The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guest Post from Myrmeoid counterparts

Greetings! I am Kadetino(S)Laheti, Co-Ambassador from Takelinoru, writing on behalf of myself and my colleagues, Kadetino(S)Kanetino and Laneti(S)Canel. My given name is Laheti. I belong to the Kadetino family, which encompasses the faculty, administration, and staff of the Kadetino College of History, Public Policy, and Social Sciences of the Imperial University, Lesser Island Campus. “S” is an honorific prefix roughly equivalent to your “Dr.,” except that it denotes professional rather than academic achievement.

Many of you will have seen us on talk shows, or learned of us through the news. We have been on your planet for the past three months, meaning we arrived approximately when Ambassador Kilmon wrote the previous entry on this blog. You have seen us, but because we cannot vocalize you have not yet heard our words, except through our exceptional valet, Jon Grisholm. I imagine this, together with our alien appearance, has interfered with your forming a complete impression of us as people. Here, on this blog, we may possibly meet more as equals. My words will come to you exactly as do those of any other writer. I plan to post here perhaps every third or fourth week; it is important that you receive Ambassador Kilmon’s impressions of our world, so we do not want to compete with him for space here.

I can anticipate some of your questions. I am writing this myself; I am fluent in written English, and I type using a standard keyboard. I am big enough to depress each key with a foot, and I had Mr. Grisholm affix Braille letters to each of the keys. I read over what I have written using a tactile device originally designed for the blind. I have been told my English is unusually formal, which is doubtless partially due to my having little experience in casual conversation. But then, I am relatively formal in my own language as well; I am a formal person. I believe it supports the dignity of my office.

Our task on your planet is to be examples of our people, and also to describe what we learn of your people to ours back home. We are doing the same thing the regular author of this blog does. But in writing to you, I have a more difficult task than he does. We have a saying in our language that I translate as “the first thing a teacher must know is what the student doesn’t.” It is meant to be funny, and in one sense is an exact parallel of one of your popular jokes;

Q. What must you know to train a dog?

A. More than the dog.

In a deeper sense, though, a teacher must not only know a thing that the student does not know, he or she must also know that the student does not know it. I cannot teach you about my people, because while I certainly know what you do not, I do not know what to teach. There are many things I take for granted of which you know nothing, and which I will not think to explain.

I will therefor leave describing my people to the capable hands of Ambassasor Kilmon. To you, I will describe yourselves. In writing to you of my experiences on your world and my impressions of it, I will doubtless betray a deeper knowledge of my self, my culture, and my species than I could ever think to describe. You will see the reflection of my world, if nowhere else, in the pattern of things I get wrong about yours.

We understand this is your major holiday season. Principally, it is the end of the Christmas season. We do not understand this holiday. Christianity itself seems similar to our Doctrine of the Inner Empire, which I do not subscribe to, though (S)Canel does. I am certainly familiar with many of the writings of that philosophical school, and some Christian sayings are startlingly similar; (S)Canel would agree that the Kingdom of Heaven in within. But organized religion is an alien concept to us, and we also see no clear connection between the struggle for the Inner Empire and the presentation of wrapped objects.

Mr. Grisholm cannot explain this to us, though our questions made him laugh, as he is a member of a minority religion with an alternate holiday. He celebrated Chanukah with us, explaining that it is a minor holiday celebrating a historical event wherein his culture survived an invasion attempt. This makes intuitive sense to us, for we, too, value cultural continuance and solidarity. I, personally, was very interested by the historical dimension of the festival. I am, or at least was, a professor of history, and it seems the Jews are a deeply historical people.

We also enjoyed the celebration. Mr. Grisholm lit candles and later translated and explained the prayers for us. He also told us the story of Chanukah. He prepared traditional holiday foods for us, and gave each of us chocolate coins wrapped in gold-colored foil, one per day of the festival. He said his mother put such coins in his lunch when he was a boy. I am inordinately fond of chocolate, and I have never been so delighted to be small; the coin that is a mere treat to a human boy is as large around as my head. I still have four of my coins left, and the wrappers are pretty.

Today is the first day of your civic year, and last night, of course, was another festival, one we could very much relate to, since it seems fundamentally to be a celebration of solidarity. You all watch a clock strike midnight together, and for twenty minutes or so prior to that hour, you all are united by the same activity. For one person to watch a clock is mundane, for an entire nation—even an entire world—to do so together is powerful. From such simple agreements—when to start a new year, how to count time—are nations built. And look! You are people who can traverse the stars! Together, you can conquer distance and time!

I get carried away. But we were united with you, too. It is a simple thing—the changing of the year—simple enough that we can understand and participate. We do not have to be Christians or Jews or Americans to understand the changing of the calendar.

We were invited to go to Times Square, but decided finally that it was too dangerous. We are small, and if one of us were to be lost an accident could easily result in tragedy. Also, the night was chilly, and our bodies are so shaped that we cannot wear clothes. Instead, we held a small party in our apartment with several human colleagues and watched the ball drop on a wall screen Mr. Grishold borrowed for us. Of course, we could make no sense of the screen, but Mr. Grisholm had a supply of paper trumpets that he gave out. When the humans blew the trumpets we knew that the New Year had come and we flew around and around the room pouring out happy pheromones. Then, we drank Champaign. I enjoy Champaign, and had rather a lot before I flew into the coat rack by mistake and became trapped under somebody’s hat. But I understand this, too, is traditional.

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