The Land of Ulaqebu
By Charlie Manzano (Age: 11)
“Hurry up, Jane!” says my mother as she rushes me onto the boat.
We’re Jews, from a Russian Catholic City. We’re immigrating to America to escape programs, poverty, prejudice, pretty much anything that starts with a P. We could live with people yelling at us for nothing, but people wrecking our house and labeling us as criminals… that’s different. What I mean is that a neighbor stormed our house and the authorities decided we were “wanted criminals” while we were at the market. We tried to join our town’s Jewish Self-Defense, but that just made the Russians angry. Ever since, we had struggles in order to start our trip to America. Struggle #1, people killed or stole our horses infinity times during the travel to the docks. Struggle #2, people wrecked or stole our carriages. Struggle #157, when we stopped for food, we were thrown out for “inappropriate behavior.” Anyway, we almost missed the boat and now my parents are yelling at me. That was struggle #284. Little do I know this is only the beginning of our troubles.
After an infinity eternities and an eternity of infinities in steerage (seriously, a man next to us was constantly saying infinity for no reason – #439) we arrive at America. We stand on the docks relieved. Dad calls a horse carriage.
“Xjisi vu?” asks the cab driver.
“Excuse me?” says my father.
“Xjisi fu yua xepv vu hu?” asks the cab driver.
“Nevermind,” says my father. (#443)
We wander around the town. Mom keeps telling me that Dad knows what to do, but Dad tells me Mom knows what to do. Luckily, we find an abandoned cottage. It has a lot of weird furniture (#503), but it’s better than nothing. Dad goes to look for a job while Mom takes me to the market. As I walk through the city I see people talk in foreign languages, cube-shaped houses stacked and put perfectly in place, and people getting arrested for mistakes they made.
“I thought we are living in America!” I complain to my Mom.
“We are, but this is how people live, now please stop fussing!” she says.
We pretty much see the same thing on the market as we do on the street. Everything is positioned based on its price, size, and type of grocery. Furthermore, people are being arrested for “csieloph vji samit” or “samit csielis” when they just made a mess. Looks like the “land of the free” is more the “land of the perfectionists.”
We go to the accountant. So far we’ve bought: what looks like fish, what’s the shape of a loaf, and what’s the color of a cucumber. We put the hopefully kosher and hopefully edible goods on the table.
“Upi Japfsid qmieti,” says the accountant. My mom just decides to give all the money she has so she won’t pay less than she has required, hoping the accountant will give back the change. Instead, something terrible happens.
“Yua vjopl O fupv lpux vjot ot geli nupiy!?” screams the accountant. Mom runs and leaves behind the groceries behind. The accountant keeps screaming until she realizes we left the groceries behind. Unless that accountant is not American, that is no way to treat someone. What struggle is this? Oh Right! It’s #573.
Mom stops running, but I don’t. I keep running until I reach the abandoned cottage. I then open the door, slam it behind me and collapse on the floor crying. It feels weird that I’m crying in a house that’s not even mine. In fact, the only reason I’m in here is because it’s the only place I can hide.
“Jane, are you in there?” My mom catches up with me.
I don’t answer.
“Anne, where are your groceries? And where’s Jane?” My father comes back from searching for jobs. Finally, a conversation between Mom and Dad that I can eavesdrop on without getting caught.
“It’s a long story, Jake. Were you successful in finding a Job?”
“Yes and no. So what’s your long story?” says my dad.
“We couldn’t find anything familiar. What do you mean by yes and no?”
“Yes, I’ve found plenty of opportunities. No, I haven’t tried to get hired yet. About the market, why didn’t you just grab what looked similar? They had to have at least something close to-”
“I did, but the accountant screamed when I tried to pay for them. Why didn’t you try to apply yet?” Mom says.
“I’m worried about getting fired. But where’s Jane?”
“She ran and I couldn’t catch up to her. Why are you worried about being fired?”
“I won’t be able to understand what they’re saying. But we should look for Jane,” says Dad. I guess that’s #617.
They go to look for me, and I hide in a dark corner in the cottage. Unless this isn’t America, cottages shouldn’t be this weird. Mom and Dad come back an hour later, exhausted.
“Well, we tried,” says Dad.
“Don’t say that, she has to be…There you are!” says my Mom. She found me.
“We were so worried about you!” says Dad.
“Were you hiding here this whole time?” asks my Mom.
“I think she was, but please don’t do that, you scared us to death.”
“Yes, Anne?” says my dad. Now’s my chance to sneak out of here!
“That was rhetorical.”
“Oh, okay……. Hey! Get back here, Jane!” Uh-Oh.
“You’re grounded!” says my mom.
“Great, first we move to ‘the home of the strict,’ now I’m grounded,” I say.
“Hey, don’t get fresh with us,” says Dad.
“Yeah, and it’s the home of the brave, not the home of the strict,” says Mom.
“She knew it was the home of the brave,” says Dad.
“Oh, but stop being too negative, Jane, we’re in America, everything’s going to be okay,” says Mom.
Then, all of a sudden, we hear loud two voices outside.
“Pu! Yua mshuge!”
“Yua nusi mshuge!”
“Pu! Yua nusi mshuge!”
We look out the window and see two men punching each other. Then, a women comes up behind one of them and throws an anvil at him. The anvil hits his head. The man staggers toward a building, crashes into the wall, and collapses. Unless these aren’t Americans, people definitely don’t throw anvils at each other.
“Like you said, the home of the brave and the land of the free,” I say.
For the next week we struggle to get jobs, food, and money. Dad and Mom fail to get a job Sunday-Friday, but then get a job on Saturday. Can you believe it? Mom and Dad work extra hard on the Day of Rest (#707). Anyone ever heard of the 707, first Boeing plane ever? Well, struggle #707 is the opposite because that’s the last straw! This is not America. Also, until Dad and Mom get a job we have to dig through the trash to get our food (we still have to). The annoying thing about trash food is it’s not only disgusting, but you don’t know if it’s kosher (#743). On Wednesday, my parents decide to “prove” to me that this is America.
Mom goes up to a citizen and points to the ground and says, “America?”
“Ug duasti xi’si op America! Xjev fof yua vjopl xi xisi op? Mememepf?” says the citizen.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” says Mom.
Over the next month, we get about 31 ‘dipvt”, and since each month is 31 days, we get about 1 ““dipv” per day. How much do meals cost? Oh, right! 10 cents. Also, 2 out of 3 meals a day we dig through the trash, and 1 out of 3 meals a day we eat a tiny bit of a meal we bought (#816). One day I decide to prove to my parents that this isn’t America. I take my parents to a stranger, point to the ground, and ask:
“Land Of The Free? Home Of The Brave?”
“Xjev esi yua vemloph icuav? Yua’si xiosf!” says the stranger. Failure.
Life keeps getting worse and worse for what seems like a lifetime. So far I’ve gained a baby brain (lack of education), baby body (lack of food), baby teeth (lack of toothpaste/tooth fairy), baby muscles (lack of exercise), and a baby everything. Finally, one day when we’re wandering the streets looking for dropped “duopt” we hear some words we’re familiar with.
“I don’t care if you’re still deciding what to trade! I’m losing money every second!”
We round the corner and see a merchant arguing with someone who has to do with trade. When they’re done fighting we walk up to the merchant, who must know the country’s language.
“Can we please ask you a question, sir?” asks Mom.
“You speak English? Wait, let me guess. You want to learn how to ‘fit in’?” says the man.
“How did you…”
“No one who’s not a citizen Ulaqebu can fit in easily, and since you speak English I guess you’re not a citizen,” he says.
“Wait, did you say Ulaqebu? I thought we were in America!” says Dad.
“Well, you might of thought that because Ulaqebu in their language is America,” says the man.
“I told you this wasn’t America!” I say.
“Don’t start with us, Jane!” Mom says. “How is this possible?”
“You probably got on the wrong boat, that happens to me all the time,” says the merchant.
“Thank you so much for your help,” says Dad.
We rush back to our house and begin to pack our things up. An hour later (roughly, tops) we arrive at the harbor. We get on the boat and begin to sail away, and this time we know what we’re doing.
The boat ride is definitely an eon in steerage, but I don’t mind, I am so happy to get off that island. My parents, though, weren’t admitting they were sorry not listening to me. I wait and wait and wait for an apology, but it never comes. So I decide to take a risk and question my parents.
“Aren’t you sorry about ignoring my statements?” I ask.
“We are, but you should also be sorry, too, you know,” says Dad.
“Why should I be sorry?” I ask.
“That you must figure out yourself,” says Mom.
I don’t know what Mom and Dad were talking about. So I keep wondering about why my parents didn’t listen to me. Then, one day, an idea pops into my head. What if my parents didn’t listen to me because I didn’t work to show any proof? Maybe my parents meant I should be sorry about not committing to revealing that Ulaqebu wasn’t America. Maybe if I had stopped just talking fresh and being lazy and actually looked for evidence, we would’ve left a long time ago. So I say to my parents:
“I know what I should be sorry about. I shouldn’t have relied on my complaints to convince you. I should have tried to find real evidence that I wouldn’t exaggerate. I understand I shouldn’t talk back to you, for that will only make things worse. I now know the difference between commitment and talking with sass. I guess I just wanted to stop moving, to finally have a home, where I actually fit in. I’ve been so sick of all this hard travel, and I wish that just one stop would be welcoming. Do you forgive me?”
“Yes. Yes we do.”
When we arrive at America we have to go through Ellis Island first (more like the Island of Terror.) At the main land, we see streets going across and avenues cutting from where we are to the other side of the city. Walking through these streets and avenues are horses pulling carriages. The first few buildings we see are for jobs. Clustered around them are people sitting on the streets – how we’ll start in America (We still have Ulaqebu’s form of money). Then, a little farther down, I see small four story buildings with tenements, where we’ll be next. Then the farthest buildings I can see are houses and condos, the homes we’ll get when we’re wealthy enough.
We walk past a sign saying “WELCOME TO NEW YORK CITY”, hail a horse carriage, and tell the driver to go around the town (we’re looking for a home). We ride and ride and ride, until eventually, the driver gets impatient.
“Get out and pay!” he says.
My Mom and Dad realize they don’t have American money and try to pay Ulaqebu money as if it’s American. Unfortunately, the driver’s smart.
“Pay me or I’ll bring you back to where you came from!” says the driver.
I look him in the eyes and try my best to look like I’m about to cry.
“Fine, this ride is free, now get out.”
We hop out and talk about what we do now.
“How is this America if horse carriage drivers are mean?” says Mom.
“This is America, but drivers probably just act this way! People obviously just exaggerate America’s greatness,” I say.