“Desert Coffee” Syria 1965. Repost 2015.

In 1965 Ross and I visited Syria. It was a time when the country was peaceful, the economy was growing, literacy rates were improving, and the people we met were gracious and hospitable. We loved our long drive through the Great Syrian Desert and reflected on it for many years before I wrote “Desert Coffee.” The story became Chapter Five of my 2013 book, “Weaving Threads Travels on the Silk Road.”

Today I think a lot about Syrian children. There are 8.5 million of them living in unspeakable horror and desperate need in Syria and surrounding countries. Some are victims of the worst forms of child labour in armed conflict and sexual exploitation.

Organizations like UNICEF (that I know well and love)  are there, inside Syria and surrounding countries helping children survive. (Go to  www.unicef.ca . Urgent Appeal. Children of Syria Winter Crisis for more information.)

I hope that in 2016 Syrian children will have a safer place to live, be well nourished and healthy, be able to learn to read write and count and grow up to be responsible and caring, like those we met in the desert fifty years ago.

                                                                 Chapter Five

DESERT COFFEE   Syria 1965

The battered old aluminium coffee pot filled with warped wooden gadgets that you see on my kitchen counter is special.

One night we almost used it as a weapon.

“Why are you going there? It’s very dangerous,” they said.“What ever you do don’t travel at night. Bedouin will rob you. After they riddle you with bullets.”

And so we set off anyway.

The Beetle bumps across a furnace of connected deserts and oasis towns. Everything around us is flat. Hard brown sand glistens like diamonds under a fireball sun.Image 2

The heat is unbearable.

I read that Gertrude Bell wore heavy wool to keep the sun out when she crossed this desert on a camel during the First World War. So did Lawrence. We wear bath towels. Heavy, brown, wet ones. Wet towels over our heads, wet towels over our shoulders and wet towels across our laps. And then we jam wet, brown towels into closed car windows to keep the hot blast of desert air out and block the burning sun.

The sun. The heat. The emptiness. There is so much of nothing here.

It is cooler now, the evening is beautiful and still. A massive orange sun seems unreal to us, as it slowly sinks into the sand.

“We really shouldn’t camp here,” I snap. “They warned it was dangerous. They said don’t camp in the desert under any circumstances. Bedouin are everywhere. They’re thieves. They’ll kidnap us,”

“There is no one anywhere near here,” Ross says softly. “Why would anyone be here? There’s nothing.”

He’s right. We haven’t seen anyone all day. I take a deep breath, calm myself and confess. “Actually, you know I’ve always wanted to sleep on the desert, under the stars.”

So here we are. This is the Great Syrian Desert and, like Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell, we are on our way to explore Palmyra.

Sand, the colour of nicely ripe peaches, is all around as far as we can see. The heat of the day dissipates as the sun lowers. Dusk begins to settle in. The moon brightens, stars begin to break through day into night, first one, then two, and now a few more.

It reminds me of the Christmas story.

We unfold the little Danish wooden camping table, smooth on the red and white plastic tablecloth, set out our shiny stainless steel cutlery and our brown stoneware coffee cups from Finland. The new Italian coffee pot is popping, sputtering and exploding, gathering pressure on the little diesel-fuelled camp stove set in the sand. Soon we will have a nice cup of coffee. We have not forgotten to bring all the trappings, of what, we think, is civilization.

“Do you see that?” Ross says, pointing to the darkening night in the east.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. An animal? It looks like a camel.”

Black and ghostly, the apparition gathers momentum in a storm of swirling sand. “It’s coming toward us. It’s someone on a horse, ” Ross stammers in disbelief.

“It’s Bedouin,” I screech.

Long, flowing, black robes fly in the wind behind him. He holds a wooden staff in his right fist. He raises his arm high. Like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia he is fierce and relentless in his gallop toward us.

“What are we going to do?”

Ross grabs the hot coffee pot. “This’ll work.”

“What? You’ll throw it? At him?”

Months ago we discussed carrying a weapon. Most people we spoke to, who crossed this desert, carried a gun for protection. We thought about it and decided that if anything bad happened we would be too scared and inept to shoot anyone. They would shoot us. With our gun.

Now here we are. Scared. Inept. But keen to live. The coffee pot will have to do.

In an explosion of sand, the man reins his horse to a high-speed stop beside us. The coffee pot is poised, ready for action.

But wait a minute. The Bedouin’s turban frames a kind, smiling face.

“Salaam Alaikum.” Peace to you, he says softly.

“Well now. Salaam Alaikum. Salaam Alaikum. Yes. Yes.” Ross blurts out, raising the coffee pot in his trembling hands high in the air. “Hey, would you like some coffee?”

The Bedouin smiles broadly again and says something we don’t really understand, shoots his arm high in the air, waves and charges off into the empty, bleak desert.

We are stunned. After a moment we collapse in laughter. At ourselves.

“He’s going somewhere fast. Probably home for supper,” Ross says.

Relief and happiness take over our fear as we lay down in the sand under the stars.

The morning is cold but the sun is beginning to soar and we know we will be in the furnace again soon. We pack up our little home in the desert and get in the car to leave.

But look.

There he is again. Children are with him, three boys, about ten or twelve, laughing and jostling one another, each on his own magnificent horse. They grind to another one of those high-speed horse stops in a cloud of sand, and the man, smiling broadly, gestures that these are his children.

Apparently they have something special for us.

With dad’s coaching, they shyly present us with a present. Three freshly picked watermelons.

Their gift has warmed my heart for a lifetime. And I will never throw out that coffee pot.

This morning I drove from Canmore to the Banff Centre down the Trans-Canada highway. The road was lined with bright yellow aspens. The sun cast a hue of golden magic on Cascade Mountain.

I was thinking about telling you my story about the Silk Road, the little boys, the watermelons and our coffee pot. Neil Young was singing on the car radio. Was it by chance for me?

I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.

I want to be miner for a heart of gold

These expressions keep me searching for a heart of gold.

Keep me searching. *

 

Salaam Alaikum

* Young, Neil. Greatest Hits. Heart of Gold. Reprise records, 2004.

 

 

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The Launch. “Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” By Nancy M. Hayes and Drawings by Ross E. Hayes

I’ve been dreaming of today ­­– a party for friends and family to celebrate the launch of “Weaving Threads: Travels On the Silk Road.” In my dream it was to be under warm blue skies in Calgary. But today it is cold and raining. It is June 14. It will be very cosy inside our house.

Silk Road treasures that you will read about in the book are carefully placed around our house. The rough copper bowl we bought in the market in Kermanshah is filled with flowers on the dining room table. The Smiling porcelain Buddha has been freshly dusted and sits proudly in my office.  The old espresso coffee pot that we almost used as a weapon is on the kitchen counter and a blue and red sari from a recent trip to India is wrapped around a wicker love seat on the front porch. Patrick’s  Jazz Collegium, with two guitarists and a vocalist tonight, entertain us with easy listening standards we love and Nicole Gourmet’s lively staff prepares samples of Silk Road flavours in my kitchen and passes them around.

Friends and family from all the different parts of my life, the yoga group, the book club group, the Easy Writers, neighbours, and old friends find their own space to chat… out of the rain on the front porch, in the hall and on the stairs, in the kitchen where they can watch and in the dining room with the jazz group. Ross welcomes everyone and introduces the musicians and “Take Five” that they are playing (and that you will read about in “Yoga, A Giant Pangolin and Jazz” Chapter XlX.) He talks about its significance to my Silk Road story. I read “Desert Coffee”, Chapter V. Three little girls in have made their way to the front of “the audience” and I can see that they are listening keenly. They don’t take their eyes off me and I can’t help but think about all children and the future they hold. When I’m finished reading “Desert Coffee” our granddaughter Ava and her friend Zoé pass around watermelon. So everyone will remember children and the three little Bedouin boys we met that morning on the desert in Syria in the story about “Desert Coffee”.

Thank you everyone.

“Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” is available in all major online bookstores and selected bookstores in Calgary – Owls Nest, Shelf Life Books, Pages, Indigo at Signal Hill, Chapters Chinook, Indigo Cross Iron Mills and in Edmonton Chapters Southpoint. I will be at Indigo Cross Iron Mills to sign July 16 and August 6  and at Indigo Signal Hill July 27.

Five dollars from the sale of each paperback edition of “Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” will be donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan to advance education for Afghan women and their families.

Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road

P1000335They’ve arrived!

My deepest gratitude is to the people I’ve met along the Silk Road who are the subject of this, my first book. Their generous hospitality, friendship and help, when we needed it are my inspiration.

“Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” by Nancy M. Hayes with drawings and photographs by Ross E. Hayes is now available in all major online bookstores and will be in local bookstores soon. Through rugged mountain passes, blast-furnace deserts, crumbling cities, and lush fertile valleys the reader will be captivated by the majestic landscape, the ancient cultures, and the kind hearted people. Halted by war in India and Pakistan and the Iron Curtain in 1965, we continue the Silk Road journey forty years later.

Nancy and her Beetle at the giant buddhas of Bamyian Afghanistan, 1965

Proceeds from the sale of “Weaving Threads: Travels on the Silk Road” will be donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan to advance education for women and their families.

Enjoy the journey!

Nancy

Tastes of the Silk Road: Mulligatawny Soup

IMG_0080For me, travelling the old Silk Roads (between Europe and China) is all about immersion into the local culture–history, festivals, daily life, markets and food.  I keep two large, colourful hardcover books on display in my kitchen so I can have their beautiful photographs and delicious recipes by my side. One is Tasting India by Christine Manfield, and the other is Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey by Najmieh Batmanglij. I bought them for inspiration and for taking me back to my Silk Road travels, food being one of the greatest joys.

It snowed again last night. Tomorrow will be May 1. Almost summer and a cold icy white blanket covers our lawn. I want to go back to India. What could be a better way to take me there than making a nice Mulligatawny Soup for our supper tonight?IMG_0092

Mulligatawny, translated from Tamil, means pepper water and I can use the succulent savoury spices I brought home from South India a few months ago–red chilli pepper(cayenne,) cumin, turmeric and coriander. I’ve been making this soup for so long I know it by heart and use a dash of this and that. I don’t where the original recipe came from but, as Dr Seuss says, I’ll capture them wild and I’ll capture them scrawny and I’ll capture a scrapple -foot Mulligatawny.

So here we go. Bon appetite and happy Silk Road memories.

                                    Nancy’s Carrot Mulligatawny Soup

P1000310

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion chopped

2 cloves garlic chopped

2 tsp each dried cumin and coriander

1 tsp turmeric

¼ tsp red chilli pepper (cayenne)

1 pound carrots, sliced (about 4 cups)

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock and 4 cups water

¼ cup cream or milk

Chopped fresh parsley or coriander

P1000302In a big pot gently sauté onions and garlic in oil until transparent, then add the spices and cook another 3 minutes. Add carrots, stir and sauté another 3 or 4 minutes. Pour in the stock and water and simmer 40 minutes. Cool. Blend until smooth then stir in the cream and reheat. (Carefully. Do not boil.) Ladle soup into pretty bowls and garnish with coriander or parsley. Serves 6-8.

Do you have any Silk Road recipes you’d like to share with us?

P1060308Just click on “comments” at the right, below and let us know.

Northern Kerala. Shifting Sands

I’m in “no time.” What I mean is that time doesn’t matter much here  for me by the beach in Northern Kerela –– today, soon, later, its ready, or tomorrow –– it’s all the same.  I like it that way. It gives me time to think and write a little. My time will change and Neeleshwar is a good place to stay before our long flights back to Canada.

IMG_0867I’m sitting on the veranda of our cottage, “Sama.” Like the meaning of its name, equanimity, mental calmness, is all around. In front of me are three bands. The blue Arabian Sea, the golden beach, and the rich green coast. They all depend on each other.

I listen to the quiet crackle of coconut palms swaying. Beyond a small lagoon, waves whoosh and slap up on the beach. A man in a pale orange lungi walks the line between the beach and the sea, dragging a fishing net. A couple of crows come out of their roost in the coconut trees to caw at him and perhaps wait for a treat.IMG_0852

A young white-bellied sea eagle that nests with its family in some large trees a few hundred metres down the coast, soars high, directly into the sun, catching the thermals. The magnificent raptor is careful not to cast its shadow on its prey, the fish below. Earlier this morning a family of dolphins played and feasted on a school of fish while we walked the beach after our morning yoga session.IMG_0857

This is the Malabar Coast, a 845 km strip between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in South India. From 3000 BC  in between long stretches of beach are trading centres for fish and spices. Major cities like Kannur, Calicut and Cochin with a few exceptional villages like Tellicherry, delight both visitors and locals.IMG_0799

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I’m in awe of the timelessness of nature and history. We’ll need to work hard to keep it. For our children.IMG_0817

India: A Masala of Culture and Architecture. Guest Post by Ross E Hayes. Architect (retired) Urban Planner

IMG_0745The landscape of India bursts with energy. Travel tends to pull my mind in diverse directions so I like to look for patterns in the masala of architecture and culture I’m seeing here.

We have an assortment of elastic bands littering the area around the telephone in our kitchen at home in Calgary. The delivery person uses them to tie around the floppy morning newspapers transforming them into manageable projectiles that land with a thud on our front porch everyday. Perhaps an image of India as an elastic band that pulls pieces together will help me manage what I’m seeing.

Last week we attended an evening performance of Kodavas traditional tribal dance. The sky was black except for bright stars and a brilliant full moon. The dark skinned male performers danced by a blazing bon fire. With long sticks and metal swords they clacked and clanged while dancing in a big circle to the haunting nasal sound of a lone vocalist. The tribe is said to descend from Alexander the Great’s army that invaded India in 327 BC. They migrated down the Malabar Coast (the southwest coast of India) and settled in the fertile hills of the Western Ghats. Now, a hundred or more generations later, they are almost fully integrated into Indian society but they still bring something different, something Greek, into the spicy Indian mix.

In Mumbai, we visited the newly renovated Magen David Synagogue. IMG_0029A friend of mine helped with the renovation, and I wanted to see it first hand. It is an open, brightly lit beacon in a crowded neighbourhood. We could hear the sounds of school children singing in the adjacent Muslim school and the children played in the courtyard in front of the synagogue. Chairs and carpets, the aftermath of a major social event, were being removed from the rear of the building.

In the middle of the 19th century Jews escaped persecution in Iraq (which was their home at the time) and came to Mumbai to settle. The congregation of 20,000 persons was reduced substantially after the chaos resulting from partition of India in 1947. Families dispersed to the far corners of the globe where they flourished. However the Jews left a legacy in India and the renovated synagogue is a good example of continued investment.

The Qutb Shahi Tombs are set in a peaceful landscape in Hyderabad that, in the late 17th century, was overrun by the Mughals, creating a dynasty that lasted until India’s independence. IMG_0379The traditions of Islam flourished and the city became a focus for the arts, culture and learning.

Toward the back of one of the tombs, a small patch of brilliant turquoise mosaic reflects the intense sunlight. Persian, we are told. From Isfahan. (Isfahan is several deserts and a few mountain passes away from south India. And as dedicated as the artisans may be, I wondered how they ended up in India.)

IMG_0375The story is a sub-plot of a bigger cultural flood, that of the invasion of India by the Mughals in the 15th century, adding one more piece to their vast empire part of which included Persia. While less kind to other prisoners, the Mughals recognized the importance of artists and craftsmen in the embellishment of their capital, Samarkand, then one of the most beautiful cities in the world and Persians artists were brought to that city to contribute their talents to its magnificence. As the Mughal influence spread across the sub-continent, the work of Indian stonemasons was combined with the talents of the Persians. And what a legacy they left; elegant expansive palaces, impenetrable and ingenious fortresses, delicate domes silhouetted against the blue sky and elegant details. Mughal architecture has today become the icon of Indian design.IMG_0833

The English also left no less of a legacy. An English architect designed the Wodeyar dynasty Palace at Mysore in 1915, replacing an earlier structure that had burned down. IMG_0837I am told that it is in the Indo-Sarcenic style. Perhaps. But I cannot help but feel that the term itself cages the enthusiasm and spirit of the design that probably should be left untamed. It is an exuberant collage of fortress-like corners, broad arches, light domes (I counted 10). Colonnades defy gravity, resting on pillows and lotus leaves with arches that spring like the ruffle of a peacock’s tail. Cast iron columns, fabricated in Scotland, rise to support a delicate glass roof. To remind the viewer that this is not frivolous business, the walls a lined with a brilliant display of paintings with troupes on foot, horseback and elephants.

The architecture of the English colonial period is seen across India and like the Mughals before them, they have made a lasting contribution.

Is the elastic band I’m looking for to wrap up my understanding of architecture and culture into a pattern in India a broad one, like the masala of Greeks, Mughals, British and the Iraqi Jews, all of whom came and injected their vitality into the heart of the sub-continent?

Wait a minute. I’m in a small village outside Tellicherry in Kerala and a Theyyan Dance is in full swing. IMG_0735The whole village is in attendance to witness the spirit descend into the bodies of the five dancers. Their enormous red headdresses gyrate in the hot sun to the erratic beat of drummers and a short, and very odd sounding trumpet.

A group of elders comes out to push back the crowd. The wild erratic movements of the dancers need space as they leap into the air and run clockwise, then counter-clockwise around a small temple.

As quickly as the dance takes hold, it comes to a stop. Villages seek advice from the dancers, and judging from the expression of their faces, receive sage counsel. They have been blessed. The spirits have returned to their village once again.

I think about my elastic band analogy. It would not fit this one. No band would stretch that far.P1060092

In My Socks: Climbing Seven Hundred 1000 Year Old Stairs

IMG_0522At the top of Vindyhyagiri Hill that I see in the distance is a majestic granite monolithic sculpture of Lord Bahubali, a revered Jain saint. (What I didn’t know at the time is that I would soon be climbing all 700 steps to the top of the hill and to the foot of the statue. In my socks.)

At the gate to this world famous site in Karnataka South India we dodge touts, postcard salesmen, socks salesmen and fake tour guides. Then following a rough homemade sign, we twist our way through the crowds to the shoe check in. Like most religious sites in India shoes must be left outside the entranceeven in this case which, for me, includes a scary long flight of 700 steep stone stairs to climb. I will have to chill out my fear and simply imagine that the new socks I brought with me to India are hiking boots.IMG_0529

Cutting through another welcoming party of hawkers and self-promoters we make our way through a simple gate and start to climb the granite stairs. The noon sun beats down and the sky, blue as though it were painted for a children’s story book, is unbroken by clouds. Colourful crowds of barefoot climbers––families with young children, large groups of school children, and a handful of European tourists––grab the sturdy railing alongside the stairs, and laughing and romping about, make their way up in a long line.

“Take your time,” a French tourist says to me as I stop to rest and chat. “You’ve got 600 more stairs to go.” IMG_0530Far below a checkerboard of green vegetable gardens, vineyards, coconut groves and fields of millet and corn glitters in the sun.IMG_0522

It’s easy to pad up these ancient stone stairs one slow step at a time (we’ve had lot of stair practice this week visiting old forts and the World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora even though I could usually wear my hiking shoes there.) Pad, pad, pad. I like the feel of rough-cut granite through my socks. The rhythm of my stepping up the stairs is mesmerizing and I’m brought into an ancient world I did not know about.IMG_0531

Sravanabelagola, the town below, means monk of the white pond. Towering above, serene and simple, the sculpture that represents the deity Bahubali, is a five story high monolith carved out of granite in 981A.D. People of the Jain faith, (which was founded in the 6th century B.C. to deal with the constraints of caste in Hinduism) have been making pilgrimages to this site for over a thousand years. I can only imagine their thoughts as they plodded along up the stairs to work toward their goal of achieving complete purity.

I reach the foot of the giant rock saint in an hour or so. IMG_0538For me it is not the faith that brings me here but the sight. I am living in history, surrounded by the lives those who have come to this place for inspiration.

Slowly I pad back down the 700 granite steps, refreshed and enlightened.IMG_0544

Even with my socks on.