Laugh or Cry II

Nisagul and David
in Pamiri Caps
August 16, 2009

Nisagul stopped by our hotel yesterday evening. This was the first we'd seen of each other since I walked her home the night of the riots, the first real contact we'd had since I got out of Urumqi on that bus to Kazakhstan five weeks ago. We swapped war stories.

Nisa's news was good. Everybody I knew in Urumqi was fine. All of her family and relatives were fine. Nobody we knew had even been swept up into custody. And she'd noticed only one group of people who had gone missing after the riots: a band of pickpockets who worked the street out front of her workplace. "They never tried to steal from me; I guess the central location where my travel agency is located must be a prime spot. But none of them are out there anymore...," Nisagul mused without any hint of contemplation as to precisely where any of the thieves might have disappeared.

She went on to relate the experiences of one relative, an aunt whose attempts to get home the night of July 5 bore parallels with my experiences that same night. This aunt worked as a seamstress in a tall building in the San Xi Hangzi neighborhood. That was the very area Rahila, Nisagul, and I had to cut through when being diverted by riot police from another point in the city. It was one of the points where we were denied passage to walk further along the street toward Rahila's and Nisagul's apartments. Now, after hearing Nisa's account of her aunt's experience that night: I am so glad we weren't allowed to walk south along Sheng Li Lu.

When she exited her workplace into unimaginable chaos, Nisagul's aunt made a quick decision to hide: she flung herself beneath one of the abandonded pushcarts still lining the streets. She was relieved to find others there who had made the same decision and were lying silently next to her. She remained there, figuring it must be a good location to wait out the pandemonium--until she realized that the people who lay next to her beneath the pushcart weren't alive.

She fled the hiding place, with the sole thought in mind that if she could somehow make it out to the highway ringing the city center she would be sure to make it home. Cutting through back streets she made it to the raised beltway. She started climbing up to walk over the highway: the road she had been walking along was blockaded at this juncture. Then, as she poked her head up to street level she saw a gang of young men running in her direction with large knives in hand.

She climbed back down and dashed off in some other direction, eventually finding a stranger's home in which to wait the night out.

Something about sharing how naive and ignorant we all were that night. Something about voicing aloud the danger we survived that night. Something released our emotions in an unexpected way.

Nisagul and I laughed and roared hysterically, trading story upon story.