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Fire and Water

Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

I remember watching with amazement, and not just a little discomfort, as the young men in pointy shoes leapt through the air over the huge bonfire. One slight misstep or worse, one glass of vodka too many, would have meant a trip to the one and only hospital in the city. It was spring and my neighbours were gathered in the warm night air in the courtyard of our flat in Baku, Azerbaijan. They were celebrating Noruz, a spring festival shared throughout the region. When I questioned them about what they were doing, they told me that they were following the dictates of their religion and placing wishes as they jumped. True, Islam had only recently been reintroduced to the area after the fall of the Soviet empire, but I don’t recall anything about fire jumps in the Koran, let alone vodka. No matter the case, spring is welcomed with open arms around the globe and is always a time of renewal. Even in tropical countries, the equinox is greeted with the washing of temples and your neighbours dousing you with water when you leave the house. A rather difficult proposition when I was walking to work in Laos but at times a welcome relief from the suffocating heat of the end of the dry season. Here in Extremadura it’s the carpet of green rolling out under a limpid, clear blue sky. Dehesas spotted with wildflowers and migrating birds, and of course the deep thud of the processional Easter drums. However, this year both processions and blue sky were rarer than spotting the elusive black stork. The whitewash in my patio has turned a golf green and there are flowing rivers where I once rode my bike. I tremble every time it rains when I think of the UNESCO age of my rickety roof and can only guess where the next leak is going to spring. If this rain doesn’t stop soon I’m going to have to adopt the Azeri way and jump over a few flames and be thankful that the hospital is nearby.

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