Monday, September 28, 2015

[Memphis Reads 2015] Fresh Reads Top Ten Winner Gabriela M. Morales Medina

What is the What
Gabriela M. Morales Medina

… and when God was done, and the monyjang were standing on the earth waiting for instruction, God asked the man, “Now that you are here, on the most sacred and fertile land I have, I can give you one more thing. You can either have this cattle, as my gift to you, or you can have the What”…

-God , creation  myth 
As  told by Arou in What is the What

In the creation myth told by Valentino’s father, Arou, to the Baggara, God offered the monyjang people two things from which they could only choose one: the cattle or the What. The cattle represented stability, safety and the known; with the cattle they were sure that they would always have food, milk and would live good lives. On the other hand, the What represented the unknown and all of the challenges it could bring, so the people in the story chose the cattle.

Because of the uncertainty that the What represents, the people in the creation story viewed it as a fool’s choice, yet during the duration of the novel, we see that Valentino chooses the What countless times. Why would he choose the unknown over the known: what is sure to happen over what might happen? The answer is that he chooses it because, at the moment, he has no other options. For example: when the government army attacked Marial Bai, Valentino was given a choice, he could stay there and allow himself to be captured or he could flee to the forest. If he chose the first option, he knew that more likely than not he would end up imprisoned or dead, yet he had no idea of what might happen to him if he chose the second option. Would he wander alone until he starved or was killed by some animal or might he be lucky enough to find some of his people? He didn’t know the answer to this question, yet he still chose this option. Why? Because it gave him a fighting chance; because in this case the known was a terrible fate while the unknown, the What, was the opportunity for something better.

Now, I believe that just like the people in the story and Valentino, we too are given the choice between the known and the What. In fact, I even dare to say that we are given this choice on a daily basis. In every action we take we are choosing between staying in our comfort zone and doing what we always do or doing something new and different. For instance, back home in Puerto Rico, when a student graduates from high school, they’re usually expected to attend the University of Puerto Rico, or as it’s more commonly called La UPI . During my time as a student in high school, this was the goal I worked for. That’s where everyone wants to study, I kept telling myself, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that that wasn't where I wanted to go. After a lot of thinking, I realized that: number one, I couldn’t study what I wanted to major in at La UPI and number two, that if I kept doing what everyone else did, I’d never do anything worth while with my life. Thanks to this I decided to research and apply to universities in the US and what would happen. Little did I know that thanks to that decision, I would travel out of the country by myself for the first time, meet people I knew nothing about and be able to win a scholarship to attend university in Memphis, a place so different from the one I grew up in.

I chose the What and thanks to it I’ll be starting a great adventure at Christian Brothers University, something that I never expected to happen. So in the end, what I’m trying to say is that in some cases, it is better to choose what is known to us since it would be unwise to constantly be risking one’s own safety, yet I believe it to be equally or even more inadvisable to never take risks at all, for if we don’t take risks and dare to do something new, how can we gain anything better than what we already have.

--Gabriela M. Morales Medina

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