Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Modern-day Thanksgiving Story

Imagine this:

You and your family live on a house with a farm. Y'all own it. The deed is in you and your wife's name. When you die, your plan is for your children to inherit it. Now, let's say I decide to leave where I'm living right now and come on your property. Maybe I'm half-dead by the time I reach your farm, so--out of the kindness of your heart--you give me water and food and you even let me come and spend a few nights in your guest room while I recover from my trip. After a few days, I thank you and leave out of the front door.

A week later, you notice that some of your livestock hasn't come up to the feeding trough so you go out to walk the perimeter of your property to make sure there are no holes in the fence. As you get to the edge of your field, you suddenly see some people having a rather fine barbecue celebration on your land. You go up and take a closer look and you see me. However, this time I'm not alone. Now I have my cousins and my grandmother and my childhood neighbors with me, too. We've already started taking down your fence and using it to build more permanent housing because the tents that we brought with us are pretty ragged. We were also pretty hungry when we arrived, so we killed a few of the cows and pigs that we saw ambling around in the field. We were thirsty, so we started digging some holes to make wells, too.

I walk up and I give you a big hug and let you know that since I saw how friendly you were the last time, I brought a few of my loved ones to meet you and they liked the place so much that they've decided to settle down here. I then tell you that this seemed like a great idea to me because I really enjoyed my last visit, so it looks like we're going to be neighbors. You are really unprepared for what you've seen, so you go back home to regroup your thoughts and talk to your family about how y'all want to deal with this.

This land has been in your family for hundreds of years. It's not a vast property but it is big enough to support the needs of your family. You have worked this land with your own two hands and those of your adult sons and daughters. You are very careful about how you use this land so that when they grow up, it will be able to support their families, too. You had no desire to be any one's landlord. You just wanted to take care of this inheritance from your ancestors.

When you and your family sit down and talk about it, there is a bit of disagreement about how to deal with the invaders. Your family members want to go and take a look at the scene for themselves before they make up their mind. The next day your sons go out to the edge of the field where my fellow immigrants are preparing the cows and pigs they just killed that morning so that the barbecue can start back up again. Your sons are pretty indignant at the fact that my crew has killed even more of the livestock. They start yelling at us and picking up the carcasses that my brother just slaughtered. My brother thinks that since he killed them they belong to him so he kills one of your sons and the other one barely makes it back home alive.

Well, since you sent these hostile, invading, thieving sons of yours to come and raid our food supply, we now declare open season on anyone from your family that tries to come close to our newly built homes. At this point, your patience is spent. You just want me and my folks to go away. After two weeks of trying to make this clear to me with no avail, an emissary arrives at your doorstep, waving the white flag and possessing a message from me. The note says that I'm really sorry that my brother killed your son and that we ate so much of your livestock. I tell you all about how my brother always was a hot-head, but I'm nothing like him and I certainly don't condone what he did. I let you know that he was severely lectured about what he did and has shown contrition.

The gist of the message is that it's pretty cold out there in the fields and even though we tore down the entire fence, there still wasn't enough wood for us to build adequate housing. Therefore, we need you to let us crash in your guest bedroom for the winter and if you do this, when the Spring comes, we promise we'll leave you alone completely and start being self-sufficient. Oh yeah, I'm going to need you to share your food supply because we haven't been able to find any more cows and pigs lately and we don't like the taste of the corn, which is the only thing edible thing we've found on our land.

You confer with your wife and daughters and last surviving son. It's cutting things close but, if you are careful, you and your family think you can survive the winter even if you shared some of your food with us. Together you decide that you'll give my emissary a fourth of the food you have stored away, but you let him know that you simply can't allow my entire family to move in.

Well, I'm really excited to see that you decided to share some of the remaining food from the land we share with you. Once I eat, I can think a bit more clearly and suddenly I realize that it's really quite unreasonable for you to expect me to let my grandmother and grandfather and nieces and nephews freeze to death when I know you have that empty guestroom in your house. I mean, the idea of freezing babies and old people is considered absolutely barbaric where I come from.

Where I come from, the religion teaches that old people should be revered. I've seen the way your kids barely get along with each other and sometimes even resort to fisticuffs. I decide that it's high time I introduced you godless people to my religion, because you folks sure do need to learn how to behave like civilized people! That settles it for me: My people are going to stage an intervention.

We're going to wait until nightfall and then we're going to come and break down your doors. If you had given my emissary a key, we wouldn't have to cause so much damage just to get inside, so it's really your fault if anything gets broken. I hope no one in your family is killed in the process, especially those pretty, unmarried daughters of yours. However, if a few of your family members do die, we must surely consider it an unfortunate accident. Besides, if we don't come in and introduce your family to our religion, your sons and daughters may go on to one day have children of their own who behave poorly towards each other.

While you and your family are sleeping in your beds, you hear a crash downstairs. Guess who it is? It's me and my friends and my cousins and my brother. My brother comes up and tells you how he wanted to personally apologize for the misunderstanding that he had with your thieving son. He's going to make up for what he did by doing you the honor of taking one of your unmarried daughters off your hands and making an honorable woman out of her by letting her come live in his tent and have his babies. Just think, now you know that your future grandchildren will be able to grow up among civilized people. Isn't that great?

You have no intentions of allowing things to go any further, so you grab your gun from off the wall. Even though you manage to kill a few of my cousins, there aren't enough bullets in your gun to kill us all. As you attempt to reload your weapon, we kill your wife and son and blast off your right leg. Because we're nice people, we bandage you up and place you in the guestroom all by yourself so that you can recuperate in peace. We promise we'll take good care of things while you're incapacitated.

Since you can't get out there and farm anymore, my uncle has agreed to bring you food every day so you don't even need to leave out except to go to the bathroom. In fact, it would probably be best if you didn't leave out of the room at all because we're making some changes to the house and might experience some difficulties moving around on those cheap crutches of yours. After all that has occurred, don't you think that you should just live out the rest of your days in my guestroom and forget about all that has happened? We both lost people we loved, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't agree to live together in peace, right?

I know that you planned to leave this land to your descendants and I'm going to make sure that still happens because my brothers and your daughters will have lots of children who can live here for the rest of their lives. My people will also honor your family's bravery by naming a school after your dead sons. Every Fall, we'll have a big barbecue where we kill a few pigs and some cows and celebrate the first year we spent together on this land. Isn't that great news?

11 comments:

Jenny said...

I love a lot of your writing, but this one resonated even more than usual with me.

I live in Sweden. I used to think that while we do have our race issues here, at least we don't have descendants of slaves or of an indigenous people like the US or Australia does.

Then I read about what we did to the Sami. Pretty much what you describe, except that we don't have a memorial celebration.

b said...

wow...just...wow!

bint alshamsa said...

Jenny and b,

I really appreciate the comments you've left. Sometimes it feels as if no one really cares about the plight of indigenous groups all around the world. In every corner of the planet, this story is still being played out. Maybe a few folks will read this and re-think some of their positions.

Texas alpacas said...

You live in Louisiana, right? Well in that state, and most other states, a call to the sheriff and deputies to make an arrest for cattle rustling would have sent all the squatters to the state penitentiary. Cattle rustling is a felony, as is tearing down fences. In earlier times, it was a hanging offence.

bint alshamsa said...

Texas Alpacas,

I think it should have been a felony and I can understand why it was a hanging offense in the past. Rustlers were stealing the only thing keeping people's children from starving to death. It's pretty hypocritical that colonizers concluded that it was wrong for people to invade THEIR land but had no problem with invading and stealing the lands belonging to Native Americans.

Thanks for your input. It helps to put things in perspective.

annaham said...

This is a fantastic post.

nexy said...

this post is brilliant. i think i'll celebrate thanksgiving this year by fasting.

(the word verification is "coors". heh)

Cheshire said...

Thankyou. Thankyou. Thankyou.

BLESSD1 said...

Jeez Bint...this is by far one of the most brilliant writings of yours that I've read...and I've read many. Kudos, doll.

Anonymous said...

Ramani,
That was wonderful. It made me shiver as I visualized this happening to me as I have some land.You did write well...and Iam sure it will find fruit.

Laurie said...

That was an excellent post. Thanks for writing so eloquently and in such a way as to make the experience visceral. It's given me a lot to think about.