Chapter (4) Four
“It’s not always so cold in Russia,” explains Polina Mazaeva, a Russian Chuvasan sympathizer and mother of a seven seven old named Yazan. Yazan was born to a Syrian Druze father who is not with them anymore. It’s complicated, yet not that complicated in virtually every society. As men abandoning women with their child is very old story actually in all cultures.
“It’s just that we have had to exhibit a certain moralistic coldness. A certainly ethical chill. This was the experience of growing up in the ruins of the Soviet Union. But we are not without beliefs. We are not without our sympathies. You just have to be careful how you talk about them. Things need to be rational, they need to be sentimental but only if sentimentality is kept in letters or behind closed doors.
Outside Moscow and St. Pete’s life is often lived poorly. Nationalism was at an all time high. When many have an internal critique about our leaders, or the price of buses. Or the treatment of homosexuals or Chechens, perhaps we keep it out of our heads. Because the United Russia Party has made many advances to restore us to national dignity. Curb the oligarchy to some degree and reign in the gangster-ism of the 1990’s. The infrastructure of the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, outside the downtown area remains largely as it was in the late 1950’s. Optimistically better than what Stalin provided, but still brutalist, soul sucking Soviet crumble. Certainly the upcoming bus boycott will test the limits of ‘free speech’. There are piles of dirty snow all about the fourth largest city in the Federation. The very tall statue of Lenin still stands near the Hotel Marins Park. He’s still the default father of the nation. Only the ultra-wealthy have any admiration for the Czars, except for of course Peter the Great who stands tall over Moscow.”
Russia is a multiethnic, mostly single party oligarchic federation of some 158 nationalities, immediately east four hours from Moscow is the Chuvash Republic. The semi-central Asian Chuvash people are vaguely European and vaguely Asian; almost all are orthodox Christian and have never in remembered Russian history run afoul of the central authority. Never got themselves butchered or deported en-masse to Siberia. No, no, the Chuvash play well with others. The Chuvashan capital is Cheboksary on the Volga, but many can be found in Nizhny Novgorod, the Russian Detroit, once a closed and secret city called Gorky.
Who is Polina Mazaeva? A coy Russian Agit-prop? No, No, she actually has fallen in love with this tragic radical, Sebastian Adon. And they are preparing to meet, but have composed a number of Russian American, or Americano Soviet love songs and scribbles.
Why and when Sebastian and Polina began to write to each other is of no great mystery, both were in pure existential crisis. They wrote often and eloquently in the year leading up to his deployment in Kurdistan Syria and Iraq. These letters and poems all sounded similar, but not the same to previous love affairs across the Cold War, but they reinforced each others’; motivation.
This is not a ballad for two people who move on. But fundamentally the reality of their underlying narrative was that one day Sebastian, who had more agency via his U.S. passport would fly to her and give her a new life. A more tragic but realistic understanding of the correspondence was that before he was going to do the hard part; give her and her son a new life; he would go to Syria, where obviously he could die.
She brought the contradiction up only seldom. Their worst fights were Polina’s frequent accusations of Sebastian’s womanizing. Which was real, but not as magnified as she made. He wasn’t sleeping with every single woman friend he appeared in a Facebook photo with. But, he had lovers she didn’t see. He assumed she did too, but in reality, she did not. She loved the idea of him, but never expected him to ask for some mega long-distance monogamous relationship. It was strange. But she had a son and little Yazan kept her more faithful. Sebastian in the meantime took under half a dozen women to bed, the idea of Polina was sentimental to him, but also not exactly real. Periodically she would flip out over a woman he appeared with on social media. But, it would fade. Several times he threatened to cancel the Russian leg of the trip, but he didn’t actually want to. Russia was something he needed to see before he died. And, he probably will die out there like the 600,000 plus others who had perished in the war so far. Maybe in an airstrike, but likely from a mine. ISIS had allegedly booby-trapped every room of every house of every village, town and city they had occupied.
The correspondence was real. They uniquely relied on each other to float. The underlying assumption that their struggle was real, that Sebastian would die on some barricade rather than raise a family and that Yazan had sort of frozen her life into place. Sebastian had clearly acquired revolutionary delusion of grandeur and was now enslaved to his own expectations of heroism. Polina had fallen hard for her baby’s father and been rejected and abandoned. The Russian state and her parents shouldered some of the costs of raising a seven year old, but her life was a dull repetition and a soft cage.
Yes, the struggle was quite real! Sebastian had several times averted ongoing suicidal ideations through her soft tone and patient words. Polina had taken on new online classes and high expectations of what was possible. While the flirtation with self-harm was mitigated by the responsibility of motherhood, she had dark times. They needed each other after a point. They waited happily for the next response which honestly flowed all day every day since he was an ambulance man and she was very per diem self-employed with information technology type assignments in graphic design. They wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes poems, songs or sketches. Sometimes he would tell her how hard he planned to fuck her, or she would write out something that seemed hard enough to be a rape scene. They both were getting what they needed out of it. A friend in a dark time. Two friends in long distance Post-Soviet love. Two dreamers who live in utter and total nightmares. It gave them something to believe in.
Polina Ivanova Mazaeva throws back her crimson dyed hair and makes a pouty Chvashan face for a selfie. I love only three men! I love my son the very most, he is the future. He is happy and free and built from diverse parts. Yazan is his name and he is seven. Like any mother I have to love my son very first, even before myself! I am sometimes a dramatic and hysterical person, but this is who I am. Also, a jealous wife.
My mother is of unknown ethnicity, unknown as her mother was adopted as an orphan during the Great Patriotic War against Germany. Her father is a happy smiling Chuvash.
I love second, my forbidden ex-husband, Damien. He is in Dubai now, we tried hard to make this work, but he is Druze and I am Chuvasan, and never the two can be together. We tried. But it was too complicated. I love him still, I fantasize about him returning for me and carrying me off to the high tech parts of the Middle East, but he is gone.
Only the face of my son reminds me of him a little. They make fun of him in school and call him Arab, but this is not Arab. He is Chuvash, and Druze. Holy, actually, a reincarnated Druze inside him will speak in parables sometimes.
“My third love, and final for now is Mr. Comrade Sebastian Adonaev. An American. A New York revolutionary, a medical worker on ambulances and a very gifted artist. Perhaps better understood an upper middle class malcontent. Aspiring revolutionary? I hope he will not die in Syria, but statistically, it is probable. He has my heart in some strange way. Actually only with his spirited words.”
Sebastian makes a lot of written reports, partly because he’s a writer and partly because his team is spread widely over four countries. He writes me love letters and also forwards technical reports. They are highly boring, but cast some insight into his Middle Eastern movements and affairs. I am not really invested in his brigade of foreign fighters bound for Syria, of course, but I admire them all for their relative bravery. Rather, it would be better if he just stayed in Russia with me when he arrives, which will apparently be on May Day 2017.
Sebastian writes to Polina frequently:
There are eight people in or supporting the growing expeditionary party into Rojava. Some are working on the field ground and some from the safety of the U.S.A. Demhat al-Jabari, a Kurdish patriot I met in university, is negotiating with me in Kurdistan. He will likely go to Rojava, but return for school in the fall. Shoresh is an actual anarchist, he doesn’t really have a role as much as he showed up to fight in the Y.P.G. and perhaps do some gardening. The constant gardener doesn’t care about any bigger picture or whether Rojava will rise or fall, he will come for six months and depart. He has a wife and young baby, so it’s better, I guess. Alacan al-Biban Rasool is a Kurdish fixer boss. He’s a local to Erbil. He does Fixing, without ever taking money. Yelizaveta Kotlyarova is a Russian doctor, actually just a podiatrist, and Dr. Jordan Wagner is an ER doctor and they will do medical control from the stateside. Pete Saint Reed is a marineleading a little medical detachment inside Mosul. Justine Grace Schwab is working with Alacan al-Biban, also with Pete, and maybe could be our 8th; but she has savvy and magic and cunning, but doesn’t play on a team well.
Our overall contribution to the humanitarian side of the war in the end was under forty women and men deployed in Iraq under the auspices of Pete Reed’s N.G.O. Global Response Management, and mere four volunteers from abroad, myself and a gardener named Spike going up in the mountains, and over the river and into the Y.P.G. A Peruvian nurse named Francisco who worked briefly with Pete in the battle of Hawija, and a Kurdish American negotiator named Demhat al-Jabari. So Pete Saint Reed was definitely a better commander and focused wholly on the work in Iraq.
“There are a lot of complications,” he claimed. One may have been the lack of a reliable hotel bar in Rojava.
My unit of four, really three in the end was actually all we could manage to get over there and into Syria. Several dropped out, unexpectedly? No expediently expected. The American activist drama queen, “VIP leftist” Cecily Macmillan. A medical assistant in training named Joshua Hunter and a Ukrainian EMT named Philip. Syria is not actually an easy place to sell volunteerism in America.
Few of these volunteers, in the end, proved dependable, but who could really blame them in the face of the Syrian Civil War bloodbath. Only the Kurds Alacan al-Biban and Roj did any leg work, out of patriotism. Oh yes, Spike did his seven months but certainly, none of that was dedicated to the medical mission. He deployed to shoot.
Really Pete Reed’s success, if you can deem it any success what he actually accomplished, in Iraq was about managing to access the W.H.O. money. His military veteran can do bravery and being embedded with the Iraqi Special Operations Forces helped a lot. The potential disaster of our Syria mission had most to do with the near-total inability to reinforce or evacuate our team once inside Syria, being therefore wholly dependent on the whims of the YPG. Which again, stands for People’s Protection Units, the P.K.K. mostly Kurdish militia fighting ISIS as the primary Coalition led proxy. Who allegedly, and in reality have a deep “martyr culture” and a sort of contempt for Western medical workers.
Sebastian’s reports, like his mind, dig deep then ramble out into incomplete destinations. Actually almost no one read them besides Demhat, Alacan al-Biban and Polina; sometimes Mr. David Smith, or Arlington. On the subject of Polina and Sebastian;
“We are both writers and both artists, she took only a slight interest in my Middle Eastern Affairs.” So Sebastian thought, but that was not true she followed Russia in Syria closely. The Russian media anyway called it world war three. Polina wrote many email letters and some he printed out and carried with him in a leather binder.
Sebastian carried her letters about to reinforce himself when the weather was too hot which it always was and death would inevitably get too near, which it sometimes did. Such was one;
My Dear Comrade Sebastian,
Hi, Maybe because many of all in my life you don’t know. You are important for me, that’s why I am winding all, afraid to lose you. I don’t want to be selfish, it just happens. And I really didn’t want any relationship before I knew you better, because I needed to take a break after the last relationships, and do something with my psyche and my life.
Why do I love you? When you wrote to me in October, I just couldn’t understand why you sent me such long letters. Especially because most of them were difficult for me to read. I just wanted to be polite and answered when I could. But then I saw that you feel bad, very bad. And I have a rule – if I have failed so far in my plans, I need to support those who don’t see for themselves how much they can do. You can do all you wish. You can gather people and organize them for common activities. For a good deal. You are a wonderful person. You supported me later. And I began to be inspired by you. I learned how you feel, how you sympathize with other people, what your heart is. You have a beautiful smile and so much fire. Simply, we are all people, and we all have weaknesses that we have to contend with. And you too, and me.
Now you inspire me more and more, and I like your ideas, because I begin to understand them (it was difficult before because of the language barrier), and of course this feeling – I hate it, but I miss you constantly and I would not want to share you with anyone. I’m really unstable for the last three years, there were so many reasons, that’s why I did not want to get attached to anyone – it would create problems for everyone.
But you’re great, just know this. I love your strange smile. Your brown eyes. Even when they are tired after a hard day. I love your voice and I love your face. I love your body (so far imagined in the pictures), I love your thoughts and that thing which guides you, the reasons why you are and what you do. You are a very kind person, so you suffered a lot. And you are wonderful, in any case, even when your strength is running out. I just love you because you exist. I would follow you everywhere and support you in any crazy thing, and I would share with you my most beautiful night dreams. And if you were nearby, I couldn’t let you leave a bed, I would give you all of me. Simply, you are very important and forgive me, if somewhere my old complexes I project on you. I’m not perfect at this. Sorry. It happens in only one timeline, then leaves. Wait a little, please, you’ll see a lot of good from me. And I hope you feel a little better today or soon. If you need to speak about any of your problems I am always here.
Your comrade & your future lover,
Polina Ivanova Mazaeva
Don’t have affairs with other women or get killed in the war. There are actually many people besides me who care about you!