Everybody liked Shaman as he was growing up, and he liked everybody and everything. He lived in a Muslim village with a Russian name—Sernovodsk—in Chechnya. It was a pretty little town in a green valley, with small farms around and hills beyond. The people were proud of their agricultural college and their schools. Everyone liked to come to the village’s hot sulfur baths. Life was good in Sernovodsk.
Before the war Shaman worked in a bakery, but that was only part of what he did. He liked mechanics and electronics and construction and Beethoven, … and rock music. He had a reputation for being able to mend practically anything, from cars to sewing machines. He was a popular, happy-go-lucky person, but no one dreamed he would turn out to be a hero.
When he was 24, he decided he should earn more money to help his parents support his younger brothers. So he left his family and his job and all his friends and his hobbies and went to Moscow to get a job that would pay him more. But he didn’t stay long. Trouble was starting at home. Everyone was afraid war would come, and it did.
When Shaman heard about it, he took the first plane back to Sernavodsk. There happened to be foreign journalists on the plane. Shaman got to talking with them. They offered him 1,000 US dollars to be their guide and driver to the city of Grozny, where the fighting was going on. Shaman accepted their offer.
In Grozny, Shaman found a world of total horror—bombs and dead bodies, ruined buildings, shattered glass and rubble, broken furniture, scattered belongings everywhere. On top of one pile he saw a wedding photograph and wondered where that smiling bride and groom might be now.
To his surprise, he found that there were still people alive in the midst of this horror, living in basements. Most were Russians, but there were Chechens and Azeris and others too, all huddled together, terrified and helpless, without food, water, heat or light. Their national differences didn’t seem to matter any more.
Shaman promised, Allah willing, to bring them food, water and medicine, and he kept his promise, not once but many times, buying supplies with the money he had earned from the journalists. Often, one of his brothers, Adlan, went with him to help. Somehow, using back streets, running and dodging, Shaman and Adlan managed to avoid snipers, take in supplies and even bring out sick and wounded people. Shaman’s car was hit and often he heard the whistle of bullets, but somehow they all missed him. Once, he even had to change a tire near where shooting was going on.
“Allah is merciful,” he told himself. “Perhaps Allah needs me.”
Then his own village became blockaded, and it became dangerous and difficult to drive in and out. Once, he walked 43 kilometers (nearly 27 miles) over the mountains to take food and medicine to survivors in another village that had been bombed. When he discovered that the Russian soldiers were also cold and hungry, he even brought food for them. To Shaman, no person in need was an enemy.
Meanwhile, the people in Shaman’s village refused to let the war be their whole life or their whole picture of reality. They set up a peace camp on the main road into their village. There, they held regular prayers around a campfire in a makeshift mosque. All winter people lived in this camp.
But when spring came, Sernovodsk was bombed, and thousands of people fled out of Chechnya—Shaman’s family among them. Luckily, Shaman and his family all survived the bombing. For months, they lived as refugees with friends in Ingushetia.
Even there, Shaman worked for peace and human rights. He knew that neither the people in Chechnya nor his friends in Russia wanted war. He kept looking forward to when he would be able to return to his country and raise a family of his own in peace.
That time finally came. The fighting stopped. Shaman and Adlan, the rest of their family, and many of their friends returned to Sernovodsk. They found much of it destroyed—over 400 houses gone. They started rebuilding. Best of all, Shaman found a lovely young girl and married her. Her name is Milana. They now have a baby girl who was born on Christmas day. Her name is Diana.
Shaman is building more than just a home for his new family. He and Adlan, with the help of Chris, a young British Quaker, and others from many different cultures, worked hard to set up a mill where grain can be ground. The mill makes about 50 sacks of flour a day to give to people in need in southwest Chechnya.
Meanwhile, Adlan and Chris opened a center in Grozny to help children who were hurt, both emotionally and physically, by the war. The center is called Little Star. Psychologists, nurses and teachers from Russia, Chechnya and Britain also helped. Now, these children can laugh and play again, as children should be able to do. Shaman and Adlan and their friends show us again that somehow, even in terrible times, the human spirit can be stronger than the violence and hate that seek to dominate it.