Dispatches from Intractable Woman Rehearsals

In the second week of rehearsals for “Intractable Woman”, Micheline and the acting ensemble have been delving into further exploration and investigation, creating beautiful, inspiring, incredible work. Micheline’s innovative direction and the brilliant, captivating ensemble have been lifting the text off the page and onto the stage with mastery and passion.Some questions about the narrative of the play that we have been asking this week are: How does Anna's integrity fuel her bravery? Where do we sense Anna’s fatigue? How did she persevere when she experienced threats against her? How did she cope when she learned of the tragic deaths of her journalistic sources? Some of the innocent, brave civilians who spoke with Anna were also betrayed by fellow civilians and even neighbours. These sources were killed by non-civilians for speaking their truth to Anna. The simple opportunities to work, live and love, had completely diminished and been stolen from the Chechen population. Anna persevered in making this known. She called the second war in Chechnya, “A Dirty War”. It stemmed from hatred, intolerance, corruption, hate and lies. An entire culture, an extraordinarily beautiful land was being destroyed, and the truth behind this horrible reality was being silenced.Our relationship with Anna deepens every day through continued conversation, specified research, connecting with Stefano Massini’s brilliant structure of this ‘theatrical memorandum’ -- deepening our understanding of Anna and her work, the people she met and the people who trusted her. Anna lived by the code every honourable journalist swears by: to stay alive and protect their journalistic sources at all costs. Anna only ever revealed identities of any sources after their lives were lost, after any risk to their lives was extinguished.More than ever, we find ourselves in a climate of ever-increasing censorship and silencing of truth; facts we all have a right to know. Anna’s story and her sources’ stories are critical, and must be shared and heard.An inventory from Week Two:ClarityCommitmentInventionResilienceStrength of spiritHumourLoveFamilyNeighbourSupportProtectionVoicebeing true to the facts, embracing the possibilities of theatrical, physical expression in each scene, trying out all the ideas to best serve the play and the drive of the piece, the urgency in Anna’s voice, what we experience learning about her, learning from her, understanding Anna, understanding this atrocious war, all the people affected by it, discovering the physical movement and its roiling nature, utilizing the space in all its potential, keeping in mind the technical aspects which will be married with the work thus far once the ensemble enters the theatre space, trying out ideas and finding the pieces and the connections between these pieces, all within the fabric of this extraordinary, pertinent play.– Stefanie Buxton, Assistant Director, Intractable Woman Feb 9-18


July 2001.  I’m meeting with Aina as if she were an undercover agent and I were a liaison from the center.  We take precautions worthy of a spy thriller.  Aina made her way to our meeting place via secret paths, using a different route than usual and not telling even her neighbors where and why she was setting off.  But the whole problem is that Aina and I don’t have an underground mentality, and the position that the authorities have forced us into is downright revolting to us.  Aina is a widow from Makhkety, and I am a journalist who wants to know why Makhkety has been cordoned off and isolated from the rest of the world for several months now.

“Did you know that the driver who ventured to go to Shali in February to tell the world outside of Chechnya about your arrest was just killed?  They tried to talk him out of it, but he said, ‘Someone must save her.’”

“What?!  He was killed?”

“Soldiers drove up, asked him his name, and then shot him point-blank.  It happened on June 30.  His name was Imran.”

So this means I am living at the cost of Imrans’ life.

“But didn’t only people in the village know that Imran went to Shali?  Your people?  Doesn’t that mean someone denounced him to the soldiers?”

“Of course.  We have so many informers now that we don’t know what to do.  The Feds corrupt our people; they pay them for the deaths of their neighbors.  I myself, coming to this meeting, feared the informers most of all, not the Feds.  The soldiers come to the villages to follow up on tips.  Eventually, the informers get killed too.  Do you remember the old house in Selmentausen where we met four men who had just been bought our of the pits on the 45th regiment base?”

I remember it well.  The house was very poor.  The family was crammed into a narrow little room with a primitive stove fueled by brushwood gathered near the forest.  The little children huddled up close to their mother and stared with fright at the guest.  After all, I looked like the people who had once take away their father; he had later returned home sick and beaten up.

The host himself had turned out to be a cheerful, witty man who was born the same year as me.  He hadn’t complained at all about the Feds torturing him, which surprised me.  He’d merely laughed at them.  Rubbing his fingers, which had been crushed by pliers, he had said, “Those poor bastards.  They’ll have to answer to God for everything they’ve done.  What’s the difference if we call him Allah?”

“He was killed too, “ Aina said quietly.  “They came, took him, shot him somewhere, and threw the body onto the road.  No one in the village has any doubt why it happened.  It’s because he told you about the torture.  We decided to ask you not to reveal his name anywhere so his family can survive.  And do you remember the black-haired fellow who was sitting in the homemade trestle bed next to the host then?”

“Of course I do.  He was also very cheerful.  He tried to calom me…”

“Oh, yes, he kept telling you, ‘Don’t get so upset! We Chechens are tough.  I can survive anything.’”

“That’s how he answered the question whether he ever dreamed of the tortures he’d been through.”

“He’s dead too.  They killed him the same way: they came in, asked his name, and took him away.  Only instead of throwing away the corpse, they forced the relatives to pay ransom for it.  Of the five men we talked to in Selmentausen then, three are gone.  And do you remember that tractor driver?  He was fixing a tractor by the farthest house in Selmentausen, and you talked with him for fifteen minutes.  He told you about the Feds’ raids, and you asked him, ‘Did you see the militants a long time ago?  When did they come here?’”

“Yes, and he answered, ‘A long time ago, maybe a year.  They stayed in the village for a day.  This day, the Feds stopped their shooting, and the militants warmed up, washed, and left.  And that’s when the raids started here…’  That was his story.  I copied it down on my notepad.”

“That tractor driver has also been shot…And how about the people you stayed and talked with at night in Makhkety?  Twenty or twenty-five people were crammed into that room.  And half of them are also no longer here.  Remember Taus Tagirova?  She was telling you so much, and crying.  Two of her sons were taken right from their home into the 45th regiment, and it’s been two months since they’ve been heard from.  And how about the Mohammedkhajievs?  Kharon and his wife?  They took Kharon, beat him up right in front of his six children, dragged him away, and he hasn’t been heard from for thwo months either…Nobody know what to do.  There are funerals every day,” says Aina, and her eyes are dry.

I look at Aina, who has been driven into a corner, recalling her own children whom she’s left behind in Makhkety every five minutes of the conversation.  She shudders at the thought that while she’s not there, anything could happen to them.  What if someone turned her in?

– 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.