why we live in this extreme climate, but then Astana, Kazakhstan by comparison seems even more hazardous to one’s health.  I know this statement is not a good advertisement for a place so young on the map, such as Kazakhstan. Astana means “capital” in Kazakh but perhaps it will eventually be changed to the president of the country’s name…just like the new university’s name where I used to teach six months ago.

Lately I’ve written a lot about human trafficking and there is much to learn about this terrible topic. It affects many people’s lives and disrupts families that normally should be together.  Today I gave a talk about this subject to a group of people who already know much about what is going on, it was like “preaching to the choir.” Tomorrow I’ll give the same talk to university students about human trafficking. What will their responses be?

I tried to encourage my former Kazakh students to be “change agents” when I was teaching back in Kazakhstan. One out of ten of my students is actually doing something about helping victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan. I’m very proud of Aigerim.  Who will respond to my message where we need to bring hope and shelter to the victims of this terrible crime? Human trafficking goes on unabated in Kazakhstan, while sex trafficking seemingly is prevalent in the oil cities of Williston and Dickinson in western North Dakota.  “Men camps” have popped up all over with few women around except for the young Sioux Indian girls who are trafficked off the native American Indian reservations.

I took solace in what I read today, some promises that will keep me going. At times I DO feel overwhelmed with the evil that is out to defeat and discourage us.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

We are in a season of life where we would like to know what is the next step to take. What seems more predictable than our future is getting back to weather [always a safe subject to talk about in MN]. Yes, I found comfort in this newspaper clipping that I ran across, printed on April 23, 1967.  Titled “The Belief.”

“By late April the countryman is thinking of June and haying, of summer and the growing season, even of September and golden October.  The hillside birches still show only a gauzy green haze of leaftips, the swamp mables blush with half-opened blossoms and mornings are still frosty; but he can see corn knee-high in his newly plowed fields, oats ripening on the lower forty, strawberries ripening in the kitchen garden.  Today’s weather, good or bad, can’t greatly change this view of the world the countryman knows.  Whether he is optimist or not, he has confidence in the soil and the seasons.

The closer one lives to the land, the less one distrusts time. It is only when one is alienated from the earth and its eternal sequences that doubt takes root.  Few of the pat answers and instant solutions have validity when you are dealing with the soil.  You see the slow but certain growth of trees, the persistence of grass, and you are aware of the tenacity of life. The earth’s urgency is toward growth and renewal, and one season follows another despite man’s diversions and interruptions.  You can’t hurry spring, and you can’t interdict summer.

The countryman lives with these truths, no matter how they are phrased. He lives by them.  They shape his life.  So he looks about him now with confidence and with hope.  Another growing season is at hand, deliberate as always, and he lays his plans, not for tomorrow, but for June and July and next September.”

My two grandfathers were farmers, my Dad used to be a farmer yet even now his business cycles with the change of seasons.  I’m wondering about the Kazakh from the past, who also watched the seasons closely as nomad shepherds? How far away the “modern, 21st century” Kazakhs have been removed by living in the glitzy cities of Astana or Almaty.  Both give off a false impression that all is well with their wealth from oil revenues in the western part of Kazakhstan.

Is it really?  (to be continued)

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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)

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