Posts tagged Williston

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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