I didn't miss the irony that the boarding attendant and I shared the same name: It was like she was me-staying behind whereas I was myself leaving. And I was glad to go... it was time. In New York, I struck up a random conversation with a fellow, who turned out to be a producer for The Cartoon Network. We spent an hour discussing the programs that I hate, because, yes I believe in media responsibility. But eventually we went our separate ways and several hours later found myself looking down at this absolutely glowing city from the sky. Wow, I thought- it's really alive! Indeed, it is... so many cultures, mixing interacting, so many different languages being spoken all at once... I could get lost here- in the good sense of the word, lost and wandering about unworried, just taking each thing as it comes...
I spent the summer working with refugees through a museum in Erie, PA .
In honor of World Refugee Day, we organized a kind of pageant that featured dances from Buhtan, story telling from Sudan, an exhibition of Iraqi Art, songs from Burma. The audience was as mixed as the performers. No one spoke the same language and at no moment did all people seem to know what exacty was going on. Some of the audience members sat still during the performances, others chattered and still others got up and danced. And each etnicity responded to the music of another in a different way. At some point the Nepalese started singing and chanting in the quiet of the library and I turned to a man from Morocco and said, "You know, this is what heaven is really like with all those nations up there- Sheer chaosos!" And yet it was also shared experience in those moments where sound superseeded culture and language, like when the entire room was stilled by the beauty of a Bosnian sevdalinka (a song of love and loss).
On another occassion the museum decided to pair up our artists in residence- The Barnstormers (an old timey band with fiddle, banjo, washboards and this weird instrument that exist only in Erie that includes a bicycle horn)- with some various refugees who had also participated in an artist in residence program that brough the songs of their homelands into the dayvcares of Pennsylvania. We all sat in a circle and in the same democratic style as Shape Note Singing, each individual selected a song and sang it. Well, when we got to those old timey musicians, they thought it'd be a good idea to pass around those horns and washboards and have the other folk play along while marching around the room. After all, that's what they'd been doing with the kids in the daycare. They launched into a well known favorite- When the Saints Come Marching In. Now those Africans (from Rawanda and Sudan) weren't much for sitting and singing, but handed a perussion instrument and asked to march (which to them meant to dance) caused an explosion of energy and sound. Those Africans created a rythmn cycle that wove in o a call and response with a counter-melody. I thought those Barnstormers ears were going to start to smoke! And better yet, nobody could make them stop- they just kept singing, dancing and beating out rythm.
That was the summer I knew why I wanted to be an ethnomusicologist.
One of the moments that haunts me more than any other occured after having spent a wonderful New Years with a friend in the South of Kyrgyzstan. to In completing the journey back to Bishkek- the country's capital- the mini-bus deposited us along with ten other passsenger in the Osh bazarre. At two am the market was deserted. Everyone got out of the bus and blinked their eyes. Catching a taxi at this hour was going to be difficult. Not certain how to proceed, my friend and I stood just watching the other passengers haul out their heavy bags. For some reason, no one even whispered. All of a sudden I heard a man's voice screaming. Although I couldn't understand the words, the desperation of his tone betrayed the fact that this man was pleading for his life and the sudden silence that followed his cries made the fact of his death known to all present. Less then 30 seconds later came the screams of a woman. These were cries of shock and grief. Her cries too abaited and a female figure emmerged from the darkness with a water bucket in her hand. She seemed remarkably composed and said to the crowd of mostly male passengers: You were all standing here. You could have helped him, and having thus passed her judgement, she once again dissappeared into the darkness.
When my goddaughter was stil in diapers, she would catch ants and give them rides in her toy cars. Now that she's 16 and in bras and kaki's, she's hoping after grasshopers, chasing moths and capturing beetles and bees in pursuit of a career in entomology. In the meantime, she's slipping sidelong glances at the boys then tossing her hair and feigning disinterest. Her mother bought her a knee-length black dress with purple straps and purple fluff underneath to wear to prom. The dress was dutifully donned and paraded through the living room for a paternal inspection. Well, what do you think Dad? He sighs and answers: It's a beautiful dress and I think you should wear it with a long sleeved button-up sweater and pants underneathe. Her mother and I laughed, but not without empathy. She's become so beautiful and yet somehow remained so innocent and it's frigtening to let such a delicate flower go out into the world. A few months later I happened to call the house while her mother waited anxiously for her to reurn home from a walk with the very first boyfriend. It was after dark and mom was just about to go look for them when through the phone I heard the front door crack open and a triumphant shout: Mom! We caught a fish. with our bare hand! Go figure, she'd be slogging through a pond on a first date.
About a year ago, I was working in a shop, selling rugs, jewlery and other gift items imported from Turkey. Nobody thinks a thing of you when you're a shop girl. You're just the sweet and friendly girl who climbs up on a ladder in heels to take plates off the wall, who fastens the claps on difficult bracelets and who swipes the credit card when it's all said and done. Nobody considers that you might be a student, struggling through a Master's degree who is fortunate enough to have an instructor who owns a shop and is willing to employ you, even if it is for peanuts. Likewise nobody seems to notice that you also work at the coffee shop up the street, that you had made them a latte in the morning only to sell them earings in the afternoon. And certainly nobody considers you might be turning them into characters for a story to amuse yourself, pass the time and entertain your goddaughter.
One day, a skinny fellow walked in blue-jean bib-overalls. Two young children trailed behind him. He walked straight up to one of the large blue glass lanterns that hung in the window and after some negotiation decided to buy it. He explained that he was planning a trip down the Sciota River and that he needed a lantern to hang on his canoe. Can you imagine seeing the candle-lit glow of an Ottoman lantern traveling down an American river in the middle of the night? You'd have to rub your eyes and make sure you weren't dreaming.
The shop had its regulars. There were the old men who came in just to talk. The drag queens looking for some new bling. The coupes out on a romatic walk. The bored housewives. The students. The just-in-from-out-of-towners. And of course there were the thieves and vagrants. Those were by far my favorite.
It was me, my boss and his son, who was 7 at the time, hanging out. A man poked his head in the door and asked if any of us would like a shoe-shine. No thanks, we all replied, we can shine them ourself. Your mama'd be proud of you, he said and then started to sing in voice that'd put Paul Robeson (Ol' Man River) to shame. "Keep singing, keep shining, cause I'm the shoe-shiner! Remember me!" And I did!