Jan 05, 2000
When United Farm Workers organizer Frank Curiel answered the phone in mid-December, he had just come from Quincy Farms, which each year produces 25 million pounds of white button mushrooms and 500,000 pounds of giant portobellos. He had attended the weekly “workers board” meeting, at which a union representative, five workers and five company managers discuss working conditions and productivity at the Southeast’s largest mushroom grower.
The 20th century began in Sarajevo and it will end in Sarajevo.” That saying, current during the war in Bosnia, wasn’t too far wrong. A grim age that began with the 19th century’s bleeding to death in a war sparked in the Balkans is ending, in places like Sarajevo and Kosovo, with the aftershocks of communism’s collapse.
Are we there yet?” my son Andy cries just as we are pulling out of the driveway. “Are we there yet?’ when we drive up to the McDonald’s take-away window. “Are we there yet?” when we stop at a traffic light. No, not yet. Unable to grasp any estimate I might give him (is an hour short? is a day long?), he fusses, then falls asleep, only to wake up surprised upon our arrival.
“Is it morning yet?” I hear Andy call out from his bedroom. I check the clock: 3:00 a.m. “No,” I say, “it’s still sleep time.” He takes my word for it and goes back to sleep.
A man once asked God why he had blessed Nigeria so abundantly, a popular joke goes. Not only did the country have vast human resources, rich agricultural land and diverse mineral deposits, but God had placed immense quantities of oil and natural gas within its borders. “Surely this is unfair,” the man remarked, “especially when compared to what you gave other countries in Africa.” “Yes,” God replied, “I have blessed Nigeria abundantly in all these ways—but I made up for it by the quality of the leaders I gave it.”
I remember myself as an insomniac nine-year-old, lying sleepless in bed after my parents had turned out the lights. In those self-centered, introspective days of childhood, I hardly believed in the reality of the present. How could anything really happen? I wondered. Reality didn’t seem real until it was past, when I could turn it over in my memory and find the meaning of it. A trip to the circus, being punished by my father, the appearance of light on water—nothing became fully real for me until I could remember it and think about it.