New York, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan: November, 1995: After arriving in New York City and getting checked into my hotel room in Manhattan I took a taxi to the United Nations Permanent Mission office of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) on 515 E. 72nd Street. My meeting was with DPRK’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Han Song Ryol and Ambassador Kim Jong Su. Even though Han Song Ryol and I had just been together in meetings the previous week when I was in New York, we still had some brand-new things to discuss as a result of my trip to Koreatown in Los Angeles earlier this week.
I reminded him of the load of medical goods we had sent from our Denver warehouse, which had already arrived in Nampho Port, DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). I also reminded him of the two containers Project C.U.R.E. had already shipped from our Phoenix warehouse. I then gave him the good news about the outcome of my trip to Koreatown, Los Angeles. I told him that I had been able to procure the medical supplies sufficient to fill the equivalent of four twenty-foot containers, and that they would be shipped to the DPRK by the first week in December—within two weeks of our conversation.
I asked, “Do you realize, Mr. Han Song Ryol, that Project C.U.R.E. has been able to ship to your country almost two million dollars’ worth of needed medical goods just in the year 1995?”
I left the meeting very pleased with the outcome of our time together and musing to myself about the possibilities of our future involvement in North Korea. As I hailed a taxi to take me back to the hotel, I recalled the verse that I had memorized which had really become a comfort:
Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything in finished correctly.
I packed my things, caught the bus to Newark Airport, for my flight to London. I flew British Airways from Newark and landed in London’s Heathrow Airport at about 7:00 a. m. on Tuesday. There I had a layover of about four hours before I continued on to Frankfurt, Germany. In Frankfurt I boarded the Uzbekistan Airways flight for Tashkent.
That flight into Tashkent was another all‑nighter, arriving at the airport at 6:45 Wednesday morning. I was beginning to think that a good shower and a clean change of clothes would really be nice. I had now been traveling in the same outfit Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday without a chance to lie down or really clean up. And as it was about to turn out, it wouldn’t be until Thursday morning that I would be afforded those exciting luxuries.
When I left Denver for New York, it was my understanding that when I arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I would be met by a representative of the CAFE (Central Asia Free Exchange Inc.). They coordinate different world-relief agencies with efforts throughout Asia. It seems to be a highly regarded network to know. I had been told that it would be very difficult for me to fly into Tashkent for the first time and try to get through the regulations and get out to the city of Andijon when I didn’t speak the Russian or Uzbekistan languages.
Earlier in November on my trip to Los Angeles, Dr. Woo Sung Ahn asked if I would meet up with some of his Korean friends who were doing missions work in Uzbekistan with the Korean community now living there. He had even given me some medications to deliver to two of the Korean missionary’s wives upon my arrival.
I must detour here a little and explain what North Koreans are doing clear over in the western section of the old Soviet Union. When Stalin took control of the USSR, he determined to strengthen the security of his eastern borders. Many Koreans had moved into southern China and eastern Russia to escape the atrocities of the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea during the 1920s. Stalin did not trust those Koreans in his country. So for security reasons, he killed many of them and rounded up all the others and put them on trains to be transmigrated into Uzbekistan as forced laborers. A large majority of them died of starvation or disease from the inhumane conditions, but thousands made it and settled into work communities in Uzbekistan.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Koreans from the USA and South Korea had sent over one hundred missionaries to these communities and had great success. The Koreans had been displaced and neglected but had made friends and, in some cases, intermarried with the Uzbekistan people, who also over the years were trying to survive from their common enemy, the much-hated Russians. Dr. Woo Sung Ahn and Elder Kim were scheduled to return to Tashkent just a few weeks following my trip in December. They had wanted me to meet some of the leaders of that endeavor while I was in Tashkent and had arranged for them to also meet me at the airport.
After my long, clumsy ordeal of clearing passport control and customs at the Tashkent Airport, I went outside and found the Koreans. Dr. Shinn is the overall director of the missions effort. The Koreans and I met successfully, but the group from CAFE was nowhere to be found. I really began to be thankful for the last‑minute agreement that I had made with Dr. Ahn to meet the Koreans at the airport.
The late-November morning in Uzbekistan was very nippy. The sun had not come up sufficiently to burn off the morning fog, and ice had formed on all the mud puddles around the Tashkent Airport. The Koreans and I stood outside talking and waiting for the CAFE people to show up. They never did. Dr. Shinn had to leave for an appointment, and Herbert Hong suggested that we get out of the cold, go to his house, and eat some rice for breakfast.
We drove across town in his little car and pulled into one of the Soviet concrete apartment buildings on the outskirts. As we got out of the car to go into his apartment, he said he hoped that I didn’t mind, his children were at home from school that day and were very sick. There had been an outbreak of diphtheria and typhoid in the community, and eight people in his area had recently died from it. He was hoping that his children were not sick from that or the large outbreak of hepatitis A that the US was trying to help fight. Suddenly the rice and soup for breakfast did not sound so appealing, but I went on in and joined them for breakfast. The hot tea felt good.
Maybe I was supposed to buy a ticket in Tashkent and go on to Andijon and be met there. I mentioned that possibility to Herbert. “Oh no, it would be impossible for you, a foreigner, to make it through the process of locally buying a ticket on a domestic flight and clearing all the requirement points to get to Andijon by yourself. The country of Uzbekistan is not in any way set up for foreigners to travel. No one just comes to leisurely travel around Uzbekistan.”
I had a chance to read the medical-alert message that had come to the parents of the school children. It was printed on bright red paper with the bold heading “MEDICAL ALERT.” It told about the diphtheria and hepatitis outbreaks and also informed parents of the following:
People in our community now have scabies. This is a highly communicable disease affecting the skin. Other names are “seven year itch” and “skin lice.” Small insects lay eggs just under the skin. When they hatch, they show themselves in small, red bumps with tiny white or grayish blister‑type “heads.” When you scratch them, the eggs get under your fingernails and are transmitted to other places your fingers go. The first bumps usually appear between your fingers or toes and spread from there. It is spread only through skin contact, and the itch is most annoying. If you experience these symptoms, please contact the nurse for treatment and let the school know.
Herbert’s two daughters were in bed most of the time I was there, but the son was quite active and enjoyed climbing on this new visitor, wanting me to play with his toys. I began feeling like I needed to scratch all over, especially between my fingers and toes and also right in the middle of my back.
Next Week: On to Andijon!
© Dr. James W. Jackson
Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House