In the South Pacific the history and beliefs of the people are told in stories that go back centuries. These stories are not written, but live as spoken words, passed on from parent to child, family to family, year after year.
In the modern world it is easy for oral traditions to be lost. Ole Pasifikiwei on the island of Tiko loves these old stories, so he writes them down. But it is slow work — it would be wonderful to have a typewriter...
'I hear you're collecting oral traditions. Good work,' said Mr Harold Minte. 'I'm pleased to hear that someone is writing down these old stories before they're lost forever.'
Mr Minte was a diplomat. His voice was friendly, but he sounded like a teacher speaking to a schoolboy.
'Thank you, sir,' Ole Pasifikiwei said shyly. He was not usually shy, except with foreigners, but tonight he was at a drinks party for diplomats in the beautiful gardens of the International Nightlight Hotel, and he found conversation difficult.
Ole spent most of the free time from his job collecting oral traditions. He felt that God was telling him to do this work, and it had become the great interest of his life.
He had begun by writing down his own family's history and stories, then went on to other families in the village, and then to neighbouring villages. In seven years he had covered a fifth of his island country. He wrote with a pen in notebooks, which he kept in a tall pile in a corner of his house. He hoped that one day he would have a typewriter and some filing cabinets to keep all the papers safe.
People at MERCY (the Ministry of Environment, Religion, Culture, and Youth) knew about Ole's work on oral traditions, and thought it was a very fine thing. A senior official in MERCY, who was also a good friend of Ole's, had invited him to the drinks party to meet Mr Minte, because Mr Minte was in Tiko to talk about development, and to find out where aid and money were needed.
'Perhaps some money will make your work easier,' Mr Minte said now to Ole.
'That'll help a lot, sir,' said Ole.
'We have development money especially for cultural projects like this. We want to make sure that the Pacific Way is not lost. We want to help you.'
'Very kind of you, sir. When can I have some money?' 'After you've written me a letter asking for aid.'
'Do I have to? Can't you just send some money?'
'You haven't done business with us before, have you?'
'Things are not as simple as that, you know. We have the money to give away, but first, you must ask us. Tell us what you want. We don't want to tell you what you should do. My job is to tell people that we want to work together, and people should ask us for help. Do you understand?'
'Yes, sir. But suppose no one asks?' said Ole.
'That's no problem. When people know they can get things from us for nothing, they will ask. Come and see me at ten tomorrow morning at the MERCY building. Think of what I've said and we'll talk about it then. I'm pleased we've met. Good night.'
Soon Ole left the party and went home, feeling worried and uncomfortable. He had never before asked for anything from a stranger. 'I'm not a beggar,' he thought. 'If Mr Minte has money to give away, why doesn't he just give it? Why must I beg for it?'
He began to have feelings of hate for Mr Minte. He needed a typewriter and some filing cabinets, not for himself, but for the important work he was doing. But he was too proud to ask for them. Was it wrong to be proud? Probably. It wasn't easy to ask for things from a stranger — but he had to do it because there was no other way of getting a typewriter and some filing cabinets.
'Oh, well,' he thought, as he lay in bed that night, 'it's like breaking the law, I suppose. After you've done it once, it just gets easier and easier.'
At ten the next morning Ole was at the MERCY building.
'Good morning, Ole,' said Mr Minte. 'Have you decided if you want help from us?'
'Yes, sir. I'd like to have a typewriter and some filing cabinets. I'll write you a letter. Thank you.'
'Now, Ole, I'm afraid that's not possible. We don't want to tell people what to do with our money, but there are things that we cannot pay for. My Minister at home has to explain to the government how our development money is used. Why does a project about oral traditions in an island culture need a modern machine like a typewriter? No, no, the government won't like that at all!'
'But I need a typewriter because...'
'No, no, no,' Mr Minte said. 'You have to think again. What you ask for must look right, feel right for the project.' He stopped for a moment. 'Look, we can give you 2,000 dollars a year for the next five years for a newsletter about your project. Publish a newsletter every month and send us one copy, OK?'
'But I still need a typewriter to publish a newsletter,' said Ole.
'Try using a MERCY typewriter. And you will have to have a committee, you know.'
'A committee? What for?' said Ole. 'I've worked alone for seven years, and no committee has been interested in me.'
'Oh, they will be, they will be, when they hear there is good development money. But we don't give to people, you see, only to committees. Get a group of people together, call them the Oral Traditions Committee or something, which will then write to us for help. Do you understand?' Mr Minte looked at his watch. 'I'm sorry, I have to go now to talk to the National Women's Organization. Your women are much better at starting committees than your men, you know. Their organizations get lots and lots of development money.
Think about it and come again tomorrow at the same time. See you then.'
Mr Minte went out and disappeared into a long shiny black car.
Ole stayed in the office, keeping very still and breathing deeply until he felt calmer. He always did this when he was angry. Finally, he got up and walked slowly to the office of his friend, Emi Bagarap, the senior MERCY official. Emi sat quietly and listened until Ole finished speaking.
'The trouble with you is that you're too honest,' Emi said. 'And too proud.'
'It's not being proud,' said Ole. 'It's self-respect.'
'Oh, self-respect is very fine, of course,' Emi said. 'But we can't afford it now. When our country is developed, then we can be proud and have lots of self-respect...'
'And suppose our country is never developed?' said Ole.
'We will develop!' said Emi. 'Of course we will. You have to believe that the future is full of hope for us. Remember that we're playing international games. The other players have the money, and we don't. Simple as that. They make the rules, and we try to make the rules work better for us. Look at Mr Minte. He offers you 2,000 dollars for five years, and he wants you to start a committee, then the committee writes a letter asking for funds and publishes a monthly newsletter. That's all. But he didn't say anything about what kind of committee, or who should be on it, did he? You can get three or four friends to be your committee. Get people who aren't very interested, and who don't know very much. Then you'll be free to do the things you need.
'And the letter will come from the committee, not from you yourself, so your self-respect will not be hurt in any way. Although that doesn't really matter, of course.
Another thing. Mr Minte didn't say how long the newsletter should be, did he? You can write it in a page or two and it will take you about half an hour each month. And you don't have to write it in English. And if you wish, you can just publish two copies — one for you and one for Mr Minte. I'm not telling you to do this; that would be dishonest, you see. I'm only explaining to you one of the possible ways to play this game.
And most importantly,' Emi continued, 'Mr Minte didn't say what you should do with the rest of the money. So. You pay perhaps two dollars a year for your newsletter, and with the rest of the money you can buy a typewriter and four filing cabinets every year for five years.
'You see, Mr Minte is very good and very kind; he's been playing international games for a long, long time and he understands the rules. He wants you to have your typewriter and the other things but won't say it. Go see him tomorrow and tell him you'll do what he told you.
'But remember that when you are doing business with foreigners, don't be too clever. It's better to look like a poor, grateful islander, who knows nothing. And you're too fat — try to get thinner. We need to look like poor, hungry people. The reason why Tiko gets very little aid money is because our people are too fat and happy. I wish our government would realize that and do something about it.'
And so, Emi Bagarap, who had put his own self-respect away in a dark cupboard many years ago, taught his friend, the learner, the ways of the world.
When Ole left the office, he felt much less worried — almost happy, in fact. He had begun to understand some of life's many problems. 'Give me time, dear God,' he thought as he walked towards the bus stop, 'and I will become an excellent player of this game.'
'A word with you, old friend,' Manu's voice stopped him.
'Oh, hello, Manu,' Ole said. 'Long time no see. Where have you been?'
'Watching you, old friend. You have that look on your face,' Manu said simply.
'What look?' asked Ole, not understanding.
'The look of someone who's been listening to people like Emi Bagarap. I'm worried about you. I must tell you before it's too late. Don't let Emi or people like him persuade you to do something you-'
'I never let anyone persuade me to do anything that I don't want to do,' said Ole, very crossly.
'It's already happened, old friend; it's written all over your face. Be careful of Emi. He has sold his soul, and will make you sell yours if you're not careful.'
'That's stupid. No one has sold his soul,' said Ole. 'We're just being sensible, until we get what's good for the country.'
'No, no, old friend. You are selling your soul. And you'll never get it back because you will not want to.'
'I don't have time for this, Manu. You belong to the past; it's time to wake up to the future.' And with those sharp words Ole walked quickly away.
Next day when he met Mr Minte he was all smiles. The diplomat saw the change in Ole, and gave a smooth little smile in return. He had seen this change many times before. It was part of his job to make this change happen.
'So, Ole, when will you start the committee?'
'Well done, Mr Chairman. If your secretary writes me a letter, you'll get your first 2,000 dollars in a month's time.' 'Thank you very much, Mr Minte. I'm most grateful.' 'You're welcome. I've enjoyed doing business with you, Ole. You have a great future. If you need anything, just tell me. You know, the Pacific needs more people like you. Then these countries would develop faster than the speed of light.'
They shook hands, and as Ole opened the door, Mr Minte called out, 'Ah yes, there will soon be a training course in Manila on collecting oral traditions. You should go; it will be good for you. I'll let you know in a few weeks.'
'Thank you again, Mr Minte.'
'Don't mention it. I'm always happy to help. Goodbye for now. I hope you'll soon get a typewriter and filing cabinets.' Ole sang quietly to himself on the way home, very happy. That evening the Committee for the Collection of Oral Traditions was born. Ole was the chairman, his youngest brother was the secretary, and three friends became committee members. The Committee began work immediately and wrote a letter to Mr Minte which was taken to the MERCY building the next day. A month later Ole received a cheque for 2,000 dollars and a letter inviting him to go on a six-week training course in Manila. He went, leaving his house in the care of his old aunt, who did not understand what he was doing.
He found the training course hard to understand, and the night-life in Manila was much more exciting. In fact, Ole had a very enjoyable time indeed, and in the third week he had to visit a doctor, who was most kind and understanding, and gave Ole the necessary medicine.
On his way home Ole bought a typewriter in Sydney airport, and also ordered four filing cabinets, which would come to the island by ship. He was very pleased. His dream was coming true, and so quickly! As his plane landed at Tiko airport, he saw himself in the future — the head, no, the President of the National Committee for Island Culture.
When he finally arrived home, his old aunt greeted him with tears of happiness.
'Ole, Ole, you're safe. Thank God those foreigners didn't eat you. You look so thin; what did they do to you?'
'Don't worry, auntie,' Ole laughed. 'Those foreigners don't eat people. They only shoot each other.'
'You look so sick. Did they try to shoot you too?'
'I'm very healthy.' Ole laughed, remembering his night-life adventures in Manila.
'What's the matter, Ole? Why are you laughing?'
'The house looks very tidy,' Ole said quickly. 'Thank you for taking care of it. You are always very good to me.'
'Oh, Ole, I cleaned the place from top to bottom,' said his aunt. 'You need a wife to clean up after you. Why don't you get married? You were always untidy, and you haven't changed. I threw out so much rubbish from your house.'
These words began to worry Ole a little.
'You did, did you? And what did you do with my books?'
'Books? What books?'
'Those notebooks in the pile in the corner of the room.' 'You mean those dirty old school notebooks? They had all kinds of insects living in them, Ole.'
'They're the most important things in my life,' said Ole, and went looking for his books. 'They aren't here. What have you done with them?' he shouted.
'Sit down, Ole, and let's talk calmly.'
'No! Where are they?'
'Ole, you've always been a good boy. Sit down and have something to eat. You must be hungry.'
'Never mind that, I want my books!'
'Sit down and don't scream at me. That's a good boy. We're poor, you, me, the neighbours. Food is expensive.' 'Where are my books?'
'We can't afford toilet paper. It used to be ten cents.'
'Yes, but what about my books?'
'You didn't leave me any money when you went away, Ole. I had to eat, and keep clean. Things are so expensive.'
'I'm sorry, but where are my books?'
'Don't keep asking me that question, Ole. I'm trying to explain. I'm your only living aunt. And I'm very old, and ready to go to Heaven. Don't hurry me, please. Don't you think I'm more important than some old book?'
'What did you do with them? Where are they?'
'Ole, I had no money for food, no money for toilet paper. I had to eat and keep clean. Stop looking at me like that. You frighten me.' She stopped, then went on very quietly. 'I used some and sold the rest cheaply to the neighbours. They're poor, Ole, but they also have to keep clean.'
Ole stared at his aunt. He could not believe it. 'No, no, you're just having some fun with me. You didn't really sell my books for toilet paper...'
'I did. Yes, yes, I did. I'm sorry, but I didn't know they were important. How could I know?'
'Oh, my God!'
Ole could not speak for a moment. He sat very still, breathing deeply. Then slowly, very slowly, he whispered, 'Seven years' hard work down the toilet; shit!'
Suddenly the meaning of the word 'shit' hit him, and he began laughing wildly, with tears running down his face. At the same moment the best idea of his life came to him.
He put his arms round his aunt and said he was sorry for being angry. The old lady was very surprised at this sudden change in him, and cried with happiness.
Ole remembered that Mr Minte's government had promised him 10,000 dollars over five years. That was the start. Ole Pasifikiwei, whose books had gone down the toilet, would now go fishing in the big seas.
'If I am a beggar,' he told himself, 'I will be a big beggar, a grand beggar, the best beggar of all.'
He wrote Mr Minte a letter, and not long afterwards Dr Andrew Wheeler arrived on the island. Dr Wheeler was a very clever man and knew all about development aid. With his help, Ole began a National Committee for Cultural Studies, and on the Committee he got chiefs, government ministers, VIPs, wives of VIPs, and his old friend, Emi Bagarap. He himself was full-time secretary. Then Dr Wheeler wrote a plan for a four-year project, and letters asking for 400,000 dollars in aid. The letters were sent to every organization which had aid funds to give away.
A little later, again with Dr Wheeler's help, Ole formed eighteen other national committees and organizations. They all had wonderfully necessary and important projects, which needed generous development aid. And after six years Ole had asked for 14 million dollars for his different committees. His name was now well known by all the important aid people in Brussels, The Hague, Bonn, Geneva, Paris, London, New York, Washington, Wellington, Canberra, Tokyo, Peking, and Moscow. The University of the Southern Paradise, recognizing what a great man Ole had become, gave him many grand titles.
Ole Pasifikiwei became an extraordinarily clever player of international aid games, enjoying every new rule and learning how to turn it upside-down and inside-out. His early worries about self-respect have disappeared, and he works hard at his full-time job of first-class, expert beggar.