“So, Mr. Kuhns, tell me the nature of your visit.”
Stammering, I laid out how I was and disoriented by a bite from one of their little creepy crawlers and somehow stumbled into the tiny little corner of the rain forest they called home. As I spoke I made sure to address him formally, as he had been introduced to me.
“Call me Kenyi,” the old man said, scratching his short, white beard. He was bald, and about the same height as myself—average—and had a warm inviting smile with neat teeth.
“Then, I’m Travis, I reciprocated, matching his polite smile.
“Welcome to Kathar, Travis. We receive visitors every so often. Sometimes explorers like yourself, sometimes local Congolese who are curious to hear if the stories about us are true, which I can assure you they are not.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, so I just smiled and nodded and let him continue to speak.
“ But regardless of where they come from, there are always many questions they wish to ask. We have found that, rather than entrusting such important topics fall to our casual citizen, that it is better for all involved if the inquiries are directed at a single body—getting it straight from the horse’s mouth as it were.” He laughed at the idiom he had just used and then locked his eyes on me.
“So whatever you wish to know, you may ask of me. And, of course, you are welcome to discuss matters further with the rest of our people should any further questions come to your mind and myself be unavailable.”
And so, I tried to select a single ticket from the whirring drum of questions my mind had become since arriving.
“How, um, how many live here?” seemed like a good place to start. The dining hall seemed to hold about two-hundred people and I was wondering if that comprised most of the population or not. If so, I reasoned the genetic pool must be rather shallow here.
“Just under a thousand as of last year’s annual census. I expect we’ll come in right about at the kilo mark once this year’s tallies are counted.” His answers were brief, direct, and to the bone, yet he was not being curt. Kenyi was simply speaking simply.
“Do they all have their own homes?”
Each family does, yes. The Geohomes as we call them are simple kits we manufacture and package, and we keep a store of them on hand in the event a child makes the transition into adulthood and there is no suitable vacancy for him or her.”
Settling into the hand carved chair, with its deep, earthly tone and bright red velvet upholster, I began to think more clearly and was able to articulate the larger questions on my mind.
“How did you all come to live…here? I mean, how did this place come into being?”
Kenyi reclined back a bit in his chair and relaxed his arms.
“Ah, a story that underscores what’s possible when an unlikely event is cleverly reacted to.”
I was momentarily afraid that this was going to be the end of the discourse, as Kenyi had tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Just as I was about to make a subtle ruckus to rouse him, he began recounting the story of their history in a softer, deeper tone.
“The People’s Army of the Congo were seizing control of everything in the land. They wanted everything to be under their dominion. Not just the people, but the land. Yet the more power they took, the more they struggled to fund their operations. They began to tax the people more and more, and with most of the families being farmers struggling to make ends meet, this proved an almost unendurable situation. Reliant on selling a good crop, it seemed as though the entire nation began slashing and burning into the rainforest for more and more farmland.
“For those of us sensitive to man’s destruction of the planet, this seemed just malicious. And so there a group of us, the Funding Father’s we were called, sold out all of our assets and gathered up every penny of our earnings and offered the People’s Army Government a lump sum for the land of which Kathar partly resides in. We caught a lot of flack from our fellow countrymen; they said we were supporting terrorists. It was always in our minds that we were protecting a vital asset and treasure of the world. And slowly, a few more families and then a few more families still began to understand our motivations and bought more land from the government. And more land. All protected from the sharp hand of man’s greed.”
He gestured with the same powerful out reach of arms that I had seen Ande use during our tour. It was in the moment that it took him to open his eyes to the surroundings and sit back in his chair that I noticed a burgundy rectangle. It had a silver badge on it that said Dell.
Going through the museum in the Cultural and Humanity Center reminded me of the time I had spent at the Guggenheim. Both buildings seemed to slowly wind around forever, revealing new creations in the periphery with each step. I found, overall, that the stylings of the work were largely analogous to the manners of dress: a blend of local influences and Western disciplines to create perspectives and impressions that were at one time startling and at the other familiar. There were works that juxtaposed bustling turmoil and peaceful blankness, three dimensional displays that were crafted from scarcely-recognizable recycling, and illustrations that used angles and perspectives I didn’t remember seeing back home.
Kenyi slowed his pace as we walked the length of the winding museum, but clearly he wasn’t about to let me stop and reflect on the pieces at this point.
“You’re welcome to study these works at any point during your stay, but presently it’s my own desire to introduce you to the pillar of our existence that prevents us from dallying.”
It was interesting to me how despite the weightless, care-free environment that was present everywhere I had been so far was suddenly diminished as we entered the “Katharian Hall” in the Cultural and Humanity Center. I was suddenly transferred back to my youth, to the Sundays I was forced to go the psychologically heavy, wretched-are-thee-repent-sinner Catholic church my parents loved to worship at.
Kenyi pulled one of the massive wooden doors open and gestured for me to follow. Inside was a room much smaller than the large doors eluded to. Seated in front of a small desk made of the same wood as the doors was a woman just a bit older than myself. She wore eccentric glasses with asymmetric frames and greeted us with a smile.
“Hello Kenyi! Hello Kenyi’s friend!”
“Hi there Ayanna. Is Polo free?”
“Let’s see” she replied, and clacked away on the laptop in front of her. “Yep! He doesn’t have anyone scheduled for another half hour and he’s in his office right now. Shall I let him know you’d like to attend?”
“Please,” Kenyi answered, turning to me with a smile.
“Polo is the only one of our Funding Fathers still with us that remains active in Expressionism.”
Apparently my face betrayed another expression of confusion, because just before Ayanna told us that Polo would see us, Kenyi said softly, “You’ll understand shortly; Polo will be able to explain our philosophy much more eloquently than I can myself.”
Another set of dark wooden doors led to a hallway with a series of more quaint yet, to my eye still imposing rows of doors.
Setting a quick pace, evidently knowing just what door to head for, Kenyi stopped suddenly and knocked wrapped softly against one of the identical wooden doors.
“Yes!” came muffled through the other side and Kenyi quickly opened the door and led me in.
“Polo, this is our new friend and explorer, Travis. He came to us this afternoon and we have been giving him the tour of the premises, but I thought it only right to defer him to you when it comes to Expressionism.” Kenyi gestured for me to sit nearest to Polo, a man who had not aged nearly as gracefully as Kenyi appeared to have. Polo was dressed in worn but neat slacks and a shirt similar to what Kenyi was wearing, only in a dashing shade of rust.
“I’m honored you left such a pleasing task for me, my friend,” Polo said, taking a seat in a chair much like the one Kenyi had in his office. As for myself and Kenyi, we were seated together on a long, comfortable couch that was fully upholstered in a velvety brown fabric.
At first I had the anxiousness I used to have whenever I entered the confessional, but slowly it was assuaged as I looked around the pleasant office that seemed more study than professional quarters. There were candles, primitively yet elegantly bound books, and soothing artwork on the walls and sculptures on the table in front of us.
“Are you comfortable, friend Travis?” Polo asked.
“Quite,” I said, shifting my weight and sinking into the soft cushion of the couch.
“Then allow me to begin our cursory lesson.”
First was the understanding that the religion of the people is not a religion at all. “We believe in no higher being, but rather in the serenity and joy of the self.” Polo went on to explain how the people of Kathar enjoyed “living simply” so that their lives did not become cluttered with possessions or obligations. “We seek to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”, was Polo’s way of summarizing the notion. “While we enjoy that which is both needed and adored, we do not keep “in our house that which is neither useful nor believed to be beautiful.”
“Since we thrive to glean the greatest enjoyment and serenity out of life, this necessarily requires a great deal of introspection and elucidation of internal thoughts and feelings. Life is certainly not perfect here; there is tragedy, unfairness, greed, and wrongs just like anywhere else. But what makes our people remain so steadfast in their contentedness is way in which we all openly discharge whatever is harmful from one’s mind and heart, so that we all may regain peace of mind.
“As you may know, perhaps from where you yourself originated, that there is often stigma attributed to those who seek internal guidance; here it is as common and expected as conversing with a neighbor about the weather or calling a parent for advice.
“And that is what everyone in this part of the building does, you see. We help our citizens process collective stress situations, such as deaths, separation, major life changing events so that they can regain internal solitude that is a mental representation of the simplistic nature in which our bodies live. An overloaded mind is like an overcrowded room: each contains unnecessary elements that are mere distractions from the wealth that is life. “
“So what do you…do, exactly?”
“It depends, of course. Sometimes merely talking through the recent events of an individual is all it takes to assuage the mental contaminants. Other times more profound measures of emotional re-experience are undergone. And still other times medicinal cures are added into either of the previous methods in order to cleanse the mind and reinvigorate it with balance. Indeed some of our entertainment, live shows, for instance, also help in the process by allowing groups of citizens can maintain an ‘observer’ position and retain a sense of control and alertness while simultaneously ‘purging of the spirit … by witnessing the playing out of such emotions or ideas on stage’. Aristotle’s words continue to ring true to us, here, Polo noted.
We continued to talk, about the cultural healing that was seen as the civic duty and personal obligation of the citizen like jury duty and personal hygiene is to our culture, and the more I learned, the more I realized that this community was taking the flawed human and developing a model society not by seeking to modify or dominate the people into perfection, but rather through ensuring that unavoidable conditions of human existence are treated the way physical wounds are treated: with candor and the most suitable remedy.
This is an excerpt of a more extensive short story; if you are interested in reading this tale in its entirety, email me through the contact tab.