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Given that dreams are demented stories, with arcless plots, characters that resemble someone you know but not exactly, and sudden set changes, how does one translate a dream into a number? In Haiti, the answer lies not in psychoanalysis, but in something called the tchala. Practically every borlette shack has one. The tchala is a numerology reference book that lists common elements of dreams alongside a corresponding two-digit number for each. The index is written in French, which poses an obstacle for the vast majority of players, but the borlette workers are supposed to be literate and French-proficient.
The tchala is as comprehensive as a decent dictionary, with entries ranging from “abandonment” to “zigzag”. And it’s beautifully specific. There is an entry for “rain”, of course, but also rain in the moonlight, rain in the sunshine, rain falling on a tomb, with clouds and wind, with neither clouds nor wind – eleven in total. Under “Beans”: white beans, congo beans, black beans, red beans, tender beans, dry beans, bean soup, and beans the dreamer can’t identify. Horses, which are perhaps the stuff of dreams in the countryside, merit 36 entries. –“Haiti puts its faith in the lottery,” Pooja Bhatia, The National
The central theme of the course was that this twinned combination of capitalism and racism has produced a cult of “white privilege,” which permeates every aspect of our lives. “Canada is a white supremacist country, so I assume that I’m racist,” one of the students said matter-of-factly during our first session. “It’s not about not being racist. Because I know I am. It’s about becoming less racist.” At this, another student told the class: “I hate when people tell me they’re colour-blind. That is the most overt kind of racism. When people say ‘I don’t see your race,’ I know that’s wrong. To ignore race is to be more racist than to acknowledge race. I call it neo-racism.”
All of the students were white (to my eyes, anyway). And most were involved in what might broadly be termed the anti-racism industry — an overlapping hodgepodge of community-outreach activists, equity officers, women’s studies instructors and the like. Most said they’d come so they could integrate anti-racism into their work. Yet a good deal of the course consisted of them unburdening themselves of their own racist guilt. The instructor set the tone, describing an episode in which she’d lectured a colleague of colour about his job. “When I realized what I was doing, I approached him afterward and apologized,” she told the class. “I said to him. ‘I’m so sorry! I’m unloading so much whiteness on you right now.’ ” –“White & guilty: ‘Whiteness’ workshop helps expose your inner racist,” Jonathan Kay, National Post
The imbalances and injustices of the material world are probably not so easily corrected, even in the spirit world. The big problem of course is that in time every memorial loses its force and is overgrown by the jungle, by greed, by apathy. Some of my companions feel especially affronted by the Japanese tours that are now offered on the island. When I took my first tour of Corregidor in 1999, Japanese tourists sat uncomfortably in the same tranvia’s as Filipinos and Americans, but now they’re segregated and given a version of history less unpleasant for them. The Japanese tour guide wants to put a Japanese flag on Topside apparently. “I’ll tie him to it and shoot him,” one of my companions says as we’re discussing this. But that’s just bravado speaking. The most you can do really is grumble or pee on the foot of the Goddess of Mercy at the Japanese memorial as one of my Filipino guides did once. “They didn’t know mercy during the war,” he told me, “when they slaughtered a hundred thousand civilians in Manila. Maybe they knew some girl named Mercy. They probably killed her, too.” And then he laughed ruefully. –“Old Ghosts of Corregidor,” Robin Hemley, McSweeney’s
More from Rafe Bartholomew:
Years of consideration preceding the inclusion of the word “phat” in Random House’s 1996 Compact Unabridged Dictionary:
Scientists created crash helmets that stink when cracked and fruit flies to whom blue light smells delicious.
In Belize, a construction company bulldozed a 2,300-year-old Mayan temple to make road fill.
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“This is the heart of the magic factory, the place where medicine is infused with the miracles of science, and I’ve come to see how it’s done.”