The Small Village of Odan Urr
When George turned on his telly that morning, he hadn't expected to see a news report. He'd rather been looking forward to the report on the weather, followed by an update on football, before he would have inevitably had to rush out the door and catch the underground where he'd put the finishing touches on the letter to his old college friend, Cornelius. Instead, he dropped his teacup as he realized he was watching a news camera surveying the smoking wreckage of a car bomb.
"Thirteen people's lives were claimed in this incident, with another twenty onlookers hospitalized for injuries related to it. Nobody is sure why this tragedy took place – only that the culprit is named Ark-Nai-Hass, from a district in the South known as Odan Urr. Details will be reported as follows." The pretty, blonde-haired girl reported, gesturing to the footage in the background behind her with unflappable calm.
George blinked in shock, unable to summon the will to run for the door, even as the clock on the tower outside his flat window chimed. Even if he left now, he'd still be late, anyway. This was more important.
The map on the news report showed where Odan Urr was located – it wasn't a district, but more of a city, even if it was the only city in the area shown on the map. It couldn't have been any larger than a small village. And it had been responsible for the man that had just killed thirteen people.
George angrily threw the remote down and paced around his flat.
"These people in Odan Urr are barbarians. They should all be wiped out."
The next day, everything was much more calm as George resumed his schedule. He didn't watch the telly as he drank his tea, then ran to the end of the hall before the lift's doors shut, completely. Several others were crammed in the lift with him, all of them silent and somber as he had been, yesterday. None of them talked about what they'd seen on the news, but he knew they were all thinking it.
He finished his letter to Cornelius over his lunch. Cornelius also lived in the South in a small village that didn't have regular postal service, and the only electricity was provided for their local hospital and school. George asked Cornelius questions about the children, and how well his brother's family was doing, and if Cornelius' daughter would go to school that year.
'Have you gotten any wind of the news?' George wrote, his other hand dunking a chip in ketchup, 'I suppose my letter is the first you'll hear of it, but some savage blew up a car. People died, and more were injured. They haven't even caught him, yet. All we know is that he comes from a small village called Odan Urr. All the experts are talking about what kinds of religious practices and horrible laws they must have there if this is the kind of man they breed.'
George mailed the letter the next day, then waited for a reply.
The news continued to run specials and reports about the incident in the weeks to come. One show, which normally covered the celebrity scandals in America, spent an hour analyzing the culture of the other countries surrounding Odan Urr. One of them still required their girls to be married off at ages as young as five. Another country was ruled by a dictator whom had imposed a national religion on the country. Yet another had had three years of famines after famines.
"As you can see, in this part of the world, it's not uncommon for values to be extreme and based off of totalitarian policies. Our research tells us that it's not uncommon for people to report their neighbors to patrols for such minor offenses as not wearing enough clothing to cover their bodies or for walking their dogs. Truly, it is remarkable how heinous these cultures can be." The reporter explained, showing another indistinct map with Odan Urr as its only featured city.
"Neighboring countries have also been reported to still have such practices as mutilating young girls as a rite of passage into adulthood. One can only imagine what the impact this must have on the nation's young boys and their perception of women." Another reporter agreed.
George found it all disgusting. How could any country be allowed to be so backwards? Why hadn't the other civilized nations of the world gone and taken the dictators out of control? How could they be allowed to continue to do these things to their own citizens?
"Plainly, the people in the small village of Odan Urr are worth no respect."
The next day, George received a reply from Cornelius. It was just a single sheet of paper.
'I was sorry to read those things you said about the bombing in your country. Even more sorry, though, that you felt the way you did about the homeland of the perpetrator. You see, my friend, I live in that small village of Odan Urr.'
A week after reading the letter from Cornelius, George saw yet another interview on the telly. This one was a panel of three – a reporter, with his hair slicked and tie fastened; a sociologist, older and graying and ironed like the Prime Minister; and a young woman brown in face like a native to India, whose purpose on the panel, George could not guess.
He paid little attention to the interview at first – still distressed over his last letter from Cornelius, he'd returned to all the others he'd received from his friend, poring over them with unmatched scrutiny. All of his letters had been sent to a post office box in a larger city – he'd never even considered which town or village his friend had lived in. In the earlier letters, Cornelius had explained that not many people in his village had electricity or even running water, so not many of them were familiar with the technology George was used to. That had been all – no further mention of it, beyond when an exciting event for the community was having a water tank built, or when a neighbor's child would need to be driven to the next village for medical treatment.
There was so little in the letters that seemed inherently wrong. Had Cornelius never mentioned any of it because it seemed so commonplace? Or was he perhaps forbidden because of government censorship? Or were these all outright lies? George could not bring himself to believe that his friend was a liar – that could not be it. Surely, too, if the government of Odan Urr's country censored their people, that would have been on the news, too. That must not have been the reason, either. And as for the third... well, all George read about the on-goings of Cornelius' family and friends seemed nothing but exemplary.
One letter accounted of a neighbor dying of tuberculosis and the community all took turns in caring for the orphaned children – the mothers all took turns feeding and housing them, and the children would play with the younger ones and share books and clothes with the older ones when they went to school.
Another, Cornelius told of how he and the other men in the village had dug a canal for the livestock's waste, to prevent water contamination from the community tank. He'd even explained in great detail how all of them passed around water skins and their wives had cooked their meals for them as a team.
Was it possible that there were two... tribes or something else of that nature in this village? Were only a few of the citizens good and only most of them were like the reports on the telly?
"And now, we turn to Naima Sarah Kusiima, noted sociologist from University of L– on the impact the incident has had on any natives from the south living in London, today." The moderator on the report said. George looked up from his letter hunting to watch.
"Well, many occupants were expecting to face increased levels of hostility from their neighbors, and several families have been reported by the Secretary of the Interior to have sold their homes and moved for the response they've received from their communities, but I do have some good news – there have been reports of a few families whose neighborhoods continued to treat them with acceptance, and one anecdote from a student attending school from abroad whose classmates invited him to a discussion panel on religious values from his home country. I even have a friend from that small village of Odan Urr who reported a white friend offering to walk her to and from work because she was worried others in the neighborhood might be overly hostile. It's shown to bring out the best in some of us, and the worst in others."
George clicked off the telly. First, Cornelius and his family, now reports of strangers living in London. Did this mean that maybe there were more good people living in this village than George had thought?
Something just didn't seem right about it all. And George knew how to find out.
Two weeks later, he found himself disembarking from a plane in an international airport – the only one within hundreds of miles to any village or city in the south. From here, he would have to take buses to the varying cities within reach. From there, he would hike.
George's reply letter to Cornelius had been short, consisting of four sentences. All he had said was he planned to visit Cornelius and his family in their home village, and it was to apologize for his rudeness and see what the small village of Odan Urr was really like.
The bus ride from the airport was stifling. The bus was packed with more people than any vehicle could have ever hoped to be in London, and made more than a few stops in the middle of nowhere to let someone off in order for them to start hiking. George had printed out maps ahead of time – he would get off in the next city, then start walking to the east. Or he could rent a truck, but that seemed like a waste when he didn't know how long he would be there.
"Georgie!" George hadn't expected to see Cornelius standing in the road, waving at him from beside a tan, sandblown pickup. George had to drag his knapsack behind him in his rush to greet his friend.
"Cornelius!" He agreed, cheerfully exchanging slaps on the back. Cornelius had been lanky in his college days, but he was definitely thinner, now. His thick hair had thinned and the line, receded. His cheeks were hollow and gaunt, but still gave the same toothy smile as they had in the college days.
"I didn't expect a greeting party." George commented, mildly, as he swung his bag onto the passenger's side of the truck. Cornelius simply shrugged.
"I saw no reason to make the trip difficult for you." The engine churned a few times, vibrating the car like a cough does the mouth, before Cornelius got it to start, properly, "Besides, you've never been to visit me – you can get lost if you've never been out this way, before."
George didn't argue with the logic. The drive was every bit as hot, but not as uncomfortable as the bus, especially considering when George started talking about the news.
"Has anyone else in the village heard about it?" He asked, still unsure if the full details of the news had made it out to his friend's home. Cornelius' disposition turned serious with the same startling rapidity it had when they'd been schoolmates.
"Everyone knows." Was his answer, "After we received your letter telling us about the bomb, everyone felt they should have seen it coming – we knew his family, you see. His father and my father were especially close. Then, they sent him across to school in America and... well, he must have fallen in with the wrong crowd. Came back preaching some nonsense about the Judgement Day coming, how we needed to take back what was ours from the usurpers... His parents threw him out in the first night of it, or he left willingly, swearing he'd cut off all ties. If what you wrote was true, it seems he even changed his name for it."
George shifted uncomfortably, searching for a comment to make to break the tension. It wasn't like Cornelius to speak so solemnly – not when he'd always had such a lighthearted outlook on life.
"Well... It really must have been the crowd he fell in with, right? You know, those bloody Americans."
Cornelius looked away from the road, just enough to flash George a cheeky grin.
"Seems to me like you British folk aren't that much better." He jibed, tone as light as mist in the beginning of spring. George didn't speak of it again, for the rest of the journey.
Four heads no higher than George's waist pummeled out of the house and mugged him around the legs as he stumbled out of the car. The sky had turned fiery red in the west, a vast majority of it a darker blue than indigo dye and the stars just starting to sparkle from above. George had to brace himself before Cornelius managed to pry at least two of the little ones away from his friend.
"They were all excited when I told them Pappa's friend was coming to see us." The words were muttered as though Cornelius had deliberately instructed them to tackle George. All he could do was give a nervous chuckle.
"I'm sorry, I would have brought souvenirs if I'd known."
Cornelius shrugged it off and pulled the other two off of George's legs.
"Don't be sorry – they never expected anything of the sort." And the discussion was, again, ended. George had to stumble as he followed Cornelius into the house – not a hut or a cave or anything that George had envisioned, but a real house, some cross between the thatched roof and mud walls of a pioneering explorer and the wood and glass windows of a fully fledged civilized nation. There was even a yard, fenced off so, as Cornelius explained, the goat and chickens couldn't get out. Cornelius' wife and eldest daughter were lighting the lamps and preparing supper as the four younger ones asked George every question they could about Britain and London. George barely had time to answer them all. Every member of the family imaginable was there, including Cornelius' brother, his wife, their three children, and then Cornelius' parents and his parent's brothers and sister with their families. All of them were sitting around the table and making conversation agreeably difficult to follow.
When the food was brought out and the night truly settled in, George began to wonder what else he'd gotten wrong about this village.
The next day, Cornelius took him to visit Hass' family. The father, walking with a cane and slightly cross-eyed, was a fine gentleman with the name Amin. He spoke so little English that Cornelius had to struggle to keep up, then paused every few minutes to mumble in their native tongue something when Amin rose his voice at him. Later, Cornelius confided that the old man had consistently been berating Cornelius for speaking at the same time and interrupting him. George didn't know if he found it amusing or a testament to his character.
George surveyed the village structure around the water tank, and followed Cornelius' children on their way to school the next day. All of them, with their cousins, walked well beyond the borders of the village, and with a light step that George knew he never saw in London children, save for when they were freed for summer holiday.
Over dinner, Cornelius explained with pride that his eldest, Hope, was the top of her class and wanted to go to University. The other four were not as good in their studies, the second of the girls being more interested in boys, to her father's despair. Still, when George saw them at their school, he could tell they understood their lessons better than most schoolkids did back home, and each lesson they learned had more meaning to it. It seemed rather as though, even if they earned fewer points, the ones they did earn were of more quality.
"Why not let Hope come back to London with me? I could at least take her around and show her through the different Universities." George offered. Cornelius smiled, but this time, wearily. When he did answer, it was wholly unexpected.
"We couldn't afford it." This, George realized he should have known – Cornelius had explained in letters that school came out of the parents pockets, and with four children, those fees were steep.
"You could come to London for a week, or so – there's still fuss over the incident, and reports are running all the time. And you and I were both in college for social work – you could run a special or appear on a programme about it. That would at least earn something to help." George mentioned, anxiously. Again, Cornelius smiled and shook his head.
"All that would do is make the matter more inflamed. We all prefer to stay here."
It was mostly the same response that George got when he mentioned it to other members in Cornelius' family, or to the neighbors. Everyone in the village seemed content to keep mum, as though it would be so much more harmful to speak up. Soon, George had spent a week and had to return to London for work. Cornelius drove him back to the city for him to catch his bus, before letting down the back of the truck with a surprise.
Hope climbed out of the back, standing expectantly next to the truck as Cornelius gave George another smile.
"She heard what you said about University. Last night, she was pleading with her mother to let her go, even if it was for a week." And then Cornelius shrugged, "Who knows? Maybe something could work out. We'll only know for sure one way."
George stared, dumbstruck, at his friend, then at Hope, whom grinned back at him with her father's cheeky grin. In a matter of moments, George had a schedule worked out with Cornelius, several times refusing to let Cornelius pay for the plane ticket, before they were able to board the bus.
On the ride to the airport, George said next to nothing to Hope, until the runway was in sight from the window.
"There's another reason why you wanted to come, wasn't there?" He asked. Hope smiled at him. George had never seen pictures of her, given that Cornelius hadn't had a camera, but he knew that his friend's pride in her must have been strong – she was a lovely young woman, as though all her years of learning had helped sculpt her face.
"When I heard you talking to Pappa about coming to London and telling everyone the truth about our village, that was when I knew: Something was telling me the time for silence was over, and it was time to speak up."
Honor The Jedi Order
"When a Jedi behaves badly in public, an observer might think, 'If this Jedi is a representative of the whole Order, then plainly no Jedi is worth respect.' On meeting a second Jedi, who behaves better than the first, that same person might think, 'Does this say that half the Jedi are good, and half bad?' On meeting a third Jedi, who behaves as well as the second, the person thinks, 'Was the first Jedi an exception, then?' In this way, only by the good behavior of several Jedi can the public be certain that the poor behavior of one Jedi was unusual. Thus, it takes many Jedi to undo the mistakes of one."
"It's always the vocal minority that gets the attention; and subsequently rules by sheer verbosity."
–Hugh LeVrier (thinkexist(dot)com/quotes/with/keyword/vocal)
A/N: Guess I should give up on posting original fiction without some kind of author's note, huh? Well, just to clarify: No, this isn't supposed to be Star Wars related fanfiction - though it was something I wrote for a sermon for my congregation. The real lesson, though, is how we tend to judge people in groups based off of how one person of that group acts and is publicized. The most obvious example in the story is how Muslims were treated in the US after 9/11, but it can apply to any racial, religious, or cultural stereotyping. And, to be honest, the moral of the story is 'If you don't want to be unfairly branded as part of the nasty stereotype, speak up and make the better parts of your people known'. It's not going to just go away - you have to be assertive about it, and complaining doesn't help, it just makes you look like a whiner. It's always been my stance and I'm not afraid to stick by it.
Um... thanks for reading, please leave feedback.