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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Don't Accept Peaches From The FSB

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"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

— Franz Kafka,

"The Metamorphosis"

ALKHASTY, Ingushetia — The first time I met "Igor" he was a young and extremely finicky specialist from Moscow delegated to Ingushetia to improve the southern republic's passport regime.

The next morning, Igor was one of the four officers of the Federal Security Service who blatantly tailed me around the region. By noon, he was a counter-terrorism expert who specialized in protecting foreign correspondents from kidnapping gangs that allegedly roam in the leafy Assa Gorge.

Igor, which was how he introduced himself, was probably not his real name. Most likely, he was only Igor for the duration of our encounter. After all, the story of how I ended up having apple brandy and peaches with my FSB escort is a story of mysterious transformations.

It all began with me and my boyfriend being transformed from two journalists who had come to Ingushetia to cover a peace march of Chechen refugees into potential passport regime violators being dissected in a stuffy police precinct in Nazran.

The metamorphosis took just over an hour. I felt like a character in a Franz Kafka book: I was certain that I had turned into a bug. Watching Igor scrutinize my documents at the other side of the shabby T-shaped desk augmented the sensation.

Six hours later, we were released. Back at the hotel, we found out that while we were being held at the police station, club-wielding policemen had broken up the peace march. The protesters who hadn't been arrested had turned into barefoot Chechen refugees again. The protest had turned into a pumpkin.

The next day, a silver Mercedes carrying Igor in the back seat parked across the street from our Zhiguli in downtown Nazran. One of Igor's companions, who later identified himself as Pyotr, whipped out a video camera and started shooting. Igor waved at me through the open window.

This must have been the first time in my life that a surveillance officer waved at me. This must have been the first time in his life that the victims of his surveillance walked across the street to his car.

"I take it you are with us today?" my boyfriend asked. Igor confirmed this, a stunned smile on his face. "Well then," my boyfriend said, "we just wanted to let you know where we are going."

That may have been a generous gesture, but it got us nowhere. The Mercedes reached the checkpoint before we did. They made sure the machine gun-toting policemen didn't let us through and drove away. Then, they reappeared again. This time, their smiles were gone. "There is a kidnapping gang in the region, and they are waiting for foreign correspondents," Igor announced. "I cannot let you go there. I am a counter-kidnapping expert. My job is to make sure you're safe."

What were we to do? We followed them to a beach on the Assa River, where they turned into tour guides and suggested that we go for a swim. We did. Then, they turned into waiters and offered us apple brandy and peaches. We accepted. For an hour, we turned into a happy couple on vacation with friends.

The only difference was, Pyotr kept filming. And there was something wrong with those peaches. Later that day, my stomach turned … and turned and turned.

Anna Badkhen is a freelance journalist based in Moscow.