Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the great Ukrainian bride hunt part 4

By Kristoffer A. Garin

Today, it is estimated that well over 100,000 women around the world are listed on the Internet as available for marriage to Western men. Wherever the women come from, such websites as A Special Lady, Chance for Love, and Latin Love Search tout their traditional values, their submissiveness, their willingness to put husband and family ahead of themselves. Google the seemingly innocuous search term “single women,” and five out of the first ten results will be websites offering to connect Western men with would-be wives from around the world. Unlikely as it might sound, at the outset of the twenty-first century, marriage brokering is growing increasingly less fringe, not more so.

We were lodged at the Hotel Rus, a massive structure perched on a hill at the edge of Kiev's downtown, with a flashing neon sign on top and, as with nearly every establishment in Kiev, bouncer-doormen in black leather jackets. On arrival we had been told that, since the bouncers get a cut from the in-house prostitutes' earnings, they would expect a $25 bribe if we wanted to bring any women back to our rooms during the course of the week; otherwise, the hotel would charge us for an extra guest. Our first two socials were to take place in the Rus's banquet hall, which meant that in theory we wouldn't have to leave the hotel for days, other than for dates.

As the orientation session finished, I noticed one of the men slipping out of the room, a hulking fellow in his mid-thirties with broad, goofy features and the kind of deep red sunburn one wears for a lifetime. He had introduced himself during the orientation, almost inaudibly, as simply “a farmer,” and now he was looking more than a little overwhelmed. I went after him and invited him for a beer at the hotel bar.

Over drinks he told me his story. He lived and worked on the family farm in the Southwest, where he had grown up and married very young, though his wife soon had enough of farm life and left him (“Guess that's what you get when you marry a Mexican call girl,” he drawled with a mournful smile). Eventually, he had turned to the Internet and begun corresponding with a Ukrainian woman whose profile he had purchased from an online broker. She knew no English whatsoever, but they nevertheless wrote to each other for several months, running their letters through a translation website before sending them. It was an imperfect system, to say the least, and after a few major misunderstandings he had decided that if matters were to move forward they would have to meet. She was set to arrive at the Kiev central train station at 5:45 the following morning—at her own expense, she was taking a thirteen-hour train ride to see him. His plan had been to spend the first couple of days with her, missing the first social, and then, if the match didn't work out, to try his luck along with the rest of the group. He was excited, he said, but what he had heard at the orientation had left him shaken.