A chance meeting leads man to Glenwood
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Last week Ilias Satouev described his struggle to save his brother from the Russian-Chechen War. He realized then that war was always going to be part of his life if he stayed in Chechnya. He decided he had to find another way to live.
Gallacher: How did you end up in Glenwood Springs?
Satouev: That is a very interesting fact in my life. Back in 1991, I was vacationing in Moscow and staying with my cousin. I liked to go to the art galleries, theaters and museums. One day I was walking and I saw a young man in shorts. There weren’t many people in the Soviet Union who wore shorts.
I watched him for a while. I was wondering who he was and what he was doing. Somehow we started a conversation but neither of us spoke the other’s language very well. We walked together and I was trying to tell him everything I knew about America. I mentioned basketball. I talked about American history because I had studied it in the university. Finally, he gave me his card and a coin. It was a half dollar coin with Kennedy on it. It was the greatest gift for me because I had read all about Kennedy and his presidency. I kept that card and that coin in the safest place in my home.
Three years after that the Russian-Chechen War broke out in my country. The next two years was a very terrible time, bombings and living in basements. I had a deep depression. I saw many, many bad things ” injured people, war, bombings, my brother nearly killed. So I decided to go away from this place.
I talked to my mom. I was hoping she would understand me and let me go away. I asked her, “Could I go to America?” She said, “It’s a long way. Why do you want to do this?” I said, “I want to see why Americans live that way. I want to know why it is called the best democracy in the world. I want to know why so many people try to speak English.” “OK you can go,” she said, “I will worry about you. But I know you will meet good people, don’t worry.”
I sold everything I had and gave part of the money to my mom and I left for America with $8,000 in my pocket. It was a very dangerous trip through Moscow because I was Chechen. When the Moscow police would see me they would stop me and check my papers. They gave me a very hard time. I spent hours and hours in line at the U.S. embassy trying to obtain a visa.
Finally, I got my visa and I can remember standing in line at customs in Moscow and my legs were shaking. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But still, when I saw the Russian customs officer and the way he looked at me and my papers, I was scared to death.
I arrived in John Kennedy airport in New York. It was a huge, huge airport. I had never seen such crowds. I had never seen such a huge place in my entire life. I thought to myself, “If this is the airport, what is New York City going to be like?” It was very strange for me. I knew no one.
They kept me in customs for a long time. They didn’t believe me when I told them I just came to learn English and study America. I think the way I was dressed made them suspicious. I had on a $200 leather coat and I had a suit and a tie. I think they thought I was a Russian Mafia gangster. I learned that this was not the proper way to dress to come to the United States of America.
Finally, they let me through but they told me I could only stay for one month. I panicked. What could I do in only one month? I spent six or seven hours trying to get out of the airport. I was so confused. I saw so many different kinds of people, people from all over the world. I started to get scared that I would be lost in New York.
I decided to use my backup plan. I said, “What if I go find that nice guy I met in Moscow years ago? What if I go to him and ask him for some help?” Years ago I had looked up Glenwood Springs in the encyclopedia and I knew it was a very small town. I went back in the airport and found a policeman and he and the ticket lady helped me get a ticket to Denver.
I came to Glenwood Springs. It was April 16, 1996. It was such a beautiful sight, snow on the mountains, the sun shining in the canyon. It was so inspiring for me. I stayed in a motel. The owner was a Polish woman who spoke some Russian. She asked me if I knew anyone in Glenwood. I told her I met a man from Glenwood Springs a long time ago. His name was Don Kaufman. She told me he was still here in Glenwood and that he was a lawyer. The next day I walked to his office and finally got to see the young man I had met on the streets of Moscow.
It is hard for me to say how important he has been to me. He has done everything for me. My life has changed so much for the better because of him. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how wonderful this community is.
Ilias works for Mountain Valley Development Services. “Every day working there is a joyful experience for me,” he says.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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