viernes, 29 de marzo de 2013

Baby Boomers vs ‘The Greatest Generation’

Not long ago, a national magazine published an article called ‘The Worst Generation,’ contrasting the Baby-boomer generation of Americans (born between the end of World War II and the early 60’s) with ‘The Greatest Generation’ (those who fought in World War II).  The article set out to cast ‘Boomers’ into the shadow formed by their parents, attempting to show the quality of the latter group and the inferiority of the former.  I read that article with interest – possibly self-interest, having had the random luck of being born between the two arbitrary year markers set out to start a description of a huge segment of the population. 

Unlike many of my fellow ‘Boomers,’ I was raised by my grandparents, and so came to a fuller perspective on life, a perspective which might even be said is akin to that of the ‘Greatest Generation.’  Along with that perspective, there came some reasoning power, some thought-strength which alerts me when the entire thesis of an argument is flawed.

Comparisons of groups of people are ticklish affairs.  Even studies of large groups of disparate types of people can be hazardous to your thinking.  False premises abound for the unwary.  The first is that any group might be homogenous.  Boomers, whose birth-range covers 18 years, can’t possibly represent a single generation in education, cultural and social perspective, general emotional maturity, intent, or knowledge.  It is also an absurdity to assume that any subgroup of Boomers (grouped by other demographic factors than age) would be alike in many areas, because the rapidly-changing dynamics of the times preclude that one group of people can have the same outlook and focus as a group born so long previous.

Another false premise is that any segment of Boomers, grouped by a closer age-range, could represent a homogeneous group.  I went to school with Young Republicans, while I was a radical who opposed the Vietnam War on moral grounds.  But I didn’t hide in the Ivy Tower – I came from a Navy family and would have gladly served my country in a legitimate war that wasn’t a sham, both politically and morally.  In fact, it angered me that my military career was curtailed by our country’s egregious foreign policies, which only deteriorated as time went on until we find ourselves (under-equipped) in Iraq with no ‘exit strategy.’ 

Not every Boomer dropped acid, spurned lipstick, or burned a draft card wrapped in a bra.  To assume otherwise is the logical fault of painting an entire group with the same brush.  I grew up with echoes of World War II ringing in my ears, shooting capguns at ‘japs’ and ‘nazis’ before I even knew the meaning of those words (having learned a not-so-subtle racism from the much-lauded ‘Greatest Generation’).  A kid born in 1960 was an altogether different creature from my friends and myself, and the gap would become more pronounced as time went on.  That kid, or one born in 1964, would always know JFK as some kind of hero on a big coin, and was just three years old during the Summer of Love, never even contemplating actually having sex until the Sixties were long over.

The cultural drift many decry is the result of many things:  the growth of corporations, the spread of patents (both dating from the late Renaissance), the threat of annihilation, the experimentation with the economy – not to mention advertising, the true locust-cloud of our time.  It is actually thought itself which has changed:  attitudes toward life and other humans, and the manner in which each person faces the life bestowed.  As time has compressed, the number of things in the world has increased, and our institutions and ethics have had an effortful and unsuccessful time keeping up with those changes. 

A twenty-year generational grouping was probably perfect up back when time – and events – moved at a more leisurely pace. But with the coming of the 20th century, things changed.  Long is the list the events which sped those changes:  telegraph, telephone, electric lighting, indoor plumbing, medical and other technical advances like airplanes, war-tanks and automobiles.   Perhaps it was fair to call a ten-year grouping a ‘generation’ in the Roaring Twenties, but it cannot be to do so now.  And to call an 18-year grouping a ‘generation’ is silly beyond belief. 

I also wonder why people continue to insist on unfavorably comparing the ‘Boomers’ with ‘The Greatest Generation’ – and vice-versa.  Is it some sort of age-old father/son competition?  Persons who do so are buying into a profound conceptual folly, taking potshots at a crowd which must include at least some of their heroes as well. 

Actually, ‘potshots at a crowd’ is almost the perfect metaphor for the entire Boomer situation – and for any argument that idealises one generation at the expense of another.  That afternoon at Kent State was the mirror held up to our times:  one group of kids (Boomers) shooting into another group of unarmed kids (Boomers).  Who put those guns in the kids’ hands?  Who trained them to shoot and to follow orders?  Who gave the fatal orders?  It is unlikely that Boomers could have done any but the last item, and improbable that they did even that.  Those green young National Guardsmen were schooled and molded by members of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ 

And the mirror doesn’t lie:  everything my ‘generation’ learned, we learned from our fathers.  We learned, we absorbed, we synthesized and extended.  Yet Boomers have been described as self-centered and self-aggrandising.  Self-centered?  The Fifties was a self-centered bath of personal comforts, prepared by those celebrating their survival of the ‘Great Depression’ and the War.  Self-aggrandising?  Isn’t aggrandisement of self the subtle heart of the incipient racism and classism of previous generations (extending back, in America’s case, to ‘the founding fathers’)? 

Each generation takes what it can take from the pool and gives what it will give – right, wrong or indifferent.  It isn’t so much about ‘us and them’ as about ‘all of us and these changing exigencies of our lives.’  There are good and bad elements in every ‘generation,’ and I hope that we do not teach purblindness to the generations with whose future thought processes we have been trusted.  It is the responsibility and duty of our teachers to teach openly and fairly, withholding personal bias in favor of seeking all the facts, to guide young minds to think for themselves – rather than accept the party line or the rantings of embittered politicos who happen to be their professors.  Only by keeping our universities free, by not trying to control content, can we hope to have future generations which will be better than we are, more able to cope with changes, more suited to the future which they will inherit.

But the whole argument about ‘Boomers vs The Greatest Generation’ is one big exercise in cheap generalities, careless thought and sloppy argument.  No wonder the larger fraction of the American public can’t think clearly, fed as they are on disingenuous pap, propaganda disguised as opinion, outright lies by their ‘leaders.’  Of course, that is what they want, after all.  The media continues to present them with a collection of half-baked sentiments masquerading as thoughts and ideas.  But I shudder to realise that our colleges and universities harbor professors indulging in carelessness, in the shoddy building of thesis and argument, resulting in enormous waste of creative power. 

But there is a third false premise in the pitting of one generation against another, a mistake made in almost every anti-war movie ever produced:  the demonisation of one side.  How can the audience really feel the waste and tragedy of war when that emotion is pushed aside by a stronger visceral reaction, one engendered by a discernible villain to hate?  By casting one ‘generation’ against another, we miss the entire point:  all generations have their noble few, their plodding many, their great and silent apathetic masses.  They all possess within them individuals who are greedy, the guileless, the cynical, and the idealistic. 

We are all of us human, all marked with the same tendencies and needs and wants.  These traits are part of the human psyche.  Victorian women in New York suffered lead poisoning from the white makeup they slathered on themselves in an attempt to ‘stay in fashion.’  Others bound their waists so tightly that they irreparably damaged their viscera.  Can we really believe that every woman of our grandmothers’ (or great-grandmothers’) generation would have spurned breast augmentation or liposuction – had it been safe, inexpensive and available to them?

It is true that recent generations were generally ‘given everything,’ where most previous generations grew up in harsher conditions.  Boomers were presented with opportunities at every turn, and had them thrust on us by the world at large and by our parents, who were admittedly affected by previous privations that could not be ignored.  Some kids were spoiled by their parents, while other parents took the absurd tack of emulating their kids, which often made them look ridiculous indeed.

The simple fact is that Boomers just became much more visible than any previous generation, as the spread of television and the globalisation of our culture thrust us into people’s living rooms every night on sitcoms, on the news, in movies and magazines and newspapers.  As a group, we became the center of attention, and don’t think some of us didn’t deliberately play to it for all it was worth.  But that situation too serves to distort the facts.  It made us seem more important than we actually were, a point readily made if one looks at one item generally taken to be an immanently ‘Boomer’ phenomenon – marijuana.  An overview of the recent history of marijuana reveals immediately that the Boomers as a ‘group’ still haven’t got the political clout to legalise the damn stuff after roughly 40 years of effort.  If the thesis of ‘generational homogeneity’ were even close to true, we’d all be buying ‘Boo’ or ‘Gauge’ or ‘Herb’ or ‘420’ cigarets at the corner store, paying a hefty use tax to the government.  But we’re not – what’s that about?

Like most of American life, it’s probably all about issues, and the truth is that there is no single ‘American public’ viewing (or deciding) the issues.  There are only a collection of ‘publics,’ overlapping, sharing interests in a broader or narrower fashion – but no one group can even begin to embody the contradictions of the ‘American’ mind.  Notions of homogeneity are nonsense – and even dangerous when included in ‘discussions’ in national magazines or on TV.

Some of us were fighting against the Vietnam action long before it threatened us – like ’64 or ’65, when we were still in public schools, not yet shaving, unaware of the true reality of that awful threat.  Without their kids providing a conscience – for whatever reason – most Americans might have shrugged off the atrocities in Southeast Asia as ‘the cost of doing business,’ just as they are today shrugging off the war in Iraq as ‘a necessary part of bringing democracy to the Middle East.’

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll weren’t invented by my ‘generation,’ though many of us often acted like they were.  And there were a lot of fortysomethings crashing – and throwing – parties in the Seventies.  And yes, many Boomers did embrace Reagan’s rapacity; don’t forget that $3 trillion debt – but they don’t represent the entirety of the ‘generation.’  And when we hear George W’s lectures on social responsibility, we have to remember that he personally has never shown fiscal responsibility and seeks to turn the entire country into Republicans through a variety of ‘parlor tricks’.

Of course, large parts of the ‘American public’ [not just Boomers] say about Clinton, “How dare he behave like one of us!”  Americans have a long and cherished history of pulling down their heroes for showing that they are human.  The ‘straight press’ has only sniffed the wind and adjusted course to become the pillory of American society that the tabloid press had once been.  We – all generations of Americans raised puritans in our schools, irrespective of religious affiliation – want our heroes perfect, impeccable, safe.  In other words, dead.  Anyone elevated to hero status has to die or fall, or America just won’t be happy.

Some wag called this new crop of little altruists as being ‘Letterman’s kids,’ ‘ironic but not cynical.’  Boy, does that miss more than one mark. Most of these kids wouldn’t know real irony if it bit them in the ass, and cynicism is endemic, though not the film-noir type with which we are familiar.  It is ironic too that some think of Letterman as some paragon of social attitude, that man described elsewhere as “a 52-year old … stogie sucker…workaholic perfectionist whose scabrous self-loathing and growling hostility are unmatched on network TV.”  Quite a choice for an ‘ironic but not cynical’ role model.  Letterman’s faux-courteous but mocking attitude has infected a lot of young people, especially males, who think that mocking something is the same as understanding it, or improving it.  None of Letterman's humor does anything to point toward improvement – it is puerile, smug and extremely self-satisfied.  He would do well to practice humility, since he does have so much to be humble about, sitting on the sidelines and jeering at others while offering no true perspective, no solutions, no answers.

It is truly ironic that the corporate models of late 20th-century America and the personal ethic of ‘captains of industry’ were all visited on us by the Harvard MBA Class of 1949.  Gordon Gecko was only the natural extension of a philosophy that has been building for more than 150 years – at least since Vanderbilt sent William Walker and his small army of mercenaries to ‘pacify’ Nicaragua in 1847.

The logical extension of that little escapade in 19th-century ‘nation building’ – the School of the Americas – was not started by Boomers, any more than were the HUAC hearings, the Tuskegee Experiment or other heinous offerings of previous generations.  But to lay blame on an entire group is wrong – and false.  Invective against anyone not interested ‘in the lasting result of the creative process,’ or against anyone for ‘trampling on the rights of others,’ might be leveled against any at least one segment of any generation at any time in history. 

We’ve heard about the Civil Rights Movement continuing ‘without strong support’ from Boomers on college campuses.  Oh, really?  I was there, and stand witness to the fact that the college crowd was just about the only strong support in numbers that the movement had from ‘white America.’  Without a whole segment of one ‘generation’ behind it, the Movement might have missed the watchful eye of the Gatekeepers in the media [the Greatest Generation and the one previous] – and failed to gain needed political momentum in the white establishment.  

And who gave that generational group the sobriquet ‘hippie’?  Life Magazine.  The previous generation has been defining us since it taught us to walk.  In our schools, the previous generation taught us how to define ourselves – in its own language, not ours.  And this is a crucial point – every generation down through history has fought this battle with its predecessor.  Every generation has looked back and said “No,” only to look forward a few years later and said, “Oh, no.”  Somewhere in a cave is a pictograph that translates “Screw Og, my axe is better,” next to one that says, “Mog is grounded til saber-tooth season.”

For every argument pulled up to bolster a biased argument, there are countless others to support not only the opposing argument, but a true and objective picture of the times and of the sad, colorful, varied, sometimes noble, hopeful people who struggled through them.

miércoles, 13 de marzo de 2013

Marooned Sailor Can’t Get Back from the Philippines:

Part 1:  Local Man Hopes to Bring his Family Home

 Carter ‘Hop’ Cowan looks across the narrow strait from his rural home on Cebu Island and wishes that he and his family were back in the States.  But the sea captain’s course back to his homeland is not as easy as crossing the sixteen miles over to Pacijan Island from just outside Danoa City, where he lives with his wife and 14 year-old son.

“It’s hard to believe that after so many years of living at sea and fending for myself – and taking care of my crews and passengers at sea – I can’t manage our lives here,” Carter says, his eyes scanning the horizon as if searching for a safe passage out of this situation. 
Carter with his wife and son in happier days

“This situation” involves a 68 year-old seaman (still afflicted by wounds sustained when a boom slammed into his neck and head during a storm that sunk the yacht he was delivering from Japan to California), his 49 year-old wife Vivian (suffering the devastating effects of late-stage cancer), their son Hopkins (a very promising student), Carter’s own boat (left in northern Australia after foundering there), personal financial ruin caused by mounting medical bills, and lack of work for experienced men in the Philippines. 

“I’d find a way to sail us back to the US if my boat were seaworthy.  But here I am.  Old injuries keep me from the jobs I used to do, and I can’t earn passage for three of us back home.”

The irony is that when it went down in the mid-Pacific, the Empress took Carter’s entire collection of Asian art, statues, carvings and antique swords and knives – and that treasure now lays under two miles of water.  “Hell, I know exactly where that boat went down.  I got the coordinates from the transponder, and if I could only get at that boat, there’s a small fortune there just large enough to pay my off wife’s medical bills and put us back on our feet.”

Now impoverished by medical bills, Carter can’t even leave the Philippines, because he doesn’t even have the money to fly the 355 miles from Cebu to Manila, where the US State Department might lend him the money for a ticket home.  And his situation just deteriorates every day.  “Even my neighbors here can be a threat to my safety.  Once they know that there is nothing they can get from you, you’re useless to them.”

Carter, who graduated Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield Virginia before attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the late 60s, moved to Harrisburg Pennsylvania in the early 70s.  He later returned to Virginia, where he lived in Richmond, Petersburg, Blacksburg, and Arlington, until he followed a girlfriend from Richmond to California’s Marin County in 1978, where he first got involved with the sailing life.  One friend remembers that Carter immediately fell into seagoing as if he were made for it.  And perhaps he was made for the sailor’s life:  after about a year, he shipped out from San Diego on the Taiyo, bound for Tahiti. 

In late 1979, Carter served aboard the Taiyo as an officer on the Sir John Barrow Memorial Expedition, under command of Glen Christian, an English-born direct descendant of Fletcher Christian.  Tracing part of the route of the HMS Bounty, the group did extensive research on Pitcairn Island that was recounted in a later documentary alternately titled Island of The Bounty and Children of The Bounty

Late in 1980 Carter wound up in Ala Wai Harbor in Hawaii, working as chief engineer on the Good Fortune, a 62-foot Garden ketch that had lain untended for several years after a mid-ocean mishap that resulted in the death of a crew member.  “The sail covers were shredded, and the caulking on the deck had shrunk and disintegrated.  The engine needed a lot of work, every bit of teak was pale grey, and the hull leaked.  Our crew gave that boat a brand-new life.”

By 1982, Carter was back in Midlothian Virginia, where he had spent his childhood.  He spent some time with his parents in Richmond, working in a boatyard and seeing old friends from Midlothian and the Richmond area while waiting for his next billet.  The next year, he went back to sea, heading for the South Pacific.  And for the next 17 years, Carter sailed the world, working in boatyards and refurbishing yachts when he wasn’t delivering yachts for the rich and famous. 

Carter and his wife Vivian were married in 1986, and the next year he captained The Sol on an expedition that that exposed to the world the very destructive muro-ami fishing operation, in which huge industrial pounding devices were used to smash coral reefs in order to drive the fish living there into waiting nets.  (Muro-ami was a scandalous practice that not only resulted in deaths of children used as divers, but also smashed the living coral into small fragments and despoiled huge sections of the life-giving reefs – longlasting and practically total destructive effects that have since been condemned by fishery-management agencies worldwide.)  Carter’s vessel carried the film crews that obtained the footage used by in different reports by Geraldo Rivera, Barbara Walters and 60 minutes reporters in 1987 and helped secure the ban on the destructive technique in the Philippines.

Carter on shipboard 
With the money from the muro-ami expedition, Carter purchased the Matilda in 1988, keeping it in Midlothian’s Tichou shipyard.  He then sailed again for the South Pacific.  During this period he continued his shipboard work, at the same time earning certificates in Celestial Navigation, Maritime Engineering, and Piloting, until getting his Captain’s ticket.  And even then he continued educating himself in the ways of the wind and tides – and in the laws of the sea.

In 1999, he went back to Petersburg Virginia to heal after receiving some serious injuries during a storm that sank the Empress in the mid-Pacific.   Once healed, he returned to the Philippines, hoping to get back to yacht delivery and the life of a sea captain.

And life continued, much as it had before.  Carter and his wife raised their son Hopkins, now an honors student currently enrolled in 7th grade at North Eastern Cebu School. 

But the fair weather that Carter had enjoyed for so many years on the waves seemed to slip away for Carter.  Work slowed down, circumstances grew leaner, until he would leave to take charge of other people’s boats, while his wife and son lived aboard the Matilda.  But when his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Carter’s life began to really change – work seemed to slip away with the tide, and the international financial crisis quickly changed the world of deep-water sailing. 

And that was only the beginning.  Medical bills mounted while work disappeared altogether in the bad economy that hit the Philippines like a tidal wave, affecting tens of thousands of workers.  So Carter headed for Australia after hearing a rumor of work there.  At that point, more disaster struck, as his boat was disabled at sea.  Barely able to continue paying rent on the tiny house for his family, Carter limped his beloved Matilda (now disabled) into Elizabeth Bay on the northeast coast of Australia’s Arnhem land, not far from Darwin in the Northern Territory.  The little boat was almost beyond repair – but that didn’t matter, because Carter had no money for any repairs at all and was running out of options.

Stranded, Carter managed to find a job as a mechanic at a pearl farm outside Darwin.  Sending his wages home to his wife, he was able to acquire various Australian visas so that he could continue working.  He abandoned the Matilda, and worked hard in hopes of a sea change for the better.  But that change never came, and Carter’s visa expired, forcing him out of Australia’s better economic atmosphere.  He was quoted in a local Darwin news story, saying that he didn’t mind the long working hours there.   “Immigration had a minor heart attack when I got here but we were able to work it out.  Basically I’ve been here on various working visas.  It’s a worthwhile project, the people I work with are pretty reasonable, and I’d rather work out here where the air is clean and the food is good than to be working in a ship yard in Darwin.”

Friends tell how Carter influenced them throughout his life.  Robert O, who met Carter at Pacific Maritime Academy and sailed with him out of Ala Wai, says, “No matter how big a boat is, it’s still pretty small.  This guy’s always had a generous spirit and a sense of humor – the kind you need to make long hauls across the ocean.”

Longtime friend Debra B says, “He taught me many, many things.  I’d grown up spending time with my dad outdoors, hiking, hunting.  And Carter re-introduced me to my love of the outdoors.  We had a lot of outdoor adventures together.  My half-vegetarian diet is based on all the cooking he taught me to do.”

And it’s a funny thing about sailing folk:  they keep in touch and fall out of touch as the wind and the waves take them away and may or may not bring them back.  You may never want to drink with the ones you want standing beside you on the deck – and vice versa.  And even so, you’d welcome either one of them like a long-lost sibling when they bump into you in some far-off port of call.  But the hard thing is that you can rarely find them when you need them. 

Those few friends he’s been able to contact cannot raise the money needed to help bring the family back, though they’ve contacted the Red Cross and even have found some money coming to Carter from the state of Virginia (the complicated process of even gaining access to the files would take months of work from overseas).  

Still, Carter shows the tenacity and strength he’s learned from years at sea.  He’s determined to get somehow back to sea, get his wife to the States where she can get better treatment for the cancer threatening her life, and teach his son the ways of the sailor.  Then, while watching the way the wind changes the surface of the Strait of Cebu, he says to no one in particular, “Always wanted to make the circumnavigation – I’ve planned it over and over in my mind.  Looks like it may not happen now.”

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David Hakim is an internationally-published journalist and award-winning author who has run several newspapers – and recently received a commendation for his short story That Man in the London Aesthetica Competition.  He can be reached at 415.378.6170 or

© 2013 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.

martes, 12 de marzo de 2013


This is an old piece from 1989 or 1990.  But the memories are as clear as the day I sat in the shade of a canopy and wrote them.

Bismillah, I have finished scrubbing the black-bottomed pots and the exotic cutlery in the tiny back kitchen at the Inn of the Mullah Nasrudin’s Donkey.  The Inn, spread beneath the gaily-colored canopies on a wide bed of straw, sleepily rests (like the donkey it is named after) at the top of Traders’ Market, where merchants, travelers, gypsies, laborers, dancing girls, peasants and the occasional seafarer come to find shelter or comradeship or romance or excitement.  Here, with the fragrant aura of spices and Turkish coffee floating on the breeze, they noisily suck through their teeth the boiling chai or strong black Eastern coffee.

Under the festive banners waving slowly in winds which shake out a fine coat of dust, the sprawl of shanties and tents which border the marketplace is nestled in a serene valley, not far from the highway that leads to the great city.  The little valley is watched over by lazily-circling hawks or raucous crows in the daytime and, in the nighttime chill, by the silently swooping owls.

Now, under heaped-up tumbles of clouds, the rolling hills languidly bathe in the sun’s clear light.  I can see blue jays slip between the swaying bright mustard stems, stems which seem just barely strong enough to hold the fragile weight of the jays.  The low hillocks around are like seas of tall grass, deep greens fading to the tan of dried straw, undulating currents and waves in the breezes.

And in the deserted little tent-town, the hard clay roads around Traders’ Market will grow even more silent in the glowing mantle of twilight.  Those of us who stay here between the crowded and noisy market-days, who labor building or repairing, or who feed those who labor or make wares to sell – those of us for whom this Valley of the Owl is now home, even for a little while – we will gather under the wide canopy of the Inn of the Mullah Nasrudin’s Donkey for our evening meal and we shall talk or play music and warm ourselves with the Mullah’s hot drinks.

But that will be much later, and just now, the kitchen having been patiently cleaned and my morning soup finished, I have put on my mirrored skullcap and my wide chain bracelets and I have come to sit in the long back camp off the Inn.  The back camp is a wide oval yard surrounded by tented beds under another bright canopy, littered at one end with the tools and brooms and buckets that are used in the Inn.  The rest of the yard is more domestic, strewn with the makings of extended camp:  bags overflowing with clothing, laundry strung on ropes, the cases of musical instruments stacked haphazardly against a wall, the belongings of the servers and workers at the Inn.

Out across the fields of high grass that drape the low curve of the swelling hills – not so far, though, as the line of dark oaks which seem to stand with unmoving branches even in the strongly gusting wind – a stout young man is working, digging a post-hole for another tent pole, his broad back shiny with sweat, his movements slow and deliberate in the gathering heat.  Around me are the sounds of the coffee-house:  the slow whisper of the broom as the sweeper makes his way through the empty kitchen, the gentle scrapings of a fiddle being tuned, the ratcheting sound of the cards as the players gossip among themselves, the counterpoints of several hammers striking the notes of different nails.

I am at home here – oddly at home in this travelers’ camp, in the very timelessness of this stopping-off place, this passing-through place, this temporary home of ever-returning happinesses.  It is among the changing faces of this host of travelers that I have found a comfort.  From wherever it is that they come, on the way to wherever it is that they are going, in the shade of the Inn their paths meet.

To the crossroads of Traders’ Market they come, with smiles or with tears, wise or brash or cautious or cunning, to buy and sell, to trade and argue, to learn and teach, to touch and share and fight and love, each with the other:  the merchants in long coats and colored jackets and foreign-looking hats, dancing girls caressed by their veils and bangles and bells, laborers in rough shirts or shirtless with neck-scarves pulled over faces against the dust, the laughing dark-eyed belly dancer with the lotus tattoo on her face, the freebooter who has found his sea-wit more profitable upon the land, jugglers and jokesters  who entertain travelers for a few coins, serving-girls looking chastely proper or adventurous and sultry, the artists and musicians who paint or play in the background, adding the gentle spices of their several Muses to our lives.

And late at night the gambling men drink strong spirits with their devil-black coffee, or strong spirits from hand-to-handed bottles between laughs and lies and odd bits of their stories tossed out like stray bets in their games.  And in the slow morning, the servers step to the rhythm of the Mullah’s snores… ah, the Mullah – always the Mullah, grand and watchful, a great slow presence amid the busy activity of the coffeehouse.

From my spot in the back-camp, I hear among these sounds the marketplace picking up its pace, seeming to stretch and yawn in the sun as if in preparation for a busy afternoon.  I realise that the quiet time will soon end.  For in a few days it will be Market Day, and the crowds will come – like faraway thunder approaching, like the horizon’s gathering dustcloud moving ever closer, inevitable, inescapable.

The crowds – foreigners in their own land, it seems, restless and impatient and rude – are foreign to themselves and are foreign to us, who were born side by their sides, who live and love at the shore of their busy world, who speak the same language differently and seek other goals and see other dreams under the same velvet sky of night.  And when they come, those crowds – trying to touch another life though their arms are too short and their hearts too hollow, to touch a bit of the life that flows through our eyes and through the tongues of our hearts, through our bonds and friendships – when they come, then shall we don our festal masks and sing them the smells of the gypsy fires, the eerie color of the rose-lipped dawn in the high mountain passes,  the lover’s caress of gentle waves in far-off silksanded bays.

And one or two will come out of the crowd, will be able to hear our hearts’ songs and know something of our thoughts – and some of us will talk with them and smile openly and friendships will be born.  And around that little scene of happiness in the crowded and noisy Traders’ Market, others of us will sell our wares and sing our songs and pocket the coins of our labors.

After the revel is ended, when the drinking and dancing and buying and trading is done, then back to the near-empty marketplace shall we meet again – here, it will be here in this quiet Traders’ Market that we shall gather.  And in the long hot afternoons, under the breeze-kissed canopies, those of us who live here will share our coffee or chai and gossip and tell of what has passed on Market Day.  And once again, beneath the gliding hawks, the sounds of quiet labor will echo in the Valley of the Owl.

Yes, today is quiet, the thunder and dust of the crowd is far away and my prayers are all said, and the long-handled coffee urns and the bright slick knives have all been cleaned with care, ma’ashallah.

© 2012 Hakim - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: use without profit allowed, but only with author’s express written permission. Please don't wake up my attorney. Please.