When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, (1706-1790), Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746
Dystopia 12: The Jaguar People
Jack sat at the head of Laissi’s bed gazing into her face. He only half saw her, though. His eyes were half lidded with exhaustion and his mind showed him images from his past.
It was early morning and Paje sat at the foot of the bed with his head leaning against the frame and his eyes closed. He had finished his chanting yesterday morning and now he slept.
Paje had given Jack a bowl of water and a clean cloth to wash Laissi. Jack had dutifully washed her face and arms. His refusal to wash more had met with a raised eyebrow and a knowing look from Paje. As far as Jack was concerned, when Laissi woke she could wash herself.
Now Jack’s dull gaze was fixed on a face framed by matted hair. Her skin was reddened and blistered. Her lips were virtually black with blisters. His first memory of her as she entered Epi’s room to translate flashed before his eyes. Despite the gravity of his situation, he had thought her beautiful. Even now, even in the state she was in, he thought her beautiful. With his fairer skin he doubted he looked any better. Despite the scorpion within her, he would mourn her if she did not recover.
He was disturbed from his reverie by a dull thump. Jack’s bloodshot eyes rolled slowly over in their sockets to give their dull look to two buckets, one on top of another. Then he sighed and pushed himself out of the chair. His stiff joints carried him with a jerky motion to Paje’s table. He placed a measured amount of tea in a metal cup and added water from a jar on the table. He heated the cup using a makeshift tongs over the lamp. When it was a golden color and filled the room with its floral aroma he poured it into a cool ceramic cup and brought it to the bedside.
Laissi had been arousable enough lately to drink the tea and the rag was no longer needed. He cupped her head in his hand and began to wet her lips. She opened her eyes and looked at him. Then she cupped her hand around his and drank the liquid. When the tea was gone he asked, “Thirsty?”
Her eyes were closed but she nodded her head. He gave her two ladles of water. Then she waved the ladle away and lay back on the bed and went back to sleep.
Jack cleaned the cups. He went over to the stacked buckets and took the top one off the two sticks that held it above the lower one. He fished out the marble that had made the sound earlier and set it aside. Then he covered the hole at the bottom of the top bucket with his finger and poured the sand from the bottom bucket to the top. He sat the bucket with the hole gingerly on top of the sticks over the empty bucket and let the sand flow to the bottom bucket. Finally, he set the marble in the middle of the sand so that when it fell through the hole it would alert Jack that it was time once again for Laissi’s medicine.
He went back to his seat at the head of Laissi’s bed with the intention of dosing off until the marble fell again when someone entered the room.
Jack had not seen this man since the night they had come to this village. He was one of the men who had tackled him and held him while Paje cut open the infected wound on Laissi’s arm. He was taller than the other two men had been and the last to leave Jack when Paje had opened Laissi’s wound. The man glanced briefly at Paje and then to the bed and finally at Jack.
“What is your name?” he said softly and with an accent so thick Jack had to run the words through his brain for a moment to capture their meaning.
Jack stood up, unable to believe what he was hearing. “You speak English?”
“Very small. I am called Callum.”
Jack considered trying DJ again but it had not worked well before with someone whose English was much better, so he decided to continue being, “Jack.”
Callum repeated the name with the same accent as Laissi, giving Jack a moment of déjà vu. Then Callum went on, “Lets go outside. De Paje has worked hard. We should not disturb him.”
Jack was somewhat hesitant to leave Laissi’s side but Callum had already turned and was heading out the door. Jack could do nothing but follow. Besides it would be two hours before Laissi needed the tea again.
Outside he found Callum indicating a bench outside the hut. They sat and Callum asked about the rebel group they had come from. Jack told him about the stolen water and the raid by the Blackwaters. He described their narrow escape. Callum stopped him from time to time to ask him to rephrase a word or two he did not understand but otherwise listened to his story. At the end he asked, “And how did you come to be with Epi’s clan?”
Jack sighed. These men had treated him well. Not like a prisoner but like a guest. He had been too busy to concoct a story to suite the continuation of such treatment so he told Callum the truth. Callum simple listened.
At the end of his story Jack asked, “Can I ask you something?”
“You said the Paje. Isn’t Paje the man’s name?”
“Aye. We call him Paje, but dat means doctor…how you say, Shaman. No one knows his real name. It is what we have called him since he started living with us. Now I ask you anodder question?”
“You were a prisoner of Epi’s clan. You took Laissi with you and brought her here. Does she…” his face contorted for a second while he searched for words, “belong to you?”
Jack leaned back against the hut and chuckled briefly, “No.” he said simply.
Callum looked at him perplexed. “Why? Why did you take her?”
“It was an accident.” was the best Jack could come up with.
Callum’s look changed from confusion to one more dubious but he said simply, “I will send my wife with food for you and de Paje.”
The next day Laissi was strong enough to remain awake for short periods. Jack felt an undeniable sense of relief that his mind set to work denying anyway. He told her about the last leg of their journey and about Paje, leaving out his mistaking Paje for a murderer.
The next day Callum came to speak with Laissi. They spoke a long while. Until Laissi could no longer hold her head up. Her story must have confirmed Jack’s and Callum seemed satisfied if still perplexed.
When Laissi was asleep again, Callum signaled Jack to step outside with him again. Jack complied. He expected his demeanor to change given that Jack had been a prisoner, but Callum continued to play the part of a gracious host.
“You have come a long way. You would like to be clean?”
Jack was somewhat unsure what “clean” entailed here, but he would welcome some form of hygiene after his trek in the desert. He had grown accustomed to a higher standard of hygiene since leaving Fort Cheney. Jack nodded and Callum turned away and started to take a brisk pace across the village.
Jack, unsure of himself, followed Callum half expecting to be chased back to the hut. But after a few minutes Callum called over his shoulder, “You will see de secret of our village. Jaguar village.” Callum indicated the huts with a broad gesture, “Dis is our pride.”
Jack thought this odd, given that they were going to preform personal hygiene but he followed anyway. They walked through the village to the Eastern edge. People stopped and stared at Jack as they went. Curiosity more than any other emotion filled their faces. Excited conversations burst out in Jack’s wake wherever he went. Finally they came to the edge of the village. Two small huts stood alone surrounded by field crops as lush as any Jack had ever seen. The crops were being worked by a scattered group who were singing a syncopated song in unison as they hoed. The smell of rich moist earth permeated the air.
Callum entered the hut on the right and Jack followed. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light Jack discovered he was in a small room that appeared to be an ante chamber to a bigger room in the back. The walls were lined with benches and over the benches were a series of pegs that severed as hooks to hang clothing.
“You may leave your clothes here. My wife is bringing you new clothes.”
Jack had a brief and unwelcome flash back to his capture at Fort Cheney and being scrubbed by two guarded. He stood unmoving and stared at Callum.
“I am sorry but Paje, he…ah…how you say? He says you smell bad. He wants you clean before you return.”
Despite the insult, Jack relaxed somewhat but still looked unsure.
“I can show you…”
“No! No. I will figure it out.”
Jack started to unbutton his shirt.
“Good.” Callum looked equally relieved. “De cleaning area is tru dere.” He indicated the back of the hut. Then he turned and left.
Jack was alone. He left his shirt on a hook in the room and poked his head out the door. No one stood watching the hut. Two young women walking by covered their mouths demurely as they giggled at him and then went on their way. He was alone and unguarded. But really, he chided himself. If he was to escape, where could he go?
He drew his head back into the antechamber and completed the task of undressing. He walked to the back of the hut. Sunlight streamed down on him lighting this chamber from slats in the ceiling. The floor was a deck of loosely spaced slats which had the springy texture of wood that never got quite dry. In the center of the floor was a slightly raised trough filled with water. Jack stared in amazement. He put his hand in the water and brought it to his lips. It was cool, fresh and sweet. How did these men out in the wilderness come by this much good water?
As his eyes adjusted further he could see that the water came in through a pipe along the floor and flowed through the trough. At the opposite end of the trough the water drained into another pipe which dove below the slats that formed the floor. Around the trough were several buckets. Jack took one of those and dipped it in the water. The trough was just deep enough to allow the bucket to fill while upright.
He pulled the bucket out of the trough and found soap and rags to use near the trough. He set to work doing what he was sent to do and let the water drip off of his body onto the slats and to some unknown destination under the floor. The skin of his face and arms was tender with burned skin and the soap stung those areas but even so the caked on sweat and grime leaving his body felt good in a deep and satisfying way. As he was dripping dry he heard someone in the antechamber. He popped his head out to see Callum carefully placing folded clothing on the bench under the hook Jack had used for his own clothes. Callum glanced in his direction. Then faced the wall and told him that his wife had agreed to wash his clothing. That he could keep these clothes if they suited him. Then Callum was gone.
Jack stepped forward and looked down at the clothing. He had expected some worn out rags that were barely serviceable. Instead what lay folded on the bench was a hand spun and hand sewn shirt with the traditional decorative stitches that these people appliqued on all of their textile work. The trousers were of thick, high quality material, neither excessively worn or stained. Jack stood holding the clothing in his hand and feeling its texture through his fingertips. It had been years since any one had shown him such kindness. For some inextricable reason his mind flashed to his mother unpacking a fresh set of clothes for him while they traveled along the highway looking for work. His exhausted mind almost allowed tears to spill over his eyelids but he blinked them back and put on the new clothing.
Callum was waiting for him just outside of the bathing hut. He smiled at Jack. “My clothes suit you, but you will have to work to fill dem I tink.”
It was true. Jack matched Callum in height but Jack was wiry where Callum was muscular. The clothing Jack had been given were loose on him.
Jack looked at the man in awe, “Where do you get so much water?”
Callum laughed. “Aye. Dat is our secret. Dat is Jaguar’s wealth. Come.” And he was off again walking through the field further away from the village.
Jack had to almost jog to keep up.
Jack heard it before he could see it. Clap, boom, squeak. Clap, boom, squeak. The sound was definitely mechanical and not unfamiliar. Jack searched his memory but could not place it. He also could not place where the sound was emanating from. He looked to and fro but saw nothing but the approaching mountain that shielded the valley within which Jaguar Village sat.
Callum virtually ran up the hill and then Jack saw it. Callum was headed toward a crack in the rocks. Jack only saw the crack immediately before Callum disappeared into it. The mouth of the cavern opened up to a cathedral size. In the middle of the cavern was the machine making the sound. Clap, boom, squeak and water gushed up from the pipe in the ground and into a basin. There it flowed down hill toward the village. The basin emptied and clap, boom, squeak it was filled again. They had a well! A hidden well. Jack stared in amazement.
“Yes…Yes de Jaguars, we are rich, eh.?”
“Yes. You are rich.” was all Jack could mutter.
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1. American Idiot
Still? Are you kidding me?
Are they counting Michael Crichton and the scientists paid for by Exxon in the 15% of scientists that do not believe in global warming? Like the “scientists” in Global Climate Coalition? Or the policy wonks at the Heritage Foundation and the National Center for Policy Analysis?
No surprise that a group that denies evolution and thinks the world is 6000 years old can’t wrap their brains around global warming. But really, what is the excuse of the Democrats for such a low number. Maybe they should have checked the Green Party.
So there is no real dispute between scientists. Global warming is happening and it is human caused. Even if it weren’t, does that matter. If mice were causing global warming, would you just throw up your hands and say, “Damn mice are ruining everything.”? No, you should still take action to preserve the world for your children. Not because a hotter world is a little sweaty but because a hotter world is a catastrophe.
2. The Most Pressing Problem
The most pressing problem from global warming is crop failure. While small increases in temperature and carbon dioxide lead to better crop production, larger increases-over 2.5 degrees Celsius-lead to significant crop reductions.
Plants are unable to handle high temperature for long periods of time. Like people they can handle high temperatures for a while but then need to cool off for a while. The temperature that seems to kill plants is 32 degrees Celsius. In a business as usual scenario 32 degrees would be common place and crops would fail due to heat stress alone. Ciesin estimates 27% decrease in crop production while a study for American Economic Review by Schlanamm, Hanker and Fisher predicts a 50-75% reduction based on IPCC models if we follow a business as usual scenario. The US makes up 25% of the world food market. A 50% drop in US production alone translates to a 12% drop in world food production.
capacity by the 2080s could thus easily involve greater damage than
the direct preferred estimates in this study and could perhaps lie in the
range of reductions of 10 to 25 percent. Bill Cline
Coupled with the increase in population to 9 billion by 2100 this sort of decrease in food production means mass starvation.
Reasons for Crop Failure in a Warmer Climate
“Map” of N. American Global Warming World
IPCC Overview on Climate Change
Union of Concerned Scientists List of things to look forward to
BBC Global Warming Tour
30% Reduction in Asia
Crop Reduction already taking place!
3. It is not All Gloom and Doom
the worst of global warming if current European Union proposals for
cutting greenhouse gases are adopted. A computer simulation by National
Center for Atmospheric Research based on a 70 percent emissions cut
found world temperatures will still increase but not to an
unsustainable level. The Arctic sea shelf would still shrink but not
completely disappear, while about half of changes in droughts and
floods could be avoided. Heat waves would also be 55 percent less
intense. Democracy Now!
The Stern Review looked at the economics of taking action and not allowing business as usual. What they found was that global warming if allowed to occur would decrease the world GDP by about 20%. In other words 20% of the world’s “wealth” is at stake. Granted economist have a weird way of looking at things. I mean if you are starving to death what does it matter that 80% of the world’s wealth is intact? I digress.
They theorize that a 1-2% investment in the world’s GDP per year would stave off the worst of global warming. Think about 1-2% of you pretax income. Would you notice that? If you make say $60,000 a year that would be $600 pretax a year. Would you notice 20% of your income going away a few years from now? Would you notice starving? Just asking. Two percent of the GDP. That is all the G8 had to agree to. And yet they can’t manage to do it even to save us from a nightmarish future.
Look, we need to make it clear to our leadership, the leadership in all countries, that when they go to Copenhagen this winter, they had better come back with a binding agreement to reduce green house emission 80% by 2050 or just don’t come back at all. Because we will be looking for new leadership that is interested in making sure that our kids have enough to eat.