3 Apes and a RecessionOluwafemi Reis
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The year is 2076. In an old people’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, 92-year-old software developer, Benny Gilbert, 90-year-old award winning journalist, Simon Avner, and 94-year-old billionaire attorney, Ryan Fleming, spend a rainy day together to talk about their lives, chronicling from where they once were, to where they now are, and where they wish they were.
This is a story about three men and the five cardinal choices that life brings to all. You might never know when these choices come, but you would surely know when they’re gone. Find yourself in the story. Saving Tomorrow, Losing Today.
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A Recession Is When We Pursue the Life We Don’t Have At the Expense of the Life We Have
A Recession Is When Worth And Value Are Purely Determined By Numbers
A Recession Is When Bananas Become More Important Than Apes
A Recession Is When Our Whole Lives Are Devoted To The Farm And Barn
A Recession Is When We Trade the Things Money Can’t Buy To Gain the Things Money Can Buy
3 Apes and a Recession
Is something wrong with our economy, or is something wrong with us?
Copyright © 2017 by Oluwafemi Reis
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At the peak of the global economic meltdown, veteran professor of economics, Ola Williams, is invited to address world leaders, economists, financial analysts and other pertinent experts at the World Economic Summit in Geneva.
Known for his proven economic theories and brilliant postulates, expectations are high that his carefully researched data and in-depth analysis would chart a course that can be followed through to solve the looming economic problem that has swept through major economies of the world.
It is 8:15PM and Professor Williams is welcomed to the podium with a rousing applause that takes a little while to die down. The hall is soon in perfect silence. Professor Williams clenches the sides of the lectern with both hands; he has no notes, no slides, no charts, no graphs, just a warm smile on his 76-year-old face, and a heart that is ready to speak.
January 29th 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, neighbours and strangers. I feel compelled to smile and greet you “Good evening”, as would be appropriate for such a gathering as this, but then most of you might be forced to pick up your things and leave, concluding that there wouldn’t be any point listening to one more word from an old man who opens his speech with a big fat lie. Is there nothing good about the evening? I know most of us must have lost our patience, along with many other things we’ve lost over the past eight months—our jobs, our homes, our families, and for some who are not here with us tonight, their lives. It has gone past the red line for most of us, and the last thing we need is one more speech, or one more address, or one more story. Yet we are all here, left with little or no patience, to listen to these very things. I consider that a huge sacrifice, and for that I say, “Thank you, and good evening.”
Two weeks ago I was in Somalia, and I happened to spend more of my time among the dying than I did among the living. In a huge tent which served as a free clinic to the community where I worked, hundreds of sick people laid on beds in long rows, and I particularly made friends with this young man named Kamil. Day to day, Kamil laid there on his bed—skin and bones—to the doctors he wasn’t living, he was dying, but to me he was doing both, just like all the rest of us. Kamil was receiving treatment for acute cholera; though he didn’t respond so rapidly to treatment, he still seemed to get better by the inch, day by day. Soon Kamil could eat by himself, he could spend long hours talking with me, he could laugh, he could tell me jokes, and within a week he was out of the clinic. But two days later I saw Kamil wheeled back into the tent; this time he wasn’t dying, neither was he living; he was dead. The next day, one of the doctors tearfully explained to me that what was actually wrong with Kamil wasn’t cholera but some other disease that had cholera as a striking symptom; hence the doctors were treating the symptom, while the disease slowly killed Kamil like a smiling foe.
Now it would have been beautiful to have us gather here on a different note than we’re gathered tonight; I wish we would desist from waiting till times are turbulent before we gather as one people, putting aside our fundamental differences. It indeed would be beautiful if we don’t have to wait till we have a common enemy before we make ourselves common friends. But we are here tonight, and there is a problem that appears to be defying solution.
I want to start with a question—and I’m not into the habit of asking silly questions, especially not when I’m speaking to intelligent people like you—but do please permit me to ask this one: Why are we all here tonight?
Now one might say we are here because there’s a global problem that has pushed us out of our cosy corners and into the cold evening. Well, that might be right in some sense, but I really don’t think that’s why we are here. Though there’s a problem in our hands that must be solved as fast as possible, we were not pushed out here by that problem; we were drawn out here by hope. Our being here does not simply signify that we have a common problem, but goes much further to signify that we have a common hope. If we had the problem and had no hope of ever seeing its end, we wouldn’t have bothered coming out here tonight; we would have sat in our homes—for those of us who still have homes—and simply let the hopeless case deal with itself. So we have a problem on one side, and we have hope on the other; hope brought us to Geneva tonight, and hope does not disappoint.
I’d like to ask another question. Like I said, I’m not into the habit of asking silly questions, but I beg you to give me the liberty of asking just one more, and I promise I wouldn’t upset you with a third.
My question: What exactly is the problem?
This might seem extremely unnecessary, as though I’m taking us back to the beginning, after our progress has taken us so far from there; as though I am taking us back to an issue that has long been trashed out; as though I’m taking us back to ABC when we’ve long left that behind and moved on to critical reading. But could it be that the reason why we’re spending so much time on critical reading and not making as much progress as we ought is because we didn’t really get the ABC quite right in the first place? Perhaps we should go back to this ABC, and if we get it right—of which I believe we will—then we will all walk out of this situation as a victorious people, and never have to live in the gloomy apprehension of it showing up again.
So what exactly is the problem?
The issue has been analyzed, the facts have been itemized, and the figures have been summarized. Much deliberating has been done, much analyses have been carried out, and the problem has been made very clear to all of us: There’s a big problem with our economy. We are experiencing a recession.
The experts have said it; the economic analysts have said it; the businessmen have said it; the politicians have said it, and it has been made crystal clear by the press: “There’s a big problem with the economy. We are right now in a recession and we must come up with a solution really fast.”
Well, I think that is where we’ve gotten the ABC all wrong. We have been so short-sighted in viewing the situation that we have all along been dealing with the wrong problem. Tonight the question, “What exactly is the problem?” is by far the first most important question we can ask in this hall; it is the first most important question we should have asked ourselves before coming here. It might shock you to know that we have been working with the wrong answer to that question all along, and that’s why we are still struggling with the situation, and like sinking horses in quicksand, the more we struggle the more we sink; and all our paperwork can’t get us out.
Tonight we are going to address the issue as plainly as possible. We would be plain, yet profound; simple, yet blunt. We are going to view the issue as who we are—people. We are not going to view it as economist, or as businessmen, or as businesswomen, or as politicians, or as lawyers, or even as professors, but as people, for that is exactly how it affects us—as people. We are simply going to come together as people and calmly ask ourselves that question one more time: What exactly is the problem?
Dear friends, if we could all keep a minute of silence and ask ourselves that question... Can we all do that?
[Professor Williams pauses for a minute and the hall is in total silence, then he continues]
Deep in the silence of our hearts, we would find the real answer to that question:
The problem is not with the economy; the problem is with us.
And until we start from there, dear people, I’m afraid we might simply be dealing with the symptoms of our real condition, and though we might get rid of all the symptoms, the problem still remains. Tonight we are all here in this huge tent, like Kamil was in his; we could either keep treating the symptoms of our illness, or we face the root of the illness and deal with it from there. This decision will spell out as much difference for us as it would have for Kamil if the doctors had realized what the real problem was and dealt with it before it brought the dying young man to that shallow desert grave.
We could spend much time and effort trying to fix our economy; we could bring new packages, adopt new strategies, implement new policies, and take all the new steps we can. This is good, and we sure must do it; the economy would pick up and things would return back to normal, our currencies would rise again, the stock market would rise again, forex would rise again, international trade would boom again and we would all be back in business, but just for a while—five years, ten years, twenty years, maybe fifty—but it sure will return, my friends, because the problem is not with the economy; the problem is with us.
I’ll tell you a story, it’s quite long but I hope it is interesting enough to get your full attention till I am done. It’s a story my mother told me when I wasn’t wise enough to appreciate its moral and worth, and I think many children receive a lot of things at a time when they are not wise enough to appreciate them. Thankfully, I kept the story with me long enough until wisdom came, and the story has been worth more to me than every inch of King Solomon’s mines. My country was going through a recession when I was six, and I watched my parents make several adjustments that I couldn’t understand—the things we owned, the house we lived in, the clothes we wore, the toys we played—and I simply played along, until the adjustment began to touch the food we ate. At that point, for me, it had touched something sacred, I wasn’t going to comply with that, at least not without an explanation of what exactly was going on. So I turned to my mother and demanded an explanation why this six-year-old me couldn’t enjoy his breakfast with the usual eggs and beacon anymore.
I love my mother; I owe her more than I can pay for the man I am today. Long before the eggs disappeared from my breakfast they had disappeared from hers; but all I knew was that they were now gone from mine and I needed an explanation.
African mothers always have a story for everything, and my mother sure had one for this as well. I want you to come with me to our old smoky kitchen as I share that story with you tonight.
Many, many years ago in the thick jungle of Ajasha lived the happiest apes ever to be seen on the face of the earth. Now, for those of you who know the lush green jungles of Africa, you will agree with me that no animal on God’s earth can be happier than an African monkey in an African jungle, and perhaps no animal can be sadder than an African monkey in an English zoo.
Well, in the jungle of Ajasha the apes had everything they needed in superabundance—trees tall enough to block out the sun, and yet the sun bright enough to shine through the trees, bananas sweeter than anything you’ve ever tasted, and crystal clear streams running through rocky paths, reflecting the glitters of the noonday sun! And most importantly, above all these, the apes had apes. Nothing excites the heart of an ape more than the company of another ape.
So everything was fine in the jungle of Ajasha and the idyllic life of the apes continued uninterrupted, then one day something happened: a poor shabby hunter named Saka strayed into the thickest area of Ajasha, an area from which all the hunters stayed away for great fear of the unknown. This was the area where the apes had made their home, living in closely knit clans and families, of which Saka sure wasn’t a part of. The apes captured Saka and he was brought to the patriarchs of the clans—Ayo, Bayo and Dayo—three old chimps with more sense than all the rest. It was decided that Saka be kept in a cave while the patriarchs thought of what best to do with him. While the apes thought, Saka thought too, and since humans think faster, and most times better, than apes, Saka had thought up a brilliant idea while they were still trying to figure out what to do with him.
Three days passed and the patriarchs reached a conclusion—the human must die. Four guarding apes were sent to bring Saka to the Ground of the Patriarchs, which was the meeting place of all the apes, and there he was to be stoned to death. All the apes were gathered, and they sang a song that only apes sing. I don’t have a voice as good as my mother’s so I’ll spare you the singing and simply tell you the words:
Fit to die, the judgment says, for man has crossed the line;
Cast the stone once he’s in sight, the man is fit to die.
As soon as Saka was brought to the Ground of the Patriarchs there was a loud cheer, all the apes where excited at what was about to happen. But just before the first stone was cast, Saka raised his voice as loud as he could and said to the congregation of excited apes,
“If only you knew what I could do for you, you will rather worship me than kill me.”
At this, Bayo motioned for the apes to be quiet. The singing and chattering stopped, and once the crowd was calm enough to listen, Saka repeated himself.
“If only you knew what I could do for you, you will rather worship me than kill me.
“I was once an ape too, just like all of you,” he said, “every man was once an ape. Can’t you see all what we have in common?”
Ayo the patriarch chimp stepped closer to examine Saka, who waved his hand above his head so they could all see.
“I have two hands; you have two hands too.”
All the apes held their hands up to their faces and looked closely at them, like it was their first time of seeing them.
Saka marched two steps forward, “I walk on two legs; you walk on two legs too.”
All the apes looked closely at their legs like it was their first time of seeing them.
“Every human was once an ape,” Saka continued, “And if you will let me go free, I will tell you how you can all become humans too.”
There was a quiet murmuring among the apes. Ayo, Bayo and Dayo took counsel together, and after some moment of deliberation, they came up with their verdict.
“The man lives, and we all become men!”
A loud cheer erupted among the apes, they were so excited at the thought of becoming humans it took a while to calm them down again, and when they were finally calm, Dayo turned to the man and asked, “So, Wandering Man, will you now tell us how we could also become humans like you?”
And so Saka went on to explain what he had cooked up in his head over the past three days.
“There’s an ape god,” said he, “an ape god who visits the ape kingdom once in every hundred years. When he comes, he brings with him a magic portion that is able to transform the ugliest chimp into the finest man. But he doesn’t just give it for nothing. To every ape that presents him with a single bunch of banana having no less than five hundred bananas on it, he gives a drop of his portion, and that ape is transformed into a human as soon as the drop touches his tongue.
“I once was an ape too, in a jungle hundreds of miles away, but blessed was the day when a man strayed into our side of the jungle, like I just did into yours, and he told us what I now tell you. Not too long after that, the ape god came and I had my bunch with six hundred and seventy-five bananas on it waiting for him, and the rest is history. Today I am a man, I am married to the most beautiful woman you will ever see, we have a beautiful daughter, we live in a beautiful house, in a very beautiful neighbourhood, and we have an ape like you as a pet for our daughter! That’s how it goes, the apes who fail to become humans will end up as pets to the humans who refused to remain apes! Which is why you all must work hard to get the bunch that matters, that bunch with over five hundred bananas on it, and everyone must see to it that he isn’t left out of the transformation.
“I believe it is fortune that has brought me to you this day; my being here is a sign that the ape god desires to visit any time soon, and has sent me to get you ready for his visit, just as he did for me and all my fellow apes many years ago.”
The apes listen very attentively to Saka. Then Old Ayo asked, “How then do we know when the ape god shall come?”
“The night of the day it rains with loud peels of thunder such as causes the hearts of the bravest of apes to tremble, and the strongest of men to quake; the night of that day, he shall come. When you find the bunch that matters, you must do everything to save it for the rainy day.”
There was perfect silence in the congregation of apes. They always believed all humans were once apes, but they never knew how the transformation happened. Now a man had come around to explain the mystery; this was indeed fortune smiling on them.
Ayo stepped forward and slowly approached Saka the Man, and when he was close enough, he fell to his face and bowed before him.
“You should be worshiped and not killed,” he said. And all the apes came down from their trees and all bowed their faces to the ground saying, “You should be worshiped and not killed.”
The next day they led Saka through the jungle to the path that led out to where humans lived, the path that left the beautiful scenery of Ajasha behind and opened into a world the apes believed to be better than theirs. Saka promised he was going to keep coming to check on them from time to time to see how they were doing in preparing for their transformation, which, said he, could take place at anytime. He added that, just in case the ape god came before his next visit, and some of them became humans, they should endeavour to pay him a visit where he lived, for he would really love to meet them as men and no longer as apes. So they bade Saka farewell, and returned into the thicket.
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