Kiwi is New Zealand’s national fruit but today Italy is its biggest supplier – it was only up until the 1980s did other countries besides New Zealand export kiwifruit. This constellation is a deliberate design, part of a larger master plan called global capitalism. When New Zealand goes through winter, Italy takes over production. As a result, the Western World can buy kiwis everyday, all year. It is something of a miracle.
We live in a time marked by the mobility and excess of things. Hot, prepared meals can be delivered to our doorsteps in 30 minutes. Superstores are one-stop paradises with a seemingly limitless supply of everything you would ever need. Kiwis are sold everyday of the year. Some people call this access or progress.
Yet, consider the mobility of things versus the mobility of people today. Food can fly across borders fast. Today market value is the ubiquitous definition of worth and food generates profits. The value of human beings to society, on the other hand, is increasingly contested. Specifically, consider how the most immobile people have the least access to things. We also live in a time of war and displacement. For those in food deserts, actual deserts, conflict zones, otherwise divested or isolated places: where does their food come from?
Sometimes, history has shown, it falls from the sky.
The Falling of Manna: Part 1
Perhaps the first instance of food falling from the sky is the miracle of manna. The figure of God is the oldest alchemist and miracle-maker in the book. The Book of Numbers says manna first arrived with the dew during the night.
This is how the story goes:
Through his prophet Moses, God freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt after inflicting the famous Ten Plagues. They had no country of their own; they were refugees. God led them through the desert on a journey to a Promised Land. But these people mistrusted their God and failed to fully believe in a future of full health and citizenship. So God punished them for their disbelief with 40 years of abject wandering before the Israelites reached Canaan.
But God did not forsake them. Instead he fed them. God sent the Israelites manna and it was the food of their displacement for 40 years.
The Book of Exodus says that raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey and describes how Israelites learned to ground the manna to bake cakes. In the hadith Sahih Muslim of the Qur’an, the prophet Mohammed describes manna as the food Allah sent to the Israelites through Moses, whose juice was “medicine for the eye”.
Every morning fresh manna appeared then burned away later in the day when the sun became hot. God gave specific directions to the Israelites on how to gather and eat the manna, and twice they failed to obey. First, God told the Israelites not to save any manna overnight but some of them disobeyed. The next morning, the manna was spoiled with maggots, and Moses was angry. Then, God told the Israelites to gather twice as much manna on the sixth day because there would be no manna on the seventh day. Some of the Israelites disobeyed and went to look for manna on the Sabbath day, but as God said, there was none to be found. God responded wrathfully, saying to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?” (Exodus 16:28)
Unconditional love shapeshifts easily into wrath, really, the two are just avatars of each other and a believer has to learn how to accept and honour both.
Planes Over Berlin
The deliberate starvation of innocent civilians is a common weapon of war. In June 1948, the Soviet Union blocked rail, road and water access to Allied-controlled areas of Berlin. According to scholar Gerhard Wettig, West Berlin had approximately 36 days’ worth of food and 45 days’ worth of coal at the beginning of the blockade.
The United States and United Kingdom decided to fight Soviet control by taking on the unprecedented task of designing an operation to supply an entire city by air alone. No other operation of this scale since The Berlin Airlift has since been completed. From June 1948 until September 1949 (with the blockade formally ending in May), approximately 275,000 airplanes transported 1.5 million tons of food and supplies to Berlin. The story goes that a plane landed every three minutes at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport during the period.
Children waited for little gifts of chocolates and raisins to fall from the sky. Above them, American pilots playfully wiggled their plane’s wings to signal the gifts’ arrival.
Tempelhof Airport has since closed. The runways and green space of the airport are now used as a park. But new wars call for another redesign. Once the sole lifeline to Germans during the Cold War, today Tempelhof is in the highly-contested process of becoming developed into the city’s largest refugee center. Its main terminal already houses around 1300 people.
The Falling of Manna: Part 2
On May 12, 1947, the white Christian missionary (read: colonialist) newsletter Signs of Times published an article called “Manna Falls in Africa! Remarkable Story of Divine Providence in Angola”. Penned by a so-called “Superintendent ‘Voice of Prophecy’” named E.L. Cardey, the article appropriates the miracle of manna from the Book of Exodus to share a deeply racist message on the inferior belief and human status of African people.
Reporting on the life of missionaries “called upon to travel in heathen countries”, Cardey reenacts the miracle he alleges happened in March 1939. Cardey speaks of a man who established a mission in central Angola which brought in “hundreds of converts”. When he left the mission, the community was left for several years under the care of a “native director”. Only then did drought and famine begin and the Angolans began to suffer. It is suggested here that disaster struck because of the inferiority of non-white leadership.
In response to the situation, the native director’s wife decided to gather everyone and tell them the story of God’s gift of Manna to the Israelites. After they prayed to God, a little Angolan girl went outside then returned with “white stuff” in her hands which she was eating. The little girl said, “Out there I saw six European men, and they said: ‘The Lord answered your prayer and has sent you manna; take it up and eat it.’” The fact that the messenger or face of God embodies itself in the figures of six white men epitomizes the racism and paternalism of Christian missionary tradition.
The people then went outside to see large amounts of manna, which “in every detail [corresponded] to the coriander-like seeds of manna.” Cardey tells his readers that they were able to preserve the manna for many years. He explains the miracle this way:
In ancient times God permitted the manna to spoil each night if any were left over. The reason for this is given in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus, where it is said God wished to test their faith day by day….No, the day of miracles is not past. The same God who fed the hosts of Israel in the wilderness for forty years is willing and able to answer the prayer of faith even today.
Cardey is right in one thing: the windfall of manna to the Israelites was not simply a miracle but double-edged with wrath – a gift coded as a test of obedience, another opportunity for God to demonstrate his dominion over fallible men. The falling of manna to the Angola was another demonstration of the same principle.
With all legendary miracles, it is almost irrelevant whether it actually happened. What matters is how and why they are told and believed in. Here Cardey uses a miracle to reinforce the power of God (that is obvious) but also the supremacy of whiteness. The true message of the miracle is: God will save and feed the Africans that choose to submit themselves to Christianity via white missionary colonial influence. Everyone else is left to die in faithlessness.
Drones into Syria
In 2015, a group of engineers called Uplift Aeronautics at Stanford University is attempting to reclaim drones with The Syria Airlift Project. The Vice Director of Uplift Aeronautics, Jessie Mooberry, tells me the Berlin Airlift was the primary inspiration for the project.
Regime forces, rebel groups, and Islamic State are fighting a war of attrition in Syria. The battle for the city of Aleppo began in mid-2012. Since the end of 2013, government forces have waged a deadly aerial campaign in Aleppo using barrel bombs. Supply lines to civilian areas are fragile. The regime has closed borders to aid workers. Last month, the media reported that the last working pediatrician in Aleppo died when the Syrian regime bombed a hospital.
The primary goal of the Syria Airlift Project was to end starvation and medical deprivation as a strategy of war by flying drones from Turkey into Syria to deliver food and medicine. The group intended to flip the typical Western-savior design of food aid by training Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to autonomously build and fly the drones to their home country.
The Syria Airlift Project wanted to use very small drones that cannot be detected by radar and targeted by anti-air defenses. Though small, these drones are powerful and able to travel for more than an hour over a distance of 150 miles. The Syria Airlift Project used United Nation Security Council Resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191, which collectively authorize nonconsensual aid delivery to Syria, as the legal basis for the drones.
But the world of airtrade and sovereignty laws is thorny, and as Mooberry explains, they realized they were going to have to speak to other militaries to reserve airtime and airspace for their drone deliveries. The group sought assistance from different humanitarian groups like the UN to help them with these negotiations. But Mooberry tells me they were frequently pigeonholed and put down. After failing to find a powerful organization that would act as a liaison between them and the government of Turkey and other militaries, the Syria Airlift Project were forced to disband at the beginning of this year. They were never able to pilot their drone programme in Turkey.
Mooberry still believes drones are the future in delivering food, telling me that “technology is only getting more and more sophisticated”. But what is progress again? Drones are potentially miraculous, and like so much of technology, are evidence of human triumph and evolution. But the fact that civilization today must resort to developing the most advanced technology to provide the most basic of human needs demonstrates viscerally that we are living in broken, paradoxical times.
We like to tell these stories: people coming to the aid of another, impossible problems being solved through extraordinary means. But in praising the miracles we must remember their origins: how humans design war, poverty, trauma, inequality. Imperialist capitalism makes miracles necessary because it has rendered everyday social and economic justice impossible.
It is no coincidence that those with power (figures like God or the United States) are the ones represented in history as the miracle-makers and miracle-tellers. This narrative of Western people saving the rest of the world, of brown and black people being unable to save themselves, is just as lethal as war itself. Aid is not always helpful.
Nevertheless, there is truth in this instinct: when we need the world to feel bigger, we find ourselves craning our necks to look up at the sky, hoping for something to happen. Despite everything, there is still some innocence left in the world and that may be the true miracle.