it's columbus day. a holiday here in the u.s. that few (other than those who work for the government) seem to celebrate. even though a small fraction of the work force is off, it changes the mood of the whole day. it being monday is bad enough, but once the idea gets in my head that i really could be sleeping in instead, its hard to get into my work. on days like today, i really need an emergency to jolt me out of my stupor. alas, there were no emergencies today
actually, just a few years ago, i didn't even know when columbus day was. i am sure i would notice that the mail didn't come on that odd monday in october. but when that would happen, i probably just assumed that no one wanted to send me anything rather than thinking it was a holiday. the holiday is easily forgettable. it comes at a particularly non-festive time. it doesn't mark the beginning or end of any season like labor or memorial day, and it is not associated with any special activity (like thanksgiving dinner). if anything the holiday, has the air of political incorrectness about it. after all, columbus day commemorates the "discovery" of america by europeans, who spent the next few hundred years slaughtering and stealing from the original inhabitants of this place. the arrival of europeans here was such a huge event, with such profound consequences in the history of north and south america. i think it is worthy of being commemorated. arguably, everything that came after in the history of this end of the world was affected by it. but its hard to get past the cloud of genocide that hangs over the whole thing. i think a lot of people don't know what to do with it these days. so aside from parades held somewhere that i read about but never see, this holiday slips past without much fanfair.
but i will never forget when this holiday is anymore. two years ago, i arrived in mali on what i did not know was columbus day. it also was the day american military action in afghanistan began. when i found out the u.s. was invading somewhere (i was not sure where, but suspected afghanistan), i went to the u.s. embassy where they supposedly had an information office where american citizens could read american newspapers. (the office, it turned out was closed, a victim of the internet cafes that sprung up around the country. but i didn't know that so i went to the embassy)
the embassy was a walled compound with concrete blocks obstructing all streets for a block radius around out. i think it was designed to stop car bombs. at the embassy walls were u.s. marines. by the concrete blocks were a second ring of security., malian guards. i tried to walk by the malians, flashing my u.s. passport, but they stopped me, saying the embassy was closed that day because it was an american holiday that day. i ended up arguing with them. i told them there was no american holiday in october. i told them they had been duped. i told them that the embassy was probably closed because it was in a muslim country and the u.s. was currently invading another muslim country. the guards would not budge. it was an american holiday they insisted. eventually, i gave up and left, convinced that the guards had been lied to.
three weeks later, i was sitting in my office flipping through the calendar that sits on my desk. i caught a glimpse of the caption over october 8, 2001, "columbus day" "ahhhh, columbus day..." i said to myself. i will never forget this holiday again.