Friday, December 18, 2009

My Bangla Desh Friend.

Recently, a friend of mine from the web introduced me, cyberly, to a young man from Bangla Desh and it brought to mind an incident from my days of being the ship's pianist on the Galileo, where I met Jim.

On the ship, there were distinct classes of workers. At the top of the rung were the authoritarian Greek officers -- most of them despicable pigs, but some of whom were warm and beautiful human beings. (They also lived on the upper cabin floor.)

Down in the bowels of the ship were makeshift cabins where I, and the other entertainers (British) and casino crew (Italian) lived. My cabin consisted of four pieces of sheet metal, a bunkbed, a sink, and an overhead lighting fixture.

My one precious piece of civilization was my typewriter. Yes, kids, this back in the 1980s, when the "Internet" was barely even an idea in the mind of a sci fi writer. I would write journals and lyrics and whatever came into my mind.

So, all of us who worked on the ship were isolated from the outside world.

The ship itself was a microcosm of the world, but with all the 70 nationalities distributed, high to low, in distinct classes. The only two Americans were myself and the (also gay) Greek-American cruise director named George Francis.

(Since I was unaware of how to act in a class system, knowing only the Dolly Partont on the Johnny Carson Show, on meeting the queen. "I'd say howdy and shake'r hand!", it never occurred to me to think of this Bangla Desh young man, very dark skinned with features that reminded me of Indian, but less aquiline, as anything other than just another dude.)

But, he and the other Bangla Desh cabin stewards slept 8 to a room. The room consisted of two sets of bunkbeds with a sink. Barely enough room for the sink (situated door the door, and between the bunks. It looked like slave quarters.

As I got to know him, I learned that he had a sister to whom he sent his money, and to whom he wrote long letters. He told me he was Muslim. He was one of the most gentle persons I ever met, like the folks back home in Buna, Texas.

So, I gave him permission to sit alone in my room and write letters whenever I wasn't around. To just use the room as a getaway.

Well, it was like a revolutionary act. There's even a name for it: egalitarianism. I'm no better than you and you're not better than me. A person's a person. For me, it was also tied up in Americanism, a concept that has gotten a lot of abuse.

Oh, I was so "You're a worker! A worker should be respected." It's grass roots country thinking. Fairness. Equality. Respect. It's so basic, I can't grasp any other way of thinking.

Soon, the Italians, who previously only cursed and abused the cabin steward, were finding themselves with a little rebel on their hands, standing up for himself.

It's funny how different real life can be from what we're told it's supposed to be. Letting someone use your desk to write letters, when you're not using your room, is some kind of revolutionary act?

How great is that.

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