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View From The South

Issue 361

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Eduardo Galeano's View From The South  

Eduardo Galeano Political economy

The Wafer Man
The sounds of the little organ announced the wafer man's arrival in the neighbourhood. Made of wheat and air, and of music too, those crusty wafers made our mouths water.

The number of wafers was a matter of luck. For a coin you'd spin a dial until the needle pointed to your lucky number: from zero to twenty, if I remember right. You'd end up either with nothing, a little, a lot, or a banquet.

I'll never forget my first time. I handed over my coin, reared up on my tiptoes and spun the dial. When it stopped, I saw the needle pointing at twenty. Then the wafer man stuck in his finger and proclaimed, 'Zero.'

I protested, in vain.

I knew something about economics, I think I could count to twenty with the help of both hands, but I didn't know a darned thing about political economy. That was my first lesson.

Salim Harari always kept pepper, that unfailing weapon of the East, close at hand to throw in the eyes of thieves, but not even thieves bothered to enter. The store, 'Prettypretty Girl', was as empty as the stomachs of his nine children.

Salim never gave up, having come from far-off Damascus to sell fabric in the town of Rafaela. The lemon tree didn't bear fruit, so he tied lemons to the branches. Not a single customer turned up, so from the balcony he tossed yards and yards of cloth into the street: 'We're giving it all away!' News came that a ship had sunk in the Paraná River, so he sprayed water on his satins and linens and shouted: 'Cloth rescued from the shipwreck!'

His misfortune lasted for a long time. Every day was worse than the last and better than the next, until one night Salim was visited in his dreams by a genie from the old country

Even that failed. It was useless. People walked by and looked the other way.

His misfortune lasted for a long time. Every day was worse than the last and better than the next, until one night Salim was visited in his dreams by a genie from the old country. The genie divulged the magic secret: you have to charge to get in.

That’s when Salim’s luck turned. The entire town lined up.

State-of-the-Art Technology
Levi Freisztav reads, writes, paints and carves wood, until the sun sets. No more. His eyes feel the weight and length of the years, and he prefers to save them for looking at mountains.

His gaze fixed on the woven strips of dusk amid the high peaks, Levi recalls bygone days. It's been nearly half a century since, out of curiosity or happenstance, he came to Patagonia from Buenos Aires and stayed for good. Walking through these lands, breathing these airs, he realized his parents were on the wrong map when he was born.

When he first came south, to the south that would become his place in the world, Levi found work on a hydroponics project. A local doctor had read in some magazine that Americans were planting lettuce in water and the doctor decided to give that novel idea a try.

Levi dug, hammered and sweated day after day, knocking together a complicated structure of split pipes, metal struts and glass. If they do it in the United States, the doctor liked to say, it's a sure thing, those people are the vanguard of civilization, technology is the key to wealth, we're centuries behind and we've got to run to catch up.

Back then, Levi was still an urban being, a man of paving stones and asphalt, one of those who believe tomatoes grow on dinner plates and who go bug-eyed when they see a chicken uncooked and walking. But one day, contemplating the immensities of Patagonia, the vast green expanse of those empty valleys, it occurred to him to ask: 'Listen, doc. Is it worth it? Is it worth it, with so much land to be had?' That was the end of his job.

Every day, we pay the value-added tax in cash. And every day, we pay the pain-added tax in cold, hard unhappiness.

Though it merits not even a passing reference in tax law, we all pay pain-added tax on just about everything.

For several thousand years we've all known there are pains that can't be eased. Inevitable are the wounds from loving and living, from years gone by, from love run dry, from death drawing nigh: that's just the way things are, and so it goes. But the owners of the planet, who do their utmost to make this world insufferable, add the evitable to the inevitable, and charge us for the favour.

The pain-added tax disguises itself as destiny or fate, as if the fleeting nature of life were one and the same as the fleeting nature of jobs.

Eduardo Galeano lives in Montevideo, Uruguay. His latest book
Upside Down is published by Metropolitan Books, New York.

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This article was originally published in issue 361

New Internationalist Magazine issue 361
Issue 361

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