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Brokered brides are seeking better life

Date: 2007-12-18

Back on Dec. 4, 2000, a sloe-eyed Nataliya Robertovna
Yamayeva arrived in the United States wearing a $200 engagement ring from
her American fiance. On the surface, "Natasha" Yamayeva was like all other
newly-minted fiancees, brimming with affection for her future husband. But
Yamayeva's new American life would gradually darken. While she blames her
husband, their painful misalliance was facilitated by an international
marriage broker boasting rosters of compliant women once quaintly labeled
"mail-order brides."

"I badly wanted to chase a dream about the overseas prince," says Yamayeva,
her smile tugged by an undertow of sadness. "But how could I know I would
become a hostage to my own husband?"

To some, the bride is little more than a commodity. At,
clients were urged to "Add Olga (48872) to my order," according to a report
by the Virginia-based Tahirih Justice Center, a legal services agency
serving immigrant women. And, according to the
Tahirih Center, brashly dismisses the $10,500 fee as "less than (the price
of) an economy car."

To be sure, a mail-order-bride system - where men page through a thick
catalog filled with thumbnail pictures of women before initiating a
letter-based courtship - has been around for decades. But lately, this
process has ramped up to an Internet-woven network of international
matchmaking or marriage brokers.More than 400 international marriage brokers
are based in the United States, according to the Tahirih Center.

Online courtship
Born 34 years ago in Vologda (north of Moscow), Yamayeva spent most of her
student years in the central Russian town of Tambov. She graduated from
Tambov State University in 1996 and later earned a master's degree. Starting
out as a language teacher, Yamayeva lived with her parents and found it
"really difficult to meet anybody," she said.

In the summer of 1999, Yamayeva had her life-altering, "Sex and the City"
moment, thanks to an afternoon spent with her friends, commiserating over
coffee about their atrophying social lives.

A close friend piped up, "asking me," recalls Yamayeva, "since I speak
English, why don't I look for a better life with someone who will really
respect me as a woman?"

Yamayeva contacted five matchmaking-marriage agencies' Web sites and
submitted a profile filled with pictures. In September 1999, one American,
Glen Joseph Henderson, rose above the pack of cyber suitors.

Henderson said he came across Yamayeva's profile by accident. "I'm a
computer person, and I happened to be divorced at the time, working at
night," he said in a brief interview. "I didn't know such a thing existed."

Yamayeva was impressed that Henderson was doing some computer technical and
maintenance work at a job that paid $75,000 a year and had been the pastor
of his own church. "He had been in the ministry ... and in Russia, this
connection to the church made him possibly an almost perfect new husband,"
says Yamayeva. "I got so, so very happy that I didn't pay attention to me
being 26 and he being 49."

Culminating a months-long letter and telephone courtship, Henderson went to
Moscow in April 2000 to meet Yamayeva.

And then, Henderson popped the question.

Amid the initial euphoria of her greased-lightning engagement, Yamayeva said
she sensed that Henderson's financial circumstances were not as stable as he
had suggested. But after Yamayeva discovered that she was pregnant,
Henderson seemed genuinely thrilled and rushed to complete her immigration
paperwork, she said.

Life in the States
It didn't take long after Yamayeva's arrival in the States for her to see
Henderson differently. She found out that in May 2000 he had received a
D.U.I. that suspended his driver's license. What's more, only months after
their engagement, he had lost the job with the comfortable salary that had
impressed her. Before the January 2001 birth of their son, Yamayeva had to
pack her bags for the first of a dizzying series of job-to-job moves. The
first of those stops was Marion, N.C., where the couple got married Feb. 14,
2001. They chose a justice of the peace at the jail to conduct the
ceremony - and a police officer and a fellow member of Henderson's
defensive-driving class served as last-minute witnesses.

Cost of the ceremony: $10.

No reception followed.

The family darted between two small cities in North Carolina before motoring
on to Newton, Texas, and a job with the fledgling wine business run by
Henderson's eldest son. After a short time, they moved to Dallas, then the
trek churned back to Newton, where Henderson took a different job before
becoming unemployed.

During this Texas chapter, Yamayeva said, a more complete picture of
Henderson's prior life began to spill out. She said she learned that
Henderson had more children from a previous marriage than the two she
believed that he had. Records show a Glen J. Henderson with his date of
birth also had a 1993 arrest on suspicion of carrying a concealed firearm.

It is common for an Internet bride to be unaware of unflattering parts of
her new husband's background. Addressing this, Congress passed the
International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, which requires brokers to
collect personal background information on the U.S. client - including
specified criminal and marital history - before providing information on how
to contact the foreign client.Yamayeva was not physically abused. But she
said that Henderson isolated her and harbored suspicions about her fidelity.

Yamayeva said she felt powerless. Like other immigrant brides, she believed
her husband would have the legal right to take their son if she tried to get
out of the marriage or objected to any treatment.

Going it alone
By July 2004, the family had moved back to Florida. Then, Yamayeva said,
Henderson sold most of their belongings to finance a move to Cody, Wyo.

Arriving in January 2005, Henderson and Yamayeva began working as house
parents for troubled kids at Sonlight Shelter Youth Homes.

"Then after a little more than three months, my husband woke up and decided
that he didn't like Cody because it was too cold," she says.

Yamayeva had had it. When Henderson was fired by his boss, James
Stockberger, then-executive director of Sonlight Shelter Youth Homes, and
left Cody, Yamayeva and her son decided to stay, and they moved into the
city's women's shelter.

She filed for a divorce, which became official in September 2005.

Looking into the rearview mirror of her Internet-brokered marriage, Yamayeva
says she is still proud of her quest for a better life. Following the advice
of another Russian Internet bride, she settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth
Metroplex. In 2006, Paul Keyes Elementary School in Irving, Texas, hired her
as a special-educational aide, working with children with severe learning

She fully accepts doing whatever it takes to maintain her life here.

": I wanted to tell my story, because when it comes to Russian or other
foreign women, they think they will find a better relationship here, but the
truth is that sometimes it turns out to be worse."

Web sites pair American men with Russian women. But mismatched expectations
on both sides can turn dreams of marital bliss into a true nightmare.


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