Being English: The other evening some ex-pat Fijians who provide security here threw a traditional leaving party. This entailed 15 or so of us, sitting cross-legged on the floor drinking bowls of 'Kava' a traditional South Sea paralytic, whilst the Fijians sang songs, vocal harmonies that were like medicine that soothed our tongues, tongues that had gone numb the second we slurped the first drop! What an exquisite ceremony to be invited to, a replete ritual, an expression of thanks giving and peace, a farewell to friends. We had no palm trees and waves didn't lap at the shore, but as each cup was consumed, the mood settled and we fell asleep on a sandy beach as the ocean breeze warmed our faces. And then we legged it to the bar to beat the rush for the remaining beer.
All of my friends here come from far-flung places, a broader horizon that dispenses the notion that your own place of birth is best. Each fizzes your blood with unique cultural facets, we are simply part of something bigger. But we are defined by our national identities and you realise that this melting pot of spirits is partitioned by your place of birth, a quirk of misfortune, a passport that sets you apart in this congealed and suffused existence. 'Nationality Bating' is a sport here, and it chimes into action the moment you wake and its last embers fade as you head to bed. And the people that are most hated and ribbed, by everyone, ruthlessly and relentlessly are the English. If I don't go through a single day without xenophobic fire raining in on me, a crackling explosion of nationalistic abuse, then my day is not complete. Most people here think I am crazy choosing to spend my days sitting on the mountains of Kabul with disaffected Pashtuns from Kandahar, but I can tell you it is a peaceful blessing, a safe repository from the baleful bullets I receive each and every waking hour from assembled Yanks and Kiwis and Irish and...
But it is not without its humour. In fact humour is its beating heart, and whilst there is a curiously myopic content to this disapprobation, boy it makes you chuckle and laugh and guffaw. So to confirm my thesis here is an email conversation that took place between five friends of mine last week, an Englishman, and Irishman, a Frenchman, an American women and American man, after a security risk analysis email was sent to the international community here, titled 'Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens -- Heightened Potential Threat to Americans in Afghanistan'.
American woman 'Thank God I have that Irish passport : ) 'Tis a terrible thing this to be sure.'
Irishman 'Not sure if an Irish passport will be any defense against a baying mob of illiterates,
maybe you can throw it at them?'
Frenchman 'Seems like the best thing to do with an Irish passport'
American man ' That or use it as a beer coaster.'
Englishman 'So now we have #37 and #73 on the list of "101 best things to do with an Irish passport."
I think #1 is "Sell it to an American tourist discovering his ancestral and spiritual homeland" isn't it?'
American woman 'Yeah I suppose you don't get a lot of American tourists in England wanting to reconnect with ancestors they kicked the hell out of the US. That and of course England being a soulless and spiritually defunct nation doesn't seem like a passport from there is much of a prize.'
Frenchman 'Now now, don't make fun of the English. It's like beating up on a cripple.'
English man to the American 'It's true that some of the English left the US after that unpleasantness around 1770-something... the others stayed and have mostly been running the country ever since :)'
English man to the Frenchman '1914-1918, 1939-45... the main reason for England being financially crippled is because we spent so much blood and treasure defending the land of cheese and wine while your ancestors were busy having lunch and thinking up new ways to surrender to the Germans.'
Irishman 'In defense of the French Army, the only thing that prevented Britain from becoming the smallest province of the German empire was the English channel. Ze Wermacht whopped both the French and British armies and the French army remained in the field for four weeks after you guys were evacuated from Dunkirk.'
American women 'You forget to thank the Americans who eventually came to your rescue as well.'
And so it goes, and goes, and goes... Pashtus from Kandahar, a dream I tell you!
Even in war, humanity is the beating heart of a people!
Proud to Be: I have 'ummed and ahhed' as to whether I should write this, but the overwhelming burden of proof compels me to do so, and whilst I know that I may wreck my reputation and offend many readers, some things are beyond discretion, there are some issues that are so important that someone has to make a brave stand for the good of all society. What I am saying is, I am just the messenger, please don't shoot me, and that includes you in the corner, fatso!
I was standing staring at a departure board in Dubai a while ago looking for the gate information for my return to Birmingham to visit my kids. It seems that I was to head for Gate 204. Terminal 3 is a mighty place and soon I had walked so far the sun began to set. When I started out on my journey I was ambling in a seething mass of beautiful people, I would say about 2 million of us, and we shuffled along the vast corridor of life chatting excitedly about airline food and belt removal. Bit by bit hundreds of beautiful people would turn left or right as we passed their gate, there go the beautiful Koreans I noted, and look off go the stylish Italians, and hip hip hooray there go the luscious Lebanese I rejoiced! It was marvellous to see, what a beautiful place the world is I mused, lucky us. Soon we were approaching Gate 150 and the seething mass was beginning to thin a little, but still the overwhelming balance was of thin healthy handsome people. By Gate 190 I was becoming alarmed however, we were becoming a straggling few and we were definitely a little heftier and a little less fetching as a crowd by now. It was then that I made a brilliant bet with myself. Instead of looking for gate numbers I would follow my instinct and follow the largest people only. You probably would never have predicted this but by using this theory alone I arrived directly at Gate 204.
Amazingly although the flight was only half full we were overweight, and needing to shed 8 stone I was turfed off. Still on the plus side in just a little over seven hours the West Midlands would be full again and the Maldives would be three feet higher.
A 5,000 year culture determined not to trip along to another's beat!
All images and words © Martin Middlebrook 2012