Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Three Goats

I read the following parable a few years back. If memory serves it was from the Jewish tradition and involved a man going to his rabbi to complain about how difficult his life is.

Married with six children, the man complained that his income barely kept his family fed and clothed, and his house was so small he and his wife and kids frequently bumped into each other going from the one bedroom to the one bathroom they all shared.

The rabbi listened carefully, nodding his head in sympathy and finally, to the man's shock he advised "Buy three goats. Put them in the house with you, feed them well, come back next week."

Not used to much humor from his mentor, the man had no choice but to take him seriously. Being a good obedient Jew, he followed the rabbi's instructions to the letter. Off to the market he went, purchased the three goats and a few kilos of feed for the week and went home to a wife who was already at the edge of tears on account of the difficulties her life presented and who on sight of the three goats and the (clearly expensive) feed and after hearing her husband's assurances the goats would be sharing their already exploding-at-the-seams home, was driven over that edge.

But, he was a good Jewish man and she a good Jewish woman and so they persevered in following the rabbi's orders.

A week following the first visit, he went back.

"How are things now?" asked the rabbi, clearly concerned.

"Well, it is really very difficult," the man answered. "The goats cost me most of my meager savings, their food is anything but cheap, our house is turning into a barn, the smell is unbearable, and we trip over goats going from room to bathroom."

"Oh!" exclaimed the rabbi, seemingly surprised by this account. "You mean things are worse?"

"Yes," responded the man, not understanding how that was not obvious to his normally sharp rabbi, but instinct preventing him from asking.

"Then," continued the rabbi after much thought, "I can think of no other solution. You must buy a cow. House it with you, feed it well and come back next week."

This time the man was sure his rabbi could not be serious.

"A cow? A cow? A moo moo cow?" he wondered out loud, hoping the response would be in the negative.

Instead his rabbi smiled and nodded "Yes, moo moo and sometimes holy too. Now go."

The man again told himself that his mentor had always known what was right and followed the orders to the letter. Back at the market, he found himself a cow, bought it with the rest of his savings, purchased the best feed he could afford (not forgetting to get a week's supply for the three goats too) and went home to a wife who was at that very moment  tripping over one of the goats and who, on sight of the cow, duly passed out.

After reviving her, he explained these were the rabbi's orders and being a good woman, she acquiesced, although secretly she was beginning to harbor doubts regarding the sanity of both men.

Needless to say the family went through a hellish week. The cow and the goats didn't get along very well. They mooed and bleated angrily and on more than one occasion even tried to attack each other, but there was not much space to charge properly. For most of the week, the family had nothing to eat on account of having no money to buy food with and although the two more pragmatic of the children had taken a liking to the cow feed, the father, having committed to feed the cow properly, forbade them from touching it.

The following week, the man arrived at the rabbi's home certain that he would finally be offered an explanation.

"Rabbi, I beg you," he implored, "my life is hell. The cow and goats are all over our tiny house, they are defecating and urinating everywhere, my wife is threatening to slaughter them, for food if nothing else. My children have not eaten in a week and I am going to have to go into debt soon if things don't get better."

The rabbi seemed genuinely shocked.

"I don't understand," he began, stroking his beard sagely. "You mean things are not better, in fact they are worse? Am I correct in understanding this?"

Having heard a similar comment a week earlier, right before the order to buy a cow, the man was wary to confirm that things were indeed deteriorating rapidly. He was however a God-fearing man and nothing but the truth ever escaped his lips.

"Yes indeed rabbi," he said, meekly, expecting the worst. "Your understanding is most accurate. Indeed, things are a lot more difficult."

The rabbi thought long and hard. He gazed into the ceiling as if waiting for inspiration to resolve this poor man's dilemma. He closed his eyes in concentration as if seeking the inner strength to tell this poor man the solution which would end his suffering.

"It seems there is but one final thing to do. You must buy a horse. House it with you, feed it well, come back next week."

The man was too shocked even to voice his shock. Dejected, foreseeing the worst, he left to the market, bought the horse after pawning his grandfather's watch, bought its feed, as well as that of the cow and the three goats and went home. His wife, escaping from the cow and goats was at the window and when she saw him and the horse approach, did and said nothing. After all, what was there to do or say?

That week was significantly worse than the previous two. It was the man thought, the worst week of his life. Horses are not designed for confinement and this horse it seemed more so than others. It neighed at the cow and goats, and kicked and bit them more than once. It let its anger at its imprisonment be known throughout the day and most of the night. It ate the food supplied quite happily but apart from that did everything a horse could do to make life for the poor man, his wife and their six children even more miserable than it had already been.

The man knocking on the door of the rabbi the following week was a shadow of himself. He was visibly thinner, dark bags pulled his haggard face downwards under his sleepless eyes, the weight of the world rested on his skinny shoulders. He went in, sat down and uttered not a single word. Surely this time if he complained he would be ordered to buy an elephant he thought and smiled inwardly at the idea.

The rabbi, always a perspicacious man, did not miss the smile.

"Aha!" he exclaimed. "You are smiling at last! Things have finally gotten better."

The man was beyond responding and he just sat there, his shallow eyes unseeing sockets in his sallow face.

"Well well well!" continued the rabbi with obvious glee. "This is call for celebration. You must immediately sell the horse. Come back next week."

The man could not muster the energy to try and fathom the relation between selling the horse and celebration but as in the previous 3 visits, he was resigned to obedience. He went home took the horse by the reins, removed it from the tiny bathroom which it had occupied, walked it to market and sold it.

Having money in his pocket was a new feeling for the man and after reclaiming his grandfather's watch at the pawn shop, he bought some food for his family and even a small, inexpensive bunch of flowers for his long suffering spouse.

The following week was significantly better than the preceding. So much so, the man caught himself smiling once or twice, but quickly wiped the grin off his face so as not to tempt fate. After all, there was still a cow and three goats residing in his most humble abode.

At the assigned time he visited his rabbi, who on cue asked him how things were and when the man replied that there was a slight improvement now that the horse was gone and they only had to contend with a cow and three goats, the rabbi was evidently thrilled.

He ordered the man to sell the cow and return the following week.

The man took the cow to market, sold it at some minor profit, bought his wife a shawl instead of the one the goats had eaten and went home with a basket half-full of vegetables for dinner.

That week, he and his wife lured the three goats into the bathroom and locked them in. His children managed to sleep through the night for five of the seven nights and the smell, while still strong was as rosewater to sewage compared to the previous weeks.

Finally the week was over and he went to his rabbi, a small spring in his step, his belly slightly rounder, he had eaten six square meals that last week.

His rabbi took it all in at once, and without asking how things were going at home, hugged him close and kissed his forehead.

"My dear man, sell the three goats. Come back next week."

Doing as he was told, and surprised to find himself a little sad at selling the goats he had grown so awfully accustomed to the man went home with money and food. His wife was smiling after having cleaned up her house and put everything back where it belonged. A woman is always proud of a clean, well-organized house. She waved to him from the window and greeted him with a kiss at the door.

They had a wonderful week, the room and bathroom were tidy, his wife aired it out and the fresh smell of a newly cleaned house filled their nostrils. The children were no longer afraid to leave the room, there was no noise. Life could not have been better.

On his next visit, the man was beaming and the effect was not lost on his rabbi.

"So my friend," the rabbi began, a knowing smile spreading from ear to ear. "How are things in your house?"

"I cannot begin to thank you enough. You have saved my family. I don't know what I would have done without you."

The man left the rabbi's home, went back to his own, and, as every wonderful story must end, lived happily ever after.

BUT WAIT! I hear you gasp. Nothing has changed!

But sure it hasn't, and now I get to the point of my story.

This was not written to uncover the mysteries of rabbinical teaching, nor the horrors of animal-human cohabitation, nor indeed the wisdom of having six children. Not at all!

This was written from a purely political, purely Egyptian perspective!

This, in short, is what SCAF et al have been doing to us for the past year!

Think about it. I trust you will see that many of us are beginning to wonder when SCAF will finally allow us to sell the three goats and go back happily, gleefully to the very state we were in a year ago.

1 comment:

  1. Great post.. funny enough I was writing a tweet and I will send it out that read: The change we have seen in Egypt over this last year is that all the good things are gone and all the bad things have remained..
    And I believe that the above is the whole strategy and yet I remain optimistic (probably on the long run) that the genie is out of the box, the revolution shall continue beyond their ancient and decaying control.