— This is the Tuscany of Israel.
God, I hated that job. You climb the corporate ladder so high that one day you end up in Israel trying to convince some winery that the best place to sell their product is at a Costco in Sioux Falls. And what a worthless place to try and sell Israeli wine. My father had always seen Sioux Falls as the ultimate goal. Grandpa was raised in McLaughlin and stayed there his whole life, never wanted to leave the rez. Dad was born in McLaughlin, but wanted to get to Mobridge. And once he got there, then he wanted to get to Sioux Falls. He lived in Mobridge for a while, but hated it. He didn’t want to see the rez, it was too close. He wanted to get away from it, far away. And eventually he did. He raised me in Sioux Falls, taught me that I had to make something of myself, study, go to Europe. Get further away from Standing Rock than he ever could.
It was just a business trip, but this seemed like the closest I would ever get to Europe. I told dad. He was proud.
— Should find yourself a house down there! Maybe you could become the corporate ambassador to Israel.
And everyone at corporate thought it was hilarious that the Indian was going to get the Israelis to sell us their wine. “It was destiny!” or “Don’t drink it all away!” followed by cackles and chuckles was all I heard before I left. I was overjoyed by the time I finally boarded the flight to Tel Aviv. No more drunk jokes, no more Indian jokes, no more office war cries, nothing. I was free of my colleagues, my bosses. Sioux Falls and its stifling racism. I could lay back in my seat, take an ambien, and sleep all my problems away on the eleven hour flight. I’d get to Israel and it would be an escape from the hell that was South Dakota.
But even an ambien can’t make you sleep for eleven hours straight. By the time I’d woken up we were over Greece. I reached into the seat compartment in front of me and picked up a magazine that was lying inside. On one of the pages of the magazine was a map of Israel and the best resorts throughout the country. I eyed it for a little while, letting it sit on my knees crushed by the person in front of me leaning back in their chair. I looked at the valleys, gorges, cities and towns. And the borders. Thick black lines that highlighted the country like eyeliner. And right through the middle of the map was a mass of dashed lines, those kind that mean that a border isn’t concrete, even though there’s concrete at the boarder. At that moment, looking at all those dotted lines going this way and that, I realized I was flying right back to the Dakotas, landing right in Sioux Falls. I’d be travelling around Dakota Territory, hitting right up to the border of the Great Palestinian Reservation.
And so I landed in Tel Aviv, left the airport, and was driven to Bet Shemesh. From Bet Shemesh I would go to Neve Michael, a small town near the border with Palestine. Israel’s very own Mobridge. I’d only be in the country for three days and four nights. The first day would be visiting the winery, the second would be getting the deal finalized, and the third would be leaving. Not much of a vacation. But at a certain point, you can’t think of anything as a vacation. Especially an eastward flight from Sioux Falls to Mobridge. The next day, when I’d woken up still groggy from the flight and headed out to the winery, all pretense of relaxation exited from my brain.
The tour was awful. I hate wine. Who wants to drink concentrated alcoholic grape juice? And all the pretentious Israelis showing me around the facility in their awful robotic English. Horrible. I had to get away from it all, they were just as bad as the people back home. At home I’d drive to the park, walk around, try and take my mind off of everybody that I had to deal with at work, in public, around. There was no park near. But there was a hiking trail just three minutes away from the winery. As soon as the tour was over I left to the trail to try and forget everything I’d just had to do. Forget the people and the situation, the voices and the smells; the feeling. Just try and retreat away from what I was living.
There was a sign at the entrance that said that whoever walked on this trail was walking through the Valley of Elah, the battleground of David and Goliath. I learned about David and Goliath in Sunday school, but I never paid much attention. The stories bored me. When we got home from church, we’d eat lunch with my grandparents, and grandpa would tell me stories. Old stories. He’d tell me creation, White Buffalo Calf Woman story, random stories. He’d tell me scary stories, too.
One day at church we got introduced to hell. It wasn’t the hell of having to recite verses, or the hell of trying to hide your boredom from the teachers. No, they taught us about the real hell, fire and brimstone hell, the hell you’ll never come back from. They would sit there and describe its horrors, the eternal fire where we’d suffer. They’d try to explain eternity to us. That it was a like moving every grain of sand from one beach to another, a single grain at a time, and then doing it all over again, forever and ever. I’d never been more scared in my entire life. It put a deep anxiety in me, the first existential fear that I’d ever felt. When I got home, I told my grandpa everything they told me. I crawed my fears to him like a crow.
— And you have to carry the sand forever and ever! Lalá, there’s nothing worse, nothing worse, and the only way you can escape it is to believe in Jesus! I told him crying.
— Well, that’s nothing. Have I ever told you about Íya before?
— I don’t think so, I’d say, wiping my tears away from my face, ready for another one of grandpa’s stories. He took in a deep breath, and began to speak.
— Wáŋ, tȟakóža, let me tell you about Íya. Íya líla tȟáŋka, thípi wakȟáŋ kiŋ isáŋm tȟáŋka škhé. He will eat anything near him. One day, Íya was out walking around, and he saw a whole camp. Ločhíŋ ȟče. And since there was no four-leggeds around, he had nothing else to fill his stomach but the people he saw in the distance. Wičhóthi kiŋ ektá máni yé. When he arrived, he reached into the lodges with his giant hands, felt around, and began to pull people out. Wíŋyaŋ kiŋ é na wíŋkte kiŋ é na wakȟáŋheža kiŋ wičháyute, he ate them all. And since he was a couple stories tall, none of them filled him. And so they say that Íya is still out there today, hunting little kids down to eat them like he did those kids in the lodges.
I never worried about hell again after I heard that story. No eternity of shoveling sand would ever scare me more than the thought of Íya finding me. He wouldn’t think twice once he saw me, he couldn’t think, all he wanted was to eat. To eat me. I would be swallowed whole, have to sit there in his stomach, spending eternity in there with all the other poor souls that he would end up eating. There was nothing worse, nothing that any priest could tell me could be any worse.
I walked on the trail and looked at all the hills around me. They looked like all of the buttes scattered around Lakota Country, they looked like all the little hills around the Black Hills. When I got a little bit older, became a freshman in high school, things got hard for me. It’s not easy to be a Native at a majority white high school. One day I came home from school, crying, tired of all the same racist jokes that the kids would tell. Grandpa was visiting, saw me come through the door and rush to my room, saw how hurt I was. He sat me down and talked to me. He told me the story of how Íya died. It was one of those moments that you can’t fully appreciate as a teen. He told me the story, and I pretended to still be upset, like it hadn’t phased me at all. Like I was so scarred by teenage life that nothing could save me. The veneer you put up around family to assure them that you’re hurting, just in case they don’t believe you. But the story saved me. All you want to believe as a kid is that the good guys win and the monster dies. All those kids at school were monsters. And knowing that Íya had been killed, even if I didn’t really believe it, gave me some sort of confidence.
But when you grow up, you have to deal with all these Íyas in your life. They’re everywhere. They’re at work calling you honey, at the bar calling you Pocahontas. They live in Sioux Falls, DC, and apparently in Israel, too. Your grandpa dies, your parents age, you don’t go back to the rez anymore. You start to forget things. You get distracted.
Until you hear skittish steps in front of you. I looked up. It was a teen, and he was moving like an Indian in a bordertown neighborhood he shouldn’t be in. I had no idea why he was on the trail; this was a place for tourists coming from the winery, not lost kids. And not only was he a lost kid, but he was the only brown kid I’d seen the entire day. You see things on the news, you know that things for brown kids in Israel isn’t easy. You know that things for brown kids isn’t easy. So I called out to him, seemed like the only right thing to do. As my grandpa would say, you don’t just let someone in a pickle stay in the jar.
He stopped and looked at me. You have that whole split second of eye contact to decide what it is that you want to do. You could change your day, week, year, life, all of that gravity weighing on a choice that you make almost immediately in real time, but that you think out carefully in your head. In his eyes, I saw him making the decision, the sparks flying, gears turning, engine chugging, choosing whether he would talk to this strange woman walking along this trail, or whether he would blink, turn, and run the other way. The eyes tell you when someone’s in that sort of situation, nothing else.
And after that split-second, the split-second that takes no time but all a lifetime of thought in your head, he stepped forward. And stepped again, and again. He walked towards me, worried at first, but with a smile coming up on his face, the anxiety being left behind where the decision had been made.
— ! السلام عليكم
— Uhh. Um, waalkum isalam, I sputtered out.
I’d studied a bit of introductory Hebrew and Arabic on the flight. This interaction wouldn’t be long if he couldn’t speak English. So I asked him
— Do you speak English?
— English? Umm, a little. he said as he pinched his fingers together.
— Shu ismik?
— . اسمي داوود
— Daaaaa. Uuuuud. Daud.
— Yes, he said with a smile. My name is Daud.
There’s something special about interactions like those. You don’t really understand each other, and you know you never really will, but sometimes you just need to talk to someone. I was glad to be talking to another Indian after having spent all my time in a winery with a bunch of rich Israelis.
Come to think of it, he was the first Indian I’d spoken with in months. There was no other Native working at the office. I stayed home a lot now that I was working, so I didn’t get to talking to anyone at bars, parties, anything like that. I stayed quiet at home, didn’t try to talk to anybody. And Daud. Well, I don’t know why he decided to talk with me, why he stopped, why he didn’t just keep walking. But he did, he stopped. And as his steps towards me faded away, and he stood still next to me, trying to communicate in our Arabic-English hybrid language, a new set of steps began.
I looked behind us to see what it was. And there he was. Uniform, rifle, beret, boots.
— ?מה אתה עושה
— Uh, I’m sorry, I don-
— !סתמי ת’פה
The Palestinian boy didn’t move. He just stood there and looked at the soldier as he walked up to us, yelling in Hebrew. I didn’t understand anything, I just stood there. “Don’t trust the police, they’ll make you a statistic,” is what my mother always told me. I wanted to move, I wanted to get away, but I couldn’t. And what would I do? Run away off into the hills of a foreign country. I had no idea where I was. And what about the boy? When I looked at him, I could see that he felt the same way. His mom had told him the same thing. But she’d also told him never to run, always to listen, obey orders, or else.
The soldier kept approaching, eventually got within a few steps of us, still screaming. He held his rifle at his side.
— ?!אנגלית מדבר אתה
— I don’t know if he understands you.
And at that moment, the boy turned heel and ran. An Indian running from the army, the Indian police, the police police, running as fast as possible, leaving everything behind him. His thoughts, his past, his future, his life. All of it had become a cloud of dust rising up around me and the soldier. And being an Indian, I knew that there was only one way that this story could end. I looked from the boy running over to the soldier standing in front of me. And just as slow as I studied the boy’s eyes when I first saw him, I studied the eyes of the soldier. But I didn’t find the brain working, no decision making process. The decision was immediate.
Grandpa would tell me stories he’d got from his grandparents. Stories they’d got from their grandparents. He would tell me about how the Bluecoats invaded Lakota Country. He told me that they would come in and just start shooting people, whoever dared look at them, whoever would dare move. The night that grandpa had told me the story of Íya, I was the most scared I’d ever been in my life. I got in bed, hid under the covers, and waited for Íya. Waited for his big hand to reach through the window and pull me out of my room. I couldn’t take it anymore, the fear, the horror. I called grandpa into my room.
— Lalá! Lalá! Come here, please, Lalá!
— Tókȟa he, tȟakóža? My grandpa said in a soothing voice, sitting down on my bed. He knew I was frightened.
— Lalá, Íya imánihaŋ. I don’t want him to eat me, I don’t want him to eat me, Lalá.
— Niyútiŋ kte šni, tȟakóža. You’re too small, you wouldn’t fill him up anyways, he said with a smile on his face.
It didn’t make me feel any better. The humor didn’t help. Knowing that he existed was enough to make me afraid, it didn’t matter if he ate me or not. His existence was enough.
— Lalá, does anything scare you?
He leaned back and looked at the ceiling for a moment. The smile came off his face, he began to look very serious, thoughtful. He turned back to me, looked at me. He gave me that look, the look of love and hurt that only a grandparent can give.
— When I was your age, my lalá told me the same Íya story that I told you. I got scared, just like you, so I asked him what scared him the most, just like you. He told me, “wašíču kiŋ.” So I asked him why, why he was scared of them. He told me, “Matȟéča k’uŋ héhaŋ mílahaŋska kiŋ lalá ktépi.” You see, tȟakóža, when I was born, there was no more Bluecoats. No cavalry. No army. The army couldn’t kill us anymore, they couldn’t kill family anymore. But there were still whites. They could kill me. Just like they killed my lalá’s lalá. They could kill any Indian. I don’t have to think of Íya coming for me to be scared anymore. I just have to go to Mobridge, just be an Indian in Mobridge.
He started to raise his rifle.
He put his finger over the trigger.
And before he had the time to pull the trigger, I tackled him. He wasn’t expecting it, had his focus on the kid, so I took him completely off his feet. He yelled as I held onto him, I tried to keep him from moving. He thrashed around, tried to pull me off, anything he could do to get free. But I held on as hard as I could, wouldn’t let him go. Couldn’t let him go. Both of us were yelling, screaming, swearing. I didn’t know what was going on. Eventually I began to lose my strength. It’s hard trying to keep a soldier occupied. And as with everything else, the longer you’re at it, the more your mind loses focus on what it’s supposed to be doing and begins to race around. I started thinking.
Would I die in Mobridge like my father was scared to? Scared to die near the rez. There it was, right there, right over the hill. We’d been travelling as far away from it as possible, and now I sat looking back at it, wrestling with a Bluecoat. And as I rolled around with the soldier, I cried. I cried for fear of my life, I cried for the boy. I cried because I was scared. I wanted to go home. And not home to Sioux Falls. I wanted to go home. Right there past the dashed line in the distance, back to grandpa, back to stories, back to comfort. I wanted to go home.
And while I looked to home, a thunk sounded next to me. The soldier stopped struggling. I held onto him for an eternity, waiting for him to thrash again. But he didn’t move. Nothing. I looked over to my side, and saw the still and bleeding head of the soldier, a large rock, and Daud’s feet. I looked up at him. We looked at each other like the first time our eyes had met, just three minutes earlier. We couldn’t have looked at each other for longer than a second. But that second was the longest of my life.
We looked at each other as we were.