"For as long as the world shall endure, the honor and the glory of Mexico-Tenochtitlan must never be forgotten."

~ Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin

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Monday, October 15, 2018

The Adventures of the Axial Squad: Wisdom and Benevolence

Zarathustra was starting to doubt Plato’s driving skills. “Is this the right place?” he asked.
“Well it’s not supposed to be a sprawling metropolis like Athens,” said Plato, checking Google Maps on his iPhone X.
Confucius cautiously emerged out of the car, careful not to trip on his silk robes.
Meanwhile, the Buddha felt right at home. He was used to meditating in the forest and calmly settled under a tall cedar tree.
“No wonder you got invaded by the Persians. Give me that map!” Zarathustra said. Of course he had lived long before the Persian wars, but the four ancient philosophers had spent the last few days getting to know each other ever since they had been plunged into the modern world. This included learning the history of each other’s civilizations. “Wait…” he squinted at the screen, “this really is what they call the native reserve. Our trade routes never reached this continent.”
“My people lived in more sanitary conditions than this back in ancient China,” Confucius said, evidently disappointed by the disregard for human rights that the new society seemed to have. He thoughtfully stroked his long beard.
As everyone gathered around, Zarathustra lit a small fire nearby. He believed that fire had cleansing properties. After what he had seen so far, he thought the world needed to be cleansed.
“I’ve always had a problem with democracy because I think it inevitably leads to tyranny, and clearly with what we’ve learned about the politicians of this time, I’m right,” Plato declared.
“You certainly are,” Confucius said “some people are just better at ruling than others. This society needs a strong emperor with a mandate of heaven, not some silly democratic system.”
“I’ll have to disagree with you right there. Democracy can definitely work if the people are educated. But the Buddha hasn’t said anything yet. I think we should ask him what he thinks,” suggested Zarathustra.
Everyone turned to the Buddha expectantly, who had been meditating quietly the entire time in his saffron robes, a serene expression on his face.
“What this society needs is to focus on the present moment, not look to the past. I always tell my disciples to concentrate on the present when they meditate. There was a time for great emperors in the past, but it is now up to the people to govern themselves.”
He said these words enigmatically before closing his eyes again.
“Yes, we must focus on the present moment. That involves this society seeing itself as a part of the world at large, as one with the universe and all of creation. They can travel to space now, so they should have no problem with doing that. They should pursue wisdom so that they don’t fall for the lies of their politicians,” said Zarathustra.
All around the philosophers, the trees swayed mystically and formed a bluish green shroud. In their warm native climates, the four men had never beheld the sight of conifers with silvery blue leaves. There was great diversity among the coniferous foliage as there were pine trees with their prickly, thin needles. Then there were the cedar trees, with branches that stretched out like the fan of a peacock’s tail.
“In my language, Avestan, mazda-yasna means worship of wisdom. Anyone who has the curiosity to learn more about this beautiful world can pursue it,” said Zarathustra.
“It’s not too different from the Greek word philosophy, the love of wisdom,” Plato observed. He was slowly warming up to the idea that anyone could rise to the myriad-minded thinking of a philosopher-king with disciplined study. Wisdom was not just something you were born with.
“Not only is wisdom important but benevolence as well. Every human has the capacity for altruism and good deeds, to look past themselves and help others,” said Confucius.
“Wisdom and benevolence. I like the sound of that,” Zarathustra smiled. His sacred fire was still burning.
If it weren’t for the poverty stricken community nearby, with its stream of polluted water and its inadequate housing, the landscape would have been sublime. The philosophers could understand why living off the land had been a lot better for indigenous people rather than relying on the meager scraps that were left for them by their oppressors.
Just then, an Anishinaabe man wandered into the forest, searching for cedar to burn in a smudging ceremony. He smiled at the peculiar visitors. “Don’t mind me.” He said. “I was just looking for something to help me cleanse.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Random untitled poem (kinda sucks)

All my life I've felt like an outcast,
never really belonging anywhere,
as a child of immigrants I've had my roots severed,
so that I'm neither from here nor from there

Over here my life is so much better,
as the rest of my people suffer from the remnants of a dark colonial past,

All my life I've been told I'm easily distracted,
my head in the clouds,
it's just that I've been thinking about the people who were once here,
when there were fields of corn all around,
the longhouses stood,
and peace was secured with wampum belts

You see, I'm done with the hypocrisy of the West,
how much it likes to pretend it's more morally enlightened than the rest

You can still imagine the hellish scene,
the people suffering from a foreign disease,
the babies crying through the night,
the children torn away from their parents,
never to hear their native tongue again,
they get Christianity rammed down their throats

Turn on the news and you'll see nothing's changed,
don't listen to the government when it says its policies about First Nations people are different,
you see, they still want them exterminated,
no one wants to deal with the indigenous problem anymore because it's such an inconvenience

Don't tell me that when I think of the time before Europeans came I'm idolizing the past,
Can't you see I'm not daydreaming idle dreams?
I'm dreaming for those who'll never dream again 

All my life I've been called too emotional,
as if I can never make a logically sound argument,
can anyone make an argument to justify genocide?

It's true I cry too easily, 
I don't know how to love another person without giving until I have nothing left to give,
but these emotions don't make me weak,
I have a heart and that's my strength,
I'll never comply and drop bombs from the skies because I was "just following orders"
so you can keep your lies

My parents are angered by my sadness,
they ask "how dare you aren't grateful when you have such a luxurious lifestyle?"
Can't you see that's exactly the problem?
Because every time I go back to visit my poor developing homeland I see crippled children with eyes bloodshot and I can count their ribs,
I see my people dehumanized because in this world European lives still matter more,
so many of my people are illiterate and suffering while I'm over here

I've lived here all my life,
if I went back I'd be seen as a foreigner,
but one day I want to go back any way and show them I've never forgotten my roots,
I know who I am,
everything I do is for them,
their joy mine,
their tears mine,
and if one day I'm actually successful in life somehow,
it will be a victory I win only for them

~


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

My thoughts on the Brazil museum fire




For those of you who haven't heard the outrageous news, the National Museum of Brazil suffered a tragic loss of thousands of artifacts recently in a devastating fire. This was because the museum hadn't been renovated for many years, as Brazil's government would rather spend money on building museums. It was the largest collection of historical artifacts in South America, and even housed the bones of Luzia (a skeleton that is suspected to to be Pre-Clovis, although they haven't been able to carbon date her properly). Indigenous people especially lamented the loss, as it was a huge destruction of their history, almost as if they were witnessing the European invasion happening all over again. The entire linguistic section of the museum was also lost, meaning that many of Brazil's threatened indigenous languages which had been preserved in recordings may never be heard again. I wish more people would care. It's a shame that Brazil doesn't have enough wealth and technology to at least back up everything on the museum in a digital archive. I've been to the British Museum, the most glorious museum in the world thanks to the fact that the British looted art from all over their colonies. Even though it was really sad for me to see artifacts that had been stolen from India put on display there, I still think it's better to not return them to India just yet, because as sad as it is, developed countries in the first world are just better equipped to preserve the artifacts and take care of them than third world countries are. I hope what happened in Brazil never happens again anywhere. 


Monday, September 3, 2018

Do you have half an hour to read some terrible short stories?

I'm going to share two short stories I wrote. The first one takes about 20 minutes to read. The second one is a 10 minute read. Stick around if you have the time and then let me know what you think. 

Here's the first story. It's called "The Gift of the Bear":


The way desert nomads are so fond of their land amazes me. I mean, I’m an adventurer, and I’ve seen many people in my time. They lived in forests, in the mountains, or by the sea and they all loved their land and thought their homes were the most beautiful places on earth. But how could anyone love the desert? It baffled me, for it seemed like the desert was where all of humanity’s hopes and dreams died. Yet the nomadic tribes of the Sahara think it’s great. 

I felt lucky to be in an air-conditioned room in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. I was pouring over the scrolls that the headman of the Imraguen tribe had given to me earlier that day. They were from the medieval trading outpost called Chinguetti, a city with the same allure as Timbuktu. The writings were in Arabic, and because the dialect was so antiquated and the cursed sands had faded the flowing script to the point of being nearly impossible to discern, they had called me, a world-renowned linguist to puzzle it out. 

“I swear, this is bloody terrible. These scrolls should have been kept in carefully monitored conditions in a museum abroad. There’s nothing that makes me sadder than neglected books, especially ones as old as these that probably contain so much wisdom in them.” I had told the Imraguen tribesman, Ahmed Mustafa. 

“You’re right” he said, stroking his long, white beard thoughtfully. “Sadly, no one cares enough about Chinguetti for that to happen. It was once a great trading city. Scholars from all over the Muslim world would gather there. These scrolls contain what they wrote of astronomy and mathematics. But I bet they never teach you about this in Eurocentric history classes, do they?” 

“Colonialism sucks!” I said. Well, I hadn’t said that in front of Ahmed Mustafa because that would’ve seemed unprofessional, but I said it now as I recalled the conversation and grew frustrated over the faded Arabic writing. 

“Colonialism sucks!” Echoed a high pitched voice. 

I really should be careful about what I say, because my eight year old son has a habit of repeating my words. Musa came into the room carrying a soccer ball. I sighed, wishing I could run around and play a game with him outside, but I wasn’t physically well enough for that. My leg was still too weak from the incident I got myself into many years ago. His hair was long and curly and there was a mischievous glow in his eyes. It was his father who had allowed him to go for so long without a haircut, and his father who had named him Musa after Mansa Musa, the wealthiest ruler of the West African Mali Empire. My husband, Mohamed, really has a thing for African culture. 

“Is daddy still on that excavation all the way in Egypt?” he asked, helping himself to the bowl of plantain chips on the table. 

“No, he’s on his way here. In fact he should be here by tonight. His Bedouin friends arranged for a truck, so that should be faster than travelling by camel as he originally planned.” I explained. Mohamed was an archaeologist, and his knowledge of history would be a big help in interpreting the scrolls of Chinguetti. He could provide context for the writings. 

“The Bedouins…” Musa said. He had a habit of doing that, of saying some random word he found interesting and then trailing off and not saying anything after that. Mohamed and I had the same habit, as did our parents. We’d all read books of adventure and exploration and get lost in our thoughts after saying “Silk Road…” or “Patagonia…” or “Adriatic Sea…” It was the first symptom of wanderlust and our whole family had it. That’s why we’d travel so much and never felt like we belonged anywhere. At eight years old Musa had already declared that he wanted to be a pilot, so we knew he was just like the rest of us. 

“Yes, the Bedouins are pretty cool. Now excuse me while I go unpack a few things that your father might need.” I dismissed him. “And whatever you do, don’t touch the scrolls.” 

Musa really listens. He sat down quietly and started drawing some kind of animal in his sketch book. It was a camel, of course. Then he lost interest and went back outside to play football with the local children. 

I realized I was alone as I hunched over the suitcases lined up at the back wall of our room. I winced a little bit as I crouched down, for my leg hurt. I tried ignoring the pain. 

Mohamed would probably need fresh clothing, including a shemagh cloth to wrap around his face and keep the sand out of his eyes. As I rummaged through the suitcases, my eyes fell across something that startled me at the bottom of the suitcase. I gasped. 

“That’s not supposed to be there! Did Musa pack it when I wasn’t looking?” 

It was a bright red blanket from one of my adventures with the design of a snarling black bear on it. 

“Oh…” I whispered, running my hands over it and feeling how finely woven it was. Its beauty and the bittersweet memories it brought back from half way across the world made me sigh. I normally kept the blanket tucked away in the attic of our house in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to have to explain it to Musa and Mohamed, for I doubted they would have understood me, or that they wouldn’t have been able to forgive me for my strange and pathetic attachment to it. It was made from the fine hairs of mountain goats. I rubbed it against my cheek. 

And then I don’t know how long it must have been, but my mind seemed to go back. It was like I was in a trance, drowning in my memories. The glowing red eyes of the ferocious bear on the blanket took me back to the summer I had explored northwestern Canada. I had been in the Queen Charlotte Islands, what the natives called Haida Gwaii. The dense forests there were so much better than the cursed desert! The rains would fall down rhythmically. The trees there would grow so big that I wouldn’t even be able to encircle their trunks with my arms. And sometimes in the woods you would stumble across a totem pole, its designs faded but the carvings still there after two hundred years. 

It was all coming back to me. 

“Mom, what are you doing?” 

“Oooo, do explain” Mohamed chuckled, intrigued. 

Apparently I had been stroking the blanket for a long time and was so lost in thought that I didn’t notice Mohamed had returned and Musa had brought him into our dwelling. 

I rushed to embrace him. His hair was long and wild as it always was, and he wore a blue dashiki, a colourful African shirt with tribal patterns. He knew I was happy to see him, but he noticed that my eyes were glazed over as if I was about to cry. 

“Are you okay? Where did that blanket come from? It certainly doesn’t look like it’s from around here.” Mohamed looked perplexed. 

“I put that in when you asked me to pack the blankets, Mom. It was in the attic.” 

“I know. You weren’t supposed to bring it here. That blanket is special. It is woven in the chilkat style and you’d usually see it draped around the shoulders of an elder from one of Canada’s west coast indigenous nations during a sacred ceremony.” I explained. 

“I’m sorry. I just thought it looked cool.” Musa apologized. 

“Sounds like it’s sacred” Mohamed said. 

“It is.” 

“Then why do you have it?” he raised an eyebrow. “I’m sensing a story here.” 

“Oh boy, a story!” Musa cheered. He loved hearing those. On our family trip to the Mongolian steppes once, he’d ask our local guides to tell us stories every night when we’d all be sitting around in yurts, a traditional tent-like house. They’d entertain him for hours with just talking about their daily lives, like hunting in the mountains with trained Golden Eagles that could sweep down on foxes and rabbits and carry them back to the hunters, or talking about how they were once world-famous throat singers. Their spiritual beliefs were tied to Tengri, the Lord of the Blue Sky, and they had all sorts of ceremonies with shamans and healers. 

“Some stories are better left untold” I said dismissively. 

“Hold on” Mohamed said firmly “Musa and I would both like to hear this story, and we have lots of time.” 

I sighed in defeat. “Alright. Fine. Gather around, and listen carefully.” 

“Life was really hard for my friend, Takaiya. It’s really hard to describe a person, because people are so complicated.” I started. I told them that she was a really beautiful and intelligent woman, but that was always a trace of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. She rarely smiled because she thought smiling made a woman look submissive. “Men like it when women smile” she once told me. “That’s why I don’t smile much. I need them to fear me.” In fact, she rarely ever showed any emotion at all. To show any form of weakness in her day would mean a swift death, or something worse. “Her father had mysteriously disappeared when she was your age, Musa. Her mother died of a fever around the same time.” 

“Oh no. I think I know where this is going.” Mohamed said. The stony sadness on my face confirmed his suspicions. 

“This was back in the day when Canada still had residential schools, so there was only one possible fate for kids like Takaiya.” He deduced. 

“Residential schools?” asked Musa. 

“A government-sanctioned genocide, a trip through hell” I spat. “They were called schools, but of course they were anything but that. Children were abducted, sometimes separated from their families and never allowed to see them again. They were taught English and Christianity by the priests and nuns who worked there. They were beaten for speaking their native languages.” 

I had to boil down and simplify Takaiya’s tale when I told it, not wanting to expose some of the very personal details she had trusted me with. I didn’t tell them how she felt when the nuns made her cut her waist-length hair, or take on the name Mary. She hated that name, but saying “my name is Takaiya” would have gotten her a few lashes. 

“I never learned much there. Our days were filled with cleaning the place rather than learning. I’d scrub the floors all day, and in the night wait in terror as a priest would come by and drag a young girl or boy away.” She’d say. 

I tried to listen as best as I could and not get overwhelmed with emotion. Of course, what happened to Takaiya was horrible but it wasn’t surprising. Canada’s government had tried to get rid of indigenous people for centuries, with slogans like “kill the Indian in the man and save the man!” or “the only good Indian is a dead one. Kill them all or breed them out!” 

There’s always a dark side to every country, no matter how pristine or clean the surface. 

“I did have one friend, or so I thought, Father Samuel. He was the one who taught me to read, and he noticed I was a bright student.” Takaiya recalled. 

That explained a lot about Takaiya. She had been one of the few students allowed the privilege of perusing the library of the priests at her leisure. Somehow, she had mastered not only English but ancient Greek and Latin as well so that she had all the wisdom of a classical scholar by the time she was in her mid-teens. 

“Well I thought Father Samuel was my friend, but an educated indigenous person feels like a real threat to European authority. He felt he needed to sever my wings of hope, so I became one of his nightly victims when he was out on the prowl.” She winced as she had said all this, because years later this memory still brought her pain. It was etched into her mind. “He told me I’ll always be a worthless, dumb Indian slut.” She said. 

I knew she had handled it better than most kids did. Some took their own life when it happened, and of course those heartless nuns didn’t care. To them, suicide was a straight ticket to hell, a terrible waste of God’s gift of life. The children’s corpses were never given the proper rites, certainly not according to their culture. And Takaiya would scrub their blood off the floors the next day. 

I was impressed by the maturity with which Musa was handling the tale so far. Mohamed drew him closer protectively during the most frightening bits. 

“But Mom, if it was so horrible there, why didn’t she run away?” Musa asked. 

“I was just getting to that.” I said. 

For many of the children, running away wasn’t an option because for one, if you tried running away and were caught, the punishments would be horrifying. These could include getting locked in a cage in the basement with no food or water for days. Some of them didn’t know their way back home, and some like Takaiya had no home to return to. 

“And most of all, what was keeping her there were the books.” 

“I’d still sneak into the library, no matter what the risk was. I started being drawn to the sciences at some point.” She said. She became particularly fascinated with the medicinal uses for plants and realized that it was an area in which her people were far more knowledgeable than the Europeans. 

“One day my friend was very ill. She was called Rachel. She was of the Salish people. I don’t know what her real name was. She was about 17 winters old, I think.” 

“Did they at least have the decency to take her to the hospital?” I asked. 

“Yes. Rachel got better, but she also lost something that she didn’t find out about right away…” Takaiya trailed off. At that time, I was ignorant about the forced sterilization of indigenous women as a way to reduce their population. I certainly had no idea that the Famous Five feminists whom Canada idolizes so much had approved of the practice. How evil and dark our history really was! 

“I wanted to get to the nearest native village. I wanted to try to find a wise woman who could teach me the ways of a healer.” 

“That was what finally gave Takaiya the courage to leave when she was 16. You see, Musa. She wanted a future. She didn’t tell anyone about her plan but a boy her age, Joseph. They were both of the Haida people.” 

“Listen” she whispered to him, risking speaking their native tongue so that she could pour out her heart. “I want to run away.” 

“Then I will come with you.” He said. 

They snuck away that night. Joseph claimed to know the directions to a village and lead the way. 

At this point in the retelling of Takaiya’s tale, I had to skip over some details. I didn’t tell Mohamed and Musa about how Joseph had taken her into the woods and they had made love there. According to Takaiya, it had felt liberating. It felt like resistance because she knew it was exactly the kind of thing the European authorities wouldn’t want two natives doing. 

“So did they get back to a village safely?” Mohamed asked. 

“Takaiya managed, but an RCMP officer shot Joseph along the way.” 

When she finally got to a tribal village, it was in ruins. There were only a few people left there with no children. Everyone was sick or dying. But there was a wise, elderly woman there who knew certain things. She knew of the anti-inflammatory properties of cedar tea, how Joe Pye weed roots could cure a cold and how its leaves could be crushed into a salve to soothe burns. She knew lots more and her only wish was to pass on her knowledge to someone young before she died. Her children had been captured and taken off to the schools where they never returned from. 

“She took me in as a pupil. Finally when the last residential school closed down in Canada in 1996, it was easier to move around without fearing for my life.” Takaiya said. That was when a new chapter of her life unfurled itself when she decided to move to Nootka Sound, a city in British Columbia. 

“I was going to make my way in a white man’s world.” 

“Well it’s not like she could’ve pursued a career in medicine with all the racist and sexist attitudes surrounding her and barely any education.” Mohamed said. 

“Yes that’s true. But she was still relatively happy in that time of her life. She did manage to get a job, and she had a few good friends. One of them was a Japanese-Canadian student. He understood her pain to some extent. His parents had suffered in internment camps.” 

But of course the call of her traditional territory was strong. The restless spirits of her ancestors called her back. 

It was stupid of me to have wandered into the ancient rainforests of Haida Gwaii with no native guide. I was trying to find the way back to the airport from the linguistic conference I had attended on reviving the Haida language. I thought I was really clever for trying to find a shortcut. If you want my honest opinion, I didn’t think enough people cared for the language to be revived. It may have been a tragedy, but that was life. The forest canopy blotted out the sun so that it was really dark even though it was still daytime, or so I thought. How long had it been since I lost my way? 

I knew what the locals did to protect against the rain. They wore hats, large broad-brimmed ones made of cedar wood that looked a little like Chinese rice farmer hats. It would’ve been nice to have had one of those, or an umbrella. Sometimes the forest would start thinning. Rocky cliffs and jagged edges started to appear on the side, and enigmatic mountain goats would hang from them looking as if their cloven hooves could defy gravity. They’d look down upon me with expressions of hostility. There were also nests up there, for eagles I presumed. 

I retreated back into the depths of the forest, where the canopy provided a bit of shelter from the rain. It was so densely wooded now that it was a little hard to walk around. A raven was sitting in one of the branches and it looked at me with a wise and knowing expression, as if it could see right through me and knew my fate. 

“Ah, the raven. I’ve heard so much about you. According to Haida mythology, you stole the sun from Grey Eagle’s longhouse. You took it right up the smoke hole of the longhouse and threw it into the sky so that humans didn’t have to live in a world of darkness. Why don’t you bring me some light?” 

I was really going mad, talking to forest animals. 

It was said by the Haida that the first raven was white, until the smoke from Grey Eagle’s longhouse hearth blackened his feathers. Since then all his descendants were pure black. 

In the forest, I came across the ruins of a Haida longhouse itself. Northwest longhouses are different from the ones you’d find in the Eastern Woodlands built by Iroquoian groups. The Haida built them with cedar wood and painted them with splendid designs. This one’s designs were faded, but I could still make out the silhouette of a mythical creature called the Thunderbird. I shuddered. The Thunderbird was said to nest high up in rocky cliffs, and hated outsiders like me. It would flap its great wings whenever they came too close. 

As curiosity took hold of me and I approached the abandoned longhouse, I realized I may have to spend the night there. It was no use walking through the woods at night. 

I came across an adorable sight that made me smile despite everything. Two bear cubs were playing among the grass in front of the longhouse. 

“Hello little cubs” I said. Of course I wasn’t being the least bit threatening or anything like that, but I also didn’t know that the mother bear was back and that she was right behind me. 

That was when all hell broke loose, and I was never the same again in body or mind. 

She lunged for my legs first, and when she threw me up in the air I felt like I was flying. I was too stunned to even scream. When I got back down, my legs had been rendered useless, and to this day I still limp. It was the end of my wandering days. 

But she was not satisfied. She tore into me with her claws. My screams were futile. Eventually I just closed my eyes and waited for death. 

But even when the bear left, my misery was not over. The torrential rainfall began then, the horrible kind that can lead to floods. It washed away the blood from my wounds. I hoped that I would drown. The rain seemed endless, for it kept on going even as I slipped in and out of consciousness many times. The rumbling thunder sent a wave of terror into my heart. Was it the Thunderbird who had sent the bear after me because I was an outsider? 

“Oh God, just let me go to hell already.” 

There I was, taking God’s name, even though I had been a stubborn atheist all my life and never thought of him before. 

I begged for death to come but somehow it didn’t that night. 

A figure finally came, shrouded in mystery. She was draped in black robes and wore one of those cedar hats. She was close enough now for me to see her long black hair. 

“The spirit of Death herself” I thought. 

That was when she started dragging me across the forest floor, and I realized that she was a mortal of flesh and blood, not a ghostly spirit who had come to whisk me off to the afterlife. When I yelped in pain she lifted me up, and I was astonished by her strength. She carried me like a child back to her dwelling. 

“Well it’s great she came to your rescue or I wouldn’t even exist.” Said Musa. 

That was my first encounter with Takaiya. 

She brought me into a dwelling that was not unlike the longhouse ruins I had encountered in the woods, except that it was much larger and had convenient modern furnishing inside. She didn’t say anything, just started applying a salve to my wounds. It burned and felt a lot worse before it started to feel better. Wincing in pain, I drifted off into a prolonged sleep. 

Snapping back to consciousness, I heard Takaiya chanting in a language that could only have been fluent Haida. I could hardly believe my ears. It is said that when someone is in pain or taken by surprise, they usually call out in their native language. But I’m a true linguist, even on the brink of death, and I called out to her in the little bit of broken Haida I knew. 

She stopped chanting and looked at me. I could tell she was surprised to hear the Haida language come from a non-indigenous person. For a moment it looked like she was stifling a style. 

“What were you thinking, wandering around in the woods like that in the night? I have never seen someone so foolish.” She lectured me in plain English so that she could make sure I really understood her. Her eyebrows furrowed in irritation. 

“I was returning back…” I winced “from a linguistic conference.” 

“Accept my hospitality. Stay here until your wounds recover. But after that, please go back to wherever you came from. We don’t need people like you. We never have. We can save our own languages and ourselves without you.” 

With just those words, I was in love. I would have smiled at that, had I not been in so much pain. I had never seen someone so fiercely proud of their culture like that, and so distrustful of outsiders. It was incredible. It made me dare to hope that the memory of the beautiful Haida language wouldn’t fade away just yet. 

I was really curious to know more about her, why she was all alone, a miraculous healer in the woods. She had saved my life, after all. She paid no attention to me, however. Everyday she’d go out to gather some herbs, do some cooking, spare a little bit for me and then retreat into her bed chamber where she’d read and study for hours. She really didn’t need to rely on anyone else to live, I realized. That’s probably why she didn’t believe in the helpfulness of foreigners. 

“Hey Takaiya, doesn’t it ever get lonely here for you? How come you don’t move to Nootka Sound?” I asked her one day. 

“Mind your own business.” 

I felt strong enough to sit up in bed now. 

“Come on, I’m really curious. Won’t you ever tell me about yourself? I told you about me, didn’t I? You know that I’m a linguist from Brooklyn and I travel the world. I can tell you more, if you want.” 

I probably sounded so stupid, but Takaiya finally turned around to look at me. I could see something in her eyes that looked like trust, a little bit of a desire to open up and maybe make a friend after all she had been through. 

“I have no family left to return to, so where would I go?” she asked. “Besides, Haida Gwaii is my ancestral home. I would not abandon it for the world.” 

“It’s good to have roots.” I said. 

“What would you know of roots?” she asked. “You’re an explorer.” 

I thought she was about to dismiss me again with a flip of her hair, to walk out into the woods again and collect herbs and forget about me. But not this time. She sat on the edge of my bed and looked at me in wonder. 

“Tell me about your travels, restless wanderer.” 

So I went on and on, about the frozen lands of Patagonia where great condors soar above with wings that blot out the sun, about Central American cloud forests where the beautiful quetzal bird lives whose tail feathers can grow longer than my arm, the cold Arctic lands where the sun never sets for months at a time, and even that one archaeological conference in Abu Dhabi where I met you, Mohamed. Do you remember how it was on dead languages and their relevance to interpreting archaeological artifacts?

Takaiya drank up every word and would sometimes repeat the words I said in wonder. I could tell she would keep thinking of “cloud forests”, “condors” and the “midnight sun” long after our talks. 

When I was finished telling her the good, the bad and the ugly, it gave her the courage to open up about her life the way she never had before. 

I spent a month off the grid, talking to this mysterious woman and slowly recovering. 

The day I finally decided I was well enough to leave, Takaiya asked me a last question. 

“You know that Mohamed guy, the Egyptologist, the one who said you might like to date?” she asked. 

“Yeah, what about him?” I asked, amused. 

“What does he look like?” 

“He has really long hair. Not nearly as long as yours though.” 

“Joseph had beautiful hair before they made him cut it.” She said. I nodded sadly. 

Then she smiled. “Your taste is good. Better not keep him waiting. But before you go, please take this. It’s used in potlatch ceremonies.” 

That’s when she gave me the red blanket, and despite my insistence that she should keep it, she still thrust it toward me. I never saw her again after that. 

Mohamed enjoyed the conclusion of the tale. By that time, Musa started getting sleepy. He went off to his room and muttered to himself after he said goodnight to us. As he walked away, I caught a few words he was saying to himself. 

“Totem poles… cedar trees… Haida Gwaii.” 


Here's the second story. It's called "He's Cultured". It's a bit more light-hearted and comedic. 


When I got back to my apartment, I flung the door open and released the tempestuous fit of rage that had been brewing in me for the past hour. 
“Die a thousand deaths, you treacherous Anglophile!” I roared. 
My eyes fell on my miserable diary on the couch, with dumb inspirational quotes printed on its cover. It was just lying there, all vulnerable to my hideous anger. I flipped to the most recent entry, a grotesque love poem that I had written a few hours ago just before I set off on that day’s terrible endeavor. I tore it out and ripped it into a thousand shreds. 
“There! Now there isn’t a trace in the world left of these miserable words and I can die alone in peace.” I said. I caught a reflection of myself in the mirror and felt disgusted. What I saw there wasn’t me. I tore off the expensive jewelry I was wearing and undid my fancy ridiculous hairstyle to let down my plain, short brown hair. 
“There. That’s better.” I said. 
“Woah there!” Came the voice of my room mate and best friend, Minerva. “What the heck happened?” She asked, passing me a glass of water to calm me down. 
“It was a total disaster!” I shouted. When I was angry, I really lived up to my name. I was named after the shaking Aspen tree, whose leaves quiver in the wind as if they’re agitated by it. 
“Well, sit down and tell me the story, Aspen.” She said. Her voice was soft and soothing and her eyes were full of genuine concern. She reminded me of both my mother and my therapist. 
I gave a long sigh before sitting down to start the tale. 
“Was it the same guy you met on that dating app?” she asked. 
“Yeah” I confirmed, smiling at the memory of when I first swiped across his profile. 

The dating app said his name was Kabir Hassan, and I had instantly liked the sound of that. 
“Ooooh, what are you smiling at? Did someone send you a cute text?” you had asked me.
We were both at a pizza parlor for lunch, just after one of our classes at the nearby university. I had been hiding my phone from you the entire time, Minerva, not wanting you to see what I was doing. But of course you were really nosy and giggled when you found out what app I was using and saw the picture of Kabir. 
He was sitting on a horse with a sword in hand. His long hair was blowing in the wind. 
Underneath his profile picture, his short bio contained the following quote: 
‘What matters creative endless toil, When, at a snatch, oblivion ends the coil?’ 
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 
“Does he think he’s from the 1500s? He’s cute though.” You laughed. “He sure is unique.” Suddenly you stopped laughing when you had a look at me. I was stunned speechless and my jaw had dropped in awe. 
“Woah… are you okay? I know you have a thing for guys with long hair. So do you think he’s cute?” 
He seemed so cool, clearly with an interest in history, philosophy and literature as evidenced by the sword in his profile picture and the fact that he was quoting Goethe. 
“He’s-” I started. 
“Cute? Boyfriend material?” 
“Cultured.” I declared, and smiled maniacally. 
“Seems like your kinda guy then” you said, and sipped on your coke. 
I didn’t hesitate in contacting Kabir. 
“Should I tell him I think he has beautiful hair?” 
“Yikes! Try something more conventional first.” That’s my Minerva. You’ve always been single, yet somehow you gives better dating advice than all our friends who are in relationships. 
“Hi Kabir. I stumbled across your profile and thought you seemed really cool. I was wondering if you could get back to me and tell me a little bit more about yourself. Maybe we can meet up some time.” I read to you. Once you nodded in satisfaction, I pressed the send button. 
I got a response almost immediately after and was delighted. 
“Hello, Aspen. How do you fare on this fine morning, m’lady? To tell you a bit about my interests, I love acting and am part of a troop of Shakespeare enthusiasts. In fact I’m going to be in a production of Hamlet this weekend if you’re interested. I’m also going to start on my PHD in classics soon at Oxford university, so if you love talking about Greek mythology then I’m your man!” 
By the end of the message, you burst out laughing in that delightful laugh of yours. Some people have irritating laughs, but not you, Minerva. “He’s really full of it, isn’t he? I’ve never seen someone so arrogant and self-centred.” 
“Maybe…” I said thoughtfully “but he brags about things that are worth bragging about. I know I wouldn’t shut up if I got accepted into Oxford for a classics PHD. I’d tell everyone I saw about it, even random people on the streets, in Latin!” 
“Alright, but did you see his ridiculous hair? Imagine how much time he spends on it. His vanity shows in every picture.” 
“Hey” I chided “watch what you say about my future husband.” 
Then you laughed so hard that tears came into your eyes. “Okay now I’m genuinely worried about you. You haven’t even met this guy yet and he seems like the total embodiment of narcissism.” 
“Well, you haven’t met him yet either. So how can you say that? I’ll watch his acting this weekend.” 
“What kind of first date is that? I mean it would make sense if you were both in the audience…” 
“Trust me, it’ll be fantastic. I think I found my soulmate, someone who’s cultured.” 
Before we left the pizza parlor, you asked me if I wanted anything else, perhaps another can of soda. I politely declined on account of that Kabir probably didn’t drink soda, only tea. 

Saturday night seemed surreal. He looked so beautiful under the spotlight as he delivered his soliloquies. Best of all was his gorgeous wavy, black hair cascading down to his shoulders like the waves of a mesmerizing midnight sea. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. 
After the show, he told me he knew a good place where we could go to eat. I was delighted when he took me to a little cafe with antique maps, globes and suits of armor lining the walls. There were bookshelves with the most beloved volumes exquisitely bound with handcrafted covers. 
“I like to gather here for literary society meetings with my friends. We discuss the works of a lot of great fantasy writers like Tolkien and C.S Lewis here.” He explained. 
By this point, I was done being surprised by the things Kabir said. I got used to how cultured he was. I simply smiled and asked “care for a cup of tea?” 
“Oh, tea is wonderful. You have good taste, Aspen. But might I suggest something else?” 
“Sure.” 
“They have a very special, luxurious hot chocolate elixir here. It’s bitter dark chocolate with added chili peppers, an Aztec recipe. You’ll never taste a more glorious concoction.” He said with a mischievous twinkle in his obsidian eyes. 
“Spicy hot chocolate? Sounds great. Sign me up.” I agreed. 
I soon learned that Kabir hated small talk. He didn’t even want to discuss much about the production of the play. The more detached the topic was from our personal lives, the better he liked talking about it. As a result, he was inclined to talk about philosophy or anything he thought was profound. As he went on and on about epistemological thought experiments and how Rene Descartes arrived at his famous cogito ergo sum, I realized what the problem with Kabir was. The side effect of his being so cultured was that he was smart. Too smart. I have never felt so intellectually inferior to someone in my life before. 
You, my dear friend, warned me that maybe Kabir wasn’t all that smart. Maybe he was just putting on a facade to impress me. But how can that be when the man knew how to speak twenty languages and had won international piano competitions? 
He asked me where I wanted to meet up for our next date. I was going to say the movies or some random restaurant, but of course I didn’t want to seem uncultured, so I let him pick. 
“Lets go to the art gallery!” He said. And it was decided. 
Do you remember what happened after that, Minerva? That was the night I went home and read until 3 AM. You woke up and asked me what I was doing, and I said I was studying. 
“For a test? I didn’t know you were taking a summer course, Aspen.” You said. 
“No, not for a test. It’s just that Kabir is really intelligent and I find that intimidating. I need to read up on art history before we go to the gallery together…” 
“You mean you’re studying for a date?” you asked. It really made you chuckle. I realize how ridiculous it seemed now. I should’ve just slept. 
Kabir showed up fashionably late to the art gallery. “Sorry about that. I was at a horse show. Bucephalus and I got first place.” 
“Congratulations.” I said. But secretly I had been wondering what kind of name for a horse that was. When I got home and looked it up later, I realized it had been the name of Alexander the Great’s favourite horse. 
The next few dates went just like that. I asked him where he wanted to go, and he whisked me off to Medieval Fairs, museums, classical music concerts and the fanciest, most expensive restaurants you’d have ever seen where he insisted on paying the full bill. Chivalry isn’t dead. I’d have a love letter, poem or bouquet of red roses delivered to me after every outing. 
Once when we were at a Medieval Fair, eating dinner in the tavern after watching a joust and dressed as a lord and lady, I asked him a bit about himself. 
“Out of curiosity, what’s your background anyway, Kabir?” 
It was as if the question made him uncomfortable. I don’t know why it did. 
“One eighth British.” He finally answered. 
I raised an eyebrow at that. “And seven eights?” 
“Indian.” 
“I thought so.” I said. 
Then his face brightened up when he added “I’m a descendant of Indian royalty, you know.” 
I always thought of how much he looked like a prince, but now I found out that he really was one. If I married him, would that make me a princess? Wasn’t that every girl’s dream? 
At first I was delighted, but when I returned home that night and tried to go to sleep, an unpleasant thought occurred to me. 
I didn’t know much about history, certainly not as much as Kabir did although I did love the subject. But why would the British let the native royal family of a country they invaded live? Wasn’t that asking for rebellions and trouble? The only way they’d let the monarch’s family live was if the royalty all became spineless traitors, if they were stupid enough to let the British take their strings like puppet masters. 
And worse, what if they knew that the British had evil intentions but still chose to side with them and sell out their own people in treachery? One could forgive them for self-preservation, but still that would be pretty rotten wouldn’t it? 
I wondered if Kabir’s ancestors were like that. Suddenly, the fact that he was royalty didn’t seem so special at all. In fact, I was a firm believer in staying away from rich and powerful men. Wealth could corrupt their morality, after all. But I decided not everyone had to be like their ancestors. I finally drifted off to sleep. 
Do you remember this morning, Minerva? I told you I’d be heading out to hang out with him again. 
“Not looking like that, you won’t.” You told me. You undid my high ponytail and braided it. Then you put it into a bun. You let me borrow this beautiful evening dress I’m still wearing, and you did my make up too. 
You said “look at your eyes! They’re wild and green like a cat’s. You don’t need much make up with eyes like that, but a little bit will transform you into a duchess.” 
Kabir had smiled when he saw me, but he didn’t even compliment my appearance. He went straight to discussing books today. 
“Oh I was reading too, about colonialism. It really was terrible what the British did in India. Deliberately caused famines? Destroying food crops and replacing them with opium plantations? Horrible stuff.” 
This caused Kabir to pause. He looked up from his plate. He was rarely this quiet. Normally he would talk way too much. 
“But look on the bright side. They built railways to connect the whole country. They improved the infrastructure.” 
I was shocked. Was he really telling me that I should get over the death of millions just because of railways? 
“I’m proud of being one eighth British.” 
I smiled and let him continue talking about what he wanted. But I had made my decision. 
Suddenly all his conversation topics started sounding shallow. Did he even know what he was talking about? He was just some spoiled rich brat. He’d go on and on about Athenian democracy, Romantic era literature, and the Bible. I started to see how Euro centric his topics were. 
If he wanted to discuss culture, why not mention Subsaharan Africa, the indigenous people of Australia, the Iroquois confederacy, or his own ancestors? 
Maybe we should be talking more about things that really mattered. How about our personal lives, the futures we wanted and the dreams we had? How about astronomy, stem cells, the search for the cure for cancer, and recent discoveries in neuroscience? 
You see, Minerva, I didn’t need that man in my life. I told him I didn’t think it was going to work out, then paid my half of the bill and left. I didn’t want him to see me fume with rage. 

“Oh my gosh” Minerva said, now that I was done the tale. “You did the right thing. There are plenty of fish in the sea who don’t justify colonialism.” 
“I should’ve listened to you.” I said. But like a good friend, Minerva didn’t say “I told you so”. All she did was give me a hug. 
My phone vibrated and I saw I had a new notification. It was a text from Kabir, and with all the coldness of an Englishman he wrote “okay. I’ll just move on to the next lady who messaged me.” 
I checked the dating app and saw that no singles had messaged me other than him. I was all alone now, and I felt free. I didn’t need someone cultured like I thought I did. I needed someone who would love me for who I was and who had a benevolent and generous nature.



Thanks for reading!