There are no words to describe the absurd horror of blowing something up that was built with such delicacy and skill as the temples of Palmyra.
Temple of Bel. 2004No situation describes the actual times better: a bunch of uneducated fanatics runs around blowing up in a matter of minutes what has been put up more than 2’000 years ago with more skill and craft than we can deliver today with modern machinery.
Great Colonnade at Palmyra, 2004.
Actually, it’s all about looking for hidden treasures to fund warfare and making it look like religious zeal. The powerful nations keep away, it’s about antiques and therefore not their (democracy-spreading) business. The residents, intimidated and destabilised, begin fleeing towards those very democratic countries, whose governments are then taken aback and don’t know how to react.
A July morning in 2004, 6am
Memories of walking down those majestic streets 22 m wide ten years ago and passing the imposing walls and columns 12m high almost choke me now. I had hoped to come back one day in a month other than July.
Until May 2015, all people passing had respected the work of the ancients.
The sands would have taken better care of the ruins, had they never been retrieved from it.
The amphiteatre, 2004. 20 people were shot here in May 2015. Ten times more were killed until August, at least one third were civilians..
There is nothing to go back to. Gone are the marvels now. Their guardian died trying to save them from looting and destruction. The valiant head of Antiquities Department in Palymra for 50 years, Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was captured, interogated about hidden treasures for one month and then, for his refusal to cooperate, beheaded last August in front of the very ancient stones he was trying to protect. Do stop using the word ‘execution’ for similar acts: there is no ‚lawful penalty’ or ‚state’ or ‚trial’ linked with this kind of attrocity. It is murder.
Altar. Temple of Baalshamin, built in 131AD. 2004.
What happened since last August? The loathed bunch of freaks finances its existence by selling loot. I wonder who’s buying. And who keeps selling dynamite to creatures which ruin in one day what took years to accomplish and stood there for 2’000 years.
A lizard hiding in the altar wall, 2004
Once, under Queen Zenobia, this was a place of both power and tolerance, where different eastern and western cultures interacted. Not even the Mongolian Timurids dared to destroy what survived from the Neolithic times and what the Romans had built under Diocletian.
Meanwhile, there are 60’000 people trying to flee from this madness – and Europe keeps debating and discussing, trying to sit it out, make it go away.
While everybody sits around yapping and bawling on overpriced devices designed in California and made in China about the rights of borderline cases in countries whose people don’t give a flying fart about what happens here.
Jordan, Za’atari, Syrian refugee camp, 2013. 122’700 people and 5’000 coming in every day. From Wiklipedia
Places are being pillaged and there are more people on the run than after WWII – but nobody seems to care about what Syria is going through or see the great efforts Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are making right now.
Jordan, Za’atari refugee camp, opened 2012, fourth largest in the world. Photo: Brian Sokol / UNHCR
So many lies everywhere. These are dark times and the end is nowhere near in sight. Let us please at least stop lying to ourselves.
The time was early 1982. My dad must’ve taken the picture. We were in Predeal for a ski cup, as you can easily recognize by the numbers on the people’s torsos. These were his colleagues at the factory where he had landed as an oil engineer.
Times were murky. We’d go skiing as often as possible, because there was no other distraction from the routine. We’d all stay at some villa, which once had belonged to some…bourgeois, before the war. I’ll always remember the spaces as – cold and somehow strange. We’d all sleep huddled together in the same room. In the mornings, us kids would watch the grown-ups trying to fry raw cut in half eggs, which had frozen between the windows over night, on a rather improvised camper heater, attached to a smuggled gas bottle someone had brought along.
1982. People in a distant galaxy, it seems, are shaking their limbs to the sound of MJ’s Thriller. Madonna makes her debut and gets her first contract signed, while everybody’s wearing terry cloth stripes on their wrists and heads, in horrid neon colours. Shoulder pads, acid washed jeans and starry patterns rule the dance floors. Prince William gets born to Lady Di in June– another one to follow the hairdo- and fashion sins of the moment.
By the time we’re competing in the Carpathians, Argentinian troops invade the British Falkland islands, on February 4th.
Grace Kelly drives off a cliff in Monaco, later that year, in September. The Delorean motor company goes bankrupt. Kohl becomes chancellor of Germany in October. In November, Leonid Breshnev dies in Moscow. Yuri Andropov, former head of the KGB, takes his place as head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lech Walesa is released in Poland after a year in prison.
The mountains were quiet and peaceful. We’d go there on every possible occasion in winter, because Bucharest had become dark and increasingly menacing. Ceausescu and his lot had started demolishing whole neighbourhoods, in order to build a new stronghold against capitalism. Excavators were ripping deep trenches in the mud, were once houses stood and kids played on the cobbled streets under age-old trees. The city turned more and more silent, dark and scared. Grocery stores and markets looked emptier every week, while the lines for sugar, eggs, sunflower oil and – even toilet paper – grew. People just stood in lines in front of random stores, hoping some of these products would miraculously show up in the shelves. Gas, water and power shortages contributed to the fight against the imperialist enemy.
The system was keeping everybody busy.
I remember those winters as cold and dark, at best grey. I remember my parents speaking less and looking more tired, worried. Naturally, I remember feeling protected – a lot more than I feel today.
But…this was because I was a kid, not because times were in any way better. Adults would bear the weight of the worries. I just used to linger in the staircase and ask ‘When are we leaving for the mountains?’ innumerable times, no matter who’d pass me by.
I might look like some kind of a princess on that pic, but my biggest worry was not loosing that leather bag – and the contest. Instead of feeling protected and surrounded by caring people, I’d compete, in my head, against anyone and everyone, except the tall guy, Gil, whom I always admired.
Dad and his mates would soon go back to working at their factory, which does not exist anymore. I’d start school that next fall – about the time Grace Kelly drove her car off that cliff.
A few years later, the Berlin wall falls and there’s major change in the air all over the world.
I walked home round 3 am through some darkened alleys, which once were streets. Now they’re hidden behind some ugly blocks. I felt spring was in the air and I smelled the river, as I walked beside its black water skirting the old town. The streets were seething with Friday night fever.
I passed that huge line of cabs we’d never notice in our endless talks on the way to my place, on nights like this one.
I’ve missed you so much since you’re gone.
On your birthday, I filled the house with white flowers.
But then I saw the mistletoe you hung over the doorframe. I remembered your hands, as they were tying it there. Your voice. Your skin.
You disappeared, as if I menaced your mere bones.
You walk on different streets now, under a different sky. You carry this shadow around you, selling it off as freedom. Deep inside you, you know. It’s slow of sale.
Yours must be a sad life.
Otherwise you’d have never come near me, in the first place.
When I was small, people would ask: ‘What do you want to be, when you grow up?’
There were always several answers in may head, so I’d need a moment to answer. ‘Storm!’ or ‘a millionaire’, I’d say sometimes.
Often I thought I’d like to be a tamer of wild beasts. To understand the languages of many and be able to handle their different ways. I’d be able to talk to owls and falcons, lizards and foxes, tigers and buffaloes…
Time passed by – and I became something else. I do not want to tame beasts any more, I’d rather prefer to be like one.
A tiger, largely solitary, strong, unimpressed by ants or humans and their small struggle. Minding his own business. Equally at ease on the ground, as in water. Sharing food and territory amicably, whenever the case. Just being.
“You woke up, washed your face, put on your clothes,
went by your business,
Shaking hands, passing smiles, counting coin…
Got a secret?
Can’t tell nobody.
Carry it close, dawn to dusk.
Pick up tomorrow,
All over again.
Ain’t nothing at all.”Daughter Maitland – St. Louis Blues. ‘Boardwalk Empire’
‘We need to talk’, she said.
By that time, there must have been nothing left to talk about, anymore.
‘Should have listened closer, way earlier’, she thought. ‘Should have said something, earlier’, he thought.
Cracks were already going all the way through the sky.
Long time ago, before the World Wars, there were two German pharmacies in Bucharest. One was Thüringer’s, on 43, Elisabeta blvd. the other one was ‚La Ochiul lui Dumnezeu’ (‚At God’s Eye’), opposite to Stirbei Palace, on Calea Victoriei 138.
In 1939, on the occasion of the latter’s centennial anniversary at that location, a collection of ancient pharmaceutical devices was exhibited in the windows of the corner house: jars, tin pots and delicate scales, graters, mortar and pestle sets of various materials, to grind powders from which lozenges and ointments were made.
Behind the house, in a herb garden, various plants were cultivated for their specific uses:
thyme, for cough drops, sage, for disinfecting tinctures, several species of mint, for the stomach troubles, valerian, for treating insomnia, marjoram and lavender, against pain and unrest, rosemary, against migraines and blood pressure, dill and fennel for tummy teas, chervil for the eye bath.
Celandine (rostopasca), said to cure infections and even tumors. Centaury and artichoke thistle, as antioxidants, for liver, rein and blood problems. Horsetail, hemostatic and similar in effect with today’s aspirine. Yarrow (‚soldier’s woundwort’, or ‚coada soricelului’), that would stop bleedings.
This phial contains a few age-old grains of juniper, called ‘Wachholder’ in German. It was probably taken to the household for the kitchen cupboard and thus escaped the pharmacy’s fate.
Mr. Carl Schuster, the owner, had come from Transylvania in 1829 and opened a pharmacy in Bucharest. His brother Gerhard had also opened one in Vienna, on 18, Währinger Strasse, under the name of ‘Zum Auge Gottes’ (which means the same in German).
Gerhard and his sons all died in the First World War. Today the Viennese pharmacy moved to 79, Nussdorferstrasse.
Carl Schuster married in 1840 in Brasov and brought his wife to live with him in Bucharest. Their granddaughter Friederike married in 1920. Her husband, Albert Prall, was a 2m-tall officer freshly out of the Theresian Military Academy in Vienna. He left the army to study and become a pharmacist as well, in order to be able take over ‘God’s Eye’ one day. His story here.
When the Second World War started, Martin Schuster, Carl’s son, was already too old to be enrolled. He spent most of his time at the pharmacy, trying to offer help to whomever needed it.
The tides had turned: Romania switched from neutral at first, to the side of the Axis Powers after the Soviet invasion in Bessarabia and Bucovina. On the 23rd of August 1944, King Michael I removed marshal Ion Antonescu and Romania joined the Allied Forces.
In a tempestuous withdrawal, during three days, the Luftwaffe covered Bucharest with a carpet of bombs. (This, after the Allies had severely bombed the city on Easter that year.)
On August 25th an infantry platoon in company of two tank destroyers rounded up Legatia Germana at 174, Calea Victoriei (opened in 1880, became later Cazino Victoria). Not accepting the defeat, German Embassador Manfred von Killinger shot his secretary first – and then killed himself.
When the sirens started howling again the following night, Mr. Schuster refused to go to take shelter in the Stirbei Palace cellars, claiming that he had to be at the pharmacy, in case somebody would have needed help.
In an attempt to hit the 52.5m high building of the Telephone Palace, the National Theatre on Calea Victoriei was put to ashes. The whole neighbourhood was set ablaze, as the bombs also hit the gas pipes on the main streets.
Eventually, as people from the palace returned and insisted again, Martin Schuster joined them, but left the pharmacy unlocked: he pulled the door shut by its handle, saying that someone might still need bandages, disinfectant or pain killers.
One of the last bombs fell into the pharmacy’s ventilation shaft that night. It landed in the basement and detonated the building together with its herb garden.
Coming out of the shelter the next day, he found the door handle on the pavement.
That – and a bundle of papers that had been locked in a safe – were the only remains of ‘God’s Eye’.
Eventually, with the help of his son in law, he put together a new pharmacy, which was nationalized in 1948. While returning from work one night in March of 1952, Albert Prall was killed by drunken soldiers, together with his Turkish colleague, whom he was trying to protect from being bullied in the street.
But this is a different story.
Albert Prall’s daughter is my grandma.
My mother was born in 1948.
Update on 2017-01-12 12:23 by Doro
Today I helped grandma out with the Christmas tree. I climbed up the ladder and got the box with the decorations down from the top shelf. The box!… one more piece that survived from the pharmacy!
May you have a peaceful and happy Christmas with your loved ones! May we never know hardship and duress.
I once had this dream. Don’t remember if I was actually sleeping – or just slipping away.
I dreamt I was completely worn down by my life as I knew it. Exhausted by all the painful memories that were blurring all the positive ones. Roaming around every day and trying new stuff, but it wouldn’t work.
Thinking, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
Realising, after a while, that the stronger you get – you only get lonelier.
After a while, I got so weary, I couldn’t learn how to enjoy whatever was going to come anymore at all. I’d only see the lousy sides of everything and would draw miserable conclusions, so life would increasingly become a downwards spiral, with little variation.
I kept searching for a way to change it.
After a while, I learned that there was a counter where you could go to and give up your life, as a package, and ask for another one in return.
But you wouldn’t know what was in the new package, before you traded the old one in. You had no way of choosing.
Eventually, I found the building. It looked like a station, although you could walk around it. It had only one large double door.
I watched it from a distance, time and again, wondering if now was the right time to ask for the exchange.
I’d sneak around the impressive thing, observing the people who went in and out. They were not showing any major change in mood. But they’d come out with a different look on their faces. As someone else.
Every time I’d go there, I would toy around with the idea. And wonder.
Maybe the time’s not ready yet- imagine, you’ll give up all your memories, entirely.
All of them.
You wouldn’t know your loved ones anymore.
You wouldn’t remember how you discovered sunshine, in a plastic fishbowl, one morning.
Or your grandma’s generous smile. Sour cherries on mown grass.
The taste of freshly ground pepper on tomatoes, that grandfather made you eat one day, because ‚You can’t say you dislike something, without ever having tried it.’
You’d never remember that day dad held you on his knees, while you were crying over your first bleeding knee, and how he told you that it was going to be ok.
That way the streets smelled after a summer storm, or how mom would come home with a sunflower from ‘patriotic work‘ in a nearby field. Exhausted, but smiling.
You wouldn’t know your favourite perfume anymore. Or your first kiss.
Or your first trip abroad, when you discovered ‚the other world’, Switzerland! The land the old ones had told so many stories about. The wonderful house on the hill, where your godmother lived!
That amazed way in which someone, who had really mattered back then, had looked at you one morning.
Your first flight, alone! The travels!
…Those warm hugs with friends, when you came back, after all these years – it took them a couple of years to trust that you were going to stay, this time.
That crazy chase in the streets, one short happy night.
All of these were linked to painful memories, that would seep through, just when you were recalling the good ones!
The loved ones had judged you and had turned against you so many times, for no big reason,
the fish bowl had mysteriously disappeared one day.
Grandma had died years ago – and nobody smiles like that anymore these days. Most cherries had had worms in them – how could she eat them without caring!
Dad had told you, furious, one day, “You are as reckless as your grandfather used to be.” Grandfather had died when you were six years old and you don’t really remember him that well…
Back then, you`d always have bleeding knees in summer, because you were invariably veering too close to the corner of the house with your bike. The torn lip was from your first humiliating fight at school.
After that, things had gotten worse for years: you remember having been involved in more fights than others would remember their afternoons of holding hands and kissing behind the school.
Mom’s face looks ashen with exhaustion almost every day now, but she still keeps trying to save the world. And there’s always so much more to be saved than is humanly possible.
So many other women are wearing your perfume. The guy who gave you that first kiss had told you, two days later, that he had only kissed you out of ‚duty’ and that you should forget about it, because he knew you had been fancying him for two years now…
You had never encountered the Switzerland of their stories – it was probably gone long before you were born – and the new one you had found instead had, in time, turned a very cold face at you.
That someone with the rapt look on his face had cheated on you in a terrible way.
You had flown so many miles alone, wishing there was someone waiting for you at the airport, that the mere memory of those flights would turn your stomach.
So much about the friends.
And the chase that night? He had been drunk and exuberant – and had returned to his girlfriend the next day – and you were probably the only one to remember that night in a lovely way anyway. It was gutless and sad, because you knew him since you were kids, so you trusted him.
So many things had been unclear – and you had turned them sunny in your mind, only to be disappointed afterwards.
So, here we are now. Have it, all of it, the whole package, with all its memories, let someone else delight themselves with its content, may they enjoy having that enthusiasm, the wits, your courage and your smile. Those skills, your love of so-many-things-in-this world, books and horses and languages and everything. Let someone else have it all! …And take that gruesome hypersensitivity along with it, too.
Maybe they’ll handle it better.
What if there are other, much more terrible lives, that people come to trade in? Are you feeling you’re there, now?
Would you trade your whole life in, for that? he said, frowning.
Only desperate souls come to trade their lives in at this counter.
Smart ones. Because happy simple souls can`t even find the place anyway.
Would you switch with another desperate soul,is your misery so much sadder than theirs?
I never found the counter. And, I must say, I don’t think of it that often.
Lately I think that “in the battle between you and the world, bet on the world”, as the saying goes.
I also wish to learn how to enjoy this world, instead of trying to battle it.
In the garden of the house I grew up in, there’s this fig tree. Maybe young grandma planted it, in the late 30es, shortly after the house was built.
Winters here are often cold: there’s -18°C outside now. So, every once in a while, the fig tree doesn’t make it to spring. Every time I see the withered branches, I think to myself ‚So, this time it’s over.’
Somehow, we never even liked eating its fruit: they take so long to ripen, looking indecent all summer, in their shrivelled green skins.
Every time the tree withers, after a few weeks, an amazing little sprout shows up in the ground, just a few inches away from the old stem. It takes 3-4 years to grow back to the size you can see in the picture. By that time, next winter will be a cold one…
I never understood the fig tree parable in the bible. It seemed like a stub: some crucial information must have been left out, so the story makes no sense to me. Why curse the fig tree for not bearing fruit, if it wasn’t the season for figs anyway?
Once I read about Sylvia Plath’s fig tree.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – from The Bell Jar, 1963
For such a long time I felt just like this. There were so many attractive options and – I was scared that choosing one meant, I’d decide against all the other ones. Fortunately, I do not feel like that anymore.
The fig tree is not old, because it always starts anew. There were times when it came out again about 4 meters away from where it once stood. But it did – and it’s the same, somehow: it never forgets about spring and never looses the wonderful shape of its leaves.
It taught me this wonderful thing: it doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as you keep on doing stuff. You’ll find your way. All in good time, it said.
One evening in Zürich, autumn 2010, I found this bag on the pavement, next to my bike. I put it aside, unlocked the bike and rode off. The next day I parked on the same spot. The bag was still there, as if waiting for me. In the evening I found it in my bike-basket. I took it out, hung it on a nearby fence and rode off. This game kept going on for the next 2 days. On the third day I decided that fate wanted me to have this bag.
I had been looking for a new bag for a long time. I always wear my favourite things till they fall apart – and tend to distrust new ones I am finally forced to buy.
So I looked inside, half fearing it was contaminated- or I’ll find an abandoned new-born inside! -but no. Creamy white lining, some blue and red stains from a pen – and a few bugs. And the smell of new leather!
I took it home, washed everything that wasn’t made of leather – and started using it soon. “Oh, since when are YOU wearing brand-stuff? This one must’ve cost you a fortune. I know a real DKNY when I see it, it’s my favourite brand” a friend said. – No, I found it on the street. – …
When I was packing for Haiti, I was determined to not show off with my things in any way. I even took down my old favourite ring and left it behind. What bag should I take? I only had this one – and a beach bag. You can’t go to a meeting with a beach-bag, can you? And this one looks rather modest, people will just assume it’s a fake.
For the last months it did its job well and does match most things I wear.
Then a few days ago I parked the car in front of the bookstore at Place St. Pierre, Pétion-Ville, the poshest part of Port au Prince. Got out just to see it was closed for Fête Dieu. A bunch of street kids were pestering me about watching the car. I said there was no need for that, I’m leaving right now, as the store is closed anyway. I get into the car, put my cellphone between my legs – where I alway put it when I drive – while I close the door, put the bag down on the floor and – just as I was about to push the “lock-all-doors”-button, someone opens the back door, darts over the passenger seat, grabs the bag – and runs away with it!
I jump out of the car yelling like crazy – and clenching my cellphone. Decide I can’t follow the guy and leave the car, cause he’s probably faster than me on high heels, he knows the neighbourhood a lot better – and I risk to have the car stolen as well. So I scream “SOMEONE STOLE MY BAG! GET IT PLEASE! THAT WAY! I’LL PAY A PRIZE TO WHOMEVER BRINGS IT BACK! RUN!!”
And all people start running down the street in the indicated direction. All of them- including the guy with the basket full of drinks on his head. The money-exchangers and the cigarette-vendors. The old lady selling fruit on the corner. The phone-company advertiser. The street kids. The school kids. Their parents. The toothless beggar. The passers by, on their way to church.
One street kid turns around: “Where there lots of money in the bag, Ma’m?” – No, but keys and papers, and it’s MINE… MY BAG!!! run, what are you staring at?!” – so he, too, gets in motion.
Only the old newspaper-vendor couldn’t free himself of the newspaper-burden fast enough, so he looked sadly after the others…
After a few minutes, my knees all trembling, the guy with the drinks-basket comes back. “Bag! go there! bag! there!!” and points a few blocks down the street.
“I won’t go anywhere – you guys think you can steal my cell now? or my car?” But I go. On that corner, in the dust, with 40 people gesticulating and quarrelling around it, was MY BAG. Open, like I had left it – and with the wallet on top! Nothing missing.
“This your bag, Ma’m?” Some old people from Mairie de Pétion-Ville, in some sort of sand- or dust-coloured uniform, all escorting me back to the car. Everyone else, who had been running, escorting me as well. I take out money to pay them, thinking that there’s too many of them… They refuse it. I give them the money, still: You guys just all go to the next bar and have a beer and think of me and the wonders of the church on this holy day!
They accept in the end – but only when I’m already in the car, with all doors locked.
I leave with trembling knees, this is incredible.
The next day I return to the store on foot, aware and nervous – what if I meet the perpetrator again?
So this guy comes strolling up to me, huge smile on his face: “Happy you got your bag back, Ma’m?”
Yeah, and who are you? “I’m the one who told the thief to drop the bag on the corner, Ma’m. I’m the Godfather of the street kids of Pétion-Ville. Enchanté!”
I’m eyeing him with distrust. He goes on, smiling: “The only reason why you got it back, Ma’m, is because we liked your reaction. You didn’t yell “police!”, like the other “blancs” do, when they get mugged
– you never even mentioned it. You promised ransom for the bag!
Yeah, because I grew up in a fucked-up country, where police was really the last you could expect help from when you were in distress. It never crossed my mind to expect help from them.
The one time I have, after being assaulted in the street – they wanted to charge me with street-prostitution, cause it’s not ok to be out at night as a woman. So, no, I don’t trust police in most countries either.
“You know, we are in the street all day long, we watch everyone, we know their habits. We spend all our life in the streets. I’m 29 now (he looked more like 45+), I’m out in the streets since I was twelve. I got locked-up for four years and a half. I wouldn’t wish a detention in a Haitian prison, not even to my worst enemy I would. I would do anything possible to keep other people from being locked-up. I don’t steal – I manage. Anything that gets stolen in this area, I get a percentage. I try to help the blancs get their papers back, cause I know it’s hard to get them redone, all ID’s and passports and everything. But if they call police, I’m out.”
I watched his brown hands while we were talking – the knuckles were so scarred, I’ve never seen anything like that. As if the guy had been walking on his knuckles through a field of glass-shards… While he was talking all the time with a peaceful smile on his face, he looked like a tired Bob-Marley.
“It would take a miracle to get me out of the streets. A woman – or death -will probably do it, like it happens for most of us. Out here, you don’t live long, you know? I’d so much like to learn something from you – a language, some story, anything. See these kids?”
The street kids were gathering around us, first 2-3, in the end there were almost 20, avidly watching his every gesture. He insisted on continuing the conversation in English, not French or Creole.
“Look at them. These kids have never been to schools, they can’t even read or spell their names. They left home, cause for them the street was the better alternative. Where to get the money for school? (NB: In Haiti you have to pay for tuition; only 15% of the schools are state-owned, the rest are private and a lot less affordable).
– But you speak good English, how did you learn that?
“Well, I worked around hotels and picked it up there…That’s why I am their godfather, I find ways.. If only one could teach them something useful, I’d organise the canteen, they would gather and they would learn. They’re willing.
I’m leaving soon.Are there no NGO’s or other organisations you can apply to with your idea?
No one talks to us, we’re scum, street people. There’s no money for projects like that from the blancs. We’re not flashy in the press – nobody likes being associated with. They just roll their window down and give us some change, they smile, wave and drive on. You think anyone stops and talks to us? You’re the first one in years.
Well, I can somehow understand people you mugged for not feeling like having friendly chats with you.
“You sent away the kids who wanted to guard your car yesterday. That was a mistake, should have let them – and tell them you pay some other time.”
I’m sick of being mistaken for an ATM all the time, it’s so annoying, you know? Think I’m a tourist here, just for fun? I work here – and I could work somewhere else, why do you think I’m here, man? I came for building schools!
“Yeah, but you pissed them kids off, so…when the guy made me a sign that he’s gonna steal you’re bag, I shrugged. But then when I saw the way you reacted, I thought you were worth it – and told the guy to ditch the bag, untouched, and run. Don’t worry, you’re cool. From now on, nothing bad is ever going to happen to you in this area again – trust me, you can leave the car unlocked. If anything should happen, ask for me, I’ll get it back to you in one hour.”
He gathered the kids around and told them some things in Creole, holding on to my shoulder. They were watching the whole scene rather puzzled. He turned to me. “See?”
If you guys steal like that, why don’t you make something smart with of the money? I guess a rather large amount comes together at the end of the day. Put your kids to school, do something for them!
“You know, money that you don’t earn gets spent fast. Stolen, gambled, drug money- it’s gone in a short while, no matter what amount comes together. The only money one respects is the one you earn through work – or get as a gift. You respect the person who gave it to you.”
I was becoming impatient. Too hot outside, work to get done – and the afterwork beer was calling as well. So I passed him some hundred gourdes, like 4-5$. He refused. “Ma’m, I don’t take money. As I don’t steal myself. I’m the godfather, money’s not for me. If you want, do a friendly gesture – show some care for me and the kids. But don’t be petty.”
So, at what amount does your friendly gesture start? (I always hate it when people who want something from you refrain from naming a figure. Like job interviewers – it’s always them asking you what you think you should earn! But it’s them offering you the job in the end; they have a clear idea about its details and the work that needs to be done – just make your damned proposal, so we can start negotiating!)
He wriggled around with the conversation for the next minutes. In the end he was at 20$ – “with this amount I take all these kids to a place were they get soup and a coke”.
Ok, you convinced me. Here’s 20 bucks: if I give it to you, means I take it from someone else in need, like… the cleaning lady… It’s not only you street guys in need, you know?
Ten minutes later I meet him at the grocery store and give him a questioning glance. “I came to buy sweet drinks for the kids, trust me.”
Well, I trusted you and gave you the money for something good. If you used it for something else, it’s you who will be ashamed of yourself and before your own god. I don’t care. I did my part. Why are the kids following me now?
“Cause they like you. They’re just curious. Good luck!”
I leave the store, the street kids waiting to the both sides of the entrance, then escorting me back to the Embassy, shouting various things along the way. “You’re beautiful, Madame!” was one of them.
I smile and clutch my bag.
Epilogue: The bag has a new owner now: my son’s nanny.