New Internationalist

The Man With No Ears

Issue 96

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The man with no ears
A story by Judith Molomo

[image, unknown] PLEASE, I do not mean to be disrespectful. I know you must think that I am a trouble maker, but truly I am not. You will say that he is well-trained, well-intentioned, well-bred, well-mannered, well-spoken, well-thought of. So many wells! But for us, these wells have all run dry.

He came as a very young man, wearing blue denim trousers and sandals like the old people wear. His hair was so long that everyone spoke loudly to him at first, thinking he did not have any ears. He taught about twenty of us how to grow tomatoes. And when there were enough large red ones he put them in a box and took them to the capital. He came back with older men in suits and ties. They asked us what we thought of our teacher. The others said he was good, but I was acting as interpreter and said that he was wonderful. I knew he wanted to impress these men. This was my first mistake.

My second mistake involved my sister. He slept with her to prove he had no prejudices. He of course told her he could not marry her, and she of course said she understood. But she, of course, silently hoped that he would change his mind and take her with him back to his country where everyone was rich. This was my second mistake: I should have advised my sister not to let him touch her.

His tomatoes made such an impression in the capital that after three years he was given an important job there in the Ministry of Agriculture. I must admit they were nice tomatoes; but growing them meant carrying water every day to water them. It just wasn't worth all that work. Corn grows well with only rain, and so we grow corn. As soon as he left we stopped growing tomatoes.

He came to see us once or twice and then he disappeared for five years. He had been to university before he arrived here and this had impressed us all. Before he arrived I myself had been the most educated person in the village, the first to complete secondary school. Now he went away to spend another five years at university in his country. We gasped with wonder at how clever he must now be. He never wrote to my sister. She waited for him to come back, still hoping he would marry her when he returned. She had a child during those five years, but refused to marry anyone but him.

Soon we had another young man with no ears teaching us how to grow tomatoes. And when a group of men in suits and ties came out to see the garden, everyone recognised our first tomato teacher among them. He had a suit and tie and short hair too. We were all very glad to see him.

The other men from the Ministry of Agriculture were impressed that he was so well-known in the village. My sister came up to him and showed him her child, which she had named after him. He asked her its name, and she said `Martin'. The other men laughed and made rude remarks about my sister's body. My sister is very beautiful, which I now understand is why he had chosen her to sleep with in the first place.

His job in the Ministry of Agriculture was even more important than before. He got money from his own government and loaned it to farmers. There was not very much money so the interest rate was high. Only big farmers could afford the loans. They grew corn not tomatoes. Some bought tractors so that they could grow more corn. But many of us stopped growing corn because it was cheaper to buy it from the big farmers.

While he was giving out these loans Martin became known as the champion of the small farmer. He wanted more money so that he could lend it to smaller farmers. Everyone in the capital, including our own government, looked to him as the spokesman of the villagers. He knew the rural people inside out ... like the back of his hand. Had he not been the first one, more than 15 years before, to teach us to grow tomatoes?

And then he disappeared again. He was employed by one of the foreign organisations which loaned money to our government. They had seen the light. It was time to help the small farmer. And no-one knew the small farmer like Martin. They gave Martin an enormous amount of money and told him to help the small farmers.

Martin made a plan. The foreigners liked the plan; so after three years he came back to our country with his plan in his briefcase. It was a big plan and so he needed a big briefcase. I know that both the plan and the briefcase were large because I came to his office and he took his plan out of his briefcase to show it to me.

I came because I was worried. The newspaper had announced the plan, and I knew it would be very bad for us. Martin knew this too.

I had trouble finding him because there were five or six rooms filled with secretaries between the corridor and his office. There was a blue carpet on his floor, two heavy desks, bookshelves along two walls, and a picture of our president over Martin's head. One wall was missing. There was a window there instead.

I sat down, and he took out the plan. Before he could speak I told him that his plan would destroy us. He must have known this was true but he did not say so. He did not look at me. He did not apologise.

He offered me a job. Our village was the first covered by the plan and he was going to live in the village for a year so that he could supervise it carefully. He needed an assistant from the village. He opened up a desk drawer and inside were the keys to 25 vehicles. He picked up one key and offered it to me.

He said and did these things without looking me in the eye. I did not take the key. I did not take the job. I said to him instead, if he wanted an assistant `Why don't you ask my sister?'

It has been 20 years since Martin planted his first tomato in our village. His plan is now in its fourth month. All 25 of his vehicles are in the village, driven by 25 young Martins with no ears. There are bulldozers everywhere. The factory is almost completed, and most of the roads have been marked out. The first crop is in the field, and a thousand more acres have been signed up.

This is Martin's plan:
There is just enough rain in this part of the country for us to grow sugarcane. Sugarcane must be made into sugar immediately, very close to the fields, because it is heavy and dries out quickly and so it cannot be transported very far. We never grew sugar before because no. one could afford to build a factory in the village. But now Martin is building one. The money is from a big sugar company and from the foreign organisation which pays Martin to work in our country. There is so much money that there will be new roads all around the village and the factory will have its own tractors to carry the cane to the factory. The whole thing is very big. It was all Martin's idea.

Martin has set a minimum limit of five acres for a farmer to qualify for a permit to grow cane. It you have only one acre, you cannot be part of the plan. You must have at least five. If the factory sent tractors to fields of only one acre in size it would lose money.

Five acres is a very small farm indeed. I have read about farms in America of more than 10,000 acres. Twenty years ago when Martin planted his first tomato here, most farms were bigger than five acres. But our population has grown so much that most of our farms are now smaller than this. Five acres is not a small farm. To us five acres is a large farm. Martin must know this. He lived in our village.

And so suddenly all the people with less than five acres are selling their land. How can they resist? The price of land is now very high, but if you have less than five acres you can only plant corn and barely grow enough to feed yourself. If you sell a three acre plot you get a nice price for it. But then you have no land. And there are no jobs, except for a handful at the factory.

Only we in the village know that most people cannot afford the five acres to grow cane. Only we know that five acres is not a small farm. Only we know this ... and Martin. Surely he knows it too. But Martin is not telling anyone. And no-one has asked him.


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