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Lois Ann Nicolai, USA, is a homemaker turned peacemaker, founder of World Citizen Diplomats
Co-writer Yuri Kuidin, Kazakhstan, is a professional photographer who has documented the deadly legacy of nuclear testing in text and photos in an album, the “Kazakhstan Nuclear Tragedy” as well as photo exhibitions. He died in June 2000.

CLOSING A SOVIET TEST SITE

Lois Ann Nicolai, with Yuri Kuidin

Most of my grown-up life I have lived as a housewife in the US farmland surrounding Saint Paul, Indiana, where I made a home for my husband and reared my six children. Politics was foreign land to me, of international relations I had no idea. In 1991 I suddenly was at the opposite end of the world, in Kazakhstan, celebrating the closing of a nuclear test site. How did I get there?
The changes in my life had begun in 1983. On the 8th of August my husband died. Two weeks later the last of my five children left for university and their autumn term. Thus, in two weeks time I went from a husband and five children at home – to nobody! Some change, I was suddenly alone!
After getting my children settled in college I moved back home to my birthplace to live with my parents in New Jersey, in my old bedroom where I grew up. For a couple of years I walked the beach every morning, watching the sun rise and searching my soul with one big question: What was I going to do with the second half of my life?
At my 50th birthday dinner I announced to my bewildered children that I was going to move to a university town to learn everything I could about international relations and peacemaking. I had decided to make my contribution to a better world and had, in fact, already gone to knock at doors in Princeton, asking how I could learn something about international affairs. The university’s office of registration recommended a talk with Professor Richard Falk, who said Princeton was the place to learn what I needed to know!
So I packed my suitcase to go to Princeton as a student and make up for some of all that knowledge that an early marriage had stopped me from getting. Like hundreds and thousands of others I would have loved to do something useful for the world, - if I had only been well educated, famous, rich and influential. Fortunately I confided to a Russian visitor, Dr. Elaina Ershova, how I felt embarrassed and that I would not be taken seriously without diplomas. She told me that the world is full of academic writing and talking, and badly needs those who are willing to do the work - communicate, mobilize and involve people in action.
Three years later, in 1990, I had volunteered to help Parliamentarians For Global Action during a meeting in Washington on a nuclear testing moratorium and there met Olzhas Suleimenov, a People’s Deputy who represented Kazakhstan in the Supreme Soviet in Moscow. We soon became wonderful comrades, and he invited me to bring a delegation of American citizens to Kazakhstan.
I shall never forget our arrival at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testsite. After hours through endless desert land the bus stopped. When we looked out our window we saw about 7,000 Kazakh nomads standing in the noonday desert sun – waiting to celebrate the closing of their nuclear test site with the first Americans they had ever seen. We spent the whole afternoon and evening with them, enjoying their speeches and songs, sharing their national meal, and dancing in the desert sand as the sun fell behind the horizon. Strong personal bonds were tied.
Out of this type of experience grew the creation of World Citizen Diplomats. Since its start in 1992, we have made 6 more trips into Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Uzbekistan, building dialogue with the people of a remote and foreign land. We also created the Peace 2000 Caravan, and now international delegations of men and women from many nations are traveling around the world to build dialogue and break down stereotypes and the misconceptions people have of one another.