The Starik of the mountains

Kavkaz starik


Moments that change our world.

IT was September 2004. I and a Russian friend were guests of a Chechen family in Nalchik. My Russian friend had spent his life trying to bring war to an end. He traveled repeatedly to war zones, talking to commanders from each side, urging them to put down their guns and take up life again. He drove many families to safety, including the Chechen family with whom we were staying.    

     The first night we were with the family, they prepared a feast as fabulous as it was endless: fruits, meats, salads, breads, and juice as if it was flowing from fountains. They had asked an extremely talented guitarist, a friend, to come play and sing for us. (Such is the old tradition in the Caucasus to honor guests.) He played gentle beautiful songs for hours, as if he knew a visitor from far away might not understand “stronger” music. Of course, on such an occasion, the children were allowed to stay up past their bedtimes to sing and dance. 

      The next day we went to the mountains—after all, these are mountain people. We drove until the river over the edge of the road (which I could see “too clearly” from my car seat) was no more than the size of a thread. The higher we went the narrower the road became.  Village after village met us with women sitting on their front stoops, knitting, while children played soccer in the road (the only flat space).  The houses, I slowly realized, had the road for their “front yard” and air for the back.

      In one village we came upon a herd of goats resting in the road. (Where else?) We stopped and waited. . . .  In the mountains you do not hurry anywhere. No one, willingly, would leave such indescribable beauty quickly. After a little time, a large, beautiful, red iron gate, next to our car opened. A little man in a beautiful cap, unique to the Caucasus, came out.   

    “Are you alright?” he asked. “Do you need help?”     

    We pointed to the goats. “No, thank you,” we said. “We’re just resting with the goats.

     He laughed. Then with a loud voice he called to his wife, “Wife! We have guests. Prepare dinner for our guests!” 

      We were 6 adults. The men in our group jumped out of the car to shake the Starik’s hand and thank him. (Starik: a respectful term for a village elder.)  They bowed to him, thanked him again and again, putting their hands on their hearts, telling him we were provided for. 

     I took a photo from the window of the car, sensing this was a moment to be remembered. The quality of the photo was not good, but it is still priceless to me. I love the man’s kind face . . . and the lesson he taught me in generosity.    

     We traveled far up the mountain to have shashlik (barbecue). My friends bought me a beautiful, long, coat length sweater “to keep me warm.”  It still keeps me wonderfully warm through seasons when the world turns cold.

      Who wouldn’t remember such moments with endless gratitude for all the good that  always is.  If you look carefully enough, the stories are still there, waiting for us to find them.


 ©InterestEng. July 2013 - April 2022 §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff photos or used with permission.  §  To contact us: