Week three, tipping into week four of rehearsals for Intractable Woman: This is the much anticipated transition from rehearsal hall to the theatre. Details of the actors’ navigation on the stage will be inhabited in their appropriate space. Practical adjustments are now made with the actors “on deck”. This is a very exciting time as all the elements come together in the performance space. It is truly magnificent how the various dimensions; structures of the text, the director’s, actors’ and stage manager’s work in rehearsals, are married with the brilliant set, the costumes, the lighting, and the sound and video design. Creative levels are high, with exceptional, perceptive collaboration between Micheline Chevrier, stage manager Sarah-Marie Langlois and the acting ensemble and our technical crew — the production is now living and breathing with design elements in beautiful, dynamic synchronicity. Breathtaking design, spectacular performances, directed with care and precision — it is a tremendous honour to witness all the wonderful artistry creating this amazing production.
Outside the rehearsal, in our every day lives, the power of words, their potential influence, and the sometimes questionable use and censorship of them, hits deeper and deeper. You need only read, watch and listen to the news. Hopefully, we can trust the sources from which we receive our facts, information and op-ed reads. We have the right to expect truth, honest and without significant bias. But how do we know? More and more I hear myself, my peers, neighbours, family and friends genuinely ask, “Where do you get your news from?”
As we have read more of Anna’s writing, we have also come to understand that Anna experienced acute loneliness. On the second Chechen conflict, which she called “A Dirty War”, Anna said, “No journalists come here.” I can only imagine her degree of loneliness. Although Novaya Gazeta, the paper Anna wrote for, was opposed to the current Russian political party line, the paper was still reluctant to print everything Anna reported on from the second Chechen conflict. Her writing also helps us to understand this. When barrier after barrier is set in-front of you, how do you carry on? How do you persevere in telling the truth, reporting undeniable facts? How do you get your story told? How do you make it known? How can you help people listen and foster understanding? Anna spent time as a journalist in Chechnya and it was not a friendly place for transmitters of truth. She was brave and determined and she never stopped; both remarkable and inspiring qualities, but also necessary to her profession.
Anna Politkovskaya wrote truth. She was a journalist. She was a transmitter of facts. A journalist has the occupation of reporting, writing, collecting, publishing facts. However, at times, there can be almost impossible, seemingly insurmountable blocks in one’s way to tell the truth, have it heard and have it stand a chance. Simply said, no one can know about a very real situation if they don’t want to know. Even with what she was up against, Anna promised to report the truth; and even if she did not say it in words, her promise was made to her journalistic sources, sometimes with a nod and something whispered. Anna was a civilian. And she was a journalist, documenting and reporting truth. If not for her, we would not know about the second conflict in Chechnya. We would not know about its perpetrators, the thousands of civilians who suffered, the detailed history leading up to the conflict, and what it means for our world today. Take a quick moment and think about current biases you are experiencing in your readings of current affairs.
In my earlier blog entry, about week one of rehearsals, I wrote that every civilian has a right to information and has a right to access information. Seems pretty obvious, but this notion rings at an almost deafening rate these days.
Which of today’s truths are being silenced?
– Stefanie Buxton, Assistant Director, Intractable Woman Feb 9-18
September 1999. We are lying on withered autumn grass. To be more precise, we want to lie on it, but for most of us all that’s left is the dusty Chechen ground. There are too many of us—hundreds, and there are not enough amenities for everyone.
We are the people caught in the bombing. We didn’t’ do anything wrong; we were just walking toward Ingushetia along the former highway, which is now all torn up by armored vehicles.
Grozny is behind us. We run as a herd from the war and its battles. When the time comes, and you have hit the ground face down, assuming a fetal position, trying to hide your head, knees, and even elbows under your body—then a kind of false, sticky loneliness sneaks up on you, and you start to think: “Why are you crouching? What are you trying to save? This life of yours that no one but you cares about?”
Why is it false? Because you know perfectly well that this isn’t really true; you have a family, and they are waiting and praying for you. And it’s sticky because of the sweat. When you’re clinging to life, you sweat a lot. Some people are lucky, though. When they feel that death is near, all that happens is that the hair rises on their heads.
Still, there is loneliness. Death is the one situation where you can never find companionship. When the diving helicopters hover over your bent back, the ground stars to resemble a death bed.
Here are the helicopters, going for another round. They fly so low that you can see the gunners’ hands and faces. Some say that they can even see their eyes. But this is fear talking. The main thing is their legs, dangling carelessly in the open hatches. As if they didn’t’ come to kill, but to let their tired feet get some fresh air. There feet are big and scary, and the soles almost seem to touch our faces. The barrels of their guns are squeezed between their thighs. We’re frightened, but we all want to see our killers. They seem to be laughing at us crawling comically down below—heavy old women, young girls, and children. We can even hear their laughter. But no, this is just another illusion; it’s too noisy to hear that. Automatic weapon fire whistles in the air around us, and someone always starts to wail along. Has anyone been killed? Wounded?
“Don’t move. Don’t raise your head. That’s my advice,” a man next to me says. He dropped to the ground right where he was, in his black suit with a white shirt and black tie.
My neighbor Vakha starts talking nonstop. This is a good thing; it’s better to talk now that to be silent.
Vkaha is a land surveyor from Achkhoi-Martan, a big village not far from Ingushetia. In wartime Chechnya, everyone is afraid of everything. This morning, Vakha left his house wearing his suit and carrying his folder as usual, so as not to attract attention, as if he were going to work. In fact, he had decided to flee.
“Every time,” Vakha mumbles, because you can’t help mumbling with your mouth pressed to the ground, “every time the helicopters come, I take my folder, get out some paper, and pretend to write. I think it helps.”
People nearby start to laugh quietly.
“How can paper help? What are you talking about?” a tiny, skinny man to his left mutters in a loud whisper, spitting our dirt.
“The pilots see that I’m working, that I’m not a terrorist, “ the land surveyor retorts.
“And what if they thingk just he opposite? That you’re taking down their licence plate numbers?’ a female body in from pipes up, gingerly shifting a bit. “I’m all numb. When will this all end?”
“If they think that, then you’re done for.” We can’t see who says this. He is behind us. And it’s a good thing: his words are tough, sharp, and pitiless, like an ax.
“There you go again. Enough of that.” An old man’s voice cuts the tough guy short. The he asks Vakha, “Show me your folder, please. I’ll tell the others.”
The bodies, who have been silenced by the tough guy, are eager to clutch at straws again, to enjoy an unexpected gift of momentary happiness, the last for some.
“Go ahead, show us…”
“We’ll all get these holders…”
“The Russians will run out of them…”
“Putin will wonder, why are all the Chechens running around with folders during the war? They should be carrying automatic weapons…”
“And he’ll give out folders to the Feds too. All of Chechnya will be carrying folders…”
“Vahka, what color should the folders be?”
The helicopters don’t stop circling around. The children’s crying shakes the ground that is studded with people, machine guns are shooting—why don’t they shut up for just a moment?—and the explosions of falling mines croak the whole time, introducing a banal note into our stay on the death bed. That’s all we need!
Still, people joke around. Vakha defends himself meekly.
“It’s all in Allah’s hands,” he says. “But say what you want, I’ve never been wounded with this folder. Not in the first war, and not in this one. It’s always helped me.”
“So you had the folder in the first war too?” someone burst out laughing, in a kind of nervous spasm. “Then why are you lying on the ground, man? Why don’t you get up?”
Vahka is tired of that.
“Everyone’s lying on the ground. Why should I be the one to get up? Why should I make myself into a target?”
– Anna Politkovskaya
Politkovskaya, Anna. A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.