Al-Qaeda Recruitment

I took a few snaps on my way to the bus station in Tavira, Portugal. It’d been a very odd previous night to say the least.

On the 2nd floor above the Tavira bus station, there’s a bar that has a coin-op internet machine. I’d wondered in there to grab a glass of port and check email, but had to settle for just the glass of vino since the machine had long gone out of commission.

I straddled a bar stool and admired the giant banner behind the bar with the famous shot of Che’ Guevara printed on it in red. My pockets were pretty light, so all I could afford was one glass. A man approached me and spoke in Portuguese pointing at my shirt. I’d forgotten I was wearing a Che’ shirt I’d picked up in Mexico City and the French bartender explained the man was the owner of the bar and a huge fan of Che’! He started to pour me another port until I stopped him. I explained I was short on funds, but he said the drinks were on the owner. He added that the owner hoped he’d get me drunk enough to trade shirts. I told him, “No can do, but I’ll take the drink! Obrigado!”

The port seemed the flow the most freely as my subversive banter became increasingly more passionate. I don’t remember how many glasses we drank, but eventually there was a small group around me all stating their anger with the current “powers that be” and we were trying to one-up each other with our rebel yells for revolution!

Eventually, one of the gentleman suggested that if I were truly interested in joining “the” revolution, he could hook me up with people in Seville, and that it would take me a year of training. He said I’d be taught Arabic and be required to convert to Islam. I began to get a bit nervous, but I continued with the conversation awhile longer just to see if this guy was yanking my chain.

Something that was odd about these guys who approached me was that they claimed to be Portuguese. They spoke perfect English, French, and Portuguese. And because I’d already been in Portugal about a month, I knew these guys were too tall and their features were wrong to be native Portuguese. Some told me that perhaps they were CIA, but this place is a very obscure fishing village off the beaten track, but not too far from the Spanish/Moroccan border. I’d traveled in Morocco before and these guys definitely looked more Moroccan and of Arabian decent.

I asked them hypothetically what I’d have to do if I were interested in joining in their revolution and they said I’d have to go back to Seville to the old Spanish neighborhoods. I’d have an interview and it’d take about a week before they decided to let me in or not. They said I’d have to learn Arabic, be willing to die for the cause, and convert to Islam.

At the time I was really pissed off about how the Bush regime seemed to be using Christianity as a rallying cry… they never came right out and said it but seemed to imply this was some kind of Holy war between “free” Christians and Muslims. But, when the dude in the bar told me I’d have to become a Muslim too, I told him I just couldn’t do that. Religion is more of a personal thing you have to feel and believe in your heart… you just can’t flip a switch and become whatever religion is convenient at the time. Besides, I wanted to know what religion had to do with wanting to stop a greedy regime.

He told me that “we” (this was the first time he’d used the word “we”… before he’d just referred to the revolutionaries as “they”). He said we have to be able to count on our people to fullfill their mission of death. And continued that most people won’t actually die for money, country, or even their families. Some will, but “we” can’t count on it. He said if our people “believe” they are dying for “God” then we can usually count on them to fullfill their mission of blowing themselves up. Said there was really no other way.

So, I saw how they TOO were using religion not as a reason for revolution, but more as a tool to manipulate the foot soldiers. Just like we were/are.

It didn’t take long to ascertain he wasn’t and after he revealed the “group” as the well-known organization beginning with “Al”… I began making my way toward the door.

Left the bar more than a little creeped out after all the discussion of Al-Quaida, bombing, dying for religion, etc. But, I was still all hopped up on the idea of revolution and more than a little hopped up on Port wine as well.

Made my way down the darkened alleyways of sooted cobblestone and mariner’s stench until I came to the 13th century Roman bridge that connected the “new” part of the town with the old part where my room was.

Earlier in the day the place, Tavira, felt like a ghost town… and, a dying one at that. But now that it was night, it seemed like an entire population had invaded the town just in the span of time I spent in the Che’ bar with the revolutionaries.

The old foot bridge seemed to be a central meeting place with folks stolling about to and from bars on each side of the town. About every 20 feet or so, there were little enclaves off the bridge with rounded benches where people visited, or just stared out into the starry sky.

I’d been a little pissed off that I really hadn’t seen much in the way of hard core protesting of the Iraq war. Nor, had I really seen that many who had the media’s microphone taking any stand at all. Sure, there was the occassional protest here and there, but they didn’t really look like they were full of any kind of true stance at all. Mostly a few gathering to relive some foggy 60’s dream of flowers and tie-dye. I wondered how much worse it had to get before someone, anyone started to speak out and the young folks started to rise up against these monsters.

About midway across the bridge…. not five minutes later, I happened on a couple hippys playing guitar and flute on this 13th century bridge. They claimed to be Welsch and Pagan Sorcerers. They were a couple older hippies and a rasta dude rolling up a giant splif. One of the Welsch dudes was gleefully singing light-hearted hippy tunes and his buddy was playing along on the flute. The guy on guitar was actually pretty good, but his buddy on the flute was the worse musician I’d ever heard. The rasta guy just bobbed his dreds around and didn’t seem to care much either way.. just focussed on getting that splif fired up just right and passed it around.

After they’d finished their tune, I asked how they could be so care-free with everything that’s going on. Why weren’t they protesting or at least angry about any of it. The guy on guitar handed me the splif and suggested I take a seat and he’d explain after another tune.

As soon as the splif was cached, the rasta dude just mumbled something about Love and Jah.. then wondered off into the night. I wanted a bit more, so I asked the Welsch dudes if their friend was coming back. That he’d just strolled up bobbing his head to some imaginary tune, rolled up the splif, smoked it with them, and they’d never seen him before.

Turns out the guy on flute had never played the flute before and was just making due for the fun of it. I later found out that they’d go to bars with tourists… start playing REALLY badly… until the patrons would start to leave. Then, the bar owner would usually just come up and give them money to leave and they’d take their earning off to another bar to continue drinking.

They told me that there was some extremely dark wizard behind the scenes in the US using some very powerful black magic. They said there was nothing I could do and that the more rage and anger I felt… that this was what “they” wanted. Said this elevation of negative blackness that makes people like me want to lash out… actually makes “them” MUCH stronger.

They said all I could do was perpetuate the “positive” towards all those I encounter… that this would continue to spread from person to person… and that eventually the “light” would win and overcome the “black”.

As pagan sorcerers, they said they were able to manipulate the reality we experience by effecting some mesh of abstract geometric shapes… like some kind of cosmic control board, but they were starting to lose me here (the “smoke” was starting to make it difficult to concentrate).

The next morning I went for coffee in some small cafe and it had started to rain pretty hard. Those pagans were in there too and they told me they were sleeping in a nearby park, but that the rain had continued most of the morning and that they hadn’t really slept yet. They were ordering pannini sandwiches, espressos, and beer already! I was still trying to figure out why they were trying to pull my leg about all the pagan stuff, geometric-shaped reality control dials, etc. and figured they were just trying to get some tourist to buy their next meal.

I really enjoyed their company even if they were just taken me for a ride… so I tallied up in my head all they’d ordered to see if I could actually afford to get stuck with the bill. I decided if I didn’t order anything myself.. that I could cover it… so, I didn’t worry about it anymore and just enjoyed the conversation.

Soon they got up, bid me farewell, and were off down the street to find a soft spot to sleep. I waited a bit, smoked a cigarette and had one more espresso. When I went to pay my bill, I fully expected I’d be paying their’s as well. I mean these guys were making their money by playing music so badly that they would be paid to leave.. and were trying to sleep in the rain.. in a public park.

I don’t speak Portuguese so trying to figure out what the woman was telling me took awhile. I kept trying to pay and she wouldn’t take my money for some reason. Then someone who speaks English in the pub/cafe came over and translated. She said, “Your friends the musicians have already paid the whole bill. They also bought you a pannini.” And she smiled as she handed me the sandwich in a bag.

When I got back to Texas a little before Thanksgiving a few years ago… I saw on the news there were train bombings in Madrid and that a Moroccan faction of Al-Quaida had claimed responsibility. I wondered if it were these same kats from the Portuguese bar and it sent chills down my spine.

Skip Hunt

Austin, Texas

Al-Qaeda Recruitment

Skip Hunt

Austin, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

One VERY strange night in Tavira, Portugal.

Artwork Comments

  • Judith Oppenheimer
  • Skip Hunt
  • Ben Ryan
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