Each of us has our own reason for living abroad, away from family and the comforts of familiar places, while we also have an, often unacknowledged, inner fortitude. My father died when I was four, I survived tuberculosis, which left me predisposed to colds and bronchial infections. In eight years I attended six grade schools before my mother and my stepfather (who married my mother when I was five), moved their family of seven children from California to settle in Portland, Oregon. As the eldest, I was expected to set a good example and be perfect, which is an impossible pressure to place on anyone. My soft-voiced mother spoke English with a French accent which resulted in two of my brothers and a sister having speech peculiarities; two went to speech therapy. I participated in every school play and speech competition in order to communicate better.
After university I worked internationally, mostly in the Middle East. I was the U.S. Coordinator for the First and Second Economic Missions from the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as the host for President Jaafar Nimeiry of the Sudan. By my mid-thirties I was comfortable with who I was and with my position in the world. Although I was liked and respected, I was unable to make close friends
The most remarkable person I met was Prince David Chavchavadze, who worked for the CIA. When Svetlana Stalin defected to the West, Chavchavadze was her translator and interviewer, she spoke perfect English, but Chavchavadze was assigned to interview her and he worked with her on her biography. David and I remained friends until his death in 2014, long after I had moved to Ajijic. Although I moved to Ajijic with my partner of 32 years, who died shortly after our move, it was Chavchavadze who knew me best and longest and with whom I could discuss international politics, economics and religions. David Chavchavadze was a remarkable person who was the great great grandson of Czar Nicholas I and whose family had once ruled the Kingdom of Georgia, which was absorbed by Russia in the early 1800s. The Chavchavadze women were remarkable and strong. His own mother had managed to escape the Russian Revolution and settle in London, where David was born. However, it was his great grandmother whose story I always find both fascinating and inspirational.
Prince David’s great great grandmother Princess Anna and her sister were ladies in waiting to the Czarina before they married. Princess Anna to the Russian Prince David Chavchavadze, who was commander of militia nearby Princess Anna´s family summer home in Tsinandali, Georgia, where Princess Anna and her recently widowed younger sister, Princess Nina Baratava, spent their summers. On July 4, 1854, the sisters were prepared to leave their summer home, the silver packed, the children, their French nanny, a 32-year-old divorced French woman, and some servants were climbing into the carriages when gunshots, yelling, stampeding horses and smoke from the estate’s outbuildings alarmed the princesses who herded their charges back into their 23-room summer home. The Imam Shamyl and some of his renegades broke through the barred front doors as the princesses, along with Madame Drancy, were herding the children up the grand staircase. Later Madame Drancy testified, “The turbaned monsters ransacked the house, stuffing everything of value into their saddlebags, shooting or slitting the throats of the men.” Having looted the house, including ripping the diamond earrings from Princess Anna’s ears. The family, including children, Mrs. Drancy and a few servants, were rounded up and pulled onto horses to ride behind the rebels. Anna clutched her four-month-old daughter while young children were stuffed into saddlebags. Older children, several servants, Mrs. Drancy and the princesses were forced to ride double with some of their captors as they galloped from the compound. Princess Anna clutched her four-year-old daughter with one hand and with the other she clung to the belt of her captor. As they were fleeing across a stream Anna begged her captor to stop, her baby was screaming in terror and slipping from Anna’s grip. The turbaned renegade laughed as the child fell and was trampled by horses’ hooves. The next day Prince David and some of his troops came across the bodies of several servants and the mangled body of his baby daughter. It took a month for Princess Anna, her sister and the captives to reach the Imam´s citadel of The Great Aoul; rock pinnacles protected the stockade. The women were given black silk sheets to cover themselves from public view. For the next eight months Princess Anna and her party shared a whitewashed room with one small window.
Shamyl dictated a letter, which Anna wrote, to the Czar, demanding the return of Shamyl’s son, Djemmal-Eddin, who fifteen years earlier Shamyl had been forced to send to Czar Nicholas who raised the boy as a personal protégé. When the eight-year-old Djemmal arrived at court he could only speak his native language. He was raised as a corps des pages, taught French, Russian, German and Polish and trained as both a soldier and a diplomat. The Czar recalled the 24-year-old from Warsaw. The Czar explained that Princess Anna, her sister and their children were being held for ransom by Shamyl who demanded the return of his son plus 40,000 rubles, although the monetary amount had recently been changed to one million rubles with the threat of death or enslavement of his captors should his demands not be met. Shamyl’s guards brought Princess Anna, her sister, their children and the governess to an exchange point. Shamyl’s son, Djemmal-Eddin, dressed in a Russian officer’s uniform, crossed the river with the ransom as Princess Anna and her party, in a cart, crossed in the opposite direction. Shamyl’s son pined for the life he had come to know and appreciate as a member of the Russian ruling party and within a few years he died, perhaps of tuberculosis or, as some speculated, a broken heart. Neither Princess Anna nor her sister reentered society, preferring to live quiet lives at home with their children. The French governess eventually returned to France. The Shamyl, who may have been an escaped Turkish slave, died in exile in Saudi Arabia. My friend Prince David Chavchavadze died in Maryland, while I continue to live quietly in Guadalajara. I don´t miss my previous life. However, I do miss my friends who have left me waiting to eventually join them.
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