Wednesday, October 27, 2004

An international incident ...

Today we woke up to rain. For having been here nearly 34 days, we have had only a day or two of inclement weather. It's actually kind of pretty, with the yellow fall leaves everywhere, and the shiny slick streets. Okay, the traffic jams kind of take away from the picturesque flora, but hey, you can't have everything, can you? This morning we were up at the dawn of crack ... Melanie had an early wake-up call, so I think I have committed the first parental taboo: I took her into my bed to go back to sleep. Will she ever sleep in her crib again?! I was semi-comatose when she woke up (had already been roused once by the barking dogs) so I was on auto-pilot. I have no idea what time it was, but it was near to o'dark thirty, and she did go back to sleep. The phone woke me up at 7:30; Charlotte calling. Then it was up for the day!

Dilnoza from the office called, and we had to be there at 11:00 to fill out some paperwork for the US Embassy on Friday. Vitallik drove us there; and then once again, we went to the Ramstore. It's becoming our second home. Vitallik apparently has some kind of discount card that he uses every time. I haven't figured out how much it is. We then paid a visit to the apartment of "Silk Road Sasha" who has started a little business of Kazakh rugs, dream quilts and paintings on silk fabric. Then we set out to a rug dealer. Everyone who has ever spent time in Kazakhstan knows about the great deals you can get on Oriental rugs ... from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and many of the other "stans". We pulled up to the museum of art, where a very nice young guy named Azamat had a store. It was a small shop, but Azamat enthusiastically pulled out rug after rug. So many to choose from! Where do you begin? There were some made of wool, some of camel hair, some of llama. There were rich dark burgundies and greens, rusts and oranges.

While we were looking, a motley group of scary-looking men walked in, bearded and wearing Muslim "caps", felt shoes and long coats. They started asking questions of Azamat, not waiting for us to finish. I figured, well we're just women, to heck with us ... After looking at some rugs, they walked out. A moment later they walked back in. One of them asked Azamat, in Russian, where these women were from. (I can understand Russian a heckofalot better than I speak it!) Being the friendly sort I am, I answered "Amerikanska" but mom said, "Canada!" Behind the Muslim man I could see Vitallik motioning to me not to talk, and making the shush signal. I didn't say any more ... and the men walked out yet again. Vatillik told me that they were Chechens ... you know, from Chechnya? The ones that blow up schools with small children in them? Yikes almighty. And I just told them we were Americans! Good grief, can't I shut up once in a while? Last I heard Americans were not on the Chechen's "friendly" list. We could see them milling around outside the shop, and I was scared to leave.

We made our selections and haggled with Azamat. While we were talking, the men started to come in the shop again, and Azamat told them to wait outside. I was scared to death about leaving the money with Azamat, wondering if the Chechens were going to rob him or something. There was a policewoman sitting at a table in the lobby of the museum, which made me feel a little better. I hoped they weren't lying in wait by our car ... but much to our relief, when we left to leave, they were nowhere in sight.

You read about these things on the news ... about the school in Beslan, the planes going down in Russia; as horrific as those incidents were, they may as well have been on Pluto to us suburban US housewives. Granted, these guys were probably just tourists in Kazakhstan to buy rugs, I don't mean to make hasty generalizations and jump to conclusions. However, when you're up close and personal with Chechens, and reality hits a couple of feet away from you, your blood tends to run just a little cold. And the fact that Vitallik and Azamat were on their guard about them makes me realize that there is an element of "prejudice" against Chechens in Kazakhstan.

So now we're home, having a quiet afternoon on a rainy afternoon. Melanie is down for a nap, and I'm right behind her. I'm washing a few clothes, and otherwise practicing my domestic talents. I am very ready to be home; and sleep in my own bed, and hug my other children, and introduce them to their new sister! This has been a long and difficult trip, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

No comments: