Introduction to Other Cultures

As the chair of the hiring committee, I kept sneaking the application to the top of the pile, until we had a live interview.  I confess that I was startled when he stepped off the plane.  He was in warrior dress, with a bone through the nose, carrying a spear, with some kind of grass skirt to hide his privates.  He was three feet tall!  I laughed.  Driving my capture home through the Catskills, I didn’t think this guy was much on conversation.  Still, he looked authentic!

After the hiring was formalized, I realized that writing was not the gentleman’s forte. In fact, his people didn’t have writing.  He couldn’t even sign his name.  This didn’t bother me.  He seemed to adapt quickly to his job, and if he did attend his classes, figuring out the times by the slant of the sun, his students would clue him in.  No one learned anything in Introduction to Other Cultures anyway.  I dropped in to see how it was going.  He sat on his desk with bare feet, as he demonstrated to students the songs of the jaguar, and waved over his head, while demonstrating his blow dart on a girl in the front row. I had to evaluate the class.  I gave him the highest marks.

A honeymoon ensued.  Problems loomed that spring when the dean of humanities suggested that Igibawawawa might adapt better to Calcutta Village’s ways by not running around in his skivvies, or whatever the grass skirt was called.  The police were scandalized by the powerful buttocks.  Church ladies gossiped as he walked down the street.  No one wanted a house in his neighborhood. These attitudes toward the foreign body made me sick of my neighbors.  I bought him several suits, and he wore them although he used the pants as a scarf and the jacket as a skirt.

I had no doubts that we had hired the right man

Problems emerged when two married men were attacked and killed with poisoned blow darts.  I had an inkling, but as soon as I heard about it I wanted to immediately get home and make sure that Dotty was safe.  When I got back to the house, Dotty wasn’t there.  There were signs of a struggle.  Curtains had been ripped down as she had apparently sought an anchor as she was pulled screaming from the living room. I heard moaning in the garage.  I found her half nude and sprawled downstairs in the basement garage, bleeding and gibbering, holding a screw driver.

“Norm!” she said, “I fought him off!”  I picked her up and she fell into my arms.

“He said he would make me the queen of the Amazon, but I told him I was married and belonged with you!  He didn’t care. He said finder’s keepers!”

Igibawawawa!  I called the police and they swept down on his house. There were about a hundred other local women collected and placed in the basement of his house.  They were kept nude and chained to the walls and were wailing in sorrow when the police burst into the room.  He had attacked the men, corralled their wives into his basement, assumed that they were now his, since might makes right in the Amazon basin.  Different rules applied.  I was proud of my wife, and reasonably certain she could fight him off if it were to happen again.  I thought he should be released, and given his job back.  The issue went to trial, and to my astonishment, he spoke perfect English.

“It is my culture to kill men and steal their wives.”

He had a point.

“Who hired this gentleman?”  The judge demanded.

I informed him that it was a group decision, but I left out that I had been the chair.  Perhaps hiring someone just for their utterly alien culture had issues on others’ scorecards.  I thought he would just teach his culture, not reenact it.

“You don’t want me anymore.” Igibawawawa shouted.  “Because I’m totally different!”

Igibiwawawa languished in prisons for years before finally being released back into the wilds.  He was killed within a couple weeks in northeastern Brazil. Some 30% of men die violently in Yanamamo culture.  About 70% have killed someone.  He died raiding a village to capture a new wife.

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author bio:

Bryant Park Public Library Reading Series, photo by Riikka Olson

Kirby Olson’s first novel Temping was about an American academic who moves to Finland and opens a circus.  It was described by Booklist as “Enjoyable.”  His second novel, as yet unpublished, is about an American dad, his wife, and their child, driving through Civil War sites, and thinking about their meaning. The dad is obsessed. The wife could care less. The son is confused, and would prefer to get candy. It’s called Norms.

Kirby Olson is a professor of philosophy at SUNY-Delhi in the western Catskills.