Cul­ture Clash

Geist - - Findings - EDDY WEETALTUK

From From the Tun­dra to the Trenches. Pub­lished by Univer­sity of Man­i­toba Press in 2017. Eddy Weetaltuk was born in James Bay in 1932. He en­listed in the Cana­dian Army and served in Korea, Ja­pan and Ger­many. From the Tun­dra to the Trenches is the story of one of the first Cana­dian Inuit who de­cided to go to war. Weetaltuk died in 2005.

We landed in Kure late in the evening and were loaded into trucks. When we ar­rived, we were told that we could stay at the camp for free un­less we pre­ferred to rent a room in one of the ho­tels down­town. Of course, stay­ing at the camp was not an op­tion for most of us, at least as long as we still had enough money to party. We all picked up our passes; we had fourteen days’ per­mis­sion leave. It sounded like for­ever. I could hardly imag­ine I was ever go­ing back to the front. Racette and I took a taxi to Kure. We had much fun go­ing from bars to bor­del­los but I am not go­ing to waste your time with more sto­ries of that kind. How­ever, I re­mem­ber quite a funny episode from that leave. One day when we were too drunk to look for a ho­tel by our­selves, we were go­ing to take a cab and ask the driver to find one for us, like we used to do in such cir­cum­stances. But that night Racette de­cided to take a rick­shaw in­stead. I was not sure but he in­sisted:

—Come on, Eddy. Let’s try it, at least once. You can­not go back to Canada with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing such a ride.

I let him con­vince me and each of us took a rick­shaw. We told our driv­ers to take us to the near­est ho­tel. When I sat in the rick­shaw, the man pulling it gave me a whip and told me to use it on him if he didn’t go fast enough. I laughed and found it ridicu­lous. But as I was in quite a good mood, I shouted at him in Inuk­ti­tut as if I were mush­ing a dog team. Af­ter a while, I re­ally

felt like I was on a sled, mush­ing my dogs, and I be­gan whip­ping on his handrail yelling:

—Oweet! Oweet! Arra! Arra!

Aowk! Aowk!

I was laugh­ing and hav­ing fun like when I was a kid trav­el­ling with my dad on the ice floe. It was a unique mo­ment. Of course, the rick­shaw driver could not un­der­stand that the ride was bring­ing back feel­ings from my child­hood. Now that I re­call the events I am sure he must have been quite scared. Af­ter all, I was a sol­dier, I was drunk, and I was us­ing the whip like a pro. Since he could not un­der­stand my lan­guage, he ran faster and faster, try­ing to sat­isfy his fu­ri­ous cus­tomer. The faster he ran, the more fun I had and the more I was us­ing my whip. Be­hind us, Racette was laugh­ing his head off, won­der­ing what I was say­ing and why we were mov­ing so fast. His rick­shaw driver was do­ing his best to keep up be­hind us but could hardly fol­low our pace. Fi­nally, we stopped in front of a small ho­tel called Se­n­esin. The driv­ers were ex­hausted. I was im­pressed by the strength and the en­durance of my driver. The more I got to know the Ja­panese peo­ple, the more my re­spect for them grew, though I was not sure about the idea of ask­ing to be whipped by a cus­tomer. I was think­ing to my­self that these peo­ple were a bit like my peo­ple, ready to work hard to sur­vive. And, some­how, running and pulling a rick­shaw was very sim­i­lar to running be­hind a dogsled with some­one on it. I gave five dol­lars to my driver to ease my con­science for hav­ing treated him the way I did.

Unfortunately, my con­science did not stay awake long enough and that same night I was go­ing to mis­treat an­other mem­ber of those proud and highly friendly peo­ple. Now that I re­call that time I am pretty ashamed, but I can only ex­plain my sit­u­a­tion by the fact that ev­ery­one in the army was act­ing with lit­tle re­spect for the peo­ple they were sup­posed to pro­tect. When we got into the ho­tel, we asked for a girl to spend the night with, as we were used to do­ing. Racette got lucky and he had a very nice-look­ing girl; mine was pretty well-built but her face was not in­ter­est­ing. It looked like some­one had kicked her face. At first I thought about re­fus­ing to take her, but I changed my mind think­ing that I was not go­ing to make love to a face but to a body.

Af­ter all, I could still ask her to hide her face, like we used to say in the army: “Just pull down the hood and all the girls are alike.”

Dur­ing the night the girl did ev­ery­thing to please me. I was bas­tard enough to ask her if she was that good be­cause she wanted to be for­given for her ug­li­ness. Now I re­al­ize that we were ac­tu­ally treat­ing Ja­panese women as if they were meat in a meat mar­ket and not hu­man be­ings with feel­ings. The war was turn­ing us into preda­tors, trained to kill men and to chase women, al­ways look­ing for the youngest and the pret­ti­est. That’s what war was turn­ing me into.

When I woke up the next morn­ing, it was nearly eleven o’clock. I was com­pletely naked. I looked all over for my clothes and I could not find them. I im­me­di­ately ac­cused the girl of steal­ing my clothes:

—You cypsy, cypsy my clothes.

“Cypsy” meant steal­ing. In Ja­pan, ac­cus­ing some­one of steal­ing is a very se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tion. I knew it, but still I was yelling at her. She put on her ki­mono and rushed out and came back im­me­di­ately with all my clothes and my wal­let. My boots had been nicely pol­ished, my uni­form pressed and my money was still all there. I was feel­ing so cheap. I didn’t know which way to turn. I fi­nally chose to kiss her. A real kiss.

At that point Racette came into my room. He, too, was naked like a worm. He had heard my scream­ing and was com­ing to res­cue me. When he saw me kiss­ing the girl, he was a bit sur­prised:

—What are you do­ing, Eddy? I came in a hurry; I thought some­body was beat­ing you up. You screamed like a pig be­ing killed. What hap­pened?

—Sorry, Racette, if I scared you, but don’t worry, I am fine. It was a mis­un­der­stand­ing. I thought I had been robbed but in fact it was the con­trary. Now I laugh be­cause I am so happy. These girls are so nice to us.

At that mo­ment, his cute girl came in bring­ing his clothes. He too was amazed by the treat­ment.

To show my grat­i­tude I de­cided to stay a few more days. When the time came to go back to the camp, my girl told me it was too risky to walk in plain view be­cause the ho­tel was lo­cated out­side of the bounds and that day there were lots of mil­i­tary po­lice pa­trolling the sec­tor. She of­fered to help me get back to the camp and gave me a ki­mono and a pair of san­dals to hide my iden­tity. I ac­cepted her of­fer with­out re­sist­ing. Since I started mis­lead­ing peo­ple about my iden­tity, I no longer re­ally had any mis­giv­ings about pass­ing for some­one else.

While I was get­ting dressed, I heard some kind of ra­dio static and looked out. There was a mil­i­tary jeep right in front of the ho­tel. I was able to hear them ra­dio­ing to their base, re­port­ing that they were at an out-of­bounds ho­tel. They were com­ing in to check if any sol­diers were in­side. The girl had an­tic­i­pated their move, so she put a towel over my head to hide my army hair­cut and we left the house as if we were or­di­nary cus­tomers. While pass­ing by the jeep, she kept talk­ing to me in Ja­panese and I replied to her in Inuk­ti­tut. I re­mem­ber telling her: —Emaha! Emaha!

Emaha means, “hop­ing so far.” Ap­par­ently, my dis­guise was very good and my Inuk­ti­tut sounded Ja­panese enough, since we made it out with­out be­ing stopped.

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