Saturday, September 15, 2012

The World's Door

Madelaine Nerson Mac Namara          ©  2012


The skull is hailed
And hauled and held.
The feet are last.
The heels wriggle
Along the soft
Inside of thighs
Print a farewell.

Wild punches, kicks
Seek the world's door.
It gapes open
Walls all vanished.
In unison
With the first howl
The whole ward breathes

As its bounty
The visitor.
Before I do
They know and tell
It's a boy
A beautiful boy.

And I pretend
I take it in
New face, new soul
New man, new me.
I make believe
We could do this
Most every day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mr Dan and the Dams of Kurdistan, 2

by Dan Coakley          © 2012

I took the lift to the foyer where I saluted the Mukhabarat (Saddam's secret policeman), whose job was to monitor all who entered and exited the hotel lifts. Like all his colleagues in the Hotel Babel (Babylon) he was well dressed and very courteous though distant.  He had none of the brooding menace of his equivalents (ex-KGB) in Kiev.  While there, an informer in an Artioma Street apartment building we were visiting contacted the immigration police and reported that foreigners were visiting an apartment in the building. In Soviet times each apartment block had its own commissar whose duty it was to report suspicious or anti-state behaviour. So the former commissar in this apartment block was loath to give up his position of power and persisted in carrying out his policing duties right into the post soviet era. In Artioma Street many of the apartment buildings had their doors in the back and had to be approached from a commonage, via an arched opening off the street. All doors opening on to the commonage were permanently open and the snow would form drifts in the hall in the night temperature of -200C. The street, commonage and the hall were in pitch darkness and we had to pick our way through the snow drifts with torches that were mandatory. On entering our friends' house one night we noticed two men on the stairs above us furtively examining the numbers on all the apartment doors. Shortly after we got into our friends' apartment via the double steel security doors someone was banging loudly on the door and yelling in Ukrainian. As there were four of us in the room we were confident that we were able to look after ourselves so we opened the doors to be confronted by the two men we had seen on the stairs. One was dressed in a leather hat and long leather greatcoat and the other was armed and wore a leather jacket and long leather boots. They were immigration police and when we could not produce our registration documents were clapped in handcuffs.  At the time the USSR had just disintegrated and I reckoned that the Soviet prisons had not caught up with the new political realities. I pictured myself being shipped off to a gulag in a cattle wagon. However a quick-witted member of our group, Michael Crowley of Mallow Co. Cork, saved the day by phoning Uri, our liaison contact, behind the policemen's backs.  Uri, who had previously worked in the Immigration Department, contacted the relevant government official who ordered our captors to free us. This they did after a long one way interrogation when they insisted on asking the same aggressive question again and again despite all our answers "Where are your registration papers?" We were euphoric when we were left off the hook as the photo below demonstrates.

A very relieved pair, Louis Healy left and the author right show off after being informed by Kiev Immigration Police that we were no longer under suspicion.

Back to the Hotel Babel in Baghdad, I was quickly located by my driver who introduced himself as Ayad H. Humayde. The UN has a custom of recruiting local people with university degrees relevant to the work of whatever UN agency that employs them. In the Electricity sector therefore this meant that most of my Iraqi staff were engineers or had technical degrees. Hence Dr. Ayad who had been an electronics lecturer in the University of Baghdad became one of my drivers. I felt like the proverbial "Pukka Sahib" as I seated myself in the white air-conditioned land cruiser waiting for me in the car park, with the letters "UN" emblazoned on its side.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Eulogy of a Poet

© 2012           by Marie Guillot

Sean was not selfish on his tin whistle, and not shy on his pint. His poems were multiple and various, published in local newspapers, and often after the application of some censorship.
When I first met him at one of our historical society meetings, he introduced himself as a heretic, who never married but had loved. His view of life was simple, using only one principle: Don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you. Indeed, the old Golden Rule from the likes of Confucius and Plato. 

One year, a group from our society went to Paris. There, Sean did not miss any opportunity to play the tin whistle, always secured in his pocket: in our hotel, at  the top of the Eiffel Tower and in the Montmartre Irish pub.
He wanted to visit Balzac's house, now a museum. Duly provided with written instructions in French (just in case), he boarded a taxi and reached his destination safely. To celebrate the occasion, he subsequently went to a nearby bistrot for his pint. Still full of his thoughts, he suddenly found himself at a loss, and did not know how to proceed towards the next step. Passing by a police station, he entered and used the French-for-emergencies he remembered: Je m'appelle Sean; j'habite en Irlande. He then pulled out his French note. The policiers called a taxi for him, direction the Louvre, his next destination. He was back on track.
During the 4-day journey, we all wrote our impressions in a journal-cum-scrapbook. Here are some excerpts from Sean's input: Versailles was a little bit extravagant,  just a little bit, a tinsy winsy bit. Quoting Balzac: This poor lad thinks he is an angel, exiled from Heaven. Who am I to undeceive him?. He added for himself: We are all angels, exiled from Heaven. It's just that Heaven hasn't really touched-down yet.
He was happy to come back home, to his farm. The farm where he was born and where he had been raising sheep all his life. Self-sufficient and self-educated in everything, from music to writing to painting, he also took vet skills in his stride. He was not demanding and lived on little. 

He died at the age of 63. Not from cancer or heart attack, not in a car accident. His killer took his time; years in fact. The farm was damp and insalubrious. One day Sean felt weak and drove his veteran car to the hospital. His agony was short; as short as the insidious disease had been there long. Dying of tuberculosis is not fashionable any more. Even cattle deserve good treatment nowadays.

Sean, the dreamer, the eccentric, you have now been through your own touch-down. Hopefully, the very one you were seeking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hotel Babel

by Dan Coakley  © 2012

My wife with her Nargila on the Corniche in Beirut.

After a shower and shave I would descend to the restaurant by 7 o'clock.  The first job was to wake the waiters who used to sleep on the restaurant floor fully clothed, while the more senior ones would enjoy the luxury of lying on the large oriental cushions from the area set aside for the nargila or water pipe smokers. It was located in a corner of the restaurant and was draped with Persian rugs and lined with large cushions to simulate a Bedouin tent. No concerns here for a dense cloud of tobacco smoke wafting around the evening diners. 

Unwashed, the waiters would immediately clean-up after the night before and set about preparing the coffee and the freshly squeezed orange juice.  Some of their fellows would wander into the kitchen to wake up the staff there.  With this type of staff accommodation I wondered how it got its 4 star appellation or who conferred it. The menu was simple, fresh orange juice with eggs, either boiled, fried or in an omelette.   It went on its slow funereal course, while the waiters who moved around like some sedated undertakers studiously ignored their diners.  This problem was eventually solved by the application of a few dinars as a tip.  There after I only had to look up and was immediately assailed from a number of directions by competing, reactivated waiters.  
In spite of the tip, breakfast usually took about 45 minutes and frequently was not complete when the driver called with the Land Cruiser to take me to work.  So, in spite of brutal dictators the pace of ordinary life was relaxed and definitely an antidote to ulcers and hypertension.  It reminded me of the relaxed world of my childhood, a world fast disappearing. However the staff's lack of hygiene periodically took its toll and the drivers used to laugh at me as I entered their vehicle clutching a bottle of 7-up. That and Imodium would have to be my bill-of-fare for the following few days. They were familiar with the symptoms from my predecessor Tom Brosnan.
I had the choice of two Hotel Babil restaurants.  One was the Iraqi one where I used to take breakfast and the other was a Thai one.  There was little between them in the matter of speedy service.  However the Thai one won hands down in the matter of diversion as it featured Rosy.  I had heard from the UN staff that Tom my predecessor had labelled her "The Honey-pot".  She was an antique brunette having earned the adjective at least 35 years ago. The restaurant had a number of enclosed cubicles and these were Rosy's main grooming areas.  She would single out her victim early on in the night and would make him the focus of attention until negotiations concluded to her satisfaction.  She was well known in every sense with the UN MAG people (UN Mine Action Group) as they stayed a night in the hotel on their way up north.  
As the restaurant was huge but usually had less than half a dozen diners there any night I soon got the treatment.  She assured me that she adored the Irish and that she made great friends with some Irish doctors who worked in the nearby Park Hospital in the early nineties. Now when I meet one of them I mentally conjecture if he knew Rosy.  Over a few visits the ante was raised and she "shyly" made a pitch for some expensive perfumes, naming them.  I assured her that I would bring a few litres of each kind the following night.  At this she invited me to her apartment.  She was a great romanticist "Mr Dan, you come to my apartment.  It is looking over the square with the Ali Baba statue.  We can lie there and watch the dawn come up over Baghdad".  
I assured her that there was nothing I would like better as I visualised mental images of the Mukhabarat in the next room, observing me and Rosy, watching the dawn rising over Baghdad and wondering if they had set the aperture of their cameras correctly. I told her that I had an important meeting after the dinner but would be delighted to take her up on her offer the following night.  "Oh Mr Dan you are so handsome" she cooed as I sidled out the door.  I felt her compliment was a little effusive and maybe not entirely subjective as I made for the safety of the foyer. As I entered the foyer I was accosted by the owner of the hotel clothes shop opposite the Thai restaurant.  "Mr Dan, Rosy is not a nice girl", he warned me.  He had seen the fond farewell of Rosy and decided that some customer care was in order for No. 1 customer (me).  The following morning the UN Land Cruiser called to take me to Erbil in Kurdistan and I kept well away from the Hotel Babel thereafter.