September 23, 2010

Magic Water

In a sub-Saharan African country, wrecked by decades of endless drought, ravaged by disease and malnutrition, the tribal elders felt helpless to lift the populace out of their misery. There had been a great deal of poor planning for decades, truth be told, it was obvious that adherence to tribal ritual and folkways and a general failure to adapt had led to massive overpopulation and poverty, yet the members of the tribe still looked to the elders for leadership and hope.

A few miles north of the village, in the general direction of the trackless Sahara, one of the elders found a Magic Oasis. Life there was cool and easy, with lush vegetation, ample water and plenty of shade. Well, the "water" wasn't real, but it could be made to flow at will, and the tribal elder was reluctant at first to say much about it. He wasn't sure, really, how it even worked, but eventually he told the other 18 elders about it and pretty soon they were all making regular trips up to the Magic Oasis where they splashed around in the Magic Water, drinking to their hearts' content, lolling in the shade and in general living the good life. What was obvious was that they couldn't really share the water, magic though it might have been. "There's not enough for everyone," the elder who found the Oasis said.

This was a problem, they agreed. Maybe, they thought, some of the Magic Water could trickle down to the general tribesmen, they could get just enough to keep them happy, and that would ease the consciences of the 19 Elders who were up to their necks in the stuff. "Nope, won't work," said one of the elders. "It won't be Magic anymore if they all get some of this water."

The natives, however, were getting increasingly restless. "This sucker could go down," said one of the elders, a Bushman. They then hit on an idea that was beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness. One of the elders ventured down into the moiling tribe, among the filth and disease, and found Hopama, a particularly gifted and articulate tribesman. They brought him up to the Magic Oasis. He was impressed. "We have an idea for you, Hopama," they said. "We think you ought to run for Chief on the idea that this stuff belongs to everyone. After you become chief, you can make sure that the Magic Water stays with us, but you can tell them anything you want. After you've been Chief, you can be an elder too, and splash around in this stuff all you want. What do you think?"

It sounded good to Hopama, because, although he didn't say this to the Elders, he didn't really give a shit one way or the other. He was elected Chief pretty easily, because he really could talk. Some of the Elders even went to work for him, sort of, although their hearts were always back at the Oasis. After a couple of years, the tribespeople noticed that the Magic Water (yeah, they'd heard about it by now, you can't hide Magic Water forever) was still up North at the Oasis and wasn't doing them a hell of a lot of good. "What gives with the soft touch with the Elders?" they began asking him. "How come they're not down here with the flies and the malaria like the rest of us? They got it better than ever."

Hopama had to bob and weave for a couple of years, but just as the Elders promised, he eventually became an elder too and hung out at the Magic Oasis with the rest of them. That lasted for a couple of years until the Chinese bought the land and put an airport there.

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