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Managing editor of QRMedia, Alexandra Seaman, reflects on her experience visiting Dagestan and the pleasant discovery of their warm hospitality.


home of content

Managing editor of QRMedia, Alexandra Seaman, reflects on her experience visiting Dagestan and the pleasant discovery of their warm hospitality.


At first glance, Qatar and Russia don’t appear to have much in common, but a closer look at the two nations and their culture reveals many similarities. In the Northern Caucasus, similarly to Qatar, guests are very important and generously received, with only the very best offered to them, from rooms to food. Managing editor of QRMedia, Alexandra Seaman spent a few days in Dagestan. She reflects on her time there and the warm hospitality she enjoyed.

There are luxurious grand houses, equipped with all the facilities, but devoid of warmth, as though indifferent streams of cold wind blow through the walls, the heart feeling grief. There are more modest houses, appearing more plain on the surface, but full of warmth and happiness. You never feel lonely in those houses. There are houses full of cheer and joy, and others, not as happy. But as the truest narrator, the house reveals the true essence of its inhabitants.

We visited Dagestan during a critical time, one where the actively developing tourism sector tried to push increasing visits to a city with a hospitality infrastructure not yet ready to contain that capacity. It became common for guests to spend a night in the local’s houses. In Islam, the majority religion in Dagestan, guests are highly valued and good hospitality is strongly encouraged. “The guest leads to paradise, ” is one of the reported sayings of the prophet Muhammed, and as such, in Dagestan the guest is a heavenly gift and should be met in an appropriate manner.

The house I want to talk about is not a touristic one, and our stay there was one of absolute chance, but its memory is one that will stay with me forever as one of the most wholesome and warm in Dagestan.

During our way from Goora, our guide suggested that we take a small detour and stay a night at his aunt’s home in Khunzass — one the older Dagestani villages. Describing his aunt, he said she was one of the purest people he knew, how he’d never heard her raise her voice or speak with anyone abruptly. It was getting late, and our route still needed a few hours, so the offer was timely. The absence of expectations always brings nice surprises — and this time was no exception.

If you’ve visited Morocco, you’re probably familiar with the traditional riyads, (meaning gardens in Arabic), luxurious houses behind street walls. Their main peculiarity is a hidden yard inside with a beautiful garden around a fountain. Riyads are an excellent mirror of the Arab philosophy: true beauty is hidden from eyes and can be found inside.

After opening the gate, we found ourselves in a garden of paradise. The scent of peonies hung in the silence of the night. Tall apple trees stood motionless in full bloom, stars glittering above us. In the stillness we stood like a painting.

Despite the late hour, Aunt Zai met us with a spread; traditional Dagestani nut butter and cheese, black tea and fresh bread. After the long tiring journey, the food looked especially tasty. From the kitchen came sounds of old Soviet radio, playing a local religious channel. Quoting the prophet Muhammed’s sayings, the voice was slightly warbled by noise interferences, adding to the cinematic feel to the scene in front of us. Listening to religious texts from a Soviet radio receiver is not an obvious activity, and the irony was not lost on us.

Aunt Zai sat peacefully on the bed, while we talked animatedly about our journey. Occasionally, we asked her questions about the Second World War, to not bother her too much. She talked a little and quietly, always with a cordial smile. At times, it was like her experiences shone from within.

Our trip to Dagestan was during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and the aunt was fasting. An old prayer mat and beads laid next to her. I looked at them and wondered, how many times did this old woman kneel down on the mat during her life, and how strong must her belief and convictions be to let her keep fasting despite her old age and health. As I was reflecting on these, I suddenly felt how everything is linked to each other with an invisible thread; the words of our guide, our host’s hospitality, the Soviet radio on the kitchen table, the smell of garden flowers, Ramadan and this old but beautiful house. All the external beauty of the moment, was I realised, nothing but a reflection of the internal world of the woman, her genuity, strength and belief in god. My head felt dizzy in the kaleidoscope of thoughts. Meanwhile, she prepared cozy bedrooms for us to sleep in. It was the eve before the holy al-Qadr Night.

Those who travel know well the feeling when you wake up as a guest. Curiosity mixed with scarcely perceptible awkwardness. In the morning, the house breathed with all its open beauty. Sun rays shone through the large stained glass windows, with the appearance of more light than the space could absorb. Narrow shadows danced on the wooden floor. Dried flowers stood on the table, with famous samples of typical Soviet furniture mixed with hand-made carpet and fabric napkins. In the big room there was a collection of unknown books, while black-and-white photos stood all around. The space was striking with its cleanliness and harmony. The modest beauty of authenticity. Everything around appealed to a quivering sense of delight and happiness. The aunt was reading peacefully, sitting in an armchair. We wanted to explore every angle. The house was telling the history of its owners, and it was great in every moment.


PHOTO: Alice Kuchinski

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