HAINES, ALASKA — My friend Pam is a retired math teacher who spends about half the year in Kazakhstan working for the Peace Corps and half of it here in Haines, in a big old house on 2nd Avenue, overlooking Chilkoot Inlet.
On September 11 Pam was asleep in her room in Almaty, Kazakhstan when she was awakened with the news of the World Trade Center attack. She was scheduled to leave the next day, and hoped to be back in Haines in time for the birth of a grandchild. Pam also had two Kazak rugs she purchased over the summer, one for her daughter, and one for her church, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Mission, here in Alaska. The rugs were woven by Muslim Kazaks. They were about ten years old and had been used as wall hangings and carpets in a traditional yurt (the word also means home in Kazak). The design on the rug Pam chose for the church was the Kazak symbol for 'home.' Its intersecting lines look like crosses.
Pam has spent many years working in this part of the World, it's her second home. Kazakhstan is big, huge really, twice the size of Alaska, and until ten years ago was part of the U.S.S.R. Long before that, Russian farmer-soldiers took over parts of the country and were dubbed 'Cossacks' which is another way of saying Kazaks.
The Cossacks also came to Alaska, back when it was Russian. Sol Ripinsky, a Haines city father that carved out his homestead next to Tlingit Indians and the Presbyterians who set up a Christian mission here, was a Cossack. He who was also Jewish. In the interior part of Alaska, where Pam lived before moving to Haines, the term 'gussack' means outsider. It's the Athabascan Indian way of pronouncing Cossack.
When you take a close look at the fabric of the modern World there are common threads connecting even the most remote places, more no doubt, than we can ever imagine.
Pam says she hauled the heavy rug halfway around the world during a time when no one would have blamed her for leaving it behind, for two reasons. The first was purely aesthetic, she hoped to improve the worship space, she wanted 'something to dress up that concrete floor, to add some color and make it look serious.' The second reason proved to be more prophetic, the rug, she says, is something from 'far away that links people.'
St. Michael's small chapel used to be a big garden shed, it has been outfitted with Aldo Leopold benches, a donated organ and two new windows that look out into the woods. The rich red and black carpet, has, as Pam hoped, added a large measure of dignity to the utilitarian space. It has also done much more.
Church organist Nancy Nash, who has grown children living as far away from home as California and China, says that the Kazak rug is especially comforting to her right now. 'It is remarkable that it came to us at this time' she says. The rug is a reminder that places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and are populated with families much like hers.
Jan Hotze, the Episcopal Priest who blessed the rug, agrees that it 'personalizes our connection as human beings to the rest of the world.' What's especially powerful about a carpet, she says, is that 'it literally makes you stand on that reality.'
The first sermon Rev. Hotze delivered with her feet on the Kazak wool, concerned the events of September 11 and the proper response to them. 'These are challenging times to be Christians' she said, 'as much as we are hurting, reeling from this evil attack on innocent people, we are called to seek justice, not vengeance.'