the mail-order bride

500 som note uzbek moneyThe 500 cym note is out on the street! This takes the largest Uzbek note up to a value of almost 75 cents (recall that it was the 200 cym note, worth about 30 cents). I don’t have any yet, but I saw one this morning on the seat of a taxi. It’s very pretty; much prettier than the new USD$5. I first saw one of these a few weeks ago, handed to me by an Australian woman in a hat maker’s house a few hours north of Ferghana (i.e. the middle of nowhere).

When I got home to Gulnara’s last night, Nasibulla was ironing all the sheets. It took him well over an hour, heh heh. I was impressed.

“Isn’t that Rufshan’s job?” I asked.

“Rufshan is resting” he replied. He’s actually resting up in the mountains, much too far away to iron the linens, lucky boy.

Somehow I doubt that Victor irons, concerned though he may be about the plight of women. A little background info on Victor: He’s thirty-eight, Russian, long- blond-haired, fluent in English and somewhat obsessed with America. The only time he can’t be reached by mobile is when he works out. Shopping and America seem to be his passions and he is as devastated by the recent western good price hikes as we guides are (if not more so).

He’s also amazingly efficient and generous, though I am impudent enough to question his motives. I’ve known him since April; if you’ll remember, he is the manager of Hotel Tsorbi in Tashkent. Admire the Soviet-issue wallpaper on the hotel’s office walls, where I wrote most of the bulks. Fancy Victor’s Levi’s outfit. Thanks to Mario, I had the same one. Victor had many but I wore mine almost everyday.

The first month after we met he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk to me if Mario wasn’t around. Rather, he’d just stare, gaumless. I wondered if he’d ever been forced to deal with western women before (my analysis of his behavior was quite off, though I still have no idea what the reasons for it actually were).

Slowly, slowly he accepted my presence and before I knew it, his life story came tumbling out.

“My grand-grand-grandfather was a very rich merchant on the Volga river. His son, my grand-grand-father, fled Russia (around the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, though he neglects to include that bit of information) to Samarkand, where I lived most of my life.”

Victor had a life-shaping, somewhat mythological sort of argument with his father at age sixteen because he enjoyed “American ideas—I even followed the Voice of America. I was the only boy in my class with long hairs.” It didn’t go over well in his school for children of Communist Party members. This was back in, say, 1978, before Perestroika, when playing with American ideas was quite rebellious in the Soviet Union, even for a teenager.

So, Victor was sent off on his own to prove himself. And so he did. Although I’ve heard this story a few times now, I always expect some sort of tragic father-was-wisked-off-to-Siberia-to-pay-for-his-young-son’s-treason or father-died-before-they-could-happily-reunite ending sort of ending, but no. That’s where he ends this particular story each time: “And so I did.” I guess he figures the rest is obvious. He proved himself a man by somehow making a bunch of money. Everyone is happy and all is forgiven in marvelous Samarkand.

Victor moved to Tashkent a few years ago while working for a German company. His family (a wife and two kids) followed him a year later. “Things here are better for my wife. There are better cosmotological services for her here.”

I forget how the issue of women’s rights first came up, but I believe it was when Vic told me the plight of his twenty-six year old friend Nastya, enslaved in Montana.

“It was her dream, to go to America. I just wanted to help her.” So begins the explanation of his very bizarre part in making Nastya a mail order bride.

When Victor and Nastya found an interested American man via the internet, V wrote letters and emails to him pretending to be the nubile Nastya, who doesn’t speak much English. Then he paid for her plane ticket to meet the guy in St. Petersburg. Upon meeting her prospective husband there, she wasn’t too impressed but figured he wasn’t too bad and hell, it was her chance to make a dream come true. That was one year ago.

Now everyone is upset. And Victor can’t figure where it all went wrong.

He introduces the topic as if his friend is locked up and abused in some isolated mountain house in Montana. But when offered information on domestic violence centers and women’s shelters he admits that, “Well, it’s not physical abuse. But it’s mental abuse and at times very bad—she calls me crying. But they’ve moved to a city now, as she requested, and maybe things will get better.”

At first I was horrified for the girl, but after little probing into the matter, I am horrified by everyone involved. It seems that being “locked up” is partly a result of her inability to speak English—she has no one to talk to and nowhere to go—and partly because her new hubby expects her to stay and home and do housework all day.

“Yes, he said from the beginning that he wanted a traditional wife and that American women are very selfish and unmarriageable,” Victor explained, “but things are different for women in America! I thought she’d have an American life! She shouldn’t be expected to stay home all day and do housework! Men in America are different than men here!”

I pointed out the errors in V’s logic. Errors that I needn’t point out again here. (Need I?)

The story becomes more involved and bizarre. Nastya has a six-year old daughter (from a previous marriage) with her in Montana. On several occasions, Victor attempted to DHL Nastya birth control pills from Uzbekistan (mailing drugs abroad is a very complicated process, for obvious reasons) even though “They aren’t having sex because it just isn’t any good.” Although she finally received the pills and although the newlyweds aren’t having sex, Nastya is now pregnant.

You have guessed, I am sure, that this is American girlfriend #1. Victor likes to present her as his cousin, as he did to an American aid worker who stayed in the hotel recently. She is now back in the States trying to help poor Nastya out (and not far, it seems, from becoming Victor’s American girlfriend #5. Victor told me today that she is mailing him some copies of The New Yorker). Let’s not be silly. As Victor happily confirmed, Nastya is no innocent little cousin.

I think the other three girlfriends are Peace Corps workers; I haven’t the strength yet to ask. My only information about them is that they are “obsessed with these ideas of women’s rights.” This is obviously why Victor is so concerned about these ideas himself. But more on that another time.

If I ever purchase furniture again, I plan to buy a $8000, comfy, posture-perfect chair to undo some of the damage I have done in my travels; the Soviets really knew how to torture. Of course, six months later I will sell the chair off in a mad rush at a tenth of its value, only hours before departing to an obscure country in pursuit of more discomfort.

Note: Before posting bulks about Victor, I asked him to read through them to make sure that he wasn’t offended and didn’t mind them being posted. He wasn’t, but did have a few corrections.

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