Kan Yan

Kan Yan (Backward Society Education – BASE): Kan graduated with a BA in Plan II from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. During this time, Kan conducted research on the education of Turkish students in Berlin, interned for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former-Yugoslavia, interned for the Texas Speaker of the House on state education, and worked part-time for an anti-private prison campaign. After he graduated, Kan undertook a year of exploring, teaching, traveling, and learning languages. He then enrolled in Harvard Law School where he studying for a joint degree (with the Fletcher School) when he undertook his AP fellowship. In 2008, Kan advised a Karen NGO working on land issues within Burma. After his fellowship, Kan wrote: “It was really nourishing in a way I can't quite put into words.”

Bad Liars, Fake Buyers, and American Love

11 Jul

The Work

Well they don’t teach lawyers to lie here as well as in the states. I asked to talk to the auntie/law student/client who the lawyer said picked up Sabita, and the law student randomly showed up this afternoon. I started up the ‘ol camera and was surprised to find my first Nepalese person who did not consent to be shown in the film. Well she said that she would be willing to explain the story to us off camera. She said if it would be shown in Nepal, she did not want to appear on video since she’s a law student and will depend upon her reputation in her career. This reason didn’t do much for my faith in the veracity of her statement.

She went to the village twice. The second time, the lawyer came because he was helping her with some legal matters concerning her land. He said he didn’t. Sabita said he did. The law student also said that the lawyer actually owned two different buildings—one for his family and another for tenants such as herself. She goes on to claim that the lawyer only saw Sabita when he came to access the storage room where he kept books. Both the lawyer and Sabita contradict this. The law student also claimed she spent every night with Sabita. Sabita mentions that the law student auntie stayed at another house whenever the lawyer’s wife and child came to visit… The law student then blamed the hand and foot problem on Sabita buying bad soap which caused an allergic reaction. She named the hospital and doctor they saw—all of which Sabita has no recollection of.

I could hardly keep myself from smiling at the introduction of a third story that did not match the other two. If this lawyer and a law student were to come up with a plausible story to redeem the lawyer’s good name, they probably should have sat down and figured out one story to tell—this seems like something a professional litigator would know something about.

After she left, I finally interviewed Purna-ji, who raided the lawyer’s house to rescue Sabita. I misunderstood yesterday about Sabita’s mother being there apparently and she didn’t show up until a few days later at the BASE office, which both Sabita and the law student confirmed. However, the rest of his interview really made up for loss of contradiction. Apparently, Purna shows up at the door after receiving a tip on the phone from a neighbor who sees this girl kept in one room working all the time. She wasn’t even on the BASE survey of children in Nepalganj. They show up, knock on the door, and Sabita doesn’t open it because she’s scared.

The rescue team finds the lawyer’s number and calls him down there. They ask who she is and the lawyer claims she’s his adopted daughter. When they explain what they’re doing, he’s furious. He says they have no right, that he’ll sue them since she’s his servant and he has a right to her. If you’ll remember, the lawyer told me that he was delighted to see the team and delighted to deliver Sabita to them since they could provide for her better. He offered his legal services to us in case we might need his help in prosecuting child labor offenders.

Purna then revealed that they really used this guy as a warning to other professionals in town and broadcast his name on a radio program about child labor. Since then, he’s been very interested in clearing his name since he depends on clients, which explains why he was willing to talk to me and to send his client/tenant/servant/who-knows-what-else to see me.

This job is pretty sweet.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of setting up a “buy.” That is, pose one of my coworkers as a Nepalganj businessman looking for a young child to work. He’d explain that I’m following him all the time to film his life for a tv show. And then we could see what the process would be for buying a child. Then after the transaction, we’d reveal what we are actually doing, explain that they shouldn’t be selling their kid, and give the kid some school supplies.

Is this ethical? Comments, please.


While taking a break from translating footage, I began making a bit of small talk with my new translator Sangita. (I somehow lost the translations done that day—nothing like losing a day’s worth of work to exercise that rage restraint muscle.) She asked me about the wedding I’d gone to in America and then followed up by asking when I would marry. I laughed. I always laugh when people ask this question—so presumptive! I told her I didn’t know, that I’d only really romantically loved one person and that we’d already parted ways. She looked confused and asked, “Why?” before saying never mind and mumbling something about it being too personal of a question.

I told her we just had different trajectories, were going to be in different places. Satisfied that I had continued despite her withdrawal, she said, “That’s not a good reason in Nepal. If you’re in love.” Tons and tons of the people I meet out here have significant others somewhere far off getting an education or making more money—a journalist once told me nearly a fifth of the income here is from remittances. Couples can remain apart for long stretches of time. My translator hasn’t seen her boyfriend of three years in almost two. He works in India and is coming back in two weeks. She’s pretty sure they’re getting married. They’ll stay apart while she finishes her degree and then they’ll get married. She’ll either split her time between her family and him, or she’ll move to India.

In a culture still balancing arranged and love marriages, the concept of love has a weight I don’t fully grasp. You meet someone, you fall in love, you spend the rest of your life together. Wait a minute, that’s pretty easy to grasp. It is in fact what all love stories are about. So what happened in America? Why did we lose our patience for love?

I explained that in America it’s different, that among my friends the majority of long-distance relationships don’t work out. As I casually passed these words, I did not expect to struggle so hard for a reason to justify them. The reasons that popped into mind were either vulgar, selfish, small, or some combination. Identities are really strongly tied to profession among the well educated and people get lonely and the… sexual norms are different. We date so many people, and we have more free time that needs… filling. And uhm… yeah…

… You’re probably right, Sangita. Shall we get back to the translations?

Posted By Kan Yan

Posted Jul 11th, 2009

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