Misers of Miracle

“We are to come to him even though the world calls us in a hundred different directions. We are to be fools for his sake. We are to take risks for him and be merry for him. We are to work for peace and pray for miracles. We are to go places and do things and speak words that, without him, we wouldn’t even dare dream of. We know so much more than we ever let on about what he would have each of us do in our own lives – what door to open, what hand to take. We have within us, each one, so much more of his power than we ever spend – such misers of miracle we are, such pinchpenny guardians of grace.” -Frederick Buechner

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Of Names, Witchhunts, & Dances

On New Year’s Eve, Midnight bides his time in coming. I attempted a variety of methods to amuse myself, Facebook notwithstanding. I even held a book in my hand, with every intention of beginning it, but somehow I ended up scanning Netflix. So I did the logical thing. I watched Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

I must confess (a regular habit here, it seems). I’ve never read or seen “The Crucible.” I just knew it took place during the Salem Witch Trials. I did a lot of reading on the trials when I was younger (even watched a documentary on it). I was always particularly struck by George Burroughs, who recited the Lord’s Prayer perfectly before his execution, something it was said no witch could do. I thought it appropriate, then, when I watched “The Crucible,” that during the final three executions portrayed, the two women and John Proctor recite the Lord’s Prayer as they are hanged one by one. Proctor is last, and ends with “forever and ever . . .” The “Amen” hangs in the air, as if it is the audiences choice if it “may be so.”

The movie is striking, one of the best I’ve seen in a while, and is also the inspiration of the day. Towards the end of the film, John Proctor is told his life will be spared if he signs a confession that declares he is a witch. He resolves to sign it, but then snatches the paper away from his judges:

Danforth: Do you mean to deny this confession when you are free?
Proctor: I mean to deny nothing!
Danforth: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let —
Proctor: [With the cry of his whole soul] Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

(You can watch this clip here; it has a lengthy intro, so you can watch it or cut to the chase at 2:39. Sorry; it is literally the only clip of the scene I could find online that wasn’t some cheesy high school rendition or horrendously executed satire. Daniel Day-Lewis knows what he’s doing, per usual)

A name is an important thing, indeed. These days, I would not be surprised to discover that the phrase a “good name” is interpreted as a name that is fitting, or unique (because, you know, being unique is, like, what it’s all about). Case in point: The other day, for apparent lack of other amusements, I read the entire following site with some incredulity. Someone took the time to scan forums and copy names people were thinking or had given their child, and then added their own sarcastic commentary. I read them for an evening’s laughter; the ridiculousness of some of it is astounding:

http://www.notwithoutmyhandbag.com/babynames/

I found that link from Jincy Willett’s website (subtitled “I Would Not Burn the Library of Alexandria for You,” so of course I was reading it). She put the link for the brilliantly titled baby names site under the category “You Might Learn Something.” And so I did. People are nuts. And they’ve, to some degree, forgotten the importance of a name. When Juliet says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet,” she’s wrong. Young, foolish. Dead wrong. Names may not always dictate actions, but they do kill people.

A good name isn’t simply alliterative. It isn’t there just to evoke thoughts of Celtic goddesses, golf clubs, sports cars, and foreign cities. The only men that hang on account of those names are the ones condemned by ridiculous spellings.

Socrates, I am told, said, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of – for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”

So I need a better signature. John Proctor’s pwns right now.

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In related news, I currently hold the record for this song in “Just Dance.” (Eat that, Abigail).


Smithereens

Writers dislike being prevailed upon to write. At least, this is what I have come to suspect. Nay, it might even be said I have rather confirmed it. I always thought I fancied writing, but suddenly found it quite a chore. At first I thought I would attempt to be artsy, and write in my lazy middle school summers. I made deplorable progress, and that darn Paulini kid, I wager, spent the same time making himself a pretty penny rehashing old plot lines into something marketable. At the time, I was volunteering in the school library, and noted with some disgust the profligacy of whoever wrote those silly Spinechiller books. For that matter, I will harp on Stephen King, or whoever else has a bit too much pep to his quill. You understand why the thought writers like to write entered my brain as an irrefutable fact.

I write today because I believe that fact to be a lie.

The suspicion began to introduce its scandalous tentacles my freshman year at Bryan College, where I took a freshman English class with Dr. Beth Impson and read thoroughly through Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” I remember thinking, in the delicate fragility of my frantic freshman mind, that Annie Dillard was just strange. Yes, she had some clever imagery, but I would never read her for fun, if only because her imagery seemed pretentious when it only described ordinary things. Yet, perhaps Dillard’s normal isn’t dull, after all. She talks about locking herself up in rooms, hacking firewood, late night wanderings. I mean, what is going on with Dillard? She has some choice quotes, but good gosh, she seems to really hate writing. I empathized.

My suspicions did not die the day I laid Dillard’s book to rest on my bookshelf. I noticed the agony of fellow English majors as they completed assignments with the backs of the muses to taunt them in the distance. I worked nights in the writing center, and really felt the tension that necessarily accompanies the forced completion of assignments both trite and grand (or perhaps that was just the tension of Nathaniel Hawthorne gazing upon me with his stormy eyes of judgment). So I tried something different. I went to the Middle East for a semester and wrote about politics and faith and other equally insurmountable topics. Talk of politics may roll off the honey tongues of more seasoned veterans, but for me, it equated fourteen cups of tea in two days. I tried everything. I locked myself up in my room, shut the curtains, opened the curtains. I listened to the same song over and over, I listed to nothing. I made muffins. Two batches of muffins: lemon, cinnamon apple streusel. I cleaned, organized, prioritized. My pen was leaden, my keys were brands. And that was just for politics . . . !

The other day I stumbled across a blog I rather liked and noticed how the author stated she cross-stitched for her diversion. For her diversion! So nonchalantly she states this, as though the pain of writing is every bit as well known as the sting of a bee or the pangs of hunger when one has gone without overlong.

My diversions, I have decided, take many forms. So winsome are they, that they nearly always succeed. It maybe that even now I write this out of caprice. No, I am certain of that, no other purpose occupies me at 4am.

Yesterday I watched the BBC version of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I understand the BBC films to be a rite of passage for many, and I offer no excuse as to why it took me this long to become one of you. I knew it to be a long film, which suited me, for I had just smashed a casserole dish to bits to make a mosaic of the pieces, bur wanted to paint each piece before I did so. Hand and head diversion taken care of.

I settled on the floor of the film and was struck by the idea that Jane Austen, that sly woman, might also be a woman of diversion. In Mansfield Park, a group of young people with no better way to occupy themselves, decides to put on a play. Their choice? “Lover’s Vows.” I don’t think I took much notice of this play the first time I read Mansfield Park, but this time, I wondered what the play was like in it’s entirety. So I did what anyone would do and looked the book up in my e-reader (furnished, no doubt, by Project Gutenberg) and read it.

Fanny Price wants nothing to do with the play in Austen’s novel; while the play ends with typical moralistic twist, it hardly deals with the most proper topics. which makes me wonder why Austen read it in the first place! I mean, maybe she just sat down one day and thought, you know, I am tired. I can’t think of anything to write. I am going to kick back and read some sensationalistic fiction because I can. By the by, she may have discovered the frankness of the book to the perfect foil for her own passionate characters. This is an absurd little thought of mine. I shan’t entertain it further and thus induce the rage of Austen purists.

One last thought, if I may tread on my own eggshells: inspiration comes from unlikely places. “Lover’s Vows” has some good lines. Being locked up in rooms is the kind of stuff that produced such classics as “The Yellow Wallpaper” (which I also read last week out of the conviction that I refer to the story about three times a year on average, and, up until last week had never been prevailed upon to read it).

I fear my entries in this public space are becoming less entertaining and far too serious. Fool I am for trying to top my Jagged Edge entry. But 80’s movies do not present themselves willy-nilly. Absurdity must be sought, I say! It happens everyday and we ignore it because no one has big hair or stupid hats or cheesy lines.

I have watched a lot of documentaries on Netflix lately. I haven’t counted, but believe twenty to be a very modest estimate. It is a easy way to kind of educate yourself while undergoing boring or necessary tasks. I am sure the idea came to me in the absence of my old custodian job, where I got to listen to free Librivox books on my ipod while cleaning. So imagine my delight when I found a documentary about philosopher kings: Custodians at various prestigious institutions of higher learning. I thought I would just get some of that camaraderic understanding that comes with those who’ve shared in similar professional trials, but the documentary also successfully presented beauty from ashes.

Tough life experiences and ill respected jobs may be all we see right now, but they are shadows compared to other life fulfillments and joys. So, yeah. I am going to take a hammer to casserole dishes, drink a lot of tea with friends, read a lot of books, play “Just Dance” on the wii, and write blog entries at ungodly times of the morning. Because distractions are inspiring.


The Politically Correct Aladdin

I have very little explanation for the contents of this story. Basically, I heard some excerpts from politically correct fairy tales and decided to write one of my own for the talent show the night I left Egypt.

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A long, long time ago, in a land that is in fact quite near, there resided a youngish chauvinistic non-white Middle Eastern male named Aladdin. Aladdin was a professional borrowing facilitator with a less than professional appearance due to his unfortunate status as a proletariat layman under the bourgeois regime of a Sultan; some simply referred to Aladdin as a “roguish thief” (to use their base and unenlightened terminology). Aladdin did not always wish to be this way, but due to negative and permanent events regarding his parents’ conscious contribution to this reality during his formative years, he was gradually conditioned and peer-pressured into this profession, which was certainly not unequal to other professions, but seemed unhelpful to his self-image and social interactions generally.

Despite his existence in the throes of oppression, Aladdin had one non-human animal friend with opposible thumbs and a fondness for wearing the culturally rich-imbued Fez hat. This furry friend’s name was Abu (although Aladdin, if he knew a name more preferable to Abu, would be perfectly willing to use it rather than impose his defamiliarizing and hegemonic title on a creature he called his friend).

Whether Abu was of a fiery Turkish or Arab heritage is unclear; nevertheless, Abu was testament to cultural diversity and was the kind of friend Aladdin could talk to–even when self help hotlines were unavailable, and even when Aladdin struggled with a sisha addiction because he never had a parent or responsible guardian to tell him to “just say no!”

One day, Aladdin and Abu were strolling down the street going about their professional responsibilities. Suddenly, Aladdin’s cellphone began to go off to the sound of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” a song which Aladdin thought to be a tragic expose of media hounds and their flagrant disregard to the privacy of talented and hardworking people who were well-known for their contributions in the entertainment industry. Hearing the chorus, a friendly neighborhood policeperson began to push Aladdin towards a nearby crowd, making him exceedingly nervous.

“The royal family is coming!” squealed an enthusiastic propaganda driven girl. Youngish Aladdin gave a big exhale of breath, such as any yoga instructor would proud of. The policeperson must have mistaken him for a member of the media, seeking to increase imperialist interests by providing proverbial opium for the masses (which would be okay, so long as everyone wanted it and received an equal share).

Aladdin, curious to visualize the faces of oppression, pressed closer to the curb. Everyone looked pretty ordinary to him, except for some men with curved swords who were dressed identically. Saddened by a regime that suppressed individual creativity in the self-actualizing outlet of clothing, and saddened also by the symbols of exclusion and flagrant dismissal of nonviolent ideals, Aladdin turned his head aside in shame, only to see some persun he would never forget.

If you were to ask Aladdin later, he would say she was cute, and an apparently smart and confident young womun. Other spectators in the crowd were less judicious, even degrading, as they referred to the wumun in question as “smoking hot” while exclaiming deplorable pick lines that objectified her such as, “You dropped something (my heart),” and more blatantly, desperate cries of “Marry me, princess!” Aladdin was very surprised to hear that this capable-looking young womun being carried in the procession was actually the brood of the Machiavellian Sultan himself! He glanced at her concernedly–anxiously–and caught her gaze in a less than neutral way, whereupon the princess folded her arms and ordered the matching soldiers to throw him in a detainment center for staring correction.

Due to the cacophony and crowded nature of the streets, Abu did not realize the grave and heinous deed committed against his equal but ill-fated friend Aladdin. Bereaved by the callous decision of the royal progeny, Abu began to lobby his local congressmen and called a press conference. Because these institutions were irreversibly corrupted, Abu attempted one last appeal to an organization he knew and loved–People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

After a rousing and moving speech form Abu concerning the Universal Rights of animals, INCLUDING HIS BROTHERS, THE PRIMATES, the council agreed that it was their right–nay, their responsibility!–to see to Aladdin’s case.

So it twas that on the third day and the seventh hour, Abu strode into the correction center headquarters with an official two hundred page letter that basically granted Aladdin freedom from his bonds. Tearing up a little at this symbol of universal harmony and affirmed in his role as a loyal friend, Abu approached Aladdin’s holding room with affixed iron retaining devices and ignored the belligerent remarks of deserving wrongdoers who mocked his tail and spoke of the murderous proposition of fashioning his fur into a hat.

Delighted with his success, Abu produced the letter of Aladdin’s freedom with a flourish…yet Aladdin would not be moved. He was lovestruck in the more archetypal way, and it was beyond Abu’s comprehension. Hurt and frustrated, and without a therapist to consult, Abu departed, setting out on a pilgrimage to Turkey with aspirations to meditate away his troubles after the Sufi method of whirling. Legend has it he achieved oneness and lived out his days in a monastery whilst sipping Chai.

Shortly after Abu’s departure, Aladdin was having a similarly philosophically profound moment as he became hungry while watching PBS. By the by, a cloaked librarian came to the door. S(he) tossed in a scroll than whispered, “Wanna buy a watch?”

Aladdin, tempted but concerned about his consumer choices, replied, “Is it free trade?”

S(he) stammered, “Actually, uh, hmm. If it’s free trade you’re wanting, I have an offer you can’t refuse. That is, you could, but you probably won’t, because it is economically advantageous.”

“Oh?” said Aladdin, in a flat voice, clearly unimpressed due to his pristine code of ethics that compelled his to abhor get-rich-quick-schemes. With a victorious air, Aladdin added, “And I suppose this ponsy scheme involves my wealthy estate in Nigeria?”

The sarcasm was lost on the s(he). “Do you mean to say you are a political prisoner!?”

“Well, no. Maybe?”

The s(he) explained that a deep and cavernous location in an unspecified area happened to contain a small box of great value. “Bring this to me,” said the s(he), “and you may keep anything else you find.”

Intrigued by benevolence and the possibility of earning a living (as well as a not-so-proverbial get-out-of-jail-free card), Aladdin chose to accept this mission, and, through some absurd syllogistic leaps, determined this might aid his amicable and well-intended desire to converse with the self-assured, confident womun unfortunately situated as princess of the highly democratic regime of the Sultan.

“Now,” said the s(he), “just clap your hands three times and say, ‘Open Sesame.'”

“‘Open Sesame?’ Are you serious?” said a distressed Aladdin. “First of all, I’m allergic. Second, why sesame? Why not sunflower, or pumpkin?”

“Tolerance towards all,” quoth the s(he) and Aladdin soon found himself in front of a large cavern. With a fleeting thought towards mining unions, Aladdin mumbled the password, walked in and grabbed the box, which, to his chagrin, contained a priceless visa card–platinum.

What a priceless testament to the materialistic downfall of human and animal kind! Feeling used, Aladdin felt the kind of hopelessness that comes with the willful destruction of rain forests. He shoved the card in his pocket and as he left, then unceremoniously tripped on a stupid carpet and went flying through the air, landing on his face.

Incensed by several days in prison and by the wiles of consumerism, and similarly impressed by a chaste admiration for a certain woman, Aladdin decided he’d had enough. Exiting the cavern, he hitchhiked on a well-groomed, well-fed, and happily contented camel without a carbon footprint and soon arrived of the gates of the Sultan’s palace.

“I am Aladdin,” he yelled. Everyone seemed to ignore him in a non-uplifting manner, so he declared, “I have found a genie.”

“I dream of genie!” Exclaimed a member of the council, whereupon Aladdin quickly found himself in an audience with the despot Sultan, who taxed the poor and advocated the right to bear arms.

“Actually,” Aladdin began to murmur, a little impressed with himself, “I told a white bluff for the common good of everyone. In truth–” He paused, distracted by the entrance of a womun. “In truth–I love this woman, the princess, and I call for an end to your imperialist and dastardly rule of this august citizenry!”

The Sultan hesitated a long minute, a minute that felt as tense as overtime in a Superbowl football game. Then he said, “Jasmine–follow your heart.”

“My well-esteemed guardian,” the princess replied, “my heart says this is a young fool without the decency to even let a woman open a door for herself! And actually, she realized, “I’ve already put him in a correctional facility once before.”

The Sultan was inspired–“From henceforward, I will pour  more funds into correctional facilities, and I will make certain that the mentally disturbed and economically disadvantaged will get the counseling they need–however long it takes!”

The court applauded politely–not too long, not too short. A flabbergasted Aladdin was escorted back to the correctional facility.

After years of unanswered appeals, and with a waning luster for life, Aladdin continued to languish in–let’s face it, prison–where he wrote his memoirs. Years later he would win the Nobel Peace Prize for the promotion of correctionally facilitated and oppressed individuals. The final words of his final book were simple–poignant–

Let’s pretend that airplanes were shooting stars,

That all bourgeois were sent to Mars

Pray oil be removed from our cars

And hope no chickens get SARS.

 



Marking Edwin Markham

For all your years prepare,
And meet them ever alike;
When you are the anvil, bear–
When you are the hammer, strike.

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He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.


Rocks and Dirt

Turkey. Syria. Jordan. Israel. Twenty-three letters. Some ink at best, some pixels at worst. They are country names, names with flags, names with languages. Countries with with heroes like Ataturk and Menachem Begin. Countries with cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem. Cities with politics, elections, minorities, religions, cultures, cuisines.

This is easy stuff, you’ve heard about it before, and if you haven’t, it is nothing that Professors Wikipedia or Google can’t teach you. Want more? Turn to your peers on Yahoo Answers, Facebook, BBC. Maybe you want to come to these places, too. Maybe you should. They are beautiful places with beautiful people.

I heard it said once that Jerusalem was a pile of rocks and dirt. Yeah, and so maybe it is. They also say that the city is a pile of rubble built on piles of rubble; the road to Rome is a few meters deep, even accessible in the Jewish quarter, and the city is as much as twenty-five layers deep. Rocks and dirt. Those who view these words as sacrilege ought nevertheless to consider that the city itself is but a whisper for some and a shout for others, and audible headline across the world that few actually get a chance to experience with all faculties.

People say, “Jerusalem, omg!” and perhaps are put off by my steady, if seemingly indifferent demeanor. The thing is, I’m not interested in commercial Jerusalem with its glass baubles, volatile T-shirts, and gaudy religious relics. The faces of Jerusalem, often simplistically characterized as eschotologically dogmatic Christian Zionism, radical Ultra-Orthodoxy, and extremist resistance groups turn out to be a visible but incomplete view of the landscape.

And, oh! The pilgrims of Jerusalem. I am often embarrassed at their voyeurism, even if the locals seem accustomed to it. Thus I have witnessed a man clutching a large black camera with his wife huddling close to ensure that the perfect shot was taken of an older man doing his prayers in park; I got similar vibes as tourists persisted in taking shots of Shabbat at the Wailing Wall, an act that is forbidden and highly insensitive. I have experienced the throng in the churches as people push and shove in front of others to get good pictures and kiss famous relics. I’ve heard snippets of conversations in the sook as middle aged women pay exorbitant prices for the perfect gift for John; he needed that incense, and Susan would just look darling in this necklace. And earrings. And dress. And scarf. Oh my gosh, there’s a MATCHING scarf!

I went on a free tour yesterday to survey some of the primary holy sites of the city and was bemused at the irony of at least two hyper-clingy couples; one girl had on a hot pink tank top and threw on a statuary cardigan when we got to the Wailing Wall, only to be outdone by the girls in matching spaghetti-strap dresses with bra-straps exposed. Poshlust, I say. To quote the YouTube David (who went to the dentist) . . . Is this real life?

It’s not about pictures, shopping, or clothing, and I am not necessarily condemning the people I’ve just mentioned. But what are they doing? Am I them? Will I become them? Yes, friends. I’m having a great time. But friends . . . this is a heavy place to be. You’d be amazed at how well that fact can be hidden from visitors, even the ones like myself who seek it out. By now I’ve heard many perspectives, opinions, facts. But at the end of the day, a tourist need but shuffle around, get the perfect shots and leave unchanged. I guess it’s noble of me to point that out. But maybe somebody needs to hear it.

Luke 19:36-40 (ESV)
And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent,the very stones would cry out.”


Just Suppose

“Suppose we could step out, from everything in the past that weighs us down and holds us back – the things we’ve done or failed to do that deaden, wreck, cripple. Suppose we could cast off once and for all every nightmare we can imagine about the future and for once in our lives live just in the mystery and gift of today.” -Frederick Buechner


Dear Reader

Dear Reader, I have been remiss in addressing of you late. Now, I know I ought not apologize, as any communications professor worth his salt might interject, but (note the brushing sound of my conjunction) my time is as spent as my wi-fi is unsound.

Nevertheless, I wished to caution you of an alarming trend, and that is the increased attacks of Ordinary Creatures. As the weather drifts from the 90’s to the 80’s, the sudden change seems to be affecting the brain patterns of lesser brained animals, such that they go Stark Raving Mad.

To aid you as you keep your wits about, I shall share a few anecdotes.

Yesterday, I decided to go to a local shop to purchase some baking goods. While my friend Ruby inquired about brown sugar (the like of which was not to be found in that province), I began to scout out packages of butter, which I knew to be in a nearby refrigerator. Reaching down into the icy box, I extracted one box, then two, noticing that the cardboard box was slightly damp. As I lifted the second package, I jerked with surprise! My hand had brushed a raw, slightly decrepit looking 10 inch long fish. By what devilry this creature of the sea came to reside in this particular fridge, frightening patrons and otherwise encouraging all manner of inquiries, I cannot say. I thought it the work of ninjas, gnomes, or some other storied creature. But that was before I knew.

This afternoon I sat outside, finishing the last of my lunch while talking with Zechariah and Natasha. By the by, Zechariah mentioned the recent flying of a bird straight into the class of their classroom window. The only thing found later were feathers; the people of the area considered it a sign that the lion had passed through (a enormous cat, I tell you, such as Agouza has never seen).

Shortly after the telling of this tale, a great black-winged creature… I only assumed it was a bird… began to swoop down near my head, whereby I cringed and felt rather Foolish.

Yet considering events of late; bed bug bite sightings after a trip to Siwa, the increase of mosquito scouts, and the general profusion of the typical obnoxious housefly, as well as habitual sightings of the cockroach and gecko, I’d say we have an indication of a larger, more deliberate uprising.

I know not what course others may take, but as for me I will warn you!

Thus ye are warned.


A Solemn Vow

Little mosquito,

I will find you. I will find you, and then I will kill you.


Flâneur

I decide to take the elevator down from the flat. Inside the elevator, alone and abandoned in the corner, rests a large white trashbag, which I equate to an abandoned waif in an unfamiliar world.

I exit the building and take to the streets, only to witness a woman hurling a folded newspaper to a second story balcony. At first I think she is trying to get someone’s attention, but then I realize she is carrying several other newspapers, explaining her extraordinary precision.

I take a right.

Nestled dangerously close between two cars is a truck plastered with the phrase “We Can’t Spell it Right WithoutU.”

I continue to walk down the streets, taking care to watch my step with due caution to oncoming traffic, taxis and mule carts included.

Two minutes of nonstop action.

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