The other day, our professor arranged a visit to Radio Free Europe for us. We arrived there and after a long process going through security, we were warmly welcomed by a woman named Larisa who is originally from Kyrgyzstan. She started to give us a short over view of what they do at Radio Free Europe and the various countries they broadcasted to (some strictly through the web because media laws are so harshly controlled). Walking through the halls I could recognize many people of Central Asian origin and I heard Russian from one end to another. The entire building was filled other beautiful photography of people and life from places like Israel, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Afghanistan and many more places.
Our day started with a discussion with a communications specialist named Joanna who described to us how they are making efforts to use communication as soft power for change. Later a journalist came in who is a native Pakistani. He started to tell us about the progress being made in Pakistan, even though they are very small and gradual. Particularly, he told us of a situation that their reporters covered that had to do with a dispute between two Pakistani tribes, this family dispute was supposed to be settled by marrying the 6 year old daughter of one family to a member of the opposing family. Parents of the girl contacted officials in Pakistan and even reached out to the media saying they do not want to settle the dispute at the price of losing their daughter, that she was too young and too innocent to be married. Due to the reach of the story, the marriage was dissolved and the girl was returned to her family.
I heard this story and I started getting angry. So many injustices in the world and there are only so many people shining light on them. I sat there and I thought that this is where i want to be and this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people. After our discussion, the journalist showed us their recording studio and we were taken for a lunch period break.
Upon our return, we met Larisa again. With her, this time, was another journalist. He was originally from Kazakhstan and he was a family man. Besides his, the majority of the people we met weren’t wearing wedding rings and did not hint at having families. He told us of his daughters and started to tell us more about Central Asian politics, disputes, economics, progress since communism and much more. He was an expert, and he spent much of his time studying the area and learning about the regions strengths and weaknesses.
Then it came time for questions. After a few questions were asked, I decided to ask him for his opinion. He was a journalist and worked in media so he had to have more resources than everyday people. So I told him that my family is from Samarkand, Uzbekistan. And for the past few years my grandfather has been in search for his dad who served in World War II for the Soviet Army. My grandpa had been searching for his dad for the last few years and now that he is getting older he talks about his life in Uzbekistan so much more. But his dad was killed, they never found out where he was deployed to or even where he died. So I asked him how likely he thought it was we could find this information to bring some closure to my grandfather.
He looked at me and he said, “Wow, young lady, you have touched my heart.” He was trying not to tear up as he explained to me that he was over forty years old before he even saw a photograph of his grandfather, and for the past several years he has been trying to find his uncle’s and brother’s remains. He looked at me and he said, “it’s not likely but it’s not impossible, you should always try.” He asked what our last name is and he looked at me and said “almost every family in the former USSR has a story like this and it is an incredible tragedy.”
As our questions continued, he ended our conversation by looking at me and saying “please send my kindest regards to your family, I wish them nothing but the best and I hope to meet them someday because I am sure we lived the same life.” And for those brief moments that we had the pleasure of speaking, I felt like I had found a little piece of home.