Written by, Eugenia Chung, Producer of Alya Production Coalition
I have a lot of fond memories in Kyrgyzstan from when I was volunteering there for two years.
I remember the first time I had to ride a horse, the first time I tried one of the outdoor bathrooms (ergo a hole in the ground), and the first time I had to go find my friend’s cows from the meadows. I was so confused figuring out which cows belonged to her and which ones belonged to her neighbors. I ended up missing one cow and started to freak out.
As I was hustling around the hills yelling out to the people “Have you seen our cow!??”, everybody just smiled as they strolled down the hills saying, “Don’t worry.” However, I was still panicking thinking to myself, ‘How the heck do I find it?! And how do I know it’s hers!??’ Soon before sundown, the cow showed up at the entrance of the house and just walked in. What a relief it was but at the same time I was so dumbfounded. Somehow they just instinctively know!
These are just one of the many many fun but heart dropping experiences I had. Something was just so beautiful and natural about everything in Kyrgyzstan. I immediately fell in love with the sheer organic-ness of the culture.
Then in the midst of such peace, I began to hear so many stories of women being kidnapped as brides. My heart broke and I wanted to show that there is hope. Thankfully none of my immediate friends during my stay there had encountered this practice. Or so, I thought.
Months ago, I was talking to one of my Kyrgyz friends over video chat. I was excited to show her the progress of the project. She watched the video we made but she slowly fell silent. She hesitated for a moment.. then began to speak with a trembling voice.
“You know, I never told anyone before.. because I was so afraid of being judged.. but I was kidnapped as well a few years ago.”
My mouth dropped open. My heart raced with confusion, agony… shock. She explained in tears how it happened, how she was taken in a car, locked in a room where the women came and tried to convince her to marry. I couldn’t bear to listen to all the details. It was just too painful to hear. But somehow by the luck of the world, she was able to escape before it was too late.
I don't know what it would be like had I never met her, never became friends with her, if she was not able to escape. I was still in shock.. to think that now this issue was no longer something that I just had a passion for, but now it had a face, a name… a friendship. That was the moment when my heart for this project evolved from just a conviction, to a mission.
My friend looked at me for a moment in silence.. tears dropping from her eyes, then with a soft but empowering voice, she said,
“You have to tell this story. You have to do it for other girls in Kyrgyzstan.”
I looked back at her with my aching heart, and answered, “Okay. I will make this film for you. For all the girls out there.”
She nodded, smiled, and there was a peaceful look on her face. It was as if an open wound was healed after a long time of wrestling. All I could think of at that moment was, ‘I want to see that look in many more girls in Kyrgyzstan.’ The film now no longer was a film in my heart, but evolved to be a letter I want to write to my friend. A letter showing her that regardless of what was done, she is loved.
That wish still rings in my heart till today. As our team draws closer to the day of departure, I reassess my path thus far and I am determined again. There is so much beauty that lies within Kyrgyzstan that needs to be found, that needs to be embraced, and needs to be recognized. And that, can only come when there is a story of hope.