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  • In the souk, the palette was cool, the blues metallic, the tin shone cool and silvery under the hammer of the youngster. He was pounding the tin vessel. He was attentive, a boy at work.

    A boy at work, while there was a war going on.

    Iran-Iraq, 1986.

    Outside the market, scud missiles from Iran might be falling, and fell that week. Sections of the city were torn up. There was no Green Zone yet, you could walk around and see boys and men at work in the souk, the fish restaurants, boy vendors, boy table clearers, boys on the bridges over the war rivers, boys careful not to stare too hard looking at the many billboards of Saddam Hussein in his various advert disguises: a suit, a robe, a weekend casual war wardrobe.

    The contrast was daunting between the old parts of Baghdad not yet bombed but looking half-demolished, uncared for, and the new totalitarian architecture, the massive spooky buildings with their massive spooky public spaces with nobody in them. Public spaces unfit in scale for small boys or large men. The souk still had that human scale, and the closeness of humans having to get along, which is the great art of cities.

    The life which goes on during war when a city is still breathing and its side economy blood is still pumping, it is not always denial. It could be that pride in work and that work ethic which keeps humans going, during the rough and the dire times. We like to engage our bodies and our minds. We like to make things. We like to be in the world we are in. War blasts that all to hell. And hell was last Wednesday.

    The boys worked through the ghosts, they worked through their older brothers and their dads coming home mutated and amputated and treated to cars and home by the dictator.

    Saddam Hussein the dictator was pulling down these humble-jumble vendor sectors,----too many corners, too many getaway spots, too much secret marketplace knowledge.

    Totalitarian one-true-leaders have always been frightened of the jumble and the young and when the streets seem to be of the people. It is a particularly screwed up thing, dictators seem to hate their own countries. As if they are merely visiting, and nobody could care less about them.

    Saddam was erecting his spooky spaces, his concrete delivery systems for surveillance, monsters to bury the old city. Totalitarian one-true-dictators don't like it when they can't see it. They hear the whispers of the street, untranslatable at their thin-air ruling latitude.

    They don't like sharp young boys who have skills already and who are clever, too, about addresses with no numbers, river crossings, small pocket tea shops, who's who in the souk, stands which can fold up in a minute, boys who already know the micro-economy, and the grey money.

    The one true dictator liked bridges which he could fold up in a minute and leave the people on two separate shorelines. He did not like ----and none of them do----the young, Young, skilled, determined.

    Too young to fight but not to serve, boys learning the business.

    Boys who knew copper, who knew rugs, who knew silverwork, who knew tin.

    The boy was beating tin and it was an ordinary day. An ordinary war day. An ordinary work day.

    It was crisp and clear and winter in the desert city.

    The boy was on the same latitude as a boy in Las Vegas.

    Desert to desert. Tin to tin. Winter shining, boys at work.

    Boys already men.

    (Photo by Susan)
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