Life on the edge

>> Thursday, 8 April 2010

So, I'm sure I just heard gunfire. Not a single shot, but a series of short, staccato blasts, in total lasting around 30 seconds.

It's probably nothing. But this 'nothing' sound came from the direction of the Boys' school and nursery.

I call Husband, just in case. "Is this a significant date in the Russian calendar?" I ask. "Can you think of any reason why someone might set off fire-crackers in the middle of the day?"

I expect him to laugh me out of town and tell me not to be so paranoid. But he doesn't. Interesting. Instead, he suggests I call the school and check that everything is OK.

This is where being an expat, away from your usual support structures, norms and expectations (however blinkered they may be), can get a bit raw. I know, rationally speaking, that even if Moscow is currently a target for terrorists, there are 16 million people living here and the chances of any of that trouble coming knocking on our door are incredibly remote. But I also know that my sons attend a reasonably high-profile establishment which, whilst it has fantastic security, could conceivably be on someone's List. And the fact that my Russified Husband didn't fall on the floor in hysterics at my ridiculous suggestion makes me realise that he may think that too.

I push images of Beslan, various high schools in the US and god only knows where else to the back of my mind, take a deep breath, and call the school.

The receptionist who answers the phone sounds as if mine is not the first call she has received in the last few minutes. (That's the problem with having a host of over-anxious parents out of their comfort zone living on the school's doorstep; you might have a captive audience of potential students but you also have to deal with calls like this one.)

"Everything is fine" she says somewhat wearily. "Don't worry."

So I'm not doing. Much.

Note: in the last few minutes I've just remembered that some of the older children are celebrating 'Wacky Day' today - just the sort of event when fire-crackers might come in useful...


It seems that perhaps I wasn't being totally paranoid after all. Apparently there's an army base in the woods near the school, and it's not unusual to hear gunfire from that direction. It's possible that the only reason I never heard it before is because it's only now become warm enough to have the windows open in the house. However, I'm told that this afternoon it was particularly loud, to the the extent that some of the teachers actually came outside to investigate (rather them than me!); not only could they hear the shooting, but they could smell it too...

Should that make me feel better or worse, I wonder? Discuss...


sharon 8 April 2010 at 13:17  

Keep breathing PM. I've just breathed a huge sigh of relief for you.

Having lived in the Greenwich?Woolwich areas and worked in central London during the height of the IRA campaign in the 70s I know only too well that heart-stopping moment. I even managed to be at the Ideal Home Exhibition when that was bombed. I was in one of the rest areas with my 3 month old niece and my sister and Mum were off elsewhere. It was absolutely terrifying until we all managed to meet up outside.

Keep safe.

TheMadHouse 8 April 2010 at 13:46  

You did the right thing, we worry about our children, even in familiar environments, I couldnt imagine the worry you are going through

Iota 8 April 2010 at 16:41  

I know what you mean about things being hard to assess, outside your comfort zone. None of the usual thought-processes are in place to rule out the obvious options.

When we first arrived here, trying to get people to explain what to do when there was a tornado warning was hopeless. "Oh, you just sort of sense if it's ok or not" was something we heard a lot. But you need to build up that sixth sense over years and years. You can't just acquire it overnight.

Always better to err on the side of safety, I think. And if you weren't the first to call, then you can relax on the 'am I being overly paranoid?' front.

Expat mum 8 April 2010 at 18:21  

Not silly at all. I wouldn't really know what a gun sounded like (despite living in the ghetto of Chicago) but I'd definitely be ringing the school. My kids were in school on September 11, 2001 and they were closing all the tall buildings downtown. The chances of the school being in danger were slim but it was awful all the same.

A Modern Mother 8 April 2010 at 18:36  

Please tell me it was just firecrackers.

Potty Mummy 8 April 2010 at 19:42  

Sharon, wow, that must have been a defining moment for you. And if I ever needed a reason NOT to go to the Ideal Home Show, there it is...

MH, I know - in retrospect it does seem an extreme reaction, but you just never know, I guess.

Iota, I'm about to update the post on the 'overly paranoid issue' and I never thought about the whole tornado warning thing before (how seriously to take it etc), but yes, it must be a mine-field.

EPM, I've clearly watched too many of the wrong type of movies!

Modern - see the update on the post!

mothership 8 April 2010 at 20:08  


I would not be resting easy in my shoes if I were you, and I would absolutely call EVERY SINGLE TIME. I crap myself about earthquakes nearly every day and have the kit ready because it's not if, it's when and I hate to think they might not be here with me when it happens (weeps thinking about it).

I'd continue to call and be paranoid and annoying if I were you.


planb 8 April 2010 at 22:26  

There's also the tempting fate option. I tend to err (totally unnecessarily) on the side of "if it's going to make me look a bit silly then I'd better do it, because if I don't, just because it'll make me look silly, that'll be the one time I'll regret it for ever".

And if I do that in my own house, then how much more understandable is it that we should all want to do it more when we are outside our comfort zones?

Mwa 8 April 2010 at 22:42  

Better? I think you were totally right to phone. Sending happy thoughts your way. (I'm a bit freaked out on your behalf.)

Potty Mummy 9 April 2010 at 10:18  

Thanks Mothership (and can I assume your ki will include a tailor-made hard hat with a flower motif?)

Thanks PlanB - it sounds as if you and I are similarly superstitious...

Thanks Mwa! All positive thoughts gratefully received.

Paradise Lost In Translation 10 April 2010 at 15:58  

yes, it's the 'not knowing what is normal' part of the 'ex-pat in a foreign culture' situation that makes it hard to assess/react rationally. there isn't that whole bank of familiarity with one's culture & experience that is built up sub consciously to help you out. That & it being a normal pyschologial phenomenon to be more anxious when in an alien culture. Here in Albania you REGULARLY hear gun shots at night. They also LOVE fire crackers & fireworks & use them at every given opportunity. It is quite unnnerving (& for me at least) hard to distingusih gun from firework at times...
Very odd to have an army base/trainign area NEAR a nursery. Just the sort of bizarre combo that wd be treated as uterly normal here too.
In Sri Lanka we had regular drills for 'evacuation', even safe houses which no one was allowed to kno wthe whereabouts of. Here we have regular earthquake drills. Sheesh, for an English family used to drizzle, school fire drills & once every 10 yrs snow 'situtaions' it's a little disconcerting

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