Posts tagged Uzbekistan

Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: korgau_astana@mail.ru. State short number: 1409

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Scanning Kazakhstan’s past, a worthy pursuit

I’ve been scanning hundreds of old photographs from my hometown in Minnesota. What was written on some of the postcards or back of photos is very revealing of that era.  Some are short notes that have the brevity of a Twitter message. What some of the photographers wanted to be known for is also interesting, stamped boldly on the back.

I have three scans that I did that I’ll show  in this blog as I wonder how much was photographed of Kazakhstan.  I know that Max Penson was a Belorussian Jew (1893-1959) who went to Uzbekistan to do B&W photos of what was supposedly the “happy” Uzbeks.  I think he caught on that not all things were rosy as he was instructed to depict through his camera.  His artistry is amazing nevertheless and I’m glad someone has taken the time to scan many of his photos.  Google his name to find them.

Tonight on PBS there will be a four hour documentary about the “Dustbowl” by Ken Burns.  My husband’s dad, my father-in-law was born in 1899 took many photos of his Kansas town of Ulysses, KS.  The NY Times article shows one famous one he took and is featured at the beginning of the article (skip the advertisement).  It shows Main Street in Ulysses, looking north.  His parents’ photo studio is on the left hand side.   Two of these pictures of his dad’s were often published with the caption, “Daylight to Darkness in 30 seconds.”

Finally, I wonder how much of Kazakhstan was photographed.  I know that I scanned LOTS of antique photos while I was teaching in Ukraine from my students’ family albums.  I’m thinking that there were hardly any happy pictures to show of Kazakhstan when one third of the country was under the gulag penal system in the 1950s and 1960s. Political dissenters were sent to the Karlag in the Karaganda area not far from the capital city of Astana which used to be named Akmola and then another Russian name before it took on Astana.  Watch, I bet “Astana” is a place holder name for what it will probably be changed to…the current president’s name of the country of Kazakhstan. You got that bit of news free here on this blog.
Notice the advertisement on the S. Johnson stamp about this photographer is able to take shots at children and nervous people.

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Poems by Anna Ahmatova (Part II)

Continued from yesterday’s blog posting, translated into English by Sasha Soldatow. Anna Ahmatova somehow knew how to write of her dark experiences in the former Soviet Union.  Perhaps not unlike contemporary slavery that prevails in human trafficking which continues unabated around the world.

VII

THE VERDICT

The word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Never mind, I was prepared,

I will manage with the rest.

I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again. . .

But how. The hot summer rustles

Like a carnival outside my window;

I have long had this premonition

Of a bright day and a deserted house.

[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom]

VIII

TO DEATH

You will come anyway – so why not now?

I wait for you; things have become too hard.

I have turned out the lights and opened the door

For you, so simple and so wonderful.

Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in

Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me

Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.

Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,

Or, with a simple tale prepared by you

(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me

Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse

The house administrator’s terrified white face.

I don’t care anymore. The river Yenisey

Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.

The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes

Close over and cover the final horror.

[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]

IX

Madness with its wings

Has covered half my soul

It feeds me fiery wine

And lures me into the abyss.

That’s when I understood

While listening to my alien delirium

That I must hand the victory

To it.

However much I nag

However much I beg

It will not let me take

One single thing away:

Not my son’s frightening eyes -

A suffering set in stone,

Or prison visiting hours

Or days that end in storms

Nor the sweet coolness of a hand

The anxious shade of lime trees

Nor the light distant sound

Of final comforting words.

[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom

X

CRUCIFIXION

Weep not for me, mother.

I am alive in my grave.

1.

A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,

The heavens melted into flames.

To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'

But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'

[1940. Fontannyi Dom]

2.

Magdalena smote herself and wept,

The favourite disciple turned to stone,

But there, where the mother stood silent,

Not one person dared to look.

[1943. Tashkent]

EPILOGUE

1.

I have learned how faces fall,

How terror can escape from lowered eyes,

How suffering can etch cruel pages

Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.

I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair

Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise

The fading smiles upon submissive lips,

The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.

That’s why I pray not for myself

But all of you who stood there with me

Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat

Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

2.

The hour has come to remember the dead.

I see you, I hear you, I feel you:

The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;

The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar

soil beneath her feet;

The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

‘I arrive here as if I’ve come home!’

I’d like to name you all by name, but the list

Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.

So, I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble words

I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,

I will never forget one single thing. Even in new grief.

Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth

Through which one hundred million people scream;

That’s how I wish them to remember me when I am dead

On the eve of my remembrance day.

If someone someday in this country

Decides to raise a memorial to me,

I give my consent to this festivity

But only on this condition – do not build it

By the sea where I was born,

I have severed my last ties with the sea;

Nor in the Tsar’s Park by the hallowed stump

Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;

Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours

And no-one slid open the bolt.

Listen, even in blissful death I fear

That I will forget the Black Marias,

Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman

Howled like a wounded beast.

Let the thawing ice flow like tears

From my immovable bronze eyelids

And let the prison dove coo in the distance

While ships sail quietly along the river.

[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]

First published Sasha Soldatow Mayakovsky in Bondi Black Wattle Press 1993 Sydney.

Translated by Sasha Soldatow

 

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“Nowadays” and “To my mind…”

Been a while since I wrote anything strictly about Central Asia, today is the DAY!  While teaching in Almaty it was brought to my attention by a fellow American teacher that our Kazakh students over-used the word “nowadays.”  He was tired of it and suggested other words that could be used instead.  That didn’t bother me as much as “to my mind” which really was our way of saying, “I think” or longer version of “To my way of thinking.”  Fortunately I never heard my Russian speaking Kazakh students refer to their body as an “organism.” That used to really bother me while teaching in Ukraine but I think their post-Soviet English teachers must have cleared that vocabulary word up right away.

I get a little bit nostalgic for the things my Kazakh or Ukrainian students used to write and so I am including a few proverbs from some Central Asian students which applies to their culture of Uzbekistan.  I have often remarked to my husband that we could always go to Mongolia to teach.  He surprises me lately when he actually takes me seriously.  My pining for things foreign again is perhaps similar to the kid’s book titled “Alexander’s no good, horrible, bad day” where Alexander thinks moving to Australia will solve all his problems.  If only I had visited Samarkand and Bukara in Uzbekistan when I had the chance with my Russian friend Tatyana who wanted to bring me there nearly 20 years ago.  I knew Tatyana back when I was a Peace Corps trainer in Almaty the summer of 1993.  I should have taken her up on it because I believe Uzbekistan is closed off to Americans for now.

Anyway, doing a bit of reading up on the Uzbek culture I see they have similar attributes to that of Kazakhstan (small wonder since they are neighbors and come from the same gene pool).  Here are a few of the proverbs that seem to run counter to their governmental policies of keeping American tourists out.  I know Americans can get in, but from descriptions I have heard from fellow American travelers, it is NOT easy.

“A guest is as honorable as a father.”

“Hospitality is above enmity.”

“Seven neighbors are the parents of one child.”

“When guests come to one’s home, that family is full of abundance and luck.”

Finally, I’ll end with an Arabic proverb “Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut, it cuts you.”  I think it means to use your valuable time wisely in pursuit of useful activities.

“Nowadays,” I am trying to use my time wisely as I feel “grounded” in a good way in the U.S.  My husband and I continue to wait our summons on where our next job will be.  Stay in the U.S. or return to Central Asia (or even Mongolia).  Believe it or not, I actually miss seeing my students’ papers that read “to my mind.” Soon they will have such good English that all of those Russian translation carry-overs will disappear forever.

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Human Trafficking (Part IV)

I’m glad I was an active member of the International Women’s Club in Astana as well as in Almaty because this is where it all started for me…my interest in human trafficking.  It IS an international problem.  What is completely vexing and baffling to us as expats in Kazakhstan is that so few Kazakh people see it as a problem in their own country. Maybe if they DO know, they don’t want to admit that human trafficking is a problem. Or maybe those who are victims are powerless to say anything that is why we as expats need to keep this as a front burner issue by blogging about it or writing e-mails home to people in our respective countries.

The following is an e-mail that was sent by a British person after a visit to one of the 20 shelters which are situated throughout Kazakhstan. Thankfully, some things ARE being done to take care of this problem.  However, MORE is needed to be done to make Kazakhs in the countryside aware of human trafficking.  If you don’t read on, please at least go to this website Not for Sale – http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/ Also, check out http://www.free2work.org/companies  But keep informed about what people are doing “on the ground” of Kazakhstan to help ease the burden, please read on…

“We visited a shelter for the victims of trafficking recently to see their work ‘in situ.’  It is a rented house in the countryside. Frankly, we probably could not find it again if we tried to return!  They are working on plans to buy and equip their own place, but, for the moment, will continue to pay rent.  The most notable thing about the outside is the number of ducklings they are currently feeding.

The house itself seems quite big and there are two main bedrooms that we saw with five beds in each. There was also a male resident, who we did not meet but who has a separate entrance.  There are currently eight residents though this changes regularly and, on our visit, they came from various places (Ukraine, Uzbekhistan, Tajikstan, but also Kazakhs)  The oldest was 46 (Ukrainian rescued from farm servitude) and the youngest 20 (a Kazakh who had been sexual trafficked).

On this occasion, in contrast to all I had read or been told, the majority were victims of sexual rather than labour trafficking, but this varies all the time, we were told the majority of the funding comes through the Ministry of Justice, who finance the house, utilities and salaries of those involved (currently five people)  They also fund the reception centre in the centre of the city where all those newly rescued are first taken, usually by the police though perhaps in response to tip-offs.

Because of the possibility of legal proceedings, as threats are regularly made, the location of the centre is not divulged  Currently, there is an on-going legal process involving one of the young women in which she will be a witness as well the ‘client’ who reported her being sexually trafficked!  Yes, I was surprised too, but soliciting is not a crime in Kazakhstan though prostitution is!   However, because of the difficulty of actually ‘proving’ trafficking the usual charge is kidnapping thus the need for the victim to be protected.

So, what happens when someone is rescued?  They will stay at the shelter for therapy by trying to come to terms with and work through their trauma by use of both one-to-one and group therapy  They are also encouraged to work out and/or externalize their anger through art (one of the girls seemed a very good draughtsperson) or use of models with the faces of their exploiter(s)  As a rough guide, people stay for about half the time of their period of servitude though this, of  course, varies according to the individual or their circumstances.

What happens when they have to leave the shelter at the end of their therapy?  This also varies according to circumstances, as you might expect!  Those who are non-Kazakh are eventually repatriated (imagine the bureaucracy!) with local contacts for the IOM (e.g. in Bishkek) which they are encouraged to use.  However, this is rather more problematic in Kazakhstan as the family may have been involved with the original trafficking or the victim may not (for reasons I leave you to imagine!)   In this case, (there is currently one young woman in the shelter in this situation), then alternative arrangements are made to assist re-settlement and re-integration into society.

So what can we do to help?  Well, continue to donate clothes as their budget does not cover this type of expenditure, and I will be sending another email at the end of the month as you all pack & de-clutter ready for the new season!  Btw what is the ‘in’ colour the autumn season? However, for some of you, that is a problem (you dress in a timeless fashion?). Also, they have requested any art materials: flipchart type paper as well as paints both oil- & water-based  I will get some costing done and contact you again shortly if you would like to donate.”

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“Collaborative Force Against Human Trafficking” (Part II)

A second Kazakh student of mine wrote this problem/solution essay concerning human trafficking in Central Asia. My students know that I never want to see them write that the government is going to solve this problem or any other problems. (In the case of the Soviet Union, they created more problems than they solved.) I would have to agree that if ALL the people are aware enough and make a collaborative effort as the Kazakh government did to close down the crime at Polygon-Semipalatinsk, then positive changes can be made for the emotional and spiritual health of the nation of Kazakhstan.  Her title was the above:

Central Asian countries, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, faced great social and economic crisis. After getting their independence, poor and new established governments of separate countries could not provide the citizens with jobs, financial support and, even, food. Seeking for better life poor people became victims of organized crime. And this picture maintains without any changes into better conditions till present days. Even though the problem of international human trafficking still remains actual and unsolved, opening more human protecting and supporting institutions and strengthening the law enforcement can make this concern less dramatic.

Though about twenty years have passed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the social and economic issues in Central Asian countries still remain dramatic. The high level of unemployment, poor law enforcement in these countries have now become a global concern. Though the democratic government always highlights the freedom and equality of all human beings, more and more people are becoming the victims of slavery and involuntary servitude. And it is difficult to confess that our Fatherland, Kazakhstan, this year the Head of OSCE and the leading country in Central Asia, is the centre of organized crime and international trafficking.

If we look at our constitution[Kazakhstan], the second part is devoted to Man and Citizen, and in the seventeenth entry of this part is said that 1) a man’s rights must remain untouched, and 2) no one is allowed to abuse, to enslave, to violate another man. But somehow these words carry no importance for some people who are involved in cheap labour market. Recent events show that there is a complete absence of ruling in Kyrgyzstan and its people have been left far away from globalization. The prove for that is the increasing number of their men and women becoming victims of human trafficking. We also can’t say that life in other Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan is better. According to some media information, two or three years ago Kazakhstan was in the first place on the list of countries that use cheap labour forces of immigrants.

Even though the problem of international human trafficking still remains actual and unsolved, opening protective and supportive institutions can make the conditions better. Most people is ill – informed about human trafficking, because very little is written in books and pages of media sources, and very little is said on TV, schools and other social institutions. If we open such protective shelters, it may function actively in providing people with “three P’s”: prosecution, protection, and prevention. And the most dramatic thing is that most people, especially women who were the victims of slavery and sexual exploitation and could rescue, do not share with their problems because of, maybe, their mentality or they are still afraid of that. But they must be persuaded to say about what they have experienced more and more in order to make other people be aware of that. They must warn them.

One more solution that can make this concern less dramatic is strengthening the law enforcement, because Central Asian countries are famous for the high level of corruption. We know that international human trafficking belongs to organized crime. It means that representatives of government, custom affairs may be or are involved in international human trafficking, because the word “traffic” means “transport” and this crime would never happen without supporters in the field of international transportation. And also it means that corruption absolutely takes place in this process. That’s why people and mass media sources should warn again and again the representatives of policy and law.

Summing up, I should say that if there is a problem, there is always a way out. It is just a question of time and effort that people put on it. Consequently, if we start to act actively, open supporting shelters and collaborate with the government, it will help to fight against international organized crime, and make less concern for the people all over the world.

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Happy Thanksgiving and Education Quotes

I only made it to one of the three places I was invited to tonight for a Thanksgiving meal.  The first place was problematic enough to find in the dark, the second was a dinner scheduled much later and I’d never been to it before, making it even more difficult to find. So I opted to stay put and play fun games with about 12 other people. The third place we go to often, I just found out from the host they had 41 people packed into their spacious flat so they did NOT need even more Americans.  I’m thankful for friends here in Astana, Kazakhstan.

I need to share what I learned in class from my students today.  There is a Kazakh saying but I think it applies to ALL of Asia about child rearing.  Children from ages 0-7 are spoiled and can get away with anything they want, but from 7-14 they are treated like a slave, from 14 to adulthood they are treated with respect as if an adult.  So that may explain some of the behavior of teachers towards their young charges in school settings.

I haven’t checked out by googling the following quotes like I usually do, I’m tired and ready to go to bed. There’s work to be done tomorrow. I’ll have more education quotes to share. I thought these were interesting.

“If you want to achieve something with all your heart, the whole universe will help you to accomplish it.”  “The Alchemist” Paulo Coelho

K. Stanislavskiy “Theatre begins from the cloak room.” I’d like to say that democracy begins from education.

“Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate it and no nepotism can enslave.”

Thomas Carlyle “Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness.”

Walt Disney “If you have a dream, you can do it.”

“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosopher who says that only the educated are free.” Epictetus

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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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If only David McCullough could write about Kazakhstan

I have read several of David McCullough’s historical books. He seems to be fair and honest in his appraisals of past presidents and other relevant U.S. historical events.  An author of his stature has won many prizes for his thoroughness to detail. He culls through diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, anything that can shed light on his main character whom he writes about. Seems some of his books know no boundaries. The book on “Truman” is 992 pages long.  Since I’ve seen the movie titled “Truman” portrayed by Gary Sinise and have been to President Harry Truman’s library in Independence, Missouri, “Truman” would be a laudable read for me this summer. (what’s left of it)

I know when I read “John Adams” and later listened again to the book on tape, the many letters that were saved from his wife Abigail and Adam’s response to her were strongly edited I’m sure.  What I do recall while reading McCullough’s book is that our founding father, John Adams, had a deep and purposeful faith in God. That is very clear in his letters to Abigail when he was in England on important, diplomatic business. Meanwhile, she managed to struggle to maintain the house and farm back in Massachusetts in his absence.  Abigail no doubt had servants while raising a family. It came through while reading McCullough’s book that the Adams were both opposed to slavery.  It would be 100 years later that that issue, which could have been nipped in the bud earlier with the founding of our nation, was “settled” with the Civil War.

If a McCullough-type author would rise up in Kazakhstan, what would he have to do to write an accurate report about the last 100 years? Or, let’s go back 200 years when the tsars of Russia had dominance over the steppes of Central Asia?  Would the author find honest reports?  How would they test the accuracy of the information from the sources that would no doubt be in Russian?  Would there be deliberate distortion of facts once the Soviets took over in writing the history books of the great and powerful Soviet Union, thus obliterating Kazakhstan’s past?

Would there have been adventure seekers from Europe or specifically U.S. or England who would have written letters or accounts in English of what they saw while going along the old Silk Road to the south?  Those accounts would hardly cover the diversity of the land from the Tian Shan mountains to the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea in between with the vast steppes.

Was there a Max Penson type photographer who would have taken photos of the more recent past of Kazakhstan?  [Max Penson, at the bidding of the Soviets, went to Uzbekistan in the 1930s to take photos of the happy Uzbeks during forced industrialization.]  Penson got into trouble later by his authorities for exposing what was really happening to the land of Uzbekistan.

With oral history making a qualitative research comeback in ethnographic circles, are there stories that were courageously documented about what the Kazakh nomad went through when forced industrialization and collective farms replaced their livelihood of sheep and cattle herding?  My husband, back in the 1980s did what was called “The Soviet Interview Project” where he gathered info from former Soviets who had come to the U.S.  He was trying to find out more about Soviet agriculture.  All files have been lost from that project, were there any Kazakhs he interviewed in Russian during that time?

What can we learn about the Kazakh cultural values while we try to avoid imposing our western values on this group of people?  Sorry for all these questions that I bring up. What I try to do with my blog is to write in English the little bit that I learn about this fabulous country.  I am trying to give voice to the voiceless. Westerners are intrigued and some want to know more but others don’t even know what questions to ask to find out about this culture that has been tucked away and is perhaps the world’s best kept secret.

Let me put it another way.  What if I lived in a world that was reversed where everyone spoke Kazakh? It would be required that all people globally were to know how to speak in Kazakh, but our problem is that many of us only know English.  Perhaps we would not need a David McCullough type author after all because we would have stories handed down to us orally.  We would not need to go through the messiness of getting things written properly with good vocabulary and precise grammar.

As it is, westerners need something in writing about Kazakhstan that is true and accurate.  It would have to be written by a Kazakh who knows his/her own language and culture. McCullough writes superbly about U.S. history for his American audiences because he IS American.

Perhaps this is similar to when some people are gifted in doing music without reading the notes, it is just in them internally.  While others have been trained to read music so they can replicate what the composer intended.  If a musician has BOTH gifts of playing or singing by ear AND also reading the notes, now THAT is talent!!! Will the real Kazakh McCullough please stand up!!!

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Photos of Kazakh Red Carpets (Part II)

This blue pattern is not a carpet but tape used in a traditional Kazakh pattern. An art piece about 2 meters square shown at the Pyramid. Yesterday I wrote about some issues that have been brewing for a while, I have more questions than answers.  Since I don’t know the Kazakh language I have to rely on my Kazakh students who know English to fill me in on their traditional values and their culture.  Kazakhstan is no different than many Central Asian nations, they have 1,000s of years of history but are trying to come to terms with present day reality. As a nation, they have some of the same Soviet baggage that Kyrgyzstan is trying to lose.  How does a leader of a nation guide his or her people to salvage from the past traditions and embrace from the 21st century what should be in place in order to compete with the rest of the world.  I don’t envy the interim president’s job in Kyrgyzstan, she has an uphill battle with what has happened lately in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, in Osh.

What are the true numbers of deaths and those wounded?  The health care facilities are not that great to begin with, I can’t even imagine how the hospitals and doctors are coping right now. Also, how are the survivors or families of those victims who perished last week, what are they doing to memorialize their loved ones?  I don’t know that much about the Uzbek people who are caught in the middle.  They probably were born in Kyrgyzstan but are ethnic Uzbek while the country of Uzbekistan doesn’t want these refugees fleeing from Kyrgyzstan to feed and support, they have their own fragile economy trying to support their own.

For lack of anything else to write because I have no answers or solutions and can only grieve for those stuck in the middle of this terrible power play, I am showing more Kazakh carpets. These are photos I took several weeks ago at Indepedence Hall in Astana.

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