Fair TradebyKrenna Smart©
Once upon a time two brothers were walking in the desert outside the village near where they were born. The older brother Kalik was a strong young man of 14. He was proud to be the head of his family now that his older brothers were off fighting in the war. His little brother, Mustafa, was a spindly 8 years old. His mind was as bright as the desert sun. He could figure things out in a wink which Kalik would never understand in a lifetime.
It was a fine, hot morning. The boys were out looking for food or anything else of value which might have been left behind by the soldiers – any soldiers. Neither Kalik nor Mustafa had ever been to school and they didn't concern themselves with the reasons behind the war which had torn their country apart. But they both knew about weapons. They knew how to shoot and their rifles were among their most prized possession.
But this day they had left their weapons behind. They had enough to carry between them as is was – food, water, and other items they might need to help make their venture into the dessert a success.
They'd given up foraging in the direction of the city weeks ago. They had had success in the direction they were headed today, but had never ventured as far from their village before. Providing for their extended family was becoming more and more difficult as the war far off to the west of the village dragged on.
But Kalik was sure they would be successful today. As they traveled the sun, which had been in their eyes all morning reached its pinnacle and began to slip ever westward like a huge glob of molten gold. Kalik was just about to suggest to Mustafa that they give up and head towards home when he saw what he thought at first was a mirage on the horizon ahead.
"Look, Mustafa," Kalik said in triumph. I told you we'd find something today.
As they walked the mirage took began to take shape and revealed itself to be a deserted government compound. It was protected by barbed wire and sported brightly colored signs written in a language unfamiliar to the boys. Kalik was certain the compound would contain untold riches.
Mustafa was less enthusiastic than his older brother. "Maybe we should go back and find someone who knows what the signs mean to come and look things over," he cautioned.
"And loose our chance to get the best price on whatever is inside? Forget it," Kalik said stubbornly. Mustafa reluctantly agreed his brother was right.
So they cut through the barbed wire and ventured into the compound to explore. When the got inside they saw they weren't the first to discover this little outpost. Kalik was bitterly disappointed. It had already been picked over by looters. But they continued their exploration.
Deep inside the bowels of the compound they discovered what Kalik was sure was pay dirt – a large room full up carefully protected containers. The containers were constructed of a dull, grey metal and proved to be very heavy. The room and the containers had signs similar to those on the outside of the building. Kalik was sure they contained something of value to someone. Mustafa was quite as sure. He wanted nothing to do with the containers. "Think, Kalik," he cautioned his older brother. We have no way of knowing they contain anything but trouble and misery. Why else would they have been so carefully protected?"
"Because they're valuable," Kalik said stubbornly, not willing to let his little brother know he hadn't even considered the contents might be dangerous. "Come on little brother. We've come all this way. Do you want to go home empty handed. Why else did we lug our supplies and equipment all this way? We have what we need to drag one of the containers home.
The boys argued back and forth for a while. "It might bring us great wealth and influence," Kalik reasoned. "It will bring nothing but danger and misery," Mustafa responded.
"You know nothing, little brother, of hunger and sickness. You've always been a protected little weakling."
That stung. Mustafa was very sensitive about his slight stature and tendency towards illness. His older brothers used to tease him and call him a woman. Kalik had always been his only champion. Finally Mustafa gave in and they set about constructing a sled for the container. It took several hours to secure the heavy container on the sled. It was almost dark when they were finished.
They boys decided to travel home by night. It would be cool so they wouldn't sweat so much and waste precious water. They ate a short meal and began the long march home.
The trip was uneventful and they made good time despite their heavy burden. They were home before dusk the next day.
The weary travelers were greeted with great joy although they hadn't brought back anything fungible to add to the family's dwindling good supply.
Kalik and Mustafa conferred with their oldest brother's first wife about what to do with the container they'd worked so hard to get home.
We should take the matter to the village counsel. They will have some idea of its value. Besides, we must share our good fortune with the community in this time of hardship. The family agreed and Kalik brought the container to the village council the next morning.
No one was quite sure what to do with the boys' find. They concluded the container, and the ones left behind in the compound must be of value to someone to have been so carefully protected. After much consultation they to send Kalik and an older member of the council, Amid, to the city to look for a buyer.
Kalik and Ahmed made the trip north to the city, leaving the barrel behind in Mustafa's safekeeping. The conditions in the city had deteriorated a lot from the war since Kalik's had seen it last. Kalik and Amid looked sadly at each other they saw the devastation the war had brought to their beautiful city.
There wasn't much for sale in the market. Nor did there appear to be anyone who might be interested in container until they ran into some American soldiers. The soldiers were wary and hostile towards Kalik and Amid at first. But they were unarmed and garbed in civilian clothing. It took a while to find someone who could understand the native tongue. Finally an officer stepped forward. Kalik told a carefully constructed version of his story to the officer who was uninterested and dismissive until Kalik began describing the writing and signs on the container.
"Wait here," the officer said, and went into a nearby building.
It was nearly dark when the officer came back with another man who, although wearing civilian clothing carried himself with an air of importance. The man asked a few harsh questions without making a proper greeting or showing of respect. Kalik and Amid were about to walk away in disgust but the officer stepped in.
"He means no disrespect" the officer explained smoothly. "He just doesn't understand your ways. We might be interested in seeing this container. Where is it? We can take you there."
Kalik hesitated. He didn't like the way this was going. The last thing he wanted was to bring soldiers into the village. The officer sensed his hesitation.
"Well," the officer said. "Maybe what you say is just a ruse – a way to lead us into a trap. How can we trust you?"
Amid broke in angrily. "Trust has to go both ways. You're the ones with weapons. How can we trust you?"
Both sides knew where they stood no the issue of trust had been laid on the table. "And you haven't even said you are interested in buying the container," Amid continued.
"If it exists," the officer countered.
"We have to see it first to determine what it is before we can make an offer."
That was fair, Kalik thought. Amid and Kalik drew back and talked for a few minutes. They thought it would be best if they brought the container to a mutually agreeable location the next day. "It would have to just the two of you," Ahmid informed the soldiers. "And no weapons.
The civilian shook his head. "We can't do it that way. My superiors would never approve it."
Amid spat in onto the ground disgustedly. "You've wasted our time. Obviously you have no bargaining authority. Let's go Kalik." Kalik and Ahmed walked off, back through the city towards the desert. Kalik was upset. "Why did you break off negotiations?" he shouted angrily. They were ready to buy. What are you doing?"
"Be still," Ahmid shot back. "Look behind us. They're interested enough to follow us. They wanted to get the jump on us. I didn't want them to have a chance to bring anyone else to the bargaining table. It's dangerous enough as it is. Don't you see? We'll lead them around the desert for a while and then lose them in the dark. We know the desert. They don't. I have a plan." He told Kalik to go home and bring the container to a designated spot a dusk the next day. "And bring your rifle." Ahmid would bring the soldiers after Kalik and the container were safely out of the village.
Sure enough, the soldiers were trailing the boys, trying to be unobtrusive. Kalik was impressed by Ahmed's craftiness.
The plan went smooth as silk. At dusk the next day the soldiers found themselves in a very different bargaining position. But the container was exactly what they were there for. They weren't dissatisfied. All that remained was to arrive at a price.
The price finally arrived upon was better then Kalik and Amid expected, and less than the soldiers had dreamed possible.
"Ten US dollars, Kalik whispered in awe as they walked homeward. "And more to come if we're careful."
Ahmed and Kalik returned to the compound where they found the containers two days later. They were bitterly disappointed to discover that other looters had made off with the remainder of the containers. But they had their money and the village would be able to survive for a little while longer.
A few days later Kalik, Mustafa and Ahmed fell ill with a mysterious disease. They had a rash and a fever and were horribly sick. Their hair began to fall out and their joints ached. Other villagers suffered similar, but less server symptoms. Mustafa shook his head sadly. He knew the container had brought about the illness. He thought they had made a bad bargain indeed as he turned his head towards Mecca and died.
Nobody blamed Kalik and Mustafa for bringing the container to the village. Each thought they would have done the same thing if they had been in the boys shoes. After all, no one could be sure the container was responsible for the mysterious illness. Besides, a bargain was a bargain and it the proceeds had provided the village with a months worth of food and supplies.
Months later, after they recovered, Kalik made another trip to the city. On their way they heard many stories similar to their own. Some stories were worse. Some told how they had dumped the contents of the containers into the river. Days later every living thing in the river was dead. Most of the people in those villages were already dead. The people of the villages where the containers ended up were plagued with illness for a long time to come as were the American soldiers and everyone else who had come into contact with them. Fair trade indeed.