The mother of a friend, a few days after 911, when “incidents” were very frequent, was reluctant to go anywhere, in part due to her “Middle Eastern appearance.”
She was finally persuaded to just go to the “flea” market in her neighborhood, populated almost exclusively by immigrants from many different countries.
At this time, 911 was the only thing on any channel, CNN was running stories about flags being sold out, factories (in China) working 24 and 7 could not keep up with the demand.
When she got to the market, a man from Pakistan was selling surahs (Koran verses) embroidered in gold on black velvet. In the stall across the aisle, was a Mexican selling cowboy boots. Several people were trying on boots, examining boots, no one at all was paying any attention to the jar of American flags on the counter.
“There is no way to tell you how I felt seeing all those people, from all over the world, just ignoring those flags,” the lady said later. She wanted to just go hug them all, for reassuring her that the America she knew was still there.
The Mexican was complaining to the guy from Pakistan that his sister had told him flags were hot, but he hadn’t sold even one. However, he was worried about the transportation slowdown, because he feared he might run out of boots. His tiny stall was crowded with people, his sons skillfully weaving in and out to bring a size smaller here, the same thing in black there.
“I like those boots,” his neighbor said, pointing to a pair of green and cream ones. “Green was the Prophet’s favorite color.” Looking around his own stand, he picked up a large framed 99 names of God and offered a trade.
“You got it!” grinned the Mexican. “If it’s religious and it’s gold, my wife wants it.”
A few stalls down, a Korean lady was lecturing her Somali client on the evils of pointed toe, high heeled shoes. “You make my job too hard,” she scolded. “I don’t soak these feet, these calluses don’t come off.” plopping the delinquent feet into a bowl of blue foam. “you young girls come America and you want be Britney Spear, don’t think about future of feet.”
“Li-Li!” she shouted to the Chinese lady in the stall across the narrow aisle. “Show this lady sexy shoes, She soaking.”
In less than a minute the soaking one was surrounded by boxes, each containing satin ballet-style slippers with graceful rounded toes, each beautifully embroidered with dragons, peonies and birds of paradise. “And just ten dollar. So you can get all colors.”
“These are jalabis.” In the next stall, a young man from India held out a tray of sweets to a diminutive Indian from Guatemala. “Try one.” His client popped one in his mouth and a wide smile spread across his face. “Delicioso!” he exclaimed. “Sabor de America! How much for one box?” Attracted by the samples, several other customers crowded around the stall, tasting, smiling, buying. The proprietor was very busy. “Yes, yes, ladoos, you were next, one minute, sir, yes, ma’am, all 100% fresh, made right here in America early this morning by my mother.”
At the hubcap stall, men from at least a dozen countries, few in western dress, argued about cricket. And soccer. “I told my son’s school,” said one, you want to be a good school, you get a cricket team. They say they have soccer. I tell him, not good enough.” He is answered by a cacophony of agreement and indignant retorts. Soccer is the best game in the world, the future of America, what are you talking about? Good for you! You have to be firm with these schools, they do not understand education. Let me tell you something, my grandfather played cricket, he won many prizes, my son – You can keep your cricket, my daughters…
It will be some time before anyone remembers that they are there to buy hubcaps.
A stout woman in African dress, piercing needle poised, peered critically at her client’s classic Arab nose. “I looking for the spot that make it look small.”
“I think that is a spot you will not find,” laughed her customer.
Two bewildered-looking Icelandic girls look in all directions, they are lost in the welter of languages, smells, the billowing, sliding, flowing of fabric in every color of the rainbow, dancing around them in dizzying global array.
A handsome young man from Mexico comes to their rescue. “Tourists!” he exclaims. I am Ignacio. I give you tour of America. No charge. Can I touch your hair?”
A few weeks later, a western reporter in Afghanistan tried to explain to his hosts, villagers who had never heard of New York, why the US was bombing their country. He showed them video of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers.
“But why are they so angry?” asked an old man, gesturing toward the ruins of the village.
“Only two of their buildings were destroyed.”