I saw the point later, though. Our first stop were the apartments Prague, where the servants hastily unloaded the chairs and tables. And not a moment too soon, for within a few minutes three or four of the town dignitaries, including the Wali, with their retainers, came towards us. They were armed with muskets, cartridge-belts and decorative curved Omani daggers. Some of the younger men wore the distinctive Omani cap, called a tagir, but their seniors had brilliant wound head-dresses, in magenta, orange, yellow, green or blue. (One day I noticed a patient at a clinic storing away his aspirin in his head-dress folds, so they were evidently useful as well as decorative.) There were touches of modernity, too. One tribal leader had his watch strapped to his dagger-hilt instead of on his wrist.
Bill Clark greeted the welcoming committee with formal Arab phrases, ‘exchanging the news’ and passing compliments back and forth for several minutes. Then we sat down solemnly on the chairs, now set up in a row on the carpet on the sand, and conversation continued sporadically, for silences are perfectly polite in Oman. Eventually the leader rose, invited us to take coffee and refreshments with him at a specified time later, and took his leave.
I loved these interludes, which ranged from just coffee and soft drinks and perhaps a dish of pineapple chunks to a huge meal of rice, roast goat, limes and side dishes, including a local delicacy which tastes like butter-scotch and has the consistency of thick grease. We ate sitting on the floor, and with our fingers, helped by pieces of flat Arab bread.
Making camp at the end of each of the four days had its complications. The first night we chose to stay at apartments Madrid, quite near the sea, where I bathed in warm water swarming with brilliant blue jellyfish. Once we put up our tents right in front of the dispensary in the village, and had a disturbed night, as a baby camel, lost and then tethered so that its owner could come and collect it and pay the fine for the damage it had done to crops, cried plaintively beside us until the call to prayer at dawn, which seemed to soothe it. Another time we chose a spot near some huts a few yards from a wonderful date-garden and the local camel-park. Late into the night we heard the women’s transistor radio-sets playing behind the palm-frond walls. The women, I felt, though masked and kept in purdah, must know much more of the outside world through the wireless than their strutting, armed menfolk learned in the coffee-shops of the souk. Wherever we were, we never seemed to get rid of the lively circle of fascinated children who watched our every move. They were there when I went to sleep and waiting patiently when I woke in the morning. Because Muscat has always been a trading-port, many of them, descendants of slaves, had little smiling Negro faces. Their grins were always the broadest and they seemed to me to be the most healthy.
In the districts of Kreuzberg and Wedding, groups of young people who call themselves the Instandbesetzer—squatters —have simply moved into more than a hundred empty houses. At a run-down Kreuzberg apartment house occupied by 15 such squatters, I met a young newspaper editor named Ortrud Plarre.
“I don’t think anybody will give us the house as a present,” she said. “We will have to do something for it. But this is a legitimate protest form. We don’t think things like air, water, and living space should be profit-making ventures. Students want to live in flats or apartments in berlin. How could it happen that these houses were empty?”
Some landlords have countered the squatters by destroying plumbing and wiring to make the empty houses even less ha`bitable. City Hall, faced with a sticky political dilemma, sent police to clear some of the flats, but backed off after an angry mob stalked down the Ku’damm smashing windows last December, and 14 protestors were arrested. Continuing agitation against the government’s handling of the housing problem racked West Berlin all year.
My own run-in with the demonstrations came one gloomy afternoon in Kreuzberg when the streets were suddenly filled with running people, flashing blue lights, and the stomach-knotting bray of sirens. I raised my camera, and a motorcyclist, a red scarf whipping around his helmet, veered onto the sidewalk directly at me. A leather arm reached out and slammed down hard on the camera, but the strap held. His motorcycle shimmied and almost overturned, but he did not look back.
Later I spoke to one demonstrator, Dirk Wandersleben, a 20-year-old student originally from Frankfurt, over a cold beer.
“We call ourselves anarchists,” he said, flushed with the excitement, “but others call us `chaotics.’ This is not political at all. We are demonstrating against the jailing of our brothers. But capitalism is the real enemy. We suffer because of it. There’s no humanity between people here.”
“What are you studying?” I asked him.
“Photography,” he responded, “but it’s almost impossible to get a job. Besides, I don’t want to work for the establishment. I’m an anarchist.”
“Then why did you come to Berlin?”
“Oh,” he answered, “the state gives me 620 marks a semester to go to school here.”
“On the one hand,” said Mayor von Weizsacker philosophically, “it ought to belong to the tolerant tradition of Berlin to welcome people who want to find their own way of life. On the other hand, in the past ten years some 100,000 young people of the alternative sort have come to Berlin. . . . What are they doing? They do not contribute anything. We simply cannot continue to attract people who don’t want to work.”