Friday, December 23, 2005

A city preparing for the New Year & A Good Charity

I left Bishkek today to head home for the holidays. I left a city in eager preparation for their biggest holiday of the year, New Years. Rows of stands appeared outside markets, filled with lit trees, holiday ornaments, tinsel and decorations. All kinds of businesses – from pharmacies to soap stands were adding holiday goods to their stocks.

Nigora and Shavkat invited me to come to Osh to spend the holidays with them. I would have liked to, had I been in Kyrgyzstan. Sven moved out of their home and into an apartment once his wife and child arrived. They didn’t like the idea of having to carry their small daughter outside every time she wanted to use the bathroom or wash. Nigora’s business is continuing, though her profit remains only about five dollars a day. She’s hoping it will improve in two to three months, when people get used to this new marketplace.

One day this week, I approached a run down taxi with cracked windows. It was obvious that the driver was an immigrant from a rural area – in this case, Naryn. When I came up to the door, two men jumped out to make room for me. It’s pretty common for one taxi driver to visit another while waiting for a customer, but I’d never seen such a group before. Then, when the driver turned off the small black and white TV he’d installed under the radio, I understood what attracted the crowd.

We clunked along down the Bishkek streets and stopped at a stoplight with a Mercedes kiddy-korner to us. The Mercedes driver washed his windows and the water spouted up so high that it rained on our car, several feet behind him. Such little unusual moments, which happen fairly often in Kyrgyzstan, are what I love about the country.

I recently found out about a charity in Bishkek that finds sponsors for elderly people, mostly without children, living on pensions of under $20 a month. Sponsors agree to donate $10 a month, which goes directly to the elderly recipient.

I thought this was a great idea and I adopted a babushka this week. Her name is Natalya Ivanova and she was born in 1927. She worked on a collective farm, then worked as a cleaner. After 35 years of work, she receives a pension of 563 som (less than $15). She is divorced and has no children and the description said she doesn’t have enough money for food or needed medicines.

The elderly were undoubtedly hit hardest by the social changes following Communism. Having contributed their entire working lives to the Communist future, they expected a socialist retirement, in which they’d be well taken care of. The reality is that they were left with nothing. Most of the beggars on the street are either elderly or Gypies. I give the elderly small change, but I liked the idea of a system in which the sponsors could keep the people from having to beg, to retain their dignity in their final years.

This week I visited their Spartan office to sign up for a year’s sponsorship. It’s a well-organized group. They gave me a contract, promising to give her $10 a month, gave me a short history of Natalya’s life, translated by their staff into English, and a photo of her.

I brought her some gifts for New Year’s and asked if they’d be sure to give them to her.

“Yes,” one of the staff members said. “And when we do, we’ll take a picture of her with the bags and email it to you.”

Since I’m hoping to be able to visit her beginning in January, I’ll be able to check that she receives everything that was promised. But it did seem like a committed, well-organized group, sponsored by the Swiss.

My babushka has been on the waiting list for over a year. They told me they’d contact her and tell her they’d found her a sponsor. She will receive her first $10 payment this month.

“She’ll probably have forgotten about this by now,” I said, thinking how sad it was to have to wait a year for $10 a month in assistance.

“No, she definitely won’t have forgotten,” two staff members said in unison. “They call us all the time,” one of them said, “asking when we’ll be able to help them.”

There are currently over 200 babushkas, in Bishkek and Batken, on the waiting list and 99% of sponsors are from overseas (mostly from Switzerland). If you’d like information on how to adopt a babushka, see

Crossing the border from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan this evening, the transition was stark as usual. I crossed the border with a group of people that looked very unusual, as though they’d just descended from a remote mountain area. The women were all short, squat, and wore solid colored scarfs around their heads. The men wore embroidered caps, were dark-skinned, and many had beards. They spoke a different language and seemed to speak Russian poorly. They definitely didn’t look Kyrgyz, but when I asked one man where he was from he showed me a Kyrgyz passport and said Bishkek.

I didn’t believe it. I asked my driver if he knew where they were from. At first he guessed they were Tadjiks, then after waiting in line with them, he found out they were Dunguns, from a place outside Bishkek. They work in the fields in the summer and were going to Almaty to buy goods a market there that they could resell, possibly in China.

I’d seen Dungan architecture, especially in one area outside Bishkek, and I’d seen plenty of Dungan cafes. But I’d never seen so many Dungans in one place. They are one of the small ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan and I believe they originate from China. It looked like an interesting culture and I regretted that I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to them.

The road to Almaty is finished and the entire trip takes about 3.5 hours. Once the border is crossed, the roads are lighter, the buildings better lit, and holiday lights were strung above the road. I fell asleep and woke up at the airport, under the lights of a glittering giant New Year’s tree, and a glittering, modern airport. I felt like I was already in Europe, just a few hours from my Central Asian home.

In the lounge where I waited for my plane were quite a few Americans with small children. One of them, a man who weighed well over 300 pounds and was dressed in a black heavy metal t-shirt and baseball hat, caught my attention immediately. He didn’t look like the type of American who comes to Central Asia and I wondered what he was doing there. He held a tiny blond boy in his expansive arms.

Then I realized that most of the people around him also held small children. One woman with mousy brown hair, pale skin, and thick, dark glasses held a little Kazakh girl. A woman with loose baggy jeans and a red shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, patiently pulled a darker skinned little boy up off the ground. An already aging, intellectual-looking couple, held a little blond boy with spots on his face.

It seemed like they were all taking babies home from Kazakhstan. Looking at the variety of parents there, I wondered about the children’s luck. Of course, having a family is usually much better than being raised in an orphanage. Would they be grateful for this plane ride to another country, that would determine the rest of their life, or would they regret that no one had stopped it? Did the women who had given birth to them, not so long ago, have any idea that their offspring were headed across the ocean? But would all of them really be better off? I hoped so.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Desensitation to death

One morning this week, as I exited my apartment on my way to work, I saw a man lying motionless next to the garbage bins. He was on the frozen ground, covering with a blanket of livid sky. He had the appearance of a drunk – the dark, worn clothing, the unkempt appearance, the loneliness of an aging man alone. But in my passing glance, his open mouth seemed exceptionally still, his outreached hand frozen in place.

I have to admit that I did nothing. I felt the requisite guilt as I continued walking and knew it was a terrible state when nobody helped someone in that condition. A lame excuse it may have been, but there was a local woman sweeping around the garbage bins, just a foot or two from his body, and she didn’t seem to pay any attention. Nor did any of the passerbys. So what should I, a foreigner do – without any medical skills, without knowing any emergency numbers.

I wondered how much of the lack of reaction had to do with his appearance. A lot, I supposed. I hoped that if I were lying next to a garbage bin, someone would stop. And I felt I’d do the same for someone who looked as though they’d found themselves there against their will. But who can really tell in the case of a low-income aging man? Most assume it’s a drunk and walk on.

Yesterday I held a holiday dinner for my local friends. Not wanting people to separate into groups due to language, I decided to invite almost only locals (plus one foreign colleague fluent in Russian), planning a separate event for foreigners in the future. I ended up with a group of almost fifteen people – Kyrgyz, Russian and Kazakh, including four children, from four months to nine years old.

I made a dish I’d learned from my roommate in Siberia – French meat (beef covered with potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet corn, mushrooms, mayonnaise and cheese), homemade peanut butter cookies, and fruit salad. I bought roasted chickens and premade vegetable salads and set out dried fruit, nuts and lepushka. For dessert, I made an apple cobbler.

We gathered around a table in the living room, listening to Christmas music CDs on my laptop computer and a little two dollar Christmas tree serving as the holiday decorations.

Though I was short on space and supplies (I asked most if they could bring their own plate and cup), it was a pleasant evening. Most seemed to enjoy the chance to meet each other and they stayed for several hours. Both the toddler and the nine-year-old told their parents they wanted to stay the night at my place, despite my complete lack of any toys.

They also seemed to like the food and praised the effort I put into it.

“You are not American,” said Svetlana, who has a baby with an American man. “Americans can’t cook. They don’t have any time for such things.”

I did spend the entire day on Saturday preparing. But I didn’t mind. Having sat down at so many plentiful tables as a guest, it was nice to finally be the host. And it was good to be reminded that despite the loneliness of living alone in Bishkek, I do have the gift of several wonderful friends and acquaintances.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The flu is making its way through Bishkek with great power. So many people at work are sick that my boss is bringing in a nurse to offer flu shots tomorrow.

The weather is cold and dreary, though the lack of new snow means there are some clear places on the sidewalk where the ice has melted. Nevertheless, after seeing how difficult it is to walk on a nonstop ice sheet, when a friend from Alaska offered to pick me up some attachable soles with metal spikes on her next trip home, I accepted with gratitude.

Yesterday evening, Zhenya invited me over to meet her mother. She had left Kyrgyzstan seven years ago for America and hadn’t been back since. Other than seeing great changes in her only daughter and nine-year-old grandson, I figured her city must have changed greatly since she left. I asked her what surprised her most.

“When I left, the area was in the middle of a great depression,” she said. “It was so grey and sad. People didn’t know how to live or what to do. People have gotten through it and found things to do. And what really surprises me is all the little businesses. It used to just be huge enterprises, and of course, they had mostly died by the time I left. But now so many small businesses have popped up and they really seem to have changed the atmosphere.”

Zhenya filled me in on our friends Marina and Elena. Marina’s fiancé, the retired American, whose baby she gave birth to four months ago, seems not to be coming back. Marina would never admit that outright. But she asked Zhenya for recommendations of dating services that would introduce her to foreign men.

And Elena, an intelligent and kind 34-year-old, who is virtually engaged to a Spainard, is starting to see his troubling side. He has already taken her to Spain once and has now filed the paperwork for a fiancée visa, so that she can go to live there for a while. She has quit her job and is focused on studying Spanish. It’s an amazing opportunity for her to get out of a place where her opportunities are limited, to build a life for herself, and to have the family she craves. However, Jose has begun showing a jealous and controlling temperament, not believing her when she says where she has been, calling frequently, and expressing fears that she’ll get to Spain and then leave him.

“Elena thinks it’s because of the communication problem,” Zhenya said. She’d scrunched her naturally curly hair with mousse, defining her dark curls in a voluminous mass. “She thinks that maybe he just doesn’t understand her when she explains where she’s been and if only she spoke Spanish well, they wouldn’t have this problem.”

I told her that I doubted it was a cultural communication problem, it was probably a personality issue. I had already told her that men who sought foreign wives on the internet often had a reason why they couldn’t find a wife in their own country. And for a 48-year-old Spainard to never have been married, there was probably a reason why he hadn’t been able to find a woman willing to commit to him.

“I am listed on that same internet site,” Zhenya said, “and the owner of the agency knows my mother. She called yesterday, saying there was an American in town who wanted to be introduced to me. I wasn’t home so she told my mother. When I came back, my mother threw a scandal. She told me that such men weren’t normal, that so many girls who used that agency were now missing – they’d been sold, disappeared, or who knows what else. And she forbid me from going to meet him. I told her I just thought it would be interesting, but I can’t go while she’s here.”

I urged her to be safe, to not give him her address or phone number, to meet him in a public place, to not get in a car alone with him.

It makes me really sad to see hard-working, well-meaning, good people struggling so hard to find the most basic things, love, opportunity, respect and security.

The biggest holiday of the year, New Year’s, is coming up in a few weeks and the stores are already starting to stock up with extra alcohol, fancy candy, pre-made salads, gifts wrapped in cellophane, and cakes. And the weeks of gathering and parties are already slowly starting, bringing people out to the shops and markets in greater numbers than usual. I love watching the bustling shopkeepers bringing in the best income of the year, which will make their holiday all the much more enjoyable for them.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Swimming Below Freezing

I was not thinking clearly enough about the circumstances when I decided to go to aqua aerobics this morning. Held at a nearby health club with an outdoor pool, it’s a wonderful creation that allows one to enter the pool directly from a heated area. I’d gone before on chilly days and marveled at the ability to swim outside in the cool air. But those days were nothing like today – a freezing winter day, in which snow remained on the ground, the sidewalks were sheets of ice and the snow-tipped brown tree branches rose into a grey-white sky.

Management was clearing doing what it could to keep the pool swimmable. The water coming in through the vent was so hot it burned if I got too close. And steam rose from the pool in heavy clouds.

Nevertheless, my wet shoulders and neck frequently emerged from the water during the exercises, allowing the wet hair ends to gel into frozen particles, allowing my skin to feel the frigidity of the air. I looked at the teacher, a young woman dressed in a down coat, wool hat and gloves. She was blurry through the steamy mist, but I could see her sitting on her hands as she demonstrated what to do with our legs, trying to keep them warm. Behind her rose a tall, old white Soviet apartment block.

A man giving swimming lessons to children stood at another end of the pool, also dressed in a puffy down jacket. I lasted until the end of class, but determined to not do any more swimming in below zero weather. When I swam my laps at the end of class, I wasn’t trying for speed or varying technique. I moved slowly, focusing on keeping as much of my body as possible below water.

This evening I gathered with some people at a delicious Lebanese restaurant. Three of the couples were Western men, together with local women. There were no Western women with local men.

I’m starting to get to know some of the expatriate community in Bishkek and that’s nice. There seem to be quite a few interesting and fun people and they tend to be good sources of knowledge about fun things to do.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The family in Osh

I became worried about the money problems my Osh family seemed to be suffering during my last visit. So when Sven, the person being sent to replace me in Osh, expressed interest in living with a family, I hooked him up with Nigora and Shavkat. He moved in a few days after I left and loves them as I did. He will live there a month. Then, if his wife and young daughter agree to those living conditions, they will all live there together. I was glad that he has the opportunity, as I did, to integrate with a local family. And I know that the income from a renter will be a big help to the family’s financial stability.

I call them about a once a week. Nigora did start her business, buying one of the cheaper stalls. She sells dishes on the table and men’s shirts hang from the rafters surrounding her stall. I asked her why she decided to sell men’s shirts.

“Because the people who come by my stall tend to be pretty poor, so I had to think of something that they could afford to buy.” Her income is small, something like $5 a day, and her profit even less, but Nigora is hopeful that business will improve as she gains experience and regular customers. She says that she usually works until lunchtime and the older boys come to replace her after their lessons, so she can return home and prepare dinner.

I can’t wait until I can go visit myself.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Fire in the Snow

This evening I briefly went out to an internet café near my apartment. When I returned, less than an hour later, a man in thick clothing and a hard hat ran by me. When I turned the corner, towards my apartment entrance, I saw two fire trucks and a crowd of people gathered outside the building.

My heart briefly contracted. Had I forgotten to turn off the oven or the stove after making dinner. God, would I feel awful if I burned the apartment the owners had just remodeled and rented for the first time as an additional source of income. They were all gathered mighty close to my place. A group of women in headscarves looked up and prayed in a foreign language – maybe Tartar, maybe Tajik.

I nervously counted the apartment entrance. One, two, three was mine. Thank goodness, the truck was parked outside the fourth entrance. Not directly attached to mine, but close enough that a major blaze could spread to my place.

I stood with the crowd and watched. I saw smoke curling out of the fourth floor. Residents of the fifth floor apartments, on either side of the stairwell, stood and looked out the window. Of everyone, they were the ones who should really be part of the crowd standing outside. No one seemed to have bothered to evacuate them yet.

The blaze didn’t seem to be too threatening, not like the giant flames I once watched cracking through windows and shooting out into the air from a high-rise dwelling in Peru. So I went back home. And as I type, I can see and hear through the cracks in my shades – the glare of the fire engine light, the status of the walkie-talkie, the gossip and concern of the onlookers, a bang or two from the neighboring building.

Whether or not the equipment is any good, I don’t know. But I’m pretty impressed to see that two trucks arrived when the fire was still rather minor, along with quite a few fire fighters.

Ironically, today was the first real snow, the first snowfall that stuck to the ground and solidified into nice. Since almost no one puts down salt or ice, that means a very slow and slippery walk to work. I usually get in a good 40-60 minutes of walking a day in Bishkek and that mobility is one of my favorite aspects of life here. But the fun is reduced considerably when I’m forced to stare at the ground, instead of my surroundings, and focus on not falling.

Today I met up with some people knowledgeable about prisons in Kyrgyzstan. They told me that there are 17,000 prisoners in the country. In Bishkek, there is a holding cell and a main prison (“colony”). The prisoners with tuberculosis have been relegated to a separate area, called the TB prison. There are 400 or 450 prisoners there and half of them have TB.

“What are the prisoners without TB doing there?” I asked.

“They don’t want to move,” my friends told me. “The prisoners are organized into “families” and they don’t want to leave their families.”

“But they are prisoners,” I protested. “Why do they have the right to chose where they live? Why can’t they just be put in non-TB prisons?”

“Because the prisoners run themselves. There aren’t enough staff members to control them. So if they don’t want to do something, it’s not possible to force them to do it.”

They told me that during the recent prison revolt, during which a Parliamentary Deputy was shot and killed, all of the prison staff left and the prisoners were left on their own. The only reason they didn’t run was that the grounds were surrounded by tanks and the army.

This evening, at my Russian lesson, I learned useful words, like esophagus, large intestine, and spinal cord. As usual, my teacher, Iliana, got off topic, giving me a lecture about something we touch on during class. It eats up quite a bit of our one-hour class. And with only two hours a week, that doesn’t leave much time for vocabulary or grammar. But I rarely stop her because she usually tells me interesting things about the local life, culture or mentality.

Tonight she told me how poorly people lived in the mid-1990s, how young people educated from 1992-2002 received absolutely no education, and how the standard of living in Bishkek only started rising three years ago.

“Three years ago, you could buy a two or three room apartment for $3-4,000. Now, that same apartment is $20,000. Three years ago people started to leave to work overseas. So many people went to Russia and to Kazakhstan. There are Kyrgyz in Italy and in America. These people started sending money back, and only then could people start to think about things like buying property, starting a business, or buying a computer.”

She’s right. Kyrgyzstan has a huge rate of outmigration. I’d like to look into it more to get more specific facts. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it had one of the largest outmigration rates in the world. I went to villages in the south of the country where barely an able-bodied man remained. It didn’t matter that they were poor and educated. They could go illegally to Russia and find work in construction and other manual labor. They wouldn’t make much by Russian standards, but they’d make a lot more than they could at home. And the few hundred dollars they send back every few months is enough to significantly improve their relative’s standard of living. Local banks in rural areas do huge business in money transfers.

One of the best options for hard workers is South Korea. People there have to work hard for very long hours, but they can make $1,000 a month. I met a man in Osh who spent three years working in South Korea with his wife. They saved enough in that time to return, buy themselves a nice house, and have financial security for the foreseeable future.

It’s quite fascinating to see the practical results of open borders and globalization. Of course it’s sad that many are leaving Kyrgyzstan, and that many families go years without seeing their husbands and fathers. But they are likely taking work that Russians don’t want themselves. For them, it’s an opportunity and a chance to raise their families prospects. And that is heartwarming to see.

I can hear one man yelling at another outside. They must have found the person who started the fire. Then he called someone, it sounded like his father, told him what happened and started to cry.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Run in What Used to Be a Woods

Today my friend Sara and I went to visit a Western couple at their $2,000 a month house outside the city. The neighborhood, called by locals, Santa Barbara, was filled with giant mansions. A local man stepped out of a Mercedes in a full-length leather jacket, a pouty woman sitting next to him on the leather seats.

“This isn’t Kyrgyzstan,” Clara said, expressing a desire to see the rest of the country.

Her boyfriend and co-worker, Ulrich, is in charge of purchasing some cars for the organization he works for. He wants to import them himself. As a humanitarian organization, they could save $5,000 in customs charges. But due to the corruption, they might not get them at all if they don’t pay bribes. “I’ll probably end up having to pay half the $5,000 in bribes,” he said. His organization has a special accounting code for bribes.

We took a run through the neighborhood, to the nearby botanical garden. “This used to be the botanical garden,” Ulrich said. “But now, people come in with axes and cut down the trees to use for firewood. It’s just been left for the past 15 years, since the end of Communism.”

After the run, we relaxed in their personal sauna, complete with small pool, shower area, and changing room. It was a nice treatment for my incorrigible cold and I enjoyed the chance to spend time with such active, energetic people who are passionate about what they do.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Saturday Night in the Dark

When my electricity went out this morning at 9 a.m., I didn’t think much of it. It was daylight and I expect it would last an hour or two, a few hours at most. So I didn’t say anything, even when my landlord stopped by.

When I returned home at 5:30, just as the last light was fading, I still didn’t have electricity. But I could see that everyone else in the building did. Only then did I realize how poorly prepared I was. I had one little lantern with a fading battery. No candles, no flashlights.

I opened the drapes and tried to do a bit of housework in the last strands of light. Now, at 6:30, it’s already black. I’m sitting in the darkness, using up the battery on my laptop. When it runs out, I’ll lose this bright square of light and have nothing but a little glow from my cell phone to illuminate things.

What is there to do in this situation? Listen to my ipod, sleep, or get out of here. I’m waiting for my landlord to come over. After he does, I think I’ll try to find a café where I can spend the evening.

This was a busy week and I had little time to write. I came across some interesting characters, as usual, though. I met a nice couple who emigrated to Bishkek from Naryn a few years ago. The wife was 29. She’d just returned to graduate school and was teaching courses at the university. The husband, 34, sells cattle at one of the Bishkek cattle markets. Every week he rents a little Moskvich car, travels to cattle markets in surrounding villages, and returns to the city with FIFTEEN sheep bunched inside in the car! I try to imagine where he must sit.

They live in a small but warm two-room house. There was no furniture and a tiny black and white TV, about as large as my hand. They eat, sleep, and live on carpets spread across the floor. Next to the TV stood a statue of an eagle on a branch. Each week, when they received money, they put a bill into the small slot in the back.

“I don’t know how much we have, but at least 12,000 som ($300),” the wife told me. “We’ve been saving, for a TV and for furniture, for over a year.”

There has been a lot of publicity about rural people migrating to the capital, trying to steal land and demanding rights and services. I don’t know how or why this family came to Bishkek. But it was nice to see the earnestness with which they were trying to build a solid life for themselves and for their child. And I was surprised to see that they’d started their family so late by local standards.

One another interesting family was a couple who’d entered into what’s called a “citizen’s marriage” two years ago. That means that they live as though they are married, but they don’t formally register it. Both had children from their first marriages. The wife’s two children lived with them.

I asked the husband what he did for a living. “I can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s not legal. If you tell anyone, the tax inspectors will come right after me.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” I said. (since I’m not including any identifying details, I am honoring my promise, even despite this blog tale)

He then led me to a shed outside the house and proudly opened the lock on the door. There, he had a whole series of contraptions made out of tin, tubes and buckets.

“This is where I make alcohol,” he said. “Once a week, I put it into bottles and sell it. I make a profit of over $300 a month.”

I thought about my neighbors in Osh. They also had a homemade alcohol production (called samagon). But they were much less cautious, inviting their customers to come right to their door to make their purchases, giving their dog reason to bark constantly at all the unexpected visitors.

I’ve started Russian lessons. Twice a week I meet with Iliana for an hour. It’s not enough for intensive improvement. But time is short and it’s good to have at least a little time each week to concentrate on learning something new.

Iliana runs a language school and she talked to me at length about one of her students, a Kyrgyz woman from the south of the country who is studying Russian.

“She’s 29 years old and is pregnant with her fourth child,” Iliana said. “She doesn’t want to have any more kids, but so far she’s had only girls and her husband insists on having a boy. She tells me that she doesn’t love him, that she doesn’t want to be with him, and that she doesn’t want to have any more children. She said that she’s having problems with her teeth because of all the pregnancies.

“I tell her that she needs to stand up to him and tell him to either choose between her health and having a ton of kids,” Iliana continued. “I tell her that she’s still young and she still has time to do something with her life. She always dreamed of getting a university education. But she was pressured to marry this man, a relative, by her family, and she did so right after high school. But now she’s committed to getting the education she couldn’t pursue before. She told me that after the baby she’ll sit home for one month, then will come right back to lessons. She wants to learn Russian and to go to the university.”

Iliana told me that women from the south are “deeply complexed.” She can’t understand why they have so many children.

I had asked her why kidney problems are so prevalent in Kyrgyzstan. She said it was because women have too many children. “After having a child, it takes at least three years to restore the vitamins to a woman’s body,” she said. “But these women are having a child every two years. They themselves are unhealthy, then of course they are giving birth to unhealthy children. I once yelled at an aunt who had already given birth to two mentally retarded children. Who needs these unhealthy children brought into the world? I asked her.”

Iliana herself is quite impressive. In her early 40s, she managed to go to London to study English for 2.5 years. While she was there, she got a job as a meeting services assistant for Price Waterhouse Coopers, making $12 an hour, enough to support her 16-year-old daughter to come study as well.

“People say that the best way to ensure your retirement is to spend on your child’s education,” she said. “You need to do that before you buy yourself a fur or a car. Then you hope that the child will buy it for you later.”