Equality moves in mysterious ways… Five years ago I arrived in Texas to meet with a group of young activists about to embark on a risky journey across the U.S. to challenge the conservative Christian attitude towards the LGBT community. The idea seemed utopian, crazy, alluring. We spent two months on a bus and visited dozens of places, spent hundreds of hours of conversations with different people. The impact of Soulforce Equality Ride has surpassed most expectations and continues to grow from the documentary films to the New York Times. Five years later, I arrived in Bishkek to meet with a group of young activists about to embark on a risky journey along the Issyk-Kul coast to challenge society’s attitudes towards vulnerable social groups in Kyrgyzstan. Best déjà-vu of my life! Welcome to the Equality Caravan…
Thirteen representatives of seven non-profits that serve at-risk social groups, members of which often marginalized and silenced within Kyrgyz society spent a week letting the world know about their lives and work. Organizations defending human rights can and should lobby governments, medical and educational institutions, conduct trainings and seminars, participate in international conferences and so on. This important work requires considerable time and effort. However, too often it remains largely in the realms of bureaucracy and academia. Everyone is different and everyone is equal. So now what? “What is essential is invisible to the eye. Only a heart can see things right!” Great wisdom of Exupery’s the Little Prince is difficult to implement. Could a law force us to help each other or not bully those who seem different? We should also work heart-to-heart. A daily greeting of neighbors, a smile between strangers, life’s little stories shared over coffee. Thus, gradually and imperceptibly “people” become “us.” Open communication one on one, no matter how overwhelming a task it may seem, is the only way to help someone change oneself. Equality Caravan in Kyrgyzstan was a daring experiment in co-opening of the hearts!
Here are just a few memories of a gem-packed week… A group of young guys in Karakol, who read and discussed our brochures on a park bench, returning several times to the Caravan Riders with questions. It is rare that teens get together and go: “Well, now let’s talk about human rights?” Most likely this was their first opportunity to discuss together complex issues like living with disabilities, same-gender relationships, consequences of drug use, etc. How can this instance change their friendship and lives? I recall the beaches of Balykchy, awakened by the laughter of children with bright Caravan balloons and Riders engaged in dozens of conversations with vacationers. Enthusiasm is contagious. The resort of Cholpon Ata, a seasonal microcosm of Central Asia, will always echo for me with hoarse voice of my friends, who spent several hours talking non-stop with hundreds of locals and tourist. A family from Kazakhstan that took an honest moment to reflect what if their child could be transgender. Peace Corps volunteers excited by the idea to invite Caravan participants to their villages and schools. Souvenirs and snacks vendors bringing their colleagues to check out the exhibition and listen to our stories. All rhetorical clichés about sowing seeds, the trajectory circles on the water, the power of butterfly wings … They are true. You can’t fake this type of activism. And a heart that has encountered another’s truth would never allow itself to ridicule or shun someone again!
Our main accomplishment is setting the example of how to successfully tackle difficult matters in public discourse without prejudice and provocation. Several invitations from local initiative groups and the fact that all participants want to continue collaborating in this creative format serves as a testament to its efficacy. I am in awe of the commitment and bravery of all Caravan Riders and forever impressed by the open heart of Kyrgyzstan. Thank you, Issyk-Kul, and see you next year! For photos and more information, please, visit Caravan’s blog and the Labrys website.
September 1, 2011