Chapter 5: The Great Debate
CopyrightÂ© 2014 by Lazlo Zalezac
August 5, 1993
The day had been busy. First there had been driving lessons with the carts for the whole family. Jomo, it turned out, was the most timid. He didn’t feel comfortable racing along and tried to keep the cart moving at a nice safe speed while watching everything around him. His wife knew two speeds, fast and stopped. She didn’t like going backwards, so she just drove it around in a circle until she was headed the right direction. His son knew one speed, fast, and he drove it with a maniacal grin on his face. His daughter had just driven it around the area stopping and starting at random, laughing with joy the entire time.
After the lessons had come to an end, he had been taken to see other places in the area. Min Thu took him to see offices where people would be working, some of the stores where he could purchase goods, and a short tour of where the Jade Force people lived and worked. He learned that the whole area was a fortified city with a great wall and watch towers.
There was little doubt in his mind that the place was in the middle of a military base. There were large well-guarded gates to control entrance into the facility. There was a large airfield with military planes and helicopters. There was another area with jeeps, trucks, and tanks. He had seen Jade Warriors outside practicing their warrior skills.
The practice area looked like a large grass field. He was shocked by the wastage of water it represented until Min Thu had informed him that it was actually artificial grass. It looked like grass, felt a lot like grass, but it wasn’t real grass. It required no water to keep it green.
All of the places used by Jade Warriors were far from where the Sumar refugees would be rebuilding their communities. He wondered about that. He didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. They wouldn’t be there to protect them like they were at the camp.
Upon hearing his concerns, Min Thu had assured him that every Jade Warrior would have to be dead before they would allow anyone to approach those communities with the intent to harm them. She said that they had proved that to the Vam people very early in the establishment of the Jade Academy, much to the displeasure of the Inra government. Strangers were not allowed into the fortified area.
After picking up a Shield as an escort, she took him by the administrative offices outside the fortified area. It was still land owned by the Jade Force, but it was outside the fence. There was a building complex where outsiders could meet with Jade Force and where they accepted delivery of supplies. One job available to Sumar refugees was to work in a warehouse where they would accept delivery of those goods and then transport the goods inside the fortification through a highly guarded series of gates. It was highly guarded by Shields, not to oversee them, but to keep anyone else out.
It was a fascinating area in terms of what kinds of things happened out there, but Jomo wasn’t all that interested in it. He was a farmer and intended to remain one. He liked watching plants grow. He liked creating sustenance for others. He felt a certain degree of pride each time he sat down for a meal knowing that it was by his hand and labor that the food appeared on the table.
That hadn’t prevented Min Thu from showing him other jobs for which he was qualified. Despite his lack of interest, he was surprised by the other possibilities presented to him. He could work inside the receiving place to unload or load trucks, although he was assured that job was beneath his abilities. More likely, if he went to work there then he would end up in inventory management where his skills with reading and math would be utilized.
She took him by an adult school, which was a building designed for teaching adults after work hours, rather than children. They had programs where he could learn anything he wanted, even advanced courses on farming with topics like soil analysis, disease control, and field management. That had gotten his interest, particularly after having learned how much the Jade Warriors knew about farming.
There were other areas of training he could take. He could be trained to be a plumber, electrician, or carpenter. He didn’t have to go to work in those areas. He could take the courses and use what he learned around his house. That suggestion surprised him.
He could learn office skills, and even how to use a computer. The computer had been a strange thing. It was basically a box with a screen and a tangle of wires. Min Thu had showed him a few things she could do with it. He had watched completely uninterested until she mentioned that his son would be starting to learn to use one in the next year of school. Learning to use it would allow Rudo to earn the skills necessary to become a decision maker when it came time to look for employment.
His heart sank when he was told that Hearth Tej kept his data on a computer. That meant he would probably have to establish an adequate skill level on the computer, if he wanted to work with Hearth Tej. He looked harder at the box, but it was still a mystery to him. Well, he wouldn’t mind working in the field if it proved too much for him.
He had visited the location where he would live if he made the move to here. There was nothing to see except for some markers on the ground where individual houses would be built. He was relieved to see that it was laid out a lot like his old village. A number of houses haphazardly surrounding a central open area where the community could meet for discussions and holidays.
He was surprised to learn that the other visiting heads of households had put the markers where they wanted their houses to be if they were to move there. He walked around the area looking for a place for his house. He found one that he thought would be perfect and placed a marker there, unaware that some of the others refugees had picked that spot out for him.
He asked Min Thu about Jade Force, curious where they would have an office. He had been shocked when informed that they wouldn’t have an office there. She gently reminded him that they didn’t have Jade Force around his old home. This was to be their new home and they were to run it like a community. The decisions would be made in the same way that community decisions had always been made. Jade Warriors would only come to the community if invited or if they needed help of some sort. They would come as guests, not overseers.
The life Min Thu described sounded too good to be true. He trusted the Jade Force. They had delivered everything they had promised. It was true that they seldom promised much of anything, but that only meant they were being honest. Still, this was too good to be true.
It was late that evening when Jomo, with an arm around Kiah’s shoulder, stood at the foot of the stairs watching the kids the sleeping on the floor of the main room of the townhouse. Kiah nestled up next to him.
He whispered, “Let’s go somewhere that we can talk.”
“I’d prefer upstairs,” he whispered back.
“I’d rather not.”
Jomo understood the nature of her hesitation. He didn’t particularly enjoy going up and down the stairs either. Still, he knew there was at least one more trip on the stairs before going to bed.
“We’re going to have to go up there sooner or later for the toilet.”
“Okay. We’ll go upstairs,” she said dreading the climb down.
They slowly made their way upstairs, still nervous by the height of it. The kids weren’t that worried about the stairs, but both of them cringed whenever anyone went up or down the stairs. It just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
Once at the top of the stairs, Jomo guided her into one of the smaller bedrooms. He shut the door behind him which was unusual enough to get Kiah’s attention. Now they could talk without waking the kids.
Gesturing down at the floor, he said, “Let’s sit here. We can talk without waking the kids.”
Rather than sitting or laying on the beds, they sat, side-by-side, on the floor with their backs resting against the side of the bed. It was a little tight in terms of stretching out their legs, but not that uncomfortable.
After a long moment of silence, Jomo said, “Rudo is going to be ten soon.”
“In our old home, I would be getting a small plot of land ready for him to start farming on his own,” Jomo said.
For the past few years, Jomo had his son work in the garden with him, teaching him the basic skills about how to run a successful farm. They would work side-by-side with Jomo explaining what they were doing, and why it was necessary. Rudo knew what to do, but only under the watchful eye of his father.
When Rudo turned ten, Jomo would give him a small plot of land to farm. This was the next step in preparing Rudo for becoming a man. It would be a small garden, but he would be entirely responsible for it. He would probably grow a few vegetables for use by the family rather than yams for market. This would come at a time when Rudo would start growing and eating more. His increased appetite would be offset by the additional food he produced.
Each year, Rudo would be expected to increase the size of his garden, and grow more food. He would add more varieties of plants to the garden. By the time he was ready to become a man at the age of thirteen, his garden would be large enough to feed him for a full year. That was how a boy grew into a man.
It would be different if Jomo was a craftsman. He’d help his son earn his own tools and learn the business as an apprentice. His son would still have to earn enough to cover the costs of his increased appetite. That was another pathway for a boy to become a man.
After reaching the age of thirteen, time would start to pass very quickly for Rudo. There would be a lot for him to do. He would continue to expand his garden with the intention of selling some of his crops. He’d have to save the money earned to cover the expenses of setting up a house. Of course, he would also be preparing to build a house by clearing a spot for it and making bricks. Then he would have to build the house. He wouldn’t be able to marry until he had a good farm with a house for his bride. No man would allow his daughter to marry someone who couldn’t support her.
This was an important time for father and son. Men were judged on how well they laid out a pathway for their son to become a man. If he did all of the right things at the right time, the other men of the village would respect him. If he didn’t, the other men would chide him to perform his responsibilities. Of course, his son would be judged on how well he followed the pathway set out by his father. A son who argued with his father would be viewed as uncooperative and headstrong. A son who didn’t work hard would be viewed as lazy.
If the father did his job well and the son turned out good, then the father would be recognized as having all of the qualities of a leader. He would become an elder in the village. This was important because he would have a voice in making decisions that could affect the whole village.
“I know you would do everything a good father should do for his son.”
“I don’t know if I can do that at the camp,” Jomo said quietly.
He was afraid that Jade Force would just hand over a plot of land to Rudo while giving him the tools and seeds he needed. They would do that without the gradual bestowal of responsibility that was his duty as father to make happen. Jade Force would oversee and provide the suggestions that he as father should provide. There wouldn’t be the long effort to build a house when Jade Force would just assign him a tent.
“Will we stay at the camp?” she asked turning her body so that she could look him in the eye.
That was the million dollar question.
He didn’t have an answer for her. Unlike a lot of men in the refugee camp who felt that the man’s word was law and the wife had to obey, he wanted his wife to agree fully with any move. Fleeing their first home had been a decision they had both agreed upon. He couldn’t imagine how life would be if she had blamed him for dragging her through the hell they had experienced upon leaving the old house.
They had a good life at the refugee camp now. He had the farm, she had the restaurant, and the kids were going to school. He had learned to read and write and do math. That had been an accomplishment that he had never imagined being possible. They had food enough to eat. They had food enough to gain weight and that was even more pleasing after having nearly died of starvation.
“I don’t know. Do you want to stay at the camp?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
Jomo understood. She wasn’t going to say anything until she had an idea of which way he was thinking of going. Then, as a dutiful wife, she would find the best arguments she could to support him even if it wasn’t what she wanted. It was a tactic that worked more often than not, but when it was something as important as fleeing the old home or making this move, Jomo would badger her until he got to her true feelings.
He said, “Our old ways are gone. We don’t live in our old village, anymore. We have to accept that.”
“It is hard to accept,” his wife said.
“You have a business. No wives had businesses in the old village. Only widows worked outside the home. You were expected to be a good wife. Your job was to raise children, take care of the house, and cook.”
“I am ashamed to say that I enjoy running my business,” his wife said.
Truthfully, she was proud of her business. She was making as much money as many of the men in the camp. She enjoyed the responsibility that came with it. She appreciated all of the help that Jomo and the children gave her.
“I am proud you run a business,” Jomo said giving her a reassuring hug.
“I’m happy that it pleases you,” Kiah said delighted.
In a more serious tone of voice, Jomo said, “That’s just one example of how things have changed.”
“Rudo and Zahra have gone to school. That changes everything.
“Rudo will not want to be a simple farmer. Even if he does want to be one, it won’t be the kind of farmer that I was. I can’t lay out a pathway to manhood for him like in the old days.
“Zahra won’t want to be a dutiful submissive wife. She’ll be too smart to do whatever a husband tells her.”
“She’s a good girl,” Kiah said defending her daughter.
“How would you react if I told you to shut down the restaurant because a good wife doesn’t work?”
“You wouldn’t do that, would you?”
“No, but that’s not the point. Other husbands might. How would Zahra feel if her husband did things like that?,” Jomo said.
Kiah was silent for a moment. “You’re right. Zahra would not be happy being treated like that. She will have to be very careful in choosing a husband.”
“Yes. She’s going to want to work. She has seen you working. She has watched the female Jade Warriors,” Jomo said.
“I think you are right.”
“It doesn’t matter if we stay at camp or move here. Our children will be facing a future that is very different than what they had.”