Women bring out the lamb in macho man vodka

DAGESTAN DAYS

Sovietskoye - While the world waits on tenterhooks to see if the Russian army will annihilate a rebel-held hamlet in Dagestan, another village, two miles down the road, has already been destroyed without anyone raising so much as a whisper.

When the international press corps moved into Sovietskoye (population 1,200), it wasn't such a bad place: it wasn't Monte Carlo but it was a picturesque enough Muslim farming community, a sprawl of stone houses and barns clustered around a scruffy little mosque a few hundred yards from the Chechen border. It provided an excellent view of the Russian tanks, especially if you stood on a haystack.

Moreover, the local Avar people made wonderful hosts. They were completely unworried by the arrival of an army of correspondents who came tearing in with flashy computer equipment, elaborate foul-weather wear, endless demands and hefty appetites.

You couldn't plod more than 10 yards along its lanes without being accosted by a babushka, ushering you to the hearthside for potato-and-lamb stew, hot unleavened bread and cups of sugary tea. Before long, half the village had journalists sleeping in their homes - a hotel is about as unlikely a proposition here as Disneyland - and yet they refused offers of money.

But on Friday the place fell apart. Fearful that Sovietskoye would be caught in the battle brewing at its edge between the Russians and the Chechen rebels, local officials ordered the evacuation of the village's women and children. In a community where women's liberation is about as advanced as the bathroom design (a hole in the ground in a fetid wooden shed), it was a dreadful setback.

The men's first reaction, as the Russian army massed in their fields, was to get raging drunk. The sound of the buses which carried their women off to neighbouring towns had scarcely died away when they launched into a vodka binge, switching to fortified Dagestani wine when their supplies dwindled. Well into the following day, they were still boozing and gnawing bones.

Halfway through this alcoholic orgy, anxious to impress their new Western friends, they grabbed one of the village's sheep, dragged it into the yard of a home in which we were gathered, and cut its throat. They then skinned it, boiled it and devoured it, leaving a trail of blood and bones and a host of turning Western stomachs.

But that was probably their last enjoyable moment. Dagestani men are not lacking in machismo, yet overnight they have been turned into lambs, and bewildered ones at that.

"You just can't live without women," said Gamil, the old man whose home we are living in, as he looked at the stale bread, unwashed glasses, and half-eaten gherkins scattered around his kitchen.

With his wife and daughter gone, he is living on scraps of bread and jam and spends most of his day praying in the gloom of a back room.

Matters are not helped by the loss of the electricity supply, the diminishing supply of food, and absence of running water. The press corps is beginning to smell a little like the dung heaps dotted around the village, courtesy of the many cows that wander the streets. Worse, the drink has run out.

The only decent meal here in the last day or two was a goose, slaughtered by the Dagestanis for some American newspapermen, who are always wealthier and better-fed than their European counterparts. If things go on much longer here there will be two battles: the first between the Chechens and the Russians, the second between the Avars and their wives, who will not be pleased by what they find on their return.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most