In Dagestan


I went on a secret mission to Dagestan and was amazed by the almost martial tradition of hospitality. It was almost difficult to interview people, because they were so agitated by the possibility that you might not be being sufficiently well looked after. An old wrestling champion of the USSR called Magomed Magomedov, who had hands like mechanics’ tools, just couldn’t settle. When did we arrive? Where were we staying? Would we really not visit Gimry, where Imam Shamil made his famous leap (eight metres at least!) over the Russian soldiers that had surrounded him? Who was our host? All of these details before we could talk. When, finally, Magomed became convinced we were safe as guests in his land, he became calmer and we talked. We talked for almost an hour and when we rose I was amazed to find I was taller than he was. I made the mistake of pointing this out. “You are taller,” said Magomed, agreeing straightaway, “but I am higher.” Point made.