Autumn sunlight is illuminating a spectacle of decay. In spring and summer bumblebees and larks sang along with the bright blossoms in any shade of colour. But by now all have left the gardens, parks and orchards. There is no singing in autumn. The reds and yellows of foliage are silent ones.
Birds are gathering for their flight southwards and only the crows’ croaking bids them good-bye. Leaves have metamorphed into bodiless forms and hover as colourful spheric lights in the branches . You’re gazing at them, trying to hold on to these pretty images. Still, they only seem to be waiting for the split-second to float down and decay on the wet earth. Later, rain clashes with a harsh clang against the barrenness of wood.
Who is left to sing the autumn opera of oranges, yellows and reds before they turn into a brownish mesh along the roads and in the paths?
Autumn is the time of separation, a season of absolutely no return. Here and there, a poet will lament his many losses. From his window, he will stare for long hours at the shiny black birds which overnight have assembled in great numbers on the bare branches of the old lime tree.
“I was born in September, and love it best of all the months. There is no heat, no hurry, no thirst and weariness in corn harvest as there is in the hay. If the season is late, as is usual with us, then mid-September sees the corn still standing in stook. The mornings come slowly. The earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly, quietly, unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day. The blue mist, like memory of a summer gone, never goes from the wooded hill, and only at noon creeps from the near hedges. There is no bird to put a song in the throat of morning; only the crow’s voice speaks during the day. Perhaps there is the regular hush of the scythe – even the fretful jar of a mowing machine. But next day, in the morning, all is still again. “
Months ago I walked through the fading yellows of late October and as rapidly as they had been washed away into the gutters of mid-November I had forgotten them.
Early November Artefact
By Christmas, with all its never-ending candlelight, my eyes had grown tired from watching flickering flames. After New Year and all through the month of January I calmed down with the soothing yellow of an Italian cushion.
Lush Italian Cushions
In February, I started buying lemons from Turkey, just to stare at their yelling yellows. But as much as I begged they wouldn’t stay until spring and so I consumed the lemons instead.
The Yelling Yellow of Lemons
When in March all the flowershops sold tulips from Dutch hothouses I took down the still-life leaning behind some diaries against the wall on my bookshelf. With the coming and going of the seasons I had forgotten about the four yellow tulips and their promise of spring.
Yellow Tulips (Oil on canvas)
I inhaled the sweeping return of light which was orchestrated by stormy, brown brushstrokes against the background of earth and I went out for a first spring walk.
So, Jupiter has granted us another summer, perhaps the last before some terror strikes and airfares rise and giant jellyfish will send us screaming right in front of cameras. We’re not afraid, we’ll stand together, we’ll pluck the day. It’s ripe. Why trust in sunshine, waves and sandy beaches? Tomorrows are oblivious of today’s outrage – as long as nothing’s left behind. No DNA, no fingerprint, no scribbled word or photograph. Come, join us in the seizure of the day.
The early sunset of winter inflames the sky like a war photography. Danger lingers but the fake spectacle quickly fades into a dull nightfall. The rest of daylight is being reflected by the dark windows of the house upon a hill. Nobody at home, nowhere. Nothing is behind the hostile shimmer but the ghosts of the day.
The girl’s mother was a native of the Northern realms where the ocean wasn’t far and seagulls now and then shrieked in the sky. She had followed a butcher from a small town in the mountainous South, married quickly and submitted herself to his no-nonsense apprentice training in the messy business about meat, ham and sausages. She was proud to be his assistant in a prospering butcher shop, which also offered hearty dishes for regional workers and drivers-by at lunchtime. When her first child was a chubby boy, she was quietly accepted in the community even though she failed to adapt to the regional manner of speaking. Things changed with her second child, a fragile girl, behind in growth for some years and just as much retarded that you couldn’t conceal it from the public. The girl grew up to be a blue-eyed teenager who behaved reasonably normal and was friendly against everybody. From the age of twelve on the girl developed an intense need to walk the paths of the nearby mountain valley. She used to stop for long minutes at her favourite tree stretching out her arms for the strong trunk longingly. Her mother loved to see her happy in nature and she didn’t intervene, not even when her daughter turned her cravings to the mountain brook which gushed down over a rocky riverbed into the valley. There, she sat near a wooden bridge where the brook ran through the green meadows. On sunny days she could sit for hours and babble unintelligibly to the sound of the water. Tourists who would come along, crossing the bridge, were mesmerized by her extraordinary behaviour and the townspeople started whispering. One early summer evening, after he had just closed the shop, the butcher decided to fetch her and told his wife so. Don’t be too harsh with her, she pleaded. When he approached his daughter, who was standing at the creek in the warm evening light, she looked somewhat attractive to him, in a fairy-tale way, he thought. He walked up, embraced her and asked her to lean with her back against him. The valley was motionless. He told her about the water, the rocks and the mountains. He spoke into her neck of the mighty master of the mountain waters who resided in the grey pinnacles high above the valley. When the shadows got deeper he drew her into the riverbed and made her look at the grim, stony face of a mountain troll which protruded darkly from the riverbed. She was scared and wanted to run from the troll, but he stood behind her and held her with both arms like in a bench clamp. She went silent and listened to his words. The water troll would jump up from the riverbed and go for her. He would do things to her. Only when the moon was up in the star-covered sky did he let her go, took her by the hand and led her home. From then on she stayed in the house, learned to do some needle work and quit school for good. Winter came and spring, and nobody asked for her.
He had parked his black, high-tuned motorbike neatly in the parking lot at the foot of the mountain which had looked to him like Swiss Matterhorn from afar. Even though its size had diminished the nearer he had got, he was determined to interrupt his ride to the flatlands and climb the grey, rocky peak. He kind of rushed up the first 700 metres of altitude – as if he had to purchase some last-minute supplies – not even noticing the sweat which ran down his back and dripped from his constantly creased forehead. His speeding heartbeat felt like rock drums in his chest. When he entered the rope-lined stretch on the narrow climbing ridge, his sight was impaired. He concentrated on the red rope and the rocky path which was bulbing toward him as if under a magnifying glass. When the stone struck him, he all of a sudden saw everything clearly in a single snapshot: The thick, red rope swinging slightly above him, the rugged, dirty rock with its myriads of cracks and even some fresh green leaves among the eternal moss of emptiness. He sucked in the razor-sharp air and knew that the stone had dropped from the white skies above him.
30 million people make the Kurds the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. But neither have they ever had a landlocked state nor have they ever been unified in their aim of nationbuilding. If you grow up being Kurdish you’ll belong to some other nation anyway. A presumptive state Kurdistan would turn out to be a nation of abandoned locals from a variety of time-honoured, dignified nations whose languages they speak like their mother tongue, whose traditions and collective memories they share and whose political ups and downs are – seamlessly – interwoven with themselves and their families.
Coming from the mostly Kurdish city of Qamishly, e.g., which is embedded in the border triangle of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, you know by experience that Kurdish culture exists in your community but that just the same this community exists in the national context of Syria. That’s what everybody from your community has been discussing passionately since the going has got tough, and which eventually means that you’ll either be squashed by the grindstones of your country’s upheavals or escape to somewhere else, namely the EU, where you are entirely displaced and doubly homeless. You have lost your Kurdish community which has been torn apart into hostile factions, and, moreover, you can no longer share and add to your nation’s history.
Kurdish communities – somewhere
Here you are now. You are nearly 24 , unmarried, your parents have died early, you observe religious rules, treasure fond boyhood memories of the Libanon, smoke sheesha and your eventful life has been brought to a sickening standstill. You speak Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish but that doesn’t lead you anywhere.
Where are you from? Tired of answering this frequently asked question about your nationality you draw out the country of Kurdistan on cardboard and take pleasure in the graceful borders of this new-born nation. “My name is Nader. I am from Kurdistan and a local of Qamishly”, you reply to the visitor, “let me tell you something about my homeland”.
“… Eritrea is one of the most secretive countries in Africa. For those who have a hankering for off-the-beaten-track places, it offers challenges and excitement aplenty, with a unique blend of natural and cultural highlights…” (www.lonelyplanet.com/Eritrea 2016)
It is not law that rules Eritreans – it is fear…
“When I am in Eritrea, I feel that I cannot even think because I am afraid that people can read my thoughts and I am scared…” (Witness to United Nations Report, June 2015)
On the Horn of Africa the England-sized country Eritrea is no war zone. But from a population of about 4.5 million the number of refugees who risk the dangerous crossing to Europe is the second-largest after Syrians. About 5,000 each month (UN estimate), flee Eritrea and set out on the world’s deadliest migrant trail across the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. They run away from a dictatorship that is targeting its own population with torture – including sexual torture – mass surveillance and indefinite forced military service which amounts almost to slavery.
“Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country (…) In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers”, the UN report describes the refugees’ dire perspectives.
At an exhibition – in a safe place many countries away from Eritrea, Sudan and Libya – I try to understand the desperation of those young Eritrean adults who have braved the terrible trek and, for today’s open-house visitors, have visualized their odyssey with packing paper, cardboard, thread and coloured crayons on a large green wall in a German refugee accommodation. After a while I turn my back to the illustration of their past experience and join them in the sunny yard for a very special coffee ceremony.
Hi, have you been to Syria? I know, my home country is #1 on the list of dangerous places on the planet, so you can’t go now and you shouldn’t. When cutting out this colourful refugee map from my shattered memories, I tried to imagine Syria before it descended into infernal civil war. I heard my uncle speaking to me from the distance of several countries and he said: “Believe me, boy, Syria, and its cities in particular, were tolerant and peaceful places. Damascus and Aleppo, which are among the oldest, continuously inhabited cities on earth, used to attract visitors from all over the world. For ages and ages, various religions had been respected here. People of different faiths shared public spaces like coffee shops, art galleries, hammams, and you couldn’t tell who was Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Alawite, Kurdish or Arab. Families loved to be outdoors and had picknicks alongside ancient Roman ruins like Palmyra or close to The Crac de Chevaliers or in sight of the waterwheels of Hama. They cheerfully promenaded through souqs, buying ice creams or sweets at Damascus’ Souq al-Hamidiyya. Does that sound like paradise to you? It was, my boy, believe me! ”
I listen to my uncle but I don’t remember such pleasures. My family is torn apart, in fact, my entire community has fled to safety. All those foreign countries I passed through, afterwards I could barely identify them, and mapping my escape from Syria was tiresome. But now I am proud of my work, of my refugee map. I follow the line of the thread back to Syria, listening to my uncle and his treasured memories of peace in Syria.