Chapter 2: The Visit
CopyrightÂ© 2014 by Lazlo Zalezac
August 2, 1993
Jomo Sy carried a duffel bag with his family’s clothes as he walked down the ramp at the back of the plane, and into the sweltering heat of the Dead Lands. His family followed him down the ramp. It was hard to believe that just sitting in place was so tiring. He felt stiff and sore after the long flight. His wife was surly, and the children were grumpy. All he really wanted, was to take a nap.
He looked around at his surroundings. It was desert, and just as desolate as the area in which the refugee camp was located. That didn’t phase him. He was used to the roughness, heat, and lack of vegetation.
Much to his surprise, Hearth Maria was waiting at the end of the ramp from the plane to greet everyone coming off of it.
“Hello, Jomo Sy. It’s good to see you again.”
“Hello, Hearth Maria. I didn’t know you would be here,” he said pleased to see her again.
He remembered those first few days after Jade Force arrived at the camp. He’d been scared of her, and the authority she represented. Over the short time she had served at the camp, he’d come to like her, and trust her. She had been forthright and honest, something that had been absent in everyone before Jade Force had come to the camp. Jade Force had done everything that she had promised those first few days.
“Hello, Kiah Sy. I hear you’ve started a restaurant that is doing quite well,” Hearth Maria said.
“Hello, Hearth Maria. It’s nice to see you again.”
Hearth Maria said, “Welcome to Misera, Rudo and Zahra.”
Although the children had been young, they remembered her very well. Those first few days after the arrival of Jade Force had been traumatic. They had been afraid of the somber grim warriors with weapons. She had been the leader, and that made her an even more frightening figure. Now they weren’t afraid of the warriors, having always been treated with respect by them. In their minds, their memories of her had transitioned from a symbol of fear, to one of promise.
“Thank you, Hearth Maria,” they said echoing each other.
“I hear that you are both doing well in school. That’s great.”
“Thank you,” they said in unison.
“I would like to introduce Min Thu. She’s going to be your hostess over the next few days,” Hearth Maria said.
Jomo hadn’t noticed the woman standing a little behind Hearth Maria, until she had been presented to him. She wasn’t the only one waiting behind Hearth Maria, there was quite a crowd of young men and women. He was very surprised to see that none of them were wearing armor. The woman who had stepped forward upon being named, was of Vam origin with the characteristic features of women from there. He had never seen anyone who looked like her. She bowed a little in his direction.
He said, “I’m Jomo Sy. This is my wife, Kiah; my son, Rudo; and my daughter, Zahra.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” Min Thu said in a heavily accented Itanese.
“She’s going to show you around the place,” Hearth Maria said.
“You’re not going to be around?” Jomo asked.
“I’ll be around, but there are two hundred of you visiting. I wouldn’t be able to give you the personal attention you deserve. Min Thu is your hostess, and will be available to you at all times.”
“That’s very nice of her,” he said.
Min Thu said, “Let me take you to the guest house, where you’ll be staying for the next few days.”
“Does it mean another plane trip?” he asked with a smile.
“No. It’s just a short ride in a cart.”
She led them to a small electric cart. She told Jomo that he could put his duffel bag in the back of the cart where it would be out of the way. She made sure it was secure. She gestured for them to take seats with Kiah in the front seat next to her. Jomo sat in the middle of the second row of seats with the kids squeezed in on each side of him.
While driving off, she said, “I know what you’re going through. I was refugee from Vam, back when I was about the age of Zahra. My family, with the exception of my father, escaped from Vam in a small fishing boat. We were picked up by the Filop Navy. They took us to shore where we spent about three months in a refugee camp. It was horrible.
“Then the son of General Nguyen came to the camp and got us released to his care. We stayed in another camp for a while. It was a whole lot better. We were fed until we were full, and given new clothes for the first time since we had left home.
“I liked it there, and wanted to stay, but I was just a kid. My mom ended up moving us to the Jade Academy where she would have a job working in the kitchen, cooking food for the cadets.
“The Jade Academy is where all of the Jade Warriors go to school to learn how to be warriors. They’re called cadets until they graduate to become Jade Warriors.
“We lived on the grounds of Jade Academy, but our place was separate from where the cadets live. I went to school there, but it was a different school than the cadets go to. Ours was pretty tough, we had to learn a lot of things. Still, it was a lot easier than what the cadets faced.
“Now, I work at the Jade Academy. It’s a good life.”
She turned onto a street lined with townhouses. They were just like the picture of the one Hearth Maria had shown to Jomo. He could see that the buildings were a lot larger than he had imagined. There were a lot of them, too.
Kiah said, “Were you happy growing up there?”
“Very,” Min Thu answered. “A little later, I’ll give each of you driving lessons. I think you’ll enjoy driving the carts around.”
“Even the kids?” Jomo asked.
“You bet. They can run errands for you,” she answered.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Kiah asked going into full mother mode.
Min Thu lifted her feet up and let go of the wheel. The electric cart came to a quick stop.
She said, “It doesn’t go very fast, just a little faster than a person walking. If you lose control of it, all you have to do is lift your feet. It stops all by itself. Even if you aren’t holding the steering wheel it goes pretty straight.”
“We used to race these around the block where I lived when I was about Rudo’s age. We would get into trouble, but no one ever got hurt.”
“That’s good to know,” Kiah said. She turned to look in the back and said, “Don’t race the cart. You’ll get into trouble.”
Min Thu pulled into the driveway of one of the houses. She parked the cart and double checked the number on the house. She said, “Do you see the number over the door?”
“Yes. The number is 14.”
“That’s right. All of the townhouses have their own number. This is townhouse number 14 and it is the one in which you’ll be staying during your visit here. It’s just like the townhouse you’ll live in if you decide to move here.”
“It’s so big,” Kiah said feeling a little overwhelmed by the place.
“We thought it would be nice for you to experience what it would be like to live here,” Min Thu said.
“It doesn’t look like a house,” Rudo said flatly.
He remembered the house they had lived in before the war. It was a nice small comfortable place. This looked forbidding.
“That’s because it is really a number of houses all built next to each other,” Min Thu said.
“I remember our first house. It was round. The tent is square,” Rudo said.
“This is a different kind of house,” Min Thu said. “Let’s go inside, and see what it’s like.”
“I guess we can do that,” Jomo said without much enthusiasm.
“You can bring your stuff with you. You’ll be staying here, tonight.”
“Okay,” Jomo said.
He and the kids got out of the back row of seats, and he grabbed the duffel bag. The kids stuck close to their mother. They were awestruck when they finally entered the townhouse. The first room contained a sofa, love seat, chair, coffee table, and an entertainment center. These were all pieces of furniture that they’d never experienced before.
Wide-eyed, Zahra said, “This is bigger than our whole tent.”
“It is,” Jomo agreed walking around the room.
He wished the furniture wasn’t there so that he could get an appreciation for its real size. The large furniture took up a lot space. There really wasn’t much room left for the family to sleep in.
From the front room, they went into the kitchen. It was another big room, but a table and chairs took up half of it. Min Thu took a moment to explain some of the features of the kitchen to Kiah. She did go through the cabinets to show where the plates, cups, pots, and pans were stored. Of course, the most impressive feature to the young wife was the sink with running water. She turned the water off and on several times. She was even impressed that one of the knobs produced hot water.
The tour took the group upstairs to see all of the other rooms, including the three bedrooms and room with the toilet. The most time was spent visiting the toilet facilities. The tub/shower combination was different enough from the plain showers at the camp. They required a bit of explanation. After looking over the room, they each took a turn to use the toilets.
The bedrooms had large beds and dressers that took up most of the space in the room. They stood around the bed in one room looking at it. Min Thu explained that it was for sleeping on. Kiah observed that with all four of the sleeping on the biggest bed that it would be easy to fall off of it. Min Thu explained that Jomo and Kiah could share one bed, and the kids would each have their own bed.
They returned downstairs. It was the first time in their lives that they had faced a stairway. Going up hadn’t been too bad, but they didn’t like going down. They moved like old folks, carefully looking before putting a foot down. They were afraid of falling so they gripped the handrails as if their lives depended on it.
Upon reaching the garage, Min Thu said, “This is where you’ll keep your carts.”
“Carts?” Jomo asked.
“You might end up with two of them. One for you and one for the rest of your family.”
“I don’t know about that. We’re used to walking.”
“Your job is pretty far from the townhouse. You’ll need a cart to get to it. Kiah might want to do some shopping while you’re at work. She could use a cart to help carry the groceries home.”
“Speaking of food ... is there any?” Kiah asked.
Turning to Kiah, Min Thu said, “There are some eggs, cheese, milk, and other things in the refrigerator. There’s also a loaf of bread in a bread box on the counter.”
“That’s for dinner?”
“That’s for breakfast, tomorrow. I’ll take you shopping after you eat breakfast so that you can pick out what you would prepare for your family. I think you’ll discover a lot of new foods that you’ve never seen before.”
“What about tonight’s dinner?”
“Don’t worry about dinner. We figured that all of you would tired from your trip, and the last thing you would want to do is cook a meal right after getting here. We thought it would be fun if we held a big dinner, in the area behind the townhouse, with all of the hosts and hostesses cooking some of the traditional Vam dishes for you to try.
“Tomorrow, you and the others could cook some traditional Sumar dishes for us. It’ll give everyone a chance to try some new foods.”
“That would be nice,” Kiah said appreciating not having to cook right now.
She wasn’t sure that she wanted to try Vam dishes. Although their diet had changed from what it had been in Sumar, it hadn’t changed that much.
Min Thu said, “I know you’re pretty tired. Why don’t I leave for a bit, and let you take a nap? I’ll be back in about two hours.”
“We are tired,” Kiah said looking over at her two kids.
“That would be wonderful,” Jomo said.
A half an hour later, Min Thu along with the other hosts and hostess met with Hearth Maria to provide an update on the visitors and their reactions to the townhouses.
Hearth Maria asked, “How did Jomo Sy and his family react to the house?”
“It was kind of odd,” Min Thu said. “They didn’t seem to get excited about anything. They just walked from room to room looking at their surroundings. They reacted to everything I showed them in a very reserved manner.”
“They didn’t react to anything with excitement?” Hearth Maria asked.
“The wife liked the kitchen sink and the refrigerator, but was indifferent when it came to the stove and oven. The toilet was about as much excitement as I saw, but mostly that was because everyone needed to use it.”
Another hostess said, “My family had that same kind of reaction. It was just kind of blah.”
Hearth Maria said, “Blah? Those townhouses would sell for a hundred thousand dollars in Amra. I can’t believe they weren’t impressed.”
“My family wasn’t impressed.”
“When I left, my family was just sitting stiffly on the sofa. You know ... feet flat on the floor, hands on knees, backs straight, and looking straight ahead. They weren’t relaxed at all.”
Hearth Maria asked, “Did any of the kids ask about which bedroom would be theirs?”
The silence was deafening.
“This is not good,” Hearth Maria said.
“I’m sorry. I tried to sell them on the house, but they just didn’t like it.”
“We need them here,” Hearth Maria said. “We went all out on these townhouses.”
“Maybe it’ll take a day or two for them to get used to it,” Min Thu said doubtfully.
“No. Jomo Sy is the kind of guy who assesses things pretty quickly. If he’s not happy with it, then there’s something wrong with it. Let me think about this,” Hearth Maria said.
“My family didn’t say anything negative. They just didn’t say anything,” one of the hosts said.
“I know my group didn’t like it, but they were too embarrassed or too polite to say so.”
“I’ll visit them later.”
“We’ve got to start cooking dinner. We’ve promised them a Vam meal tonight. Tomorrow night, we thought we’d work with the women to prepare a conventional Sumar meal,” Min Thu said.
“Don’t go too spicy.”
One of the hostesses said, “I’m cooking my dish with the wife in the kitchen. She’s completely lost with the stove and oven. I figure it will be a good chance to teach her how to use them.”
“That’s a good idea. Maybe everyone ought to do that,” Hearth Maria said.
There was a general noise of agreement.
The hosts and hostesses slowly filtered out of the room, leaving Hearth Maria alone with her thoughts. She decided that she needed to see how the refugees were adapting to the new homes for herself. There had to be some simple explanation for what the hosts and hostesses were seeing.
Hostess Min Thu, carrying a small bag of groceries, and Hearth Maria rang the doorbell. They waited for someone to answer the front door. After fifteen seconds, Min Thu pressed the button again. They waited and still no one came to the door.
“Maybe they’re still asleep.”
“Maybe,” Hearth Maria said.
Min Thu pressed the button again. “Maybe the bell is broken.”
“I can hear it ringing. Try knocking.”
Min Thu knocked on the front door. This seemed to provoke a response with noises coming from inside the house. The door opened.
Looking worried, Jomo said, “I think we broke something. There’s a weird noise in the house.”