“The Big Trip” by Anzor Maskhadov
Our family was born far from our home and our fate had to move from place to place. Perhaps, it is difficult for people who love their homeland.
My grandfather and grandmother were born in Chechnya. In 1944, they were forcibly deported to Kazakhstan, with other Chechens. The whole nation was sent from their land and from their homes. It happened in the cold month of February, and during this depopulation, half of the people died. Older women who experienced this, still cannot talk about it without crying. Men tear up – it is too painful to contemplate.
It was in Kazakhstan where my mother and father were born; and in 1957, Chechens were allowed to return to their country. Here, my parents were known. After school, my dad went to Georgia, where he began in the Tbilisi Higher Artillery School in 1969, which he completed with the top grades. At this time he also married my mother. Then he had to travel for military service in the Primorsky province, entirely south of the Soviet Union. They lived in the village Platonovka, on the banks of the great Khanka Lake on the border with China. Around the village, there were beautiful mountains. Here I was born on November 18, 1975. I was still small then, but I remember some pictures from my early childhood. I remember a little wooden house where we lived, and that I ran around in the backyard. Our neighbors had sons who I played with. I also remember that my dad took us to Khanka Lake and we bathed there. Thus, my acquaintance with life and with the world around me began.
In 1978, we traveled to Leningrad and my dad started at the Kalinin Artillery Military Academy. I remember life in Leningrad very well, although I was only four years old. My parents often took me to the circus, the zoo and museums, and sometimes we took a boat trip on the Neva. I remember the Hermitage and the Petropavlovsk Fortress.
When my father’s studies at the Military Artillery Academy were over in 1981, we moved to Hungary, a country that was unknown to us. In Hungary, I started primary school, and my sister Fatima was born there. She lives in Sweden now.
Having your own house means a lot to us. Much of our lives are linked to a house. Dad taught me Chechen hospitality. If there were guests or acquaintances back home for my parents, he said that I would meet them, ask how things were going with their health, how the journey had been, how things were going at home with them and so on, and then pull me back to my room . With us, they say that “A guest in the home is a pleasure,” or “Wherever a guest comes, is also a blessing.” There are many Chechen proverbs, legends and parables about hospitality.
In the Chechen families it is the fathers who take care of their upbringing. Living the rules given from generation to generation, we call Noxchalla, or the Chechen word for a Chechen, “Noxcho”. Noxchalla is a Chechen code of honor that has a long history. It deals with most aspects of life, and among other things, it tells us how children should be brought up and how we should behave when meeting other people. We have very strict rules of life, mentality, customs, and traditions. Chechens who are not fond of their country are seen at an angle. Those who do not follow these rules will not be considered a good Chechen.
We used to go home twice in a year when my father had a holiday. We took the train from Budapest to Kiev and on to Mineralnye Vody, in Russia. I liked very much to sit by the window in the cabin and look out, guessing what places we passed, counting the tunnels in the Carpathian mountains, as well as the large rivers, and looking at the far off the Azov Sea. When we finally got back to the Fatherland, we immediately knew that it was where we belonged.
After five years in Hungary, we moved to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where we lived for almost six years. We lived near the military garrison, in a place called “The Northern Town.” I was about to finish school, where I could learn more languages, such as Lithuanian, English, French and Russian. I needed and wanted to speak in my native tongue and I missed my home and relatives.
We had a big library at home. My parents had me read books from our library. Among all of these books, they always chose the books about the Chechens for me; about our history, our traditions and customs. Before my father came home in the evening, I had to be ready to tell him what I had read and answer his questions about the book. My parents spent much time and effort on child rearing. They devoted time to ensuring that my sister and I loved our homeland, our people and traditions. It was interesting for us, especially because we were so far away from our homeland.
After his dismissal from the army, my parents finally moved us to our country. It was the largest festival in my life and it happened in 1992. We bought a house with a large garden in Grozny. My family had never had a home in Grozny before this. I remember my father said to his friend before we came to our homeland, “I want to move to my country and I want my own house and a small garden. I want to work with the land as my father did. One becomes peaceful at heart by it.” It had been our common dream in the family for many years. We thought that our dreams had come true. How could I know then that we should have to live through the years that followed?
In 1994, a war began, as well as a new tragedy. Our new house was destroyed along with other people’s houses in Grozny. There is nothing in this world that lasts forever. In 1996, the end of the tragedy that took so many lives came. With us, they say that “hope dies last.” Our hope had not died, anyway, how hard we had it. We started to repair our house. A few months later my father was elected president, and I began to study at university and was working next door.
At that age, I started to think about my future and how I would live. I wanted to continue my studies and family, and I moved to the land of Malaysia, to enter an international school. I was forced to learn English and that was what I did right then. Besides, I had big plans for the future and I was optimistic, as I planned later to get into the University of Informational Technology.
I lost hope when the second war began on September 30, 1999. A full-scale invasion was underway, with much larger Russian forces than in 1994. I understood that it could go on for a long time. I could not sleep well, I had nightmares almost every night and I thought that I could not travel to my country. Our house was destroyed again and many friends, relatives and people I knew before were killed. This I heard when my mother called me in 1999.
In the summer of 2001, I traveled with my family from Malaysia to Turkey on behalf of my father. It was difficult to keep in touch with my father and mother from South East Asia. We lived in Istanbul for six months, then we moved to the United Arab Emirates, where we could borrow the apartment of a friend of the family.
One day, my family and I headed in a taxi from Dubai to Sharjah. Suddenly, my daughter asked from the back seat: “Daddy, Daddy, when will Grandpa throw out the Russian soldiers, so we can go to our homeland?” The question surprised me – she was only four years old. I did not know how to answer. I was silent, but hurt in my heart.
It was hard to stay in the United Arab Emirates for security reasons and because of some problems with our passports. The passports had expired and we had not renewed them, so we went to Azerbaijan. I was very happy to get a little closer to our home country. We flew over Georgia, and from there I could see the mountains of Chechnya. They are easy to spot, and easy to distinguish from Dagestan, because the mountains there are not wooded, as they are in Chechnya. As we approached I looked out the window at the horizon and thought, “There is my homeland, but I cannot go there. I cannot even put my leg there. I cannot meet my father or my relatives.” My heart beat harder. Around me, people sat and talked, some laughed and enjoyed themselves, while I sat and thought about my father and my Chechen homeland, where my people were killed every day.
In 2005, my father was killed in Chechnya. The Russian government decided not to give his body to us. At the time, some people also tried to kidnap my son in Azerbaijan, and all our relatives in Chechnya were put in jail for no reason. It was a dangerous situation for us, and we feared for our safety. We decided to move from Azerbaijan to another country.
We thought a lot about where we should travel. I decided to go to Norway because I’d read a lot about this country. I thought a lot about health care, politics, economics, education and society. I was lucky and came to Norway. I came alone to Norway while my family was still in Azerbaijan
In 2005, I met my first Norwegian friend from Azerbaijan, when I was living there. During this time I said, “Next time we meet in Norway.” I contacted him and we met in Oslo in 2006. He was very surprised by this.
I have found out that Norway is a very nice country with natural beauty, mountains, great lakes, waterfalls and many fjords. It’s almost like Chechnya, but we do not have oceans in my country. It is almost one hundred kilometers to the Caspian Sea from Chechnya.
In 2007, my family moved to Norway. Then in 2008, my mother came too. I was happy that they could be with me in this safe country.
It is very difficult to start a new life in a new country. There are about 40 countries that I’ve traveled to before. I’m tired of traveling, because our life has been a great journey from one place to the other. Now I decided to stop here and start a new life in Norway.
There is much we must learn, and also much which awaits us in the future in Norway. I hope that we will have a good and safe life in Norway. I hope that the children will thrive and get an education, so that they can do well here. I also hope that at some point, we will have our own house again in Chechnya, and we can go home.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco