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Planet Sarajevo

Location: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

This poem was displayed in the war museum. It is a very moving portrait of the city.

Listen
To the breathing of
Planet Sarajevo

Listen
to the Girl crying:
“Death, don’t take me along.”

How many times have we
Uttered
with tears
our ardent prayers for peace?

Death cares not for the girl’s tears,
Death cares not for human prayers

Listen
To the breathing
of Planet Sarajevo

See how full of bloom
Planet Sarajevo is!

Can’t you hear
the blood
pulsating through its veins?

People go-
to have their teeth filled

People go-
to take children for a haircut

People go-
to buy newspapers
the one over there
breeds pigeons.

This one, see,
cannot live
without crossword puzzles

See
how people go
carried away with work!

See how all of them
have aged overnight!
What has made them, all at once
so- beautiful?

On Planet Sarajevo
I saw a man-
he was smoking a pipe- and rushing
by!

On Planet Sarajevo
I saw a man-
eating- and weeping

I saw a little girl,
on Planet Sarajevo,
in the park which was not there
picking up flowers that were not
there!

Death is a thorough reaper,
in vain the girl’s tears,
in vain every prayer for peace!
In the universe-
its name is Bosnia-
a little girl,
with the hand which she has not,
picks up flowers which are not!

This is not war
-in war, there are flowers
everywhere-
this is the struggle from the
Beginning of Time!

In it two principles are fighting
-from the Beginning of Time
to the Day of Judgement-
the principle of Good
and the principle of Evil!

Let there never be an end
to the struggle between Good and
Evil!

Should Good
disappear from the World?

Should the Girl
kiss the hand
of Death the Reaper?
Don’t you hear her crying:
“Death, don’t take me along?”

Don’t cry, little girl
Don’t cry, daughter!

Never, never
will the end come

to the struggle between Good and Evil.

-Abdulah Sidran Sarajevo, February 1, 1994

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“Get up,” Ali said. I rolled over and struggled to open my eyes. Finally, after lifting the bricks off them, I caught a glimpse of the time.

“Ali, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning.” He was standing in my doorway, sunglasses perched on his forehead, bluetooth in his ear, swinging his keys.

“You said you wanted to go off-roading.”

“I do, but do we have to go so early?” I groaned into my pillow.

“Yup,” he flashed another toothy smile, “before the cops wake up.”

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Welcome to the Sauna

Location: Kuwait City, Kuwait

Having never been to the underworld before, I was little prepared for the heat that blasted me in the face when I arrived in Kuwait. The air was thick, like I could hold it in my hand, and heavy in my lungs. Wind refused to step in and cool things off, but still the air buffeted my eyes, which dried out almost immediately, save for the constant tears welling in their corners.

“Welcome to the sauna,” Ali told me and flashed me a toothy grin.

Luckily the AC was pumping in his Landcruiser, and we boogied into some cover. Then the sun came up.

Kuwait is, well, yellow. Sparse shrubs cling to life between sand dunes. Anything living has the good sense to bury itself underground and out of the reach of the sun’s rays during the daylight hours. But the sand, the sand is everywhere. It hangs suspended in the air, like a thin quicksand. It slips into your mouth and grinds between your teeth. It settles on buildings, cars, plants until even the most persistent blues and reds suffocate under a drab mustard-yellow.

Underneath all that sand though, not too far down, lies that black, sticky stuff that makes the world go round. Lots of it. Enough of it that every Kuwaiti citizen is paid a monthly stipend by the government simply for being a Kuwaiti citizen. Along one stretch of the coast, oil refineries stretch into the horizon, little tongues of flame shooting up into the sky every half-mile or so. The complexes are essential to the economy, which has no other real industry since abandoning pearl diving in favor of oil. I took out my camera to snap a photo.

As always, Ali was a prepared guide. “Don’t let them catch you doing that,” he said, “They’ll take you to jail.”

In between jaunts in the desert, we ate. And man, we ate good. The family chef knows his stuff. His stuff was well-rounded and included a meat dish (braised chicken, grilled shrimp, lamb shank), heaped mounds of jasmine and saffron rice, complemented by pickled tomatoes, a dry and a wet sauce, salad, and two different types of dates. All washed down by a salty yogurt drink or fresh squeezed orange juice. Did I mention that all the food was cooked using old family recipes?

At lunchtime, Ali’s parents and sometime his brothers and cousins would join us. While his father boomed about the idiots in charge of everything, Ali showed me how to scoop rice with my fingers and use my thumb to shunt it into my mouth. Ali’s mother asked me why I wasn’t eating the marrow from the lamb bones as she delicately slurped hers out. At another meal she asked me if I had finished with my fish bones, then proceeded to munch down the spine.

After a nice digestion period of five minutes or so, the servants brought tea, a special family blend. Stacked up next to the tea cups were petite dishes of creme brulee, mousse, and souflee. A syrupy platter of deep chocolate cupcakes followed, with a Snickers cake shortly on its heels. And always there was the Kuwaiti specialty Tulumba: deep fried dough soaked in sugar water.

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Faces of Erzincan

Gizem and Uğur

Didem and Ayşe

Sultans and conquerors.

The boys.

 

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Location: Kiev, Ukraine

Ah, Kiev. That magical land of Cossacks, caviar and see-through clothing. Over the past three weeks, a fellow teacher and I traveled around eastern Europe in a well-deserved respite from the humdrums of our hometowns. I arrived in the city on our trip late at night, as always. When I eventually navigated my way into the correct darkened alley, I found that Josh had deserted me and our plans to meet and headed to a bar. You can’t really blame him though; the closest thing that we had to beer in eastern Turkey was watered-down grass-water that smelt faintly of mule urine and cost half of our salary.

Not being one to pass on the most trivial of opportunities, I dropped off my bags and sprang into a cab. At the bar I was greeted by a tender steak and a tall mug of frothy beverage served by a tall, blond Ukrainian woman in a nurse’s outfit. Sitting in dark corners, square-jawed beefy men grumbled into mugs. Women at the bar laughed airily at something I didn’t hear. I heard a starting whistle blow, did I imagine it? But everyone had turned to watch a barmaid place a World War II helmet on the head of a somber man sitting alone. He took a sip of beer as she poured out four shots of vivid green and purple. Then the whistle blew again and the barmaid lit the helmet on fire, picked up a keg and began beating the man on the head while he tried his best to shoot the drinks placed before him. And so began our travels around eastern Europe.

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Worktime Blues

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