The Promised Land – Part 3

As Jamal and Emre emerged from the passage through the wall, they stepped into one of Hadira’s many Bazaars. They were filled with foods, crafts, clothing, and goods of all sorts. Jamal had never seen so many retailers in one place and wanted to visit them all. He exclaimed to his father, “This place is amazing, look at all the food! And the toys!”

Jamal had just caught sight of a toy store unlike anything he had ever seen before. The signage was fancy, the selection was vast, and the toys he was now looking at were decidedly cooler than anything he or his friends had at home. “Can we get something from here?” he asked excitedly. Emre smiled and calmly answered, “Yes we can get something from here but you won’t be able to keep it. It will be a gift for Raja.” Raja was the name of the boy who’s birthday Jamal would be attending today. Jamal thought about it briefly and agreed. After some deliberation and speaking with the shop keeper, Jamal picked what he thought was a suitable gift. Emre paid and they left.

With Raja’s present in hand, Jamal and Emre started making their way towards the center of Hadira. To no one’s surprise, Jamal eventually asked, “father, how come we don’t shops like that at home?” Emre responded, “you must understand, son, not everything can be as nice as what we have here in Hadira.” Jamal thought about that for a moment. It sounded like a simple truth to be readily accepted, but he didn’t understand why it happened this way. And he wanted to. “Is it because the people in Hadira work harder?” Jamal asked. Emre paused, turned to his son and said, “Hard work is important but there are other things that matter as well. You might be surprised to know this but most of the people who you saw working in the market today actually live outside of Hadira like we do.

You could tell that this came as a surprise to Jamal, “What about the shop keeper at the toy store?” Emre responded, “he lives in a different community than we do, but not far from our home.” Jamal followed up, “So he makes this journey every morning?” Emre replied, “as do most of us.” Jamal now had a look of confusion on his face and said, “If he spends all this time traveling to and from Hadira each day, and they already work here, why wouldn’t he just live here?” “Well I’m sure he would like to. As would all of us. But it costs a great deal to live here so we must work hard and save.” “How much do you have to save before you can live in Hadira?”, Jamal asked. “You must save enough to purchase your own land.”, Emre answered. “And how much is that?”, Jamal asked. Emre replied, “More now than when you were little.” Jamal noticed that his father’s optimistic tone was absent from that last answer. Feeling a shift in the mood, he asked one more question, “will we live here too one day?” His father’s smile returned, “That is the promise, my son.”

Promised Land – Part 2

The morning had finally come. Jamal was born and raised just outside Hadira, one of DeDust’s most prominent cities. Today, he would fulfil a sense of curiosity that has existed longer than he could remember. Today, and for the first time, he would enter Hadira.

Physically, Jamal was unremarkable. He had an average height and build for a boy his age, complimented by brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan complexion. What was remarkable about Jamal was a relentlessly inquisitive nature. Endlessly fascinated with the world around him, he would ask questions of anyone who would listen. Why is the sky blue? How does sand become glass? Why is Hadira surrounded by a wall? When can we visit? More often than not, it was Jamal’s father, Emre who was responsible for providing answers, and more often than not, the answer was “That’s a good question, I don’t know.”

Emre was in his 50s and lived with Jamal in a small home about 90 minutes outside of Hadira. It was one of many small communities surrounding the city, filled with workers of all sorts. Jamal’s mother had left a few years prior but the reasons were unclear to him. All he knew is that when the dust settled, his mom left and his dad stayed. When Jamal asked his father about it, his father responded with a smile, saying, “any time I feel sad about your mother leaving, I remind myself that you stayed.”

Jamal’s father wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but he was one of the most reliable. Of average intelligence Emre was better known for his kindness and sincerity. His friendly and trustworthy nature eventually landed him a serving job at one of Hadira’s nicer restaurants. The owner of this restaurant had taking a liking to Emre and when he found out that they both had sons around the same age, he insisted that Emre bring Jamal along to his son’s birthday party. While it was rare to see children from outside Hadira spending time in the city, Emre agreed, knowing how happy it would make Jamal.

When the morning finally arrived, Jamal was the first one up. Filled with nervous energy and too many questions to count, Emre knew he was in for a long day. Emre prepared his son for the journey as best he could, giving as much context to the beliefs and traditions that existed inside the cities of DeDust.

As they left their home that morning and began their walk to Hadira, they passed by some of Jamal’s friends playing soccer in the street. Excited to say hi, Jamal ran over and greeted his friends with an exclamatory, “Guess where I’m going?” As he had already been telling his friends about the visit over the last few days, his friends responded with, “we know, we know! You’re going to meet the city kids!” Jamal was the first of any of his friends to make the trip.

While there was no shortage of children living in the cities of DeDust, these were the children of successful families. As these families became increasingly focused on giving their children the best possible future, schools within the cities were reserved for families living in the cities. As time went on, parents raising children in cities became increasingly suspect of families and children who were not. Eventually, it was improper for a parent or child who lived outside the wall to enter the city without an expressed invitation.

Outside the wall, things were similar but different. Historically, you’d find more children outside the cities than within but the cost of living in DeDust had been increasing faster than wages and many were finding themselves unable to afford children. Nevertheless, Jamal had no shortage of friends and nearly all of them had aspirations of living in Hadira one day.

As Jamal and his friends spoke excitedly about his trip into the city, Emre turned his attention to Joseph, the parent who had been watching over them. Joseph commented, “I hear you’re taking Jamal in for a birthday party?”. Emre responded, “That’s right. My boss has a son who’s the same age and we thought it would be nice for them to meet.” Joseph seemed unsure of what he said next, but found a way to say it anyways, “what if… what happens when Jamal sees all the things that you can’t give him?” Emre smiled and replied, “there’s plenty out here that I can’t give him either.” Joseph persisted, “does he know how wide the gap is?” Emre, more serious this time, said, “No, but he will need to learn.”

“Alright Jamal, time to get going. We don’t want to be late do we?” Emre was rarely late and was hoping to impose a similar work ethic on his young son who was clearly distracted with friends and what he thought was the trip of a lifetime. Jamal obliged and the two resumed their journey to Hadira. Along the way, Emre asked his son, “do you remember the rules we went over yesterday?” Jamal nodded in agreement. Emre went on, “Hadira is not like where we live. It’s..” – “Why?” Jamal asked before Emre could finish his sentence. Emre said, “Well I’m not really sure. It’s been like this since before I was born and it will probably be like this after I’m gone. It’s best that we learn how things are so that we know how to behave.” Emre could tell that this answer fell short of Jamal’s question but for now, he was content to be spending time with his son.

After an hour of walking, Emre tapped Jamal on the shoulder and motioned to look up. On the horizon, Jamal could see what looked like the side of a mountain but with enough intricate detail to know that it was man made. Jamal knew that cities were much bigger than the communities he grew up in but this was the first time he was ever faced with the colossal nature of Hadira. He asked his father, “Is all of that Hadira?” His father replied, “Yes. And it’s even bigger from the inside.” Jamal asked another question, “How big is it?” Emre answered, “I don’t know but I’ve been told that you could walk 1000 miles in every direction and not find enough people to fill the city.” Jamal responded with a simple, “Whoa..”

Not long after, they approached a gate within the wall. It was one of many and despite looking fortified, there was no one to mind the entrance. Jamal asked, “How come there are all these rules to keep people out of the city, but nobody to make sure the rules are being followed?” Emre responded, “What do you mean? Am I not here to make sure you follow the rules?” Jamal looked perplexed for a moment, then laughed, “That’s not what I mean, father. What if both of us wanted to break the rules, who would stop us then?” Emre looked closely at his son, who was no stranger to mischief, and said pointedly, “we would be caught and the consequences would be severe.” Jamal stopped laughing. He knew that he didn’t get the answer he was looking for but could tell from the serious tone in his fathers voice that breaking rules here came with greater consequences than doing so at home.

Getting the impression that he should keep his next few questions to himself, Jamal marveled at the architecture, engineering, and sheer size of the wall. He couldn’t help but wonder what went into creating something of this size and complexity. He wanted to know how the wall was built. How many people it took. How long it took. Would it ever need to be replaced? His mind was racing at 300 million meters per second and he didn’t know where to start. Seeing his son start to fidget, Emre said to his son, “Alright, one more question about the wall before we go in.” Jamal’s eyes lit up for the opportunity to ask another question, then squinted as he made sure not to waste it. A moment later, he asked, “Father, who built the wall?” Emre paused, thought about it, and responded, “Well that’s easy. We did.” Just as Jamal started to wrap his mind around the significance of that answer, he was arriving through to the other side of the wall. As he approached with his father, he could smell foods that he had never tasted and hear music that he had never listened to. It was a sensory experience beyond anything that he had anticipated. And just like that, he had passed through to the other side. Jamal was finally in Hadira.

Promised Land – Part 1

A long time from now, in a universe not far from our own…

The day was hot and the sky was blue. The sun sat low and to the left of a pale blue sky, the kind that fades as it approaches the horizon. And below the horizon, it was sand and rocks for about as far as the the eye could see. If this land could speak, it might say, “welcome to the kingdom of dust”.

But the land did not speak. At least, not in a way that was well understood. To the people of this land, it was The Promised land. This is where their ancestors had created the greatest nation that their people had ever known. Built upon values like freedom, equality, and justice, the Promised Land was a mecca for people across the world looking for a better life. But given it’s current landscape, locals had taken to calling the land DeDust.

Within the vast borders of DeDust, people were everywhere. Farmers, bakers, and makers of all shapes and sizes gave DeDust one of the world’s most coveted economies. Since the strength of their economy was seen by many as the source of DeDust’s prosperity, its leaders put rules and safeguards in place to ensure continued success. While the rules were countless, confusing, and sometimes contradictory, they were all built upon a similar premise: the worship of a strong work ethic.

Within The Promised Land, work ethic was everything. It was understood to be the biggest difference between those who were successful and those who were not. Personal flaws could be overlooked if someone had a strong work ethic but not if they were lazy. Here, being lazy was worse than any cardinal sin. But work ethic wasn’t the only point of worship as hard work was a means of achieving a higher goal: Success.

Within the physical borders of The Promised Land existed another promise. If you worked hard and paid your dues, you were promised a life of success. How that success was defined was different for each person but within DeDust, there was no shortage of inspiration. Within the world’s most recognized economy, success was constantly on display for all to see. For those who had reached the true promised land, broadcasting your success for others to see had become part of the culture. Unsurprisingly, the culture had given rise to an entire industry focused on showing the working class what was waiting for them on the other side. Perhaps also unsurprisingly, this industry happened to be their largest.

Since its inception, the people of DeDust could move freely throughout the land. Assuming the land was not occupied by someone else, they had the freedom to make a home to live and a business to work. But as more and more people arrived, the harder it was to find a space that was unoccupied by others. And the further away you went from where the people were, the harder it was to make a home or find good work. So rules were created to protect the promised land from those who would come to benefit from its success without contributing to it.

At first, the rules were simple: Hard work earns good pay. This was a compelling reason to work hard because the harder you worked, the closer you came to success. Or conversely, one who didn’t work hard would struggle to survive. While these rules seemed sensible at first, they failed to deliver as intended. Sometimes people disagreed on the value of their work. Some believed that there was more value in working smart than working hard. There were even some who found it highly lucrative to work the rules while everyone else was working within them.

Despite the challenges in building rules to support the promise, the people and culture endured. As long as people believed in the promise of hard work leading to a better life, for the most part, they managed themselves accordingly. As time went on, The Promised Land lived up to its name, delivering success and prosperity on a level that the world had yet to see. While this level of recognition came with several benefits, it also meant that people around the world who were desperate for a better life were making their pilgrimage to The Promised Land.

At first, these individuals received a mixed welcome. Some were apprehensive about where these strangers came from and whether or not they could be trusted. But more often than not, the criteria for acceptance was your ability and willingness to work hard. Eventually, things started to change.

As the successful became more successful, they began to realize something important – while a great deal of hard work was required to reach the promise of success, by comparison, very little effort was required to maintain your position there. Better yet, with very little effort, a successful person could make someone else successful. But who would they choose and why?

The answer to that question remains unclear, but the result of that question is obvious. Over the years, people began to gather in cities. And over time, these cities became beacons of prosperity within The Promised Land. But as the success became more readily available in the cities, so did the demand to live within its limits. This dynamic reached such an extreme that eventually, rules were created to limit access to the cities. At first, you had to carry identification showing that you were a resident of the city or a registered visitor. When that didn’t work, they placed guards at the main entrances to turn away anyone that didn’t belong. When that didn’t work, they built a wall.

Each of the many cities within The Promised Land’s borders was now surrounded by a sand-colored stone wall, impenetrably thick and tall enough so that no reasonable person would want to climb it. But that’s not why those on the outside rarely entered. Doors to the city were almost always left unlocked and the guards who once stood there had long since retired. There wasn’t even a written rule that prevented entry, for that would be a violation of one’s personal freedom. What truly prevented the outsiders from crossing that threshold was a deeply held belief they hadn’t earned the right to enter. In their minds, the true promised land existed on the other side of that wall and while they would arrive there one day, for now, they had DeDust.

And this is where we meet our story’s main character, Jamal, a 14- year-old boy who was born and raised just outside Hadira, one of DeDust’s largest cities. After years of asking, Jamal will finally be joining his father on a trip inside the city.