“No way” was Captain Ttwani’s first reaction to the Gorillas’ requests which I had just presented to him. I could not understand why he was so adamant in refusing their simple demands. It was a no-brainer, really, and honestly the authorities had far more to lose than the Gorillas if the strike went ahead. ‘You see, Captain’, I said, trying to make him understand, ‘it’s not only all the cancelled bookings you should be worried about, but also the attention this strike will attract, the longer it goes on. Once you get the media’s full attention, it’ll be difficult to stop. They’ll scrutinise every tiny move the authorities make and the bigger the story becomes, the more difficult it’ll be to control it. Are you really sure you want that? If you settle the dispute now, everything will get back to normal in no time. After all, some kinds of disputes are straightforward when there are animals involved’, I said, genuinely thinking he would understand.
‘I will not leave the policy of my national park to be dictated to by a bunch of Gorillas’, he replied with hate in his eyes. ‘If they don’t fall back in line soon I’ll have to resort to Plan B –’
‘And what will that be, if I may ask?’ I knew there was not much room for manoeuvre, even if he was capable of hiring all the resident gorillas of all the zoos in the world.
‘I’ll dress up the chimpanzees to look like small gorillas and put it out that because of lack of food they can’t grow to the same height as before. I’ll then ask for more donations, taking pictures of dying little gorillas and post them on any emails we received in the past from visitors, so that they’re aware of what’s going on. People who live in big cities are always suckers for pictures of a dying animal. I’ve seen it in their adverts’, said the Captain, as if he’d thought long and hard about it all.
‘But why make up this long-winded lie when you can solve the problem by just reintroducing the Batwa to their natural habitat and train them to be the Gorilla trackers. They know the forest even better than the Gorillas. They’re happy in the forest and you won’t look like you’re keeping them in a concentration camp. It’s a win-win situation. I’m surprised an intelligent man like you can’t see that.’ I really did not mean that, but I felt that maybe a bit of buttering up was needed to boost his ego a bit.
I could not believe that he wanted to dress up chimps like gorillas. It was actually quite hilarious to hear that, and even more so to hear about the pictures of a little dying gorilla being sent to previous visitors in order to get more money out of them. Are city people so stupid that they won’t know the difference between a chimpanzee and a real gorilla? I asked myself. It was all a bit confusing. I wished I could read the Captain better, but it was impossible.
‘…because I simply will not have my policy dictated to by a bunch of savages, and even less by a bunch of animals’, he said, carrying on in that pompous vein. ‘So why are you talking to me then? I’m part of that bunch you know’, I said, getting a bit irritated.
‘Because I was told you can understand me and you might help me in solving this difficult situation’, he replied a bit more amicably.
‘Well, why don’t you take my advice then?’ I asked politely, even though I felt I was wasting my time.
‘Because I can’t give in to what those savages are requesting. It’s as simple as that’, he said, looking away from me.
‘What’s the problem with ‘those savages’? They’ll be happy there. They’re not asking for anything in return – just permission to live in the forest like they used to. They can even help you in exchange by doing the Gorilla-tracking for free. The Gorillas will resume their duties, everything will go back to normal, and all the money will start flowing back into your pocket.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have said that last bit but I did it deliberately because I was getting really irritated by his refusal to compromise. I assumed there was only one reason for it and I wanted him to know I had figured it out.
‘Are you suggesting I’m pocketing money?’ he said, looking me in the eyes. ‘All I’m saying is I don’t understand why you’re behaving like this. It doesn’t make any sense. You’re putting the lives and jobs of your people at risk and those of the people in the area who are benefiting from the gorilla tracking – all for the sake of not giving the land back to those Batwa.’ I was nearly ready to walk out, but the Captain was a step ahead of me.
‘You know, what I don’t understand is how I could have possibly thought an animal was going to be able to solve this problem. I’m sorry but I think you should go now. You’re dismissed’, he said.
I was dismissed? I was happy to go. I had better things to do with my time than talking to a lunatic who wanted to turn chimpanzees into gorillas.
Still, I could not stop smiling at his silly idea. It was actually really funny and I was on my way to tell the Gorilla when I heard somebody whispering my name from the bushes.
‘NonnoPanda . . . hey over here’, said the voice, trying to help me look in the right direction. I recognised Mbuti. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘Aren’t you on the picket line with the Gorilla anymore?’
‘I came to look for you. I’ve got something I think you should see’, said the Batwa girl.
I followed her through the forest till we reached a spot where we could see, from a distance, a big camp buzzing with activity right in the middle of the jungle.
‘What on earth is a big compound like that doing in the middle of the forest?’ I asked her.
‘I don’t know, Nonno, but I have the feeling this has got something to do with why we’ve been chased out of this land – it’s not because of the Gorillas.
It was hard to believe it, but the assumption of the little Batwa girl was close to the mark. There was far too much activity not to raise any concerns.
‘Let’s get closer and find out what’s happening’, said Mbuti. I followed her and at a closer remove we could see that indeed the activities seemed to have a definite purpose though we still did not know what it was. There was some giant machine that moved in a cyclical rhythm as if a big hammer were trying to nail something into the earth; and there were lots of mechanical monsters ripping apart the surrounding area. What made the whole thing suspicious was that all this was fenced off, and people dressed up like Capitain Ttewani where checking everybody before they entered the site. Was all of this really necessary? What were they trying to protect? The only people in the area were animals, who definitely had no interest in eating those mechanical machines; they did not look that appealing to me.
‘I think they’re looking for oil, and if that’s so, then we’re doomed’, said the Batwa girl ‘What oil?’ I asked, thinking of the fish oil that some bears love so much, not remembering the oil that came from the bowels of the Earth.
‘It’s the oil of the Earth. Men fight over it all the time. And’, said Mbuti, ‘I’ve heard they can destroy entire countries for it. But humans rely on it hugely to live their daily lives. And if that’s what it is, NonnoPanda, there’s no argument Captain Ttewani will ever listen to.’
‘Ok, forget about the captain. What can we do to stop all this before it goes too far?’ I asked the girl.
‘We should tell the Gorillas and see what ideas we can come up with. We need to act before it’s too late’, suggested Mbuti.
After getting over the initial shock of hearing about our discovery, the Gorillas began to discuss almost immediately what action to take. There was a bit of confusion initially, as nobody had ever been in a situation like this.
So all sort of suggestions were thrown on the table. The Gorillas wanted to get into the camp and destroy everything, but Mbuti pointed out that the Captain Ttewani look-alikes had rifles and would not hesitate to use them.
‘Besides’, she pointed out, ‘we should avoid as many casualties as possible.’ Whatever way they looked at it, the situation was proving tricky and it seemed there were very few solutions.
‘We’ve no choice but to carry on with the strike’, said Gory the Chief Gorilla.
‘Well! You’ve got to be careful with that, too, because Captain Ttewani has a surprise in store for you’, I said, smiling.
‘What surprise?’ asked the Gorillas, in unison.
I explained the Captain’s idea and the Gorillas just burst out laughing.
‘We know city people are detached from reality, but we didn’t think they could be so stupid as not to see the difference’, said Gory, still laughing.
‘Well, they do think milk comes from a carton’ added Mbuti.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ said Gory.
‘You’d be surprised’, I joined in. ‘They live in their bubble all the time and our reality is different from theirs.’
‘Anyway, this isn’t the point’, said Mbuti. ‘But we can use this ridiculous idea of theirs to our own advantage.’
‘How?’ asked the Gorilla, and Mbuti outlined her plan to him.
So the Gorillas stayed out on strike and then Captain Ttewani decided to replace them with the disguised chimps. The Gorilla pretended to be defeated. Then Captain Ttewani sent his bogus information to the people on his database and organised a big press conference to show the extensive damage the Gorilla strike had inflicted on their young. Mbuti and her people stormed into in the middle of the conference and proceeded to show the difference between a chimp and a baby gorilla. The press went mad. Once she got its full attention, she exposed the real motive behind the whole situation, taking the journalists to see what was going on in the middle of the forest. Of course, you can easily imagine the rest of the story: the oil company responsible for the oil exploration site did not like being portrayed as somebody polluting and wrecking the world’s natural resources and abandoned the project. Captain Ttewani was made the scapegoat for all the mistakes of his superiors and the new captain was forced to accede to the Gorillas’ request to have the Batwa as their trackers so that he could show the world their national park was now a truly ethical place, free from corruption.
What that little Batwa girl managed to achieve for her people was extraordinary and when I went to congratulate her in person on her new position. She was now in charge of the gorilla trackers, basically running the whole national park.
I asked her, ‘How did you know it was going to turn out like that?” She looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Join, learn, beat.’
I was not sure I fully understood what sounded like her mantra. That must have shown on my face, because she immediately explained further.
‘NonnoPanda, join the system, so you can learn the system, in order to beat the system. That’s all I’ve done.’
Well, I could not add anything to that. But I could see that the gloomy Batwa girl who had hardly been able to speak to me not so long ago, had now a self-confident smile on her face. And that was good enough for me.