DAVE: Today started out like any other day on our mission in Moscow. We woke up on our normal schedule, which means, I woke up a couple of hours earlier than Becky. When Becky awoke we prayed in Russian and studied the Book of Mormon, then showered, shaved, ate breakfast (or at least I did) and brushed our teeth. We dressed and headed for the door.
Our door is interesting. We have a regular wooden front door, and the metal walk-in safe. The safe door has to be unlocked with two keys. There is no other way. I don’t think you could break into this door without a ramrod and several people, not even the strongest man on earth could do it alone.
We exited to the left, which is our normal way through the parking lot and onto the street. We first pass a pre-school on the right and the Art Village on the left. The Art Village has homes, some very large. These homes must be worth a great deal of money being in the heart of Moscow. We pass one home every day, which is very large and appears to have a guard tower/home on the far corner of the yard. This home is the fourth house from the corner. The fence around the home is about 12 feet high with cameras placed every few feet overlooking the sidewalk.
Many times we have seen very large (not fat) men waiting by the gate. They are usually in a black SUV Cadillac or a black Van. They are dressed in suits with a dark shirt and no tie. Often we joke about the house as the Mafia house.
Today seemed normal as we walked our first few steps on the path we have taken almost every day. We noticed the same van parked on the school side of the road and not in its normal place across the street by the Mafia house. As we approached, a soldier exited the vehicle with an AK-47 looking rifle on his shoulder and a sidearm attached to his hip. We slowed just a bit when we saw the solider, but kept walking. When another one of the large men stepped out of the van with a pistol in his hand. I stopped or hesitated since we were almost to him when we noticed the pistol. My first instinct was to protect Becky. What should we do? Cross the street? Turn around? Run away? No, we just calmly passed the man with the handgun. We noticed as we passed him he had opened the handle. Becky believes the pistol was not loaded, since the gun seemed to come apart like a transformer toy, but that didn’t stop the heart from racing. As we approached the soldier we noticed he had reached into his car and pulled out body armor.
What was going down? We acted like nothing was out of the ordinary, just two Mormon Missionaries walking to their mission assignment, enjoying the cool morning, and everything was as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Our demeanor was cool and calm, except for our racing hearts which didn’t slow down for many minutes. We arrived at our post and enjoyed a great day serving the Lord.
BECKY: I saw something today that I would never in a million years see in Springville Utah…okay maybe if CSI or NCIS (two cop shows on TV came to town to film-) MAYBE! Dave and I had headed down the street from our apartment in front of the kindergarten/preschool. This is a place where dads and moms bring their cute little kids each day all dressed for the weather. We looked up and saw the black Chevy van parked on the sidewalk in front of the school - not in its normal parking spot. This van is very low riding-with blacked out windows-and very shiny and looks very out of place with the small children walking by. Standing outside the passenger door was this heavy set scary looking dude (actually he wasn’t menacing at first glance) anyway, this guy was holding the biggest blackest handgun I have ever seen. He was kind of inspecting it and I think we sorta scared or surprised him. He jerked – but thankfully he didn’t aim the gun at us or shoot us or anything like that. He started to bring the gun down and then it seemed like he changed his mind and figured we had seen his “toy” – Why try to hide it? So he brought it up again and flipped open the handle, checked out the clip and then thankfully by this time we had passed the big black Chevy van. We kept walking – wondering if we were in big trouble – and we passed by another car – the trunk was open and another guy was taking out a bullet proof vest out of the trunk …this was to go along with his attire of camouflage, and his AK47 hung over his shoulder. We of course talked about it all the way to work at the Service Center ---but let me back up a bit.
I have seen this black van in our neighborhood before, across from the school is a compound - a 12' high fence surrounds this compound and inside the compound (at least what we can see over the fence from our apt. window and from the sidewalk) is a huge white house and several other buildings and a guard tower with lots of wires and communication devices attached to it. There is nothing really different about this house-it has lace curtains on some of the windows - but it is gigantic and has a few satellite dishes and lots of survellience equipment on the perimeters of the 12foot high fence and cameras - Did I say lots of cameras? This is what we can see...what we can't see is the size of the barking guard dog, or the security guys who watch us from their cameras as we walk past the fence...really - we can hear the cameras rotating as we walk under those "eye in the sky" type of secuirty cameras and there are stationary ones directed towards the entrances in the fence.
A few days after we moved in, the black Chevy van was parked near the entrance of the 12' high fence. There were some guys kinda forming a welcome line (or a line of protection) to the doors of the van. A couple of men exited the compound - got in the van- and were quickly followed by the protection detail - the doors slammed and then it drove off quickly following a lead car as it drove away. Behind the van was an ordinary looking purple car (I loved the color of this car) following closely with two scary looking men in the front seat. We laughed about it that day and dubbed the house "The Mafia House"...all the way to work we talked about the "Mafia House" and wondered about the family who lives there. On the way home that afternoon I jokingly asked Dave if I should wave since I knew I was being watched.
NOT ON THIS DAY - AUGUST 2, 2011. I was grateful it was raining on the way home from work this day - and we could cover our missionary attire with our umbrellas. But then I remembered that I had the one that says "GENEVA ROCK a Clyde Company" on it. Then I worried that they would remember the logo and always know it is us the ones who saw the guys with the guns...I never worried they might see our Missionary name tags and recognize us...just the blue and gold umbrella with the GR logo.
I have never seen Dave pause in situations which make me uncomfortable like when he did the little dance on Red Square the first time we came to Russia. Adam told us not to talk and there is Dave exclaiming to everyone within hearing range "I can't believe I am on RED SQUARE"...no fear...but on this day when we saw those guns he hesitated and moved nearer to me - to protect me - I would say it is a good thing we were both carrying our umbrellas...
Post script: since we put this blog post together we have seen a few details we missed previously...like...there are two identical houses with cameras, high fences etc. which are separated by two smaller homes...but are in the same compound . The black van backed into the other house we didn't know was also a "mafia" house thereby alerting us to this new fact. We will keep you updated on any new developments.