"Apart from the motherland, there is no other country closer than Russia”

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About a complicated love of a civil engineer from Chad for Russia

Alexander Panov, a member of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote a touching text: a fate of one person, who lived in a difficult period of the history.

Without unnecessary questions

Five years ago, during my first visit to Chad I first met Yakub Abul-Hasan. It happened by pure accident. For some reason, I had to make photocopies of the documents, so I ran into one of the shops on the Charles de Gaulle boulevard passing through the center of N'Djamena, and saw an advertisement about the corresponding services at the window. The shop was crowded with locals - one was buying stationery, the other needed cartridges for printer. My attention was immediately attracted by a tall, stately man in a long white boobu, talking to someone on the phone ... in very good Russian.

“He must be our graduate,” -thought I immediately and decided to wait for him to finish the conversation and make an acquaintance. Of course, it's not uncommon to meet a person in Africa who was educated in Russia or in the USSR, but there are still not so many of those who, after many years, have not forgotten the Russian language and continue using it confidently.

As usual, these are Africans, who at their time married Russians and now are not having a lack of speaking practice. Yakub turned to be one of those.

He immediately told me that he had two Russian daughters and then several times showed me with unveiled pleasure the pictures with them and their grandchildren on the phone. However, the Russian family is now far away, and Yakub has another wife from Chad. “Well, it happens”, - thought I, and did not ask unnecessary questions.

Following the dream

A year later, we met each other again. Yakub became for me a kind of a magic wand in N'Djamena. One could always turn to him for help and for almost any reason, if one needed an experienced and knowledgeable chauffeur, contacts of the right person or just a piece of information about a city and a country.

But finally, during our third meeting, we got into conversation and some previously unknown details of his life’s story were revealed to me, which deserved to become a basis for a good novel or a film script. The fate of my hero was closely intertwined with a dramatic history of both his and my native country.

In the early 1970s, Yakub went to study in the USSR. He recalls: “At that time, many Chadian students went to study abroad. But those who got places in Germany, France or the USA had to work somewhere else parallel with their studies. The Soviet government fully covered our expenses, so we did not need anything, and I even had some time to travel - I visited Leningrad, Central Asia, it was very interesting.

The young Chadian applicant initially dreamed of becoming an architect and hoped to receive a place at university in this area. He quite well mastered mathematics, physics, and the basics of drawing at school, however, he could not paint, which was a fundamental condition for gaining the coveted job.

Nevertheless, Yakub was offered a place at the Faculty of Civil and Industrial Construction at the Kiev Civil Engineering Institute. Therefrom he came back to his homeland not only with an engineering degree, but also with his wife Oksana, who was a graduate of the same university.

 Love at the time of the war

At the very beginning, the life of a young international couple was successful. Both spouses got a job at the headquarter of an important regional organization, the Lake Chad Basin Commission. In 1978, their first daughter was born. But the next year, the politics intruded into their lives and it was put an end to the family well-being. By that time, a civil war had been continuing in northern Chad for more than ten years. The detachments of the several organizations of the armed opposition launched a struggle against the central government, in which the key positions were occupied by the representatives of the peoples from the south. The head of the state, General Felix Mallum, managed to come to an agreement with one of the influential field commanders, Hissen Habré, about building a coalition government. But in 1979, a fragile peace was violated, and the fierce military clashes broke out between southerners and northerners directly in the capital of the country.

N'Djamena was submerged into the abyss of interconfessional violence. The remnants of Mallum's demoralized army massacred Muslims, who, in their turn, settled accounts with Christians and animists. External forces, primarily France and Libya, happened to be also involved in the conflict, challenging each other here for their influence on the continent. Oriented on an alliance with the latter, another influential leader of the rebels-northerners Gukuni Oueddey managed to seize power for a short time, however, everyone understood that there would be a new aggravation ahead.

Yakub had to send his wife and daughter back to the USSR. At that time Oksana was eight months pregnant. The risk of losing a child was great, but in that situation, they did not have a good solution at hand. The country was in chaos, the reputable power was no longer existed, and no one could predict exactly what would happen then.

The worst of all was the fact that Yakub could not follow his family: the USSR did not give him an entry visa. It is difficult to understand how the state can deny entry to the legal spouse and the father of its citizens, and even under such circumstances. It is such an amazing historical paradox. In those years, the Soviet government did a lot of good things for Africa, but the fate of individuals, both African and its own, remained somewhere on the periphery of its attention. At that time, the marriages of Soviet girls with Africans generally caused rather a disapproving reaction both from the state and society as a whole. Therefore, apparently, no one, except for relatives, considered it necessary to save them in difficult situations.

That is why when hostilities were relaunched, Yakub, together with the thousands of other refugees, had to flee to neighboring Cameroon. By that time, he had already lost almost everything that he once had - the house was destroyed, the bank where the savings were kept was ruined, the family was far away, and he lived in exile on UNHCR support.

Especially now Yakub is grieving about the lost library. He recalls: “I brought here a lot of books from the Soviet Union, they cost a penny back then.  Basically, it was scientific and technical literature, which was very rare here at that time. And it all died. "

Big story and two fates

After the Habré group seized power in N'Djamena in 1982, the war began again to retreat to the north, where not all the rebels accepted the power of the new president and continued to resist. But in the capital, it still a good while remained turbulent.

The established regime of Habré was extremely harsh even to its potential opponents. Any manifestation of disagreement was threatened with imprisonment, torture, reprisals, and persecution of family members. It was the local intelligentsia, which was considered a priori unreliable and which was facing a particular danger.

During the eight years that the "African Pinochet" was in power, about 40 thousand people became victims of state terror - in 2016, a special tribunal created by the African Union in Senegal sentenced him to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. Now, at the bare mention of his name, the kindest Yakub has a spasmodic face out of anger.

But let us move back again in thirty years. The main character of this essay came back to his homeland, starting to reconstruct his life, but it was no question of returning his family. In the sixth year of separation, Oksana's heart trembled and, desperate of being someday reunited with her husband, she asked him for a divorce.

Yakub remembers: “Many years later, she once confessed to me that she was very sorry for her decision, although she later got married again in Russia.” However, it was too late.

Yakub also married for the second time. It was in 1992 - 14 years after he had put his family on the plane to Russia. By that time, there was already a new president in Chad, Yakub himself gradually got on his feet and even opened a small construction company, which now allows him to exist relatively comfortably and even from time to time visit his children and grandchildren in Russia and France - the eldest daughter, deciding to continue the family tradition of internationalism, married a Frenchman. Yakub's wife also runs her own business - she owns a small shop for office supplies and stationery. This is the very center of the city and therefore it is always crowded here.

“In business, she is even more successful than i am, although I also help her. Right now, for example, her legs hurt, so I manage here,”-explains my senior friend.

On the wall of the store you can see a wall clock from Russia, in which, however, the battery power has long run out, as well as a reproduction of St. Basil's Cathedral painted in red by Yakub's African granddaughter - the girl has not been to Moscow yet and does not know what the original looks like. There is a Russian nesting doll on one of the shelves.

“After my own country, no other country is as close to me as Russia,” Yakub admits.

 P.S. from the author

Impressed by what he told me, I would like to make an objection in response: "Listen, it is the politics of these two countries which separated you from your first family." But I am silent and only nod my head thoughtfully. I would rather think about this story again and give my opinion next time we meet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Historian, specialized on Africa, a member of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2017-2019 he was a TASS correspondent in South Africa.