[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.
Subject: In the Den of the Chechens, Part One
Susuman is a very little town, with a population of, I would say, 5,000 souls. The main street is called Sovietskaya, and that’s about it. The Kolyma Highway runs along its northern border the mountains border it to the south.
I managed to find lodging here through the influence of the Na-Chelnik Roos-Lan Nickolaievich. The real hotel was full. If you could see this place, you’d have to wonder how the hotel could possibly be full. But it was. So my buddy Roos-Lan gets me a room at the local goldminer’s dormatorium. The walllpaper of my room was Mondrian-esque Soviet print, and the silence of the first night nearly drove me mad. All I had to listen to was the oddly regular movement of my bowels. I would sit in bed and look at my watch and time the various sounds that my guts made. It was all too regular for comfort. Maybe it was all the fish scales and bones I had been eating, against the advice of the locals…but they’re so salty and tasty!
Sleeping is tough here because it’s so quite, and because there is no darkness, and the curtains aren’t thick enough to block out the night’s light.
In the morning I decided to walk around this wee town until I could find the leggy snow maiden Julia.
I’m currently in the middle of a one-man boycott of the Russian telephone system. If any of you ever come here, learn to speak the phrase “I’m an outlander and I am unable to use the telephone, could you please dial this number for me, thank you.” I had Julia’s number but I couldn’t reach her.
I knew that if I walked around long enough I would find her. She’s hard to miss.
In the meantime I decide to go to the park and interrogate the locals about the road conditions for my journey further east. So I buy a 6-pack of Klinsko lager tallboys and head for the park. It was a sunny day, rife with mosquitos, and I knew that there would be many people there that could tell me about the road that passes the town of Khan-ditch-Khan.
On the way to the park I see Mohamed.
On the plane from Moscow to Magadan, I met a very sketchy Chechen named Mohamed. He was wearing a dark brown pin-striped suit, elf-toed dress shoes, has eerie lime green eyes and all gold teeth.
The first thing he does is hand me a 10,000 Turkmenistani note, and then he asks me for a gift. I had nothing I could give him, except a syringe and a hypodermic needle. He refused this gift, saying that he was not a heroin addict. He showed me on my map his home, a region known as the Terek. He told me he was a gold miner in Susuman. And he asked me if he could share my hotel with me in Magadan. I politely told him I was staying with friends. He was very gregarious and impressed by my undertaking.
FASTFORWARD BACK TO SUSUMAN.
So there I bump into Mohamed on the street, on the way to the park. “Hey why haven’t you called me” says Mohamed.
I tell him about my boycott of the telephone system.
He insists I accompany him somewhere. Along the way he asks every pretty girl if she speaks English. We get to a building around the corner and he makes the universal welcome gesture. As he does this I notice a huge hunting knife wedged into his pants, above the left hip. He leads me up three flights of stairs into an apartment.
I know what you’re thinking: Andrej you fool! How could you follow a complete stranger, knife-toting stanger, and a Chechen, into a building without back up?
If there’s one thing I know, it’s Moslems. Not only have I read both volumes of Hodgeson, but I also grew up in Libya. I know that to be a guest in a Moslem’s home is to be as safe as a bug in a rug. Besides, I had Wolfsnoutchopper on me, mounted upsidedown along my spine and under my flight jacket, but I knew I wouldn’t need it.
On the way up the stairs, Mohamed turns to me and says. “Tell them you are an Arab.”
It would be difficult to convince them that I am an Arab, on account of the fact that I don’t speak Arabic and I am carrying four tall beers in one hand and one open one in the other.
In the apartment are four young Chechen toughs, all dressed in black. The walls of the apartment are covered in Persian rugs, so the place has the feel of a Bedouin tent. They’ re watching TV and their white skull caps are on top of the TV.
So there I am, dear readers, sitting in the middle of five Chechens, drinking a cold one.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Chechen nation, allow me to briefly fill you in: They are a small Moslem nation, living in the Caucasian mountains, that have been engaged in an on-again off-again war with the Russians for 300 years or so. They consider drinking alcohol harem (forbidden taboo), but the laws of hospitality supercede religious law.
They were very cool.
Mohamed insisted that I pay $40 for me and him to have sex with two prostitutes. I told him that paying for sex was against my religion. He kept on insisting. Then the young boxer, Vaslan, stepped in and told Mohamed to shut his falafel hole. Vaslan wanted to give me a gift. He tells me that he knows a beautiful girl he will hook me up with, obviously a girl he had been going with, and/or, just having sex with. He tells me that this is his gift to me. To refuse a gift is a grave insult, among Moslems, so your humble narrator agrees…..
Next: The Chechens, Part Two: Marina’s Dream
[Photo: entering Susuman]