Letters Home #1

Dear Ana,

Ah, finally, a moment of peace. I survived the voyage, obviously, and am generally well. It’s taken me a week to finally start writing you (I know I promised I’d write as soon as I arrived). It’s just so… different here; I’ve been agog at the culture shock. This letter won’t get to you for weeks, if not months, because of travel time. Sorry.

But it’s so worth it. The people, the Beltoshee, have created an amazing culture. I’m sure you’ll get sick of me explaining their ways; *I’m* the anthropologist of the family. It’s just impossible to talk about anything without the cultural perspective. For example, where I’m living (and currently writing this letter). Approximately it’s an all women college dorm. But that’s inaccurate on many levels. “College students”, “dormitories”, and especially “women” are all conceived of differently here.

The first one is easiest; college students. A Beltoshee life is divided into 5 stages, 4 of growth and the final lasting until death. The fourth stage is from age 9-12, which is actually 18-24 by our count because they use a double lunar cycle calendar. Bizarre, I know. So this fourth stage is when they have become what we would call a young adult. They spend those 6 years studying their career path. This is how it’s approximately like college, the way it differs has to do with the social pressures. They’re very strict in the roles individuals must adhere to. One does not change careers mid life, you’re stuck with what you studied in these early years. No one out right prevents you from changing careers, but you’re shunned and looked down upon. Sure, it’s difficult to change jobs back home, but no one insults you for it.

Now for dormitories. Life is communal here, people seem to rarely live alone. Families have their own dwellings but they’re small and grouped closely together. I’ve yet to see something like a “living room” because everyone just goes to a communal space to lounge or be entertained. Ahlnaan (someone in their “fourth life”) sleep in a communal room to save space. Many who have spouses choose to continue to live in the dorm to help them focus on their studies.

And lastly the one that will be most confusing for you, although I imagine you’ve heard some rumours about this. Their definition of women has nothing to do with body physiology. At the end of their second stage of life (so 12 years by our count), they choose if they are male or female. As I stated earlier about their culture being very role oriented, their concept of gender is also very strict, it’s just not tied to biology. Men deal with things away from home, women with things at home. Unlike the sexist societies we’re used to dealing with though, they consider politics a part of house business. Running of the communities and all levels of government is restricted to women. The only political role done by men is diplomacy (cause, you know, it’s away from home). In this way, they are far more strict than we are with gender roles. And from what I’ve gathered it’s incredibly taboo to want to change that decision later in life.

Have to say that I admire the option to choose, but can’t imagine picking something so important at that young age.

Oh geez, I’m almost out of paper and I’ve been rambling about culture this whole time. I’m good, I swear. I’m making friends and not sticking my foot in my mouth too much. Say hi to the gang for me, and give mom and dad my love. Actually just show them my letters. I can only write one person, very limited paper. Must save most of it for my actual reports to the Anthropological society.

Your loving sister,

Catalina

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ANN

Silence. Pure, stark silence.

Sit in a quiet room and what do you hear? The walls might creak, the wind may howl, but even in complete silence you can hear your heartbeat.

I can’t.

Does that mean I’m dead or that I’ve just lost my hearing?

I try to open my eyes. Nothing changes.

I try again. Nothing.

I can’t feel my eyelids. Or my arms. Or my legs. Where my body was, there’s no sensation.

Oh God, I’m in a coma or something. I must be lying on some sterile hospital bed, hooked up to dozens of machines. They breathe for me, beat my heart, keep me alive. Meanwhile, I’m locked in my head; just me and this emptiness.

No, I’m getting ahead of myself. I can’t tell how long it’s been. Maybe this is just a blip. Maybe I fell and hit my head. Maybe it feels like time is passing but it’s really just that moment between the flash of stars and waking up on the ground. Like how you can dream that you have lived for years, yet wake up the next morning. So will I remember this?

What if this happens every time we lose consciousness? You spend an eternity in the darkness and wake up with no memory of it. Your brain suppresses it to keep you from going mad.

And maybe deluding myself into thinking this is normal is the first sign of madness.

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