The Assyrian Man and My Bamboo Sticks

Translated  by Marvin Najarro

I am trying to find bamboo sticks to tie down the sunflower stems which are growing and are already bending over. I walk along the shelves full of pots with summer varieties, flamboyant colors, different types of yellow, and the green bottle or green avocado of the leaves. Fuchsia and pitaya colors and bright orange ones. Older adults are hired temporarily to take care for the flowers in the nursery; they water them, remove the dry leaves and carefully place the flowers on the shelves. The young workers are in the topsoil and fertilizer area carrying and loading the bags in the buyers’ carts.  

The sun is shining brightly, it is noon and the heat of June is scorching, officially it’s not summer yet, but the weather has left behind the winter cold days that until May refused to go away. I walk toward the pots and flowerpots stands area; another fascinating scape. There you find the cheap ones which are made of plastic and the more expensive which are handcrafted and the price of which equals a salary and a half. The sizes vary to give way to the imagination: A big pot full of marigold flowers or of rose moss flowers, a blue pot full of sunflowers; another one with orange and yellow flowers. A trip to the nursery is a trip to another world, to the genuine natural world that always teaches us how insignificant we are in comparison with the vastness of its beauty and resistance.  

I found the bamboo sticks, which aside from being cheaper than the plastic ones they look so pretty propping up the sunflower stems. But they don’t have a price tag on them, next to me a European man is talking to a another black female employee, I interrupt them and ask about the price, the man immediately takes his device and scans the label and tells me the price: four dollars and ninety-nine cents the pack of six sticks. The female black employee goes to another shelf and the man stays talking to me, but when hearing my English with Spanish accent he immediately speaks to me in Spanish and introduces himself; nice to meet you, my name is… 

Impressed, I ask him if he speaks Spanish and he tells me that he learnt it in his previous jobs. Where are you from, he asks me, and I tell him that I am from Guatemala, he sighs when hearing the name and then he tells me he had a Guatemalan boss when he worked for a cable company, now I am here, in this nursery, but I have a job, he tells me. Of course, that’s the most important thing, I tell him in order to cheer him up. I am Assyrian, he tells me immediately, I hear Syrian and I tell him that I have read about his country, no, no, he tells me, it is not a country anymore. No, Syria is not a country? I ask him, yes, he replies, Syria is a country, but I’m Assyrian, and then he searches on his cell phone and shows me Assyrian.    

I notice he is nervous, looking around to make sure his superiors are not watching him chatting without doing anything. If you want we can among the shelves, I suggest to him, so if they see you they will think you are showing me something. His face lights up and starts walking. I still have 15 minutes left, I’m on working hours and I must return soon, but I notice his desire to express himself, and he found in me a conversation partner, so I don’t have any inconvenience in sharing my time with him.  Assyrian, he says again and begins to unwind himself, he talks about Christianity, about ancient Greece, of what they lived 700 years ago, about the Assyrians being scattered around the world. Similar to the Armenians, I say, who suffered the Turkish genocide and now are scattered all over the world. Joyfully surprised, he continues the conversation, that’s right, he says, and then with the enthusiasm and fascination of a historian he talks about Great Mesopotamia. He is a lean man of about 5 feet and 3 inches tall, balding, with just a few blond hairs, dressed in jeans and plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves.     

We keep walking along the shelves, I love talking to people like you, I tell him, smart like you, he smiles, me too, he replies. And the skein of wool keeps unwinding, and with fascination I listen to him, he is effusive, his people’s history gushes out from every inch of his body, every time I speak he read my leaps so I slow down so that he can understand my Spanish, he too speaks in a slow way, as if trying to find the words in his mind, sort them out and be able to talk. We go around the nursery and I say goodbye, my 15 minutes have ran out and feel the desire to give him my phone number so that we can meet one of these days for a coffee and talk about his people, the Assyrians migrations, the Armenians, ancient Greece, the Middle East; about the Muslims and Christians and all those wars of centuries past, which he has on the tip of his tongue. Unfortunately, every time I give my phone number to a man in similar circumstances they think that I want to go to bed with them, so I say goodbye with the desire to continue the conversation. 

I start walking toward the cashier to pay for the bamboo sticks, excited the man ask me if I can visit the nursery’s website and comment about his job, and how he treated me, he points at his name on his shirt, and I tell him,  of course, I would be glad to do it. I’m always here, in this area, comeback any day so we can talk again, he shouts at the end. Of course! I reply. I pay at the cashier and leave with my bamboo sticks and a new knowledge about the Assyrians of whom I had not the slightest idea. Opening our soul and heart to the need for expression of those who cry out to be heard, is something that all human beings should practice, we would be surprised at the things we would learn from others. 

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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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