Friday, May 27, 2005

The Real Gulags

My etymology buddy Andrej begins his bike ride across Siberia today. Godspeed, and I hope he packed a lunch. Even his own Web master's description of the itinerary makes it sound dreadful.

His grueling course will begin at Magadan, known as the Portal to Hell, the notorious first stop on the way to the gulag slave camps of the Stalinist era. He will bike 1,000 miles over nearly impassable roads to Yakutsk and on to a remote village called Suntar, where roads vanish and maps are of little assistance. From there Andrej heads south to the Lena River and will follow a path along its northern bank for 1,000 miles. The road picks up again in Ust-Kut, and Andrej will continue along to his final destination in St. Petersburg.

So why would a sane Home Depot employee do this? To raise $10,000 to fight slavery worldwide.

"When I once worked in Greece and Cyprus, I would see escaped agricultural slaves from the Peloponnese wandering the streets and picking food out of the garbage. I knew people who made their Filipino and Pakistani household servants sleep on the floor in the garage. Almost every corner pub had at least three Russian sex slaves. I was shocked.

"Then one day, years later, I was walking through Harvard Square and saw students tabling for the American Anti-Slavery Group. I took a newsletter and read about Alexander Dynan’s bike-a-thon. I’m a serious amateur cyclist, and I was inspired to do something similar.

"I chose Siberia for a few reasons: (1) the legacy of the gulags, (2) the English word for slave comes from the word Slav, and (3) many Russians today are trafficked as slaves. I want to raise awareness in the US about this issue and also in Russia. I’d like the Russians to know that their suffering is being noticed by people very far away."

Check him out, and drop a dime or two while you're there.