You are on page 1of 10

A Museum of Questionable Natural History

A Fictional Short Story by


Marisa Patrick
CHID 250E
Horizontal Conversation Project

Brief Intro:
In this assignment I have interwoven answers as to how I grouped these individuals; what role I
play; why it is a horizontal conversation; and how my own ideas fit in. I chose the format of a short story
in an effort to intertwine key imagery from our readings, a brief satire of our societies today, and possible
future consequences. This conversation aims to address how each member of society plays a vital role and
how even the most common individual can strive to make a difference.
*Another note: it was brought to my attention after writing my short-story that it shares similar resemblance to the
idea of a holographic museum imagined in a movie adaptation of a novel by H.G. Wells. I was not familiar with this
movie but I do acknowledge that my generation is inundated by the culture of science fiction. Therefore, my ideas
have definitely been influenced, whether subconsciously or not, by modern science fiction culture. The following
story is my creation inspired by the works of Timothy Burke, Charles Mungoshi, Alexandra Fuller and Tsitsi
Dangarembga.

1|Marisa Patrick

It seems that on every wall, every shop door, every electricity pole I walk by is a poster for the
grand opening of the Museum of Natural History. This museum is the debut of a new generation of
exhibition with holographic interactive tour guides, life-like animatronics, and an astrophysical
observatory, all for the very affordable price of $735 a ticket.
Nearly every excursion is a rich mans activity nowadays. The year is 2375 and it is almost
impossible to live life to its fullest when the air is polluted beyond repair, organic food is questionably
organic, and the impoverished are thrown into segregated districts. In a world where technology is an
omnipresent power, the Museum of Natural History is perhaps the only glimpse of what a normal life
would look like. It promises to answer a number questions often pondered, relating to how our world
ended up like it is. In school (if you can afford to go to school), the general population is taught a great
war engulfed and destroyed the surface of the earth over 300 years ago. Water was scarce, energy sources
were being used faster than they could be reproduced, and corrupted political powers valued money over
human life. The world was devastated by biological warfare and nuclear disaster. Remaining survivors
tried to develop a new society where the mistakes of our past would never again be repeated.
This Museum of Natural History is the first museum to open with a collection of all the worlds
remaining archives. This museum promises to enlighten our population. For this promise, maybe seven
hundred dollars is a bargain a once in a lifetime opportunity. After all, we middle class only live to 35
nowadays.
Years have passed but Ive finally collected the money necessary to visit the Museum. Since its
opening, the price had increased, but I expected this. Prices rise exorbitantly on everything each year.
I climb the large steps to the museum entrance, where my body is scanned by security, and I
deposit digital currency into the vending pad. I remove my gas mask.
Raise your hand to be implanted, the guard was already reaching for my arm.
The center of my palm is stamped with a gun. A circle glows in the center of my hand.
This will be your guide during your visit to the Museum of Natural History. Enjoy your stay.
No further instructions are givenmy hand just glows.
Great, I thought to myself, seven hundred dollars for hand radiation

I enter a large corridor with several passages leading in various directions. There are no signs. No
people besides the occasional security guard who stand stoic and silent against the wall.

2|Marisa Patrick

Excuse me, siris there perhaps a map? My hand begins to


glow and I am presented with a small globe.
I look at my hand. There are several bright dots spotting the
floating globe on my hand. I select the one labeled MAP. Several
floors were color coded. I notice right away the Special location, the
Discovery Room and the Colonial Room. I
have never even heard the word colonial before.
My hand glows and the word is defined.
Colonialism is thought to be the root cause of our
historical devastation. Colonialist mentality stems
from the greed of national powers desire to
conquer less developed nations; whether through
religious crusade, cultural domination, mass
genocide, or grand warfare.
The closest rooms to my left are the
Savannah Room and the Special Exhibit. I briefly
pass through the Savannah Room, as Ive seen many of these animals before on TV or read about in
school. These animals are somewhat different, however. They seem smaller and most only have one head
and do not appear to have tumors.
The Special Exhibit is labeled The Dark Continent: Africa.
Define Dark Continent, I ask my palm.
The Dark Continent was the term given to define the continent now known as Africa.
Archeologists and Anthropologists have collected evidence that the first modern humans unearthed or
discovered were from this land. African resources, people and culture were commoditized throughout the
19th and 21st century. See also: Slavery, Apartheid, Negro, Tribe, Poverty, Dirty, Savagery, Others, Charity,
Colonialism. The list goes on.
I walk up to an exhibit and my hand glows again. A holographic man appears.
Hello, I am Timothy Burke and I will be your guide to understanding
the realities of post-colonial society. The Dark Continent exhibit possesses an
extensive history on this subject. A history that provides the foundation to
understanding the devastation that overcame our planet three hundred years
ago.
What do you mean by foundation? I ask.

3|Marisa Patrick

Africa was one of the first locations where greed and corruption thrived and ruled. When power
such as this is tolerated within a society it is passed on generation to generation. Those with the ability to
manipulate laws and events prosper and thrive then go on to conquer more lands. Once a mentality such
as this is accepted, any number of awful consequences result - racism, classism, sexism, and more.
Why would an entire population stand for this? I ask.
It was not so much the indigenous populations that developed and nurtured these ideals,
Timothy began, but rather the Colonialists who invaded and conquered the lands. From German
concentration camps imprisoning native populations, to American enslavement and African Slave trade,
to Dutch empowerment and segregation of tribes, to the manipulation of American charity markets to take
advantage of already distraught African economies. Outside colonialists, felt a form of entitlement that
allowed them to invade and commoditize the African environment. They reformed native traditions,
customs, and ideologies.
Outsiders had the ability to make an entire population drop their cultural traditions? I ask.
After generations of cultural exchange, future generations were left with hybrid ideologies,
combinations of old and new. For many populations, the origin of rituals or traditions were lost. History
and traditions had become convoluted and manipulated. Please walk forward 20 paces to the exhibit on
your right.
I do as Timothy instructs and come upon an exhibit of a
life-like woman rubbing some red substance along her body. She is
mostly nude, wearing intricate rope jewelry and a small child lies
beside her. Her entire body hued a monochrome scheme of red and
amber.
What is that red liquid she is smudging across herself? I
ask.
Timothy explains, Ochre. Minerals, dirt, dyes and more were used to moisturize the skin, as well
as act as tribal markings and traditions. Tell me, individual, does this appear dirty and unclean to you?
I suppose. It is dirt, is it not? The red tones are beautiful and exquisite on her, though.
Timothy scoffs, On her. Interesting, individual. You repeat the same words of your forefathers.
Colonialists described dirt as an alchemical substance, an essence that oozed immorality and degeneracy
and contravened the law of God Body ideology was discussed in a number of memoirs by travelers in
Africa. They found a conceptual domain in which health, illness and techniques of bodily display linked
Africans to preconceived notions of race, moral status, and savagery. A hidden template against which
the African body or person was measured.1

4|Marisa Patrick

African traditions such as this Ochre smudging, was seen as greasy and reflected a growing
and racially charged antipathy toward the bodies of savage Others, bodies infected by the disorder of the
natural world, exuding dangerous contagion at all who came into contact with them. 1
But it was beautiful, and acceptable on them. So long as they stayed in their place they were deemed
tolerable. Timothy looks at the woman.
I stand appalledand disgusted. Not with the beautiful woman sitting before me but by the
arrogance of my ancestors to place such powerfully denigrating labels and assumptions supposedly
supported by science onto these people.
Civilized? How on earth can someone describe a culture foreign to their own, as anything savage
or primitive? Are they not civilized in their own cultural sense? I ask.
Timothy explained, British, German, Dutch and other colonizing powers invaded, claiming
superiority in mind, body, soul and materialistic possession.
I still dont understand how an entire continent would stand for such disgusting accusations, I
say.
Timothy asked me to come back to him later, he said My friend Charles will guide you now to
help answer this question.
My hand glows again and a new figure appears in my hand.
Hello, individual. I am Charles Mungoshi. Please proceed to the Colonial Room. There we will
discuss the development of oppressed, impoverished, and conquered nations.
I walk down the corridor.
Upon reaching the Colonial Room, I am struck by an
exhibit of a small boy sitting in a dark lit room, holding a dead
dove in his hand.
He cannot speak. He does not understand love. He does
not understand community, Mungoshi states.
Why..?
You see, individual, the effects of colonization do not only affect the present indigenous
populations, but the way in which they interact with their youth and community. This child sat in the
shadows of his home, as the souls of his loved ones passed in and out of his life. His mother left to be
with her people, his father chose new people. It seemed as if the child had no people. And each time the
father rejected his sons questions, ideas, and love, the child began to understand hopelessness. The child
has grown in a dark, cold home. And when the time came for the father to make amends, it was far too
1 Timothy Burkes Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women (18-19)
5|Marisa Patrick

late. The child did not know his language, the child did not understand him. The child was born to love
and care for his father but each time he was denied he grew closer into the shadows. The child knew
nothing more than silence and had been denied the gift of language 2. Mungoshi stood silently staring at
the child, almost as if he himself was reflecting.
But how is this a result of colonialization, could it be just a story?
Can one honestly say that any story you make, any action you take or any choices you live by,
do not stem from the ideologies of your past? To say they do not, would be to condemn any choices made
by our ancestors. Colonialism may not directly tie to this story but the consequences colonialist mentality
had upon the society leave a lasting indirect effect. The devastation that occurred over 300 years ago, and
destroyed civilization as we knew it, was birthed from the very effects of colonialist mentality. It was
birthed from arrogance, corruption, and greed. Although it was not a colonist alone who destroyed our
earth, or this boys life, the effects of our history will always be present in our lives today.
I sit staring at the child. This child, so dark and alone, sitting in his corner with a sweet dead
dove. Dried tears stain his face and for the first time I see the shadows that hang on the walls behind him.
There is not just one shadow, but an entire community of shadows.
I swallow the lump in my throat, So his father was not the one who failed him. His entire
community failed him. He was everybodys child.
Indeed. However, I would like you to see an alternative to the effects of colonialism. Please
push forward, Mungoshi instructed.
I walk to the next exhibit. What stands before me is a small child of a lighter complexion than the
other boy. Her earthly environment seems similar but her house is very different. They are coming to a
patrol station, where a post stands directing towards A Schools, B Schools and C Schools. She
leaves her house in a car, with her family. Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, Palmolive soap, bottles of Coke
and kwacha currency laid in random places of the car.3
Who is she? I ask.
She is many things, Mungoshi explained, Some may call her Afrikaner, however she is not
just Dutch, her mother is Scottish but denies her English descent. She is a child who has the privilege to
live on resettled land in a well-constructed house. She attends a superior school with the best teachers and
facilities, with other children of her complexion only.
You spoke of privilege. Why does she have this privilege, but the boy of the shadows does not?
I ask.
2 Charles Mungoshis Shadows on the Wall (264)
3 Alexandra Fullers Dont Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight (29, 37)
6|Marisa Patrick

Mungoshi replies, Privilege is a difficult concept to define, as it is a term that is redefined for
each individual, every community, group or society. Privilege is never constant. However, for some,
privilege can be taken away, but they will still be more privileged than others. They are privileged in the
fact, that they had something to be taken. However, that is not to say that privilege is always deserved. In
the history of colonialism, privilege was often self-asserted by the colonialists. You see, this child lives in
an area which was known as Rhodesia, but grew to become Zimbabwe. 80% of the Zimbabwean land in
1893 was owned by white settlers, taken from the indigenous. For generations, the land was plowed,
worked upon, and lived on by the children of these people. They inherited their privilege.
What happened to the individuals who lost their land..?
Either through missionary work or outright segregation, they were allotted the remaining
portions of land. The segregation of your impoverished you see today is exactly the segregation that
happened then. However, the land was later resettled again. A president of the newly independent
Zimbabwe, grew to power to bring peace and justice to the natives of Zimbabwe. White settlers were
kicked out their homes, and a majority of the land was redistributed to the natives. Mungoshi explained.
But is that not just as bad as when the colonists took the land from the natives to begin with?
The descendants of the Afrikaners were not directly to blame. They did not ask for the land, they inherited
it. I state in disbelief.
Ah, yes. This is true. But are you to tell me, individual, that you are not privileged? You may not
get to live as long as the upper class. You may not get to participate in all of lifes activities. But you have
inherited a life that was not earned by you alone. You sit here, in this museum, while your poor are
segregated to die in an alienated community. You pride yourself in a society that aims to never repeat
historys mistakes again, yet you are building the foundations for another societal devastation. Simply
because you feel some connection and right to what you own, does not mean you deserve it. You have
earned the right to keep what you have been given. But so long as your brethren sit defeated and
oppressed, you have not righteously earned this privilege. You are equally to blame for their oppression.
They are everybodys child, just as much as you. Mungoshi stared at me, waiting, giving me a moment
to think this over.
I sit in disbelief with myself now, It seems that we keep making these mistakes over and over.
How have we not learned from them? It also seems that the mistakes lie in the foundations of our society.
Is it perhaps the construction of society is the foundation to these mistakes? I mean in a society, we seem
to segregate ourselves and distribute our qualities in one way or another. In school we are taught about the
grand mistakes of the Crusades, Manifest Destiny, the Holocaust, the divine right of kingdoms, and more.
Yet in our societies, there is always some form of government, or leadership. An endless cycle of
individuals being graciously praised and we, the people, allowing them the opportunity to assert their
7|Marisa Patrick

privilege. Whether the privilege is good or bad, earned or unearned, there will always be a
disproportionate equality. Perhaps that is why the idea of a Utopian society has only ever been written
about in fantasy and science fiction, and has never worked out in our history.
Individual, Mungoshi states, You must now proceed to the Discovery room. There you will
meet your next guide, Tsitsi. Together you will discover the complexities of society and global
citizenship. I hope you enjoy your future journeys. Mungoshi vanishes.

I venture to the neighboring exhibit named the Discovery Room. A large handprint rests beside the
doorway. My hand glows and I am presented with another guide.
Hello, Individual. I am Tsitsi Dangarembga and I will be your guide through the
Discovery Room. Please proceed through the corridor to the astrophysical observatory.
I enter the large room to find an immense structure of holography with intricate
figures and designs moving at different paces. The entire room seems to expand and an
image of the galaxy surrounds me.
Individual, Mungoshi and Burke will be joining us. You may not have realized
this, but we are real in the sense that we directly partook in the history we have sought to
guide you through. Together, we provide drastically different perspectives on colonialism,
each of us with a different background and heritage. The three of us transformed literature
in post-colonial society and bravely discussed the atrocities brought about by some of our most praised
leaders. Today we stand before you, only as mind and image, to continue our journeys in inspiring
cultural awareness and change. Tsitsi appeared on the platform of the astrophysical observatory
alongside Burke and Mungoshi. They bow.
I should bow to you, I say. I have merely been an observer and listener. Your teachings have
provided the most interesting insight.
Mungoshi begins, You have not merely observed and listened, individual. You have interpreted
the meaning of these higher concepts in relation to your present day society.
Burke continues, You have questioned the morality and methods of colonialism.
Tsitsi concluded, And more than anything, you are a discoverer without the intent of conquest.
You are discovering and exploring ideals related to you in an intersectional manner in the hope of
changing the world you live in today. However, friend, your journey is not yet complete. Our next
horizontal conversation will bring the four of us off any pedestals present. We must venture next into a
conversation of unbiased precipice and discuss the ways in which all things collide and contribute to
future consequences.
8|Marisa Patrick

But how do you expect me to provide insight? You cannot possibly expect me to teach you, I
say, exasperated.
But, my friend, your participation in all of lifes activities already contributes to change. You
must be prepared to take responsibility, and through this you must educate yourself. The first step to
education is observation. The second is conversation. You already play a role, now take hold of your ideas
and proceed with them in this next experience. Burke states.
Be open, accepting, and tolerant but never neglect your skepticism and curiosity. Mungoshi
instructs.
Tsitsi expands her arms and the galaxy adjusts. She then circles her hand over a tiny familiar
planet. The planet looks minute and inconsequential in relation to the ever expanding universe
surrounding us.
This, Tsitsi explains, is our home. Every piece of trash affects the planet that shelters us. And
every action you take affects another on this planet. The size of this planet should alert you to the
importance of community. What we have, is all we have.
There is no more, no less. The artificial and superficial manners we consume ourselves with are
pitiful in relation to the purpose we serve in the existence of the universe. Burke explains.
And we are only a blink in the timeline of all universal life. This, friend, should instruct you to
live your life fully. Aid the lives of others that surround you. We have each other and this must be the
prime importance of life. Community. Mungoshi states.
With a gentle scoop of her hand, Tsitsi holds the tiny earth in her palm. Holding it out to me she
says, Friend, you entered this museum with the power in your hand. Your first request, was a map. You
wanted to explore and discover. You wanted to learn. Please, teach us what you have questioned,
discovered, and observed.
I pick up the small familiar globe I first entered with. I select the word Others. Looking at the
three of them I ask, If we are all born to love and yet we grow to other and alienate, how can we then
move towards compassion and tolerance? I think through pain, the privilege can be discovered and
erased. We may never be able to grow empathetic with every individual again but our goal should be to
sacrifice for each other. Each person matters and we must treat every individual as our own, our child.
The consequences we live with today will always be present, an ever looming shadow and omnipresence.
We cannot ignore them; we have to address them and learn from them. We cannot continue to act as if the
actions that devastated our world were not our own. For so long as we continue to segregate, alienate and
other, we are all equally guilty. I place my other hand over the globe and open my hands. There sits a
crying man. A man I knew, a man not accepted by this world.

9|Marisa Patrick

Masculinize and emasculate, I began, We assert dominance in the ability to provide, to


control. Yet at the same time we snuff out and take away from those who refuse to convert and meet our
standards. They in turn feel disrespected and unappreciated. They lash out, searching for meaning, and
sometimes prey on the lesser. They die alone and irrelevant. We are all to blame for every failure of each
individual and child. Their failure is our failure. We failed them when we did not accept them as they
were. When we called them dirty, when we neglected them and denied them language and love. They
should not be shamed, it is us who hold the deepest shame.
I bow my head, a tear falling on the man. He cradles it for a moment and then hands it back.
Tsitsi smiled, Its interesting, no? How those with very little, are the most prone to give the most.
Thank you, friend. You have journeyed well.
The three bow and vanish. The universe expands around me again and I feel alone.

I venture outside of the halls, explore the remaining exhibits, and finally exit the Museum.
Climbing down the large steps, my flat is three miles east. The impoverished district lies to the west.
I place my gas mask back on and walk in the direction of the setting sun.

10 | M a r i s a P a t r i c k