Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

About Time And That One Guy Who Sailed in 1492…

I have the day off thanks to Columbus. Probably the only job I’ve ever had that gave me Columbus day off. It isn’t much of a holiday here. Controversial to some, and to others it is a “bank holiday,” or an excuse for some places to close. We have no statues in my town, and do no parades here. I worked for a bank here and I always had to work on Columbus day. So, it is a quasi holiday, it is there, but it isn’t really celebrated, at least not much here.

I realize there are places that do, like New York has a parade, and I read it is a big deal in Puerto Rico. I have Italian heritage. I do not feel especially threatened if they get rid of this holiday. Columbus was born in Italy, he was Italian, but he served Spain, and died in Spain.

He also never set foot on the continent. So, his “discovery of America” if you discount that he thought he found a short cut to India, and that the Vikings as well as the indigenous people were here before him, just never really rang true.

However, I have also read a lot of articles today attributing genocide and all the native populations being decimated by disease and everything that came after Columbus being attributed to him.

The deaths of the Taino people on Hispaniola can be laid at his door. I think it is a stretch to add all the rest to him. He couldn’t have foreseen the small pox epidemic that decimated the north American tribes. He didn’t even set foot here, remember? He thought he was in India the whole time. He would have had no way of knowing the far reaching repercussions his “discovery” would have, and there is no sane way to blame him for all the atrocities that would come later.

He was a guy with three ships who underestimated the size of the world, and shared the mentality of his time that “savages” were lesser men. We can think of that in horror now, but in his day it was quite normal.

Rudyard Kipling of “Just so Stories”  and the “Jungle Book” fame had some writings describing ethnic people in a kind of racist or patronizing way. I still love some of these stories, although his British Imperialism now colors them all in a tainted sort of way. And it was this view of superiority, that Europeans had a god given right to govern the lesser peoples and guide them to being civilized that is so hard to stomach now.

This was a time where people looked to the church for answers, not science. And, it was a debate whether these people had souls or not,  because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. It was a different time, and to say Columbus and his men were ignorant would be obvious. They knew nothing about these lands, or their people, and made a lot of assumptions. Of course, not knowing anything about germs, and how disease and immune systems work, they would have no idea that they were spreading disease just by coming there.

You cannot assume 21st century morality and science and put it on a person of another era. It is like expecting a cave man to know how to drive a car. People should be examined in context with their time, as the culture they are in will of course, naturally affect their thinking and how they act toward others.

In our current time, we act differently. There is an island, off the coast of India that has an indigenous tribe that has not been directly interacted with except for a handful of times. They want to be left alone and attack on site and the government of India has forbade anyone from going to the island or even within a certain amount of feet of it.

Besides respecting the islanders desire to be left alone, it was also indicated that the decision took into account that any interactions could cause disease and a ravaging of the population, also the language barrier and hostility.

A couple fisherman were killed and dismembered because they drifted too near the island, so the safety of not only the inhabitants but also of the outsiders had to be considered.

Instead of trying to civilize or bring these people to Jesus, it was decided that it was best to just leave them alone. I feel that some people seem to think Columbus could have or should have been capable of making a decision like that without the necessary information that the modern government of India has currently.

This is in fact preposterous. You can’t assume someone from that era can understand how disease works. In addition, the religious culture of the period, you have to bring people to Jesus or they die in eternal torment. It was your duty as a Christian to bring them to Christ if possible. As far as slavery is concerned, there was some that thought the inhabitants did not have souls, so enslaving them was okay.

The Catholic church eventually decided they did indeed have souls and asked the Spanish King to not treat the people harshly and to bring them to Christ.

However, this was decided after Columbus’s voyages and his crew did not always obey him when he implored them to not be too harsh, and it was apparent that none of these native people’s had weapons or a way to protect themselves from the invaders.  Unfortunately, as often happens, the strong destroy the weak.

The Europeans of this age were just as savage if not more so than the islanders.  The islanders were just living their lives and did not ask for any of this.  I feel their pain does deserve to be recognized, and I think our society still has much to learn.

The British and the United States that came after treated its native peoples horribly. But, I cannot realistically lay that at Columbus’ door. Sure, this all followed his voyage, but, realistically, there is just no way that he could have foreseen all of this. That is a lot of historical anguish to lay at one man’s door. Columbus wasn’t Hitler. He wasn’t even Mussolini.

He was kind of a Charles Lindbergh of his day. By the way, Lindbergh said some awful things about Jewish people. People can do amazing things, and still be jerks. People can do awful things, and still be celebrated for the things they did right.

Should Columbus be celebrated? I am not sure. He did travel a long way in three small ships. I probably couldn’t have done that. In fact, I know I couldn’t back then, being a  woman.  But, that is something. If he hadn’t stumbled onto the islands, someone eventually would have. The Europeans would have landed eventually, bringing their diseases with them. Maybe the name would have been different.

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Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

A Writer’s Prompt– Future Earth

*This is inspired by James Mascia’s writing prompt book Other Worlds

 

The sun glinted off the cracked lens on the top of a knitted basket. She went to pick it up, the seller grabbed her wrist harshly. “What do you got to trade for that, kid? No touchy til I see it.” The man’s voice sounded hoarse and threatening, his grip on her wrist tightened slightly.

“You expect me to buy without a closer look? What kinda fool do you take me for?”

“Not everything that glitters is gold, miss. Let’s see it.”

She sighs. She pulls out her pockets, counts the little coin she has, and other odds and ends that she has found on her travels. A spool of yellow thread, a needle, a couple plastic things, including a plastic soldier with a menacing expression and a helmet.

“You got nothing. Just as I thought.” The man spits at her feet, an ugly wad of brownish gunk.

“Let me go, then. You got me, I just wanted a look see, no harm. Honest.”

“Hmm. No harm indeed.” She saw his eyes cloud over briefly, mulling something over or in reverie perhaps. “Well?” She said giving her arm a jerk. He finally lets go, she rubs her sore wrist giving him a dirty look.

“How old are ya girl?”

“Old enough.”

“To remember what? Clean air, clean water? A time before the return of the great diseases? The ones we thought we had licked. Boy, were we wrong. They are sneaky things, super bugs. They find a way to beat the vaccines, boom, all our technology and fancy dew-dads, they don’t do us no good. All for nothing.”

“So we are done here?” Her green eyes flashed defiance. She was young, how young hard to say. Mal-nourishment had a way of making someone tinier than they ought to be. Plus, looking younger than one was could be an advantage. She was used to being underestimated and had to grow up fast in this cold world.

“You got any kin left? Where are you from?”

“Why do you care, mister?”

“I had a daughter once, and a wife, and even a brother. Brother died in the war with China. Daughter and wife, well, TB got em. So, here we are. Alone, selling what we find on the road. I got an old cart and a mule. and I just venture looking for treasure and to trade stories with other survivors. Hoping to find some information. You see, I had another daughter, that was taken away, years ago, when we were all confined, in the TB ward, she was taken from me. All I have left of that one is this.” He holds up between his thumb and forefinger a tiny blue button.

“How old was she? When you last saw her?”

“She was about three, almost three years old. She would be somewhere around 13 I reckon, now.”

“Well, she ain’t me, Mister. I am older than that. Besides, I know where my family is. They are all under the dirt someplace or other. Some died here, others over there. I have been traveling for a ways now. And, I lost a lot along the way. Been alone a couple years. But, now I am out of anything to trade, except of course my labor. I can trade that well enough, if someone needs something fixed, or a rabbit caught. I have gotten good at rabbit and rat catching.”

“Are you offering your services? Whatcha want the glasses for?”

“Makes it easier to make a fire, I broke my last lens.”

“You aren’t near sighted then. Can you see that sign over yonder?”

She squints in the direction the man points. It is a hand painted sign an old woman is holding. “Looks like, maybe, I’m not sure. Have you seen…so and so, or something.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Here. A gesture of good will. I will accept your services, by the way, because, my last traveling companion took ill and died. I think I may be a carrier of the TB. But, then, if you have lasted this long, you may be as well. Besides, I can see no fear in your eyes. You are ready to die, aren’t you?” The man’s eyes glint in the sunshine, a smile crosses his face as though being ready to die is a novel concept.

“Been fighting to live for so long. Maybe  I have had it all wrong this whole time. Maybe accepting the final destination. Maybe that is the point. Maybe there is some wisdom you can teach me yet.”

She catches the glasses, shoving them on her face, still squinting.”You talk a lot of nonsense, stranger. If you got some food, I would appreciate another good will gesture. Been a while since I caught a rat. And well, I could use the strength to catch another.”

The man motions behind his cart where he has a little fire going and a cast iron pot boiling some kind of vegetable soup. He grabs a hunk of bread breaks it in half, handing her one piece, offering her a metal bowl and spoon. A small rickety table with a couple of beat up travel chairs with a faded green fabric material sat nearby. “Normally I charge for a seat at my table, but considering you are going to be my companion here, I will offer you a seat for free.”

“How kind of you.” She eats the bread with one hand, sloppily dishing out the soup with the other hurriedly. She sits down with a thud, and proceeds to devour the bowl.

“Don’t rush. You gotta make it last. Savor it. Otherwise you will get a tummy ache.”

The girl glares at him. “Don’t tell me how to eat. I know how to eat.”

The man smiles sadly. “Of course. You know everything. This is your world. This is what you know. All of this, its your castle, your home.”

“I am going to stop talking to you. You are crazy.” The man chuckles. “Perhaps. I very well may be crazy. I am caught between worlds. Remembering what was, and existing here. I feel like I was in heaven, but now I am in purgatory, waiting, to finally go to hell.” His eyes go all distant and  the girl refocuses on the soup.

She didn’t care what was actually in it at this point, she just had to eat something to stop the growling gnawing inside of her. The constant need to satiate her hunger was the driving force behind her day to day life. It was the reason to keep going, the reason she found to keep going in order to not think or remember the faces of the others.

The others that hadn’t kept going, the ones that fell before the sickness or the bombs or both. She had to survive for those that couldn’t. Someday, she could tell their stories to others, if there was a day where one could tell stories again and live to see a brighter day. Where one could safely sit and dream and not worry about hunger, and death, and destruction. It was her turn to go distant.

She could hear the man’s snores, as he fell asleep in his chair. She could hear foot steps and animals rustling in the grass. This was life now. Tiny moments among tiny moments, not knowing when the end might come, only that it would one day.