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Karina's Story: Part I From Rags to Riches
March 1, 2000

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl named Karina with her parents and her brother in Circassia, high in the Caucus mountains of Russia. Her family was very poor, so they had to work hard everyday trying to make the most of their small plot of land and their three goats.

One day everything changed. Karina was out in the fields, when she heard the pounding. It appeared as though a large army of men riding fierce horses had arrived to her small village; yet nobody panicked or ran. Her father and the other men of the village actually seemed happy about their arrival. Karina ran closer and hid behind a fence. The strange men had dark features and were dressed in long capes, embroidered with pearls and gold. They produced engraved boxes full of strange spices and sparkling jewels. After speaking with the strangers for some time, Karina's father left to return to the house.

He went to speak with her mother. When they reappeared, her mother looked like she had been crying. Together they walked out to the fields to Karina.

"Karina, this evening you will go on a trip with these men that have come to visit us," her father told her.

Karina started to scream, "No!", but her mother held her and comforted her. "It will be all right dear. You will go to a beautiful place and grow up to have everything you will ever want. You will be a queen one day."

That evening she and six other 10 year-old girls from the village were brought by their parents to the strange men and put up on one of the horses. As she bobbed up and down on the back of the mighty horse, Karina turned around to wave goodbye. That was the last time Karina would see her village or her family.

"I know you are scared little one, but you have nothing to fear," said the man whose horse she was riding in a strange accent. "In no time at all you will forget your family and that poor village you came from. You will have everything you could want, and all the other girls will be jealous of you."

Within a few days, the group approached an enormous fortress. Inside was an enormous palace, like a fairy tale.

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Karina caught her breath when she saw the chandelier
Karina was mesmerized, staring up at the high marble archways, the gigantic gold framed mirrors, and the dazzling crystal chandeliers.

They were lead to another grand hallway, where they were met by a young woman, who was 15 years old. "Welcome to Topkapi Palace, the home of the sultan, the great ruler of the entire Ottoman Empire. You may not realize it now, but you are indeed very lucky to be the harem. Tomorrow, you will begin to learn the royal language. We must no longer speak in this old language. For now, you will take a bath and rest."

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Posh living in the Topkapi palace
She led them into a large room made of white marble. In the bathroom, the soap lathered with a foam as thick as whip cream and a scent of fresh lemons. "If we had hot water like this back home, my mother would have had a much easier time getting me to bathe!" the girls laughed amongst themselves for the first time since they had left their village.

From that moment on Berra knew that she would never return to her old life, that her future lied in a world of beautiful women, sensuous perfumes, and huge feasts... A world her parents and her brother could never understand, a world that even she was only beginning to discover.


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