It was the most peaceful war I had ever seen. Not that I call myself an expert on the military, but this did seem exceptional. Nobody was hurt, not even a scratch. Looking back on it, the presidential elections were far worse.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Perhaps I should explain what I was doing on a tiny Pacific-island-state which had just suffered its fifth military takeover in eleven days. I truly wish that I could - one Monday morning I had awoken, and had started driving to work. Or, to be a little more accurate: to the dingy rented office where I sit each day hoping for a client to arrive, knowing that none would.
My years as an ace [but sadly unemployed] detective have shown me the power of serendipity - the happy accident - and that is exactly what had happened. My broken and unrepairable box-of-wheels had been hit by a long, low, smooth, black limousine - out of the wreckage stepped the man I would soon learn to be Budo Tyerea. And I know that his car hit mine, not the other way around. You see, my car cant move.
I had bought it with the last of my life savings ($8.25 and one broken, green thong) some twenty minutes after I foolishly admitted to the car salesman that I knew nothing about cars - that being the literal truth. Having a car means a lot in my line of work, and I wasnt going to throw one away just because it lacked an engine, a steering wheel, seats, windscreen or framework.
Which is why I made sure that my office was very close to my home.
Until that fateful Monday, I never would have believed that my car had any chance of being in an accident. What driver could be that incompetent?
Oh no! Budo had yelled, now Ill never get to the airport!
Not exactly true, I had countered. I am sure that if you make it a major goal, you should have quite a reasonable chance of reaching the airport at some time in your life.
Budo had looked at me strangely - it happens to me a lot. But I need to get there before my plane leaves. He looked down at my pile of wreckage that was once a car. He seemed to know less about cars than I did, for he said : Is your car drivable? Can it go fast?
My car can do well over two hundred kilometers an hour, even in the most busy city streets!
Really?! He looked most astonished. He handed me a wad of notes, demanding that I chaffeur him immediately. I should be there with minutes to spare! he cried.
Why? I asked. My car most certainly could not get to the airport.
Indeed, I said, it can do nearly one and a half thousand kilometres an hour. Like everything on the surface of the earth. It would go distinctly faster if it were nearer the equator.
Such as a small island in the Pacific? mused Budo, staring at me, suddenly intently, rubbing the stubble on his chin with a tanned right hand. I could arrange some work for you to do there...
I arrived in Mondakiland on Tuesday morning. The wad of notes were not money, by the way, just some notes he had forgotten to give to his secretary.
MONDAKILAND, Saturday : The electoral office announced the result of last weeks total election. Nearly one percent of those who knew that there was an election on voted. The two votes were collected and counted (several times), and it showed an overwhelming vote against incumbent President Mondini. Some difficulties arose when it was discovered that neither of the two correctly registered votes had actually put down a preference. They both consisted of identical sheets of paper, with the message anyone as sane as President Mondini should not be allowed to run a country. This was interpreted by noted political analyst Budo Tyerea as meaning that the Mondakiland peoples refused to let anyone not already insane become a major world leader.
It was rumoured that Mondakiland would have no President until the next total elections, which will not be for another five years. A statement from the electoral office confirmed this, saying that, as all Presidents get voted out of office eventually, anyway, it was decided that there was no point in putting one into office in the first place.
Further difficulties arose when it was discovered that both of the votes were cast by the same person. In a curious break from tradition, the man was not charged. Budo Tyerea, the noted political analyst, who had been appointed to the running of the electoral office, was reported as saying that, we have enough problems getting anyone to turn up to elections anyway - there could be adverse publicity against the electoral office if it was noted that we had arrested every single person who voted.
It was revealed in later announcements that Budo Tyerea, the noted political analyst appointed to the running of the electoral office, who had won the contract for electoral office publicity, had forgotten to inform anyone that there was an election. He had mentioned it to a few of his friends, but had neglected to make any formal announcement. It is unlikely that Budo Tyerea will get charged for misconduct, as such an inquiry would have to come from the Presidents office.
In further disclosures, Budo Tyerea was also named as being the man who had voted twice. He justified his actions by saying that I thought I might try to make up for my other mistakes by voting so many times that nobody would notice that most of the population hadnt voted. But I realised too late that I had forgotten to have any voting slips printed, and I had to draw them up myself at the last minute. And then my mother-in-law came around that afternoon and I only had time to make two of them.
In a valiant bid to restore order, parliament announced that they intended to hold another election in three weeks time, but this is unlikely to occur. Such an announcement needs the approval of the electoral office, and Budo Tyerea has declared that he will never approve the re-election. He can only be deposed from his position by order of the President, which will be impossible until the elections in five years time. By all accounts, it is expected that the constitutional crisis will last that long.
It was the most peaceful fight Id ever seen. Not that Im much of an expert on the military, but this did seem exceptional. Nobody was hurt, not even a scratch.
Probably a coup, said Budo Tyerea, my guide, and, as of 9:15 a.m. Monday, my latest client.
A coup? I shouted, are you sure?
Budo looked at his watch. No, sorry, Im wrong. Todays Tuesday so it must be an invasion.
An invasion? I was slowly getting more scared. But who would want to invade Mondakiland?
Many countries, replied Budo. Mondakiland is one of the most prized land to hold. The most prized, in fact.
How do you know?
We have been invaded by more countries that any other place in the world. I heard on the radio the other day that Indonesias takeover last year brought the total up to nearly two hundred, so if todays is a new one, we should be getting close to two hundred and fifty.
Two hundred and fifty?! I stared. Are you serious? Mondakiland has been invaded by two hundred and fifty different foreign powers?
Something like that, Budo replied. We had been walking slowly away from the airport, down a narrow and overhung road lined with tiny shop fronts and the occasional cheery peasant family. A man rode by on a bicycle piled high with all kinds of tropical fruit, giving Budo a merry wave. A light breeze started, bringing the smell of coconut trees and sandy, well-washed beaches. Behind the salt, the smell of gunpowder came flowering delicately. Abruptly the shooting stopped, and Budo walked up to a newsagent cuddled into a corner on the roadways twisting path.
Iriam, called Budo, who is invading us today?
An beautiful islander face leant out of a window, Budo, she teased, if you read my newspaper you would know.
I would read your newspaper, said Budo, if ever it came out on time - but as last weeks issue still hasnt appeared.... The two Mondakilanders laughed, until I interrupted.
Please, he said, I would very much like to know. I could be in some danger - Westerners are not always appreciated in times of war. Who has invaded?
Iriam gave me a strange look. What difference would it make? Seeing no response, she shrugged and said, As far as I know, its one of the South African states reclaiming the territory that they believe to be rightfully theirs from their ownership of the Madagascan province that took over from the Morrocans before by the Belgian invasion that was caused by the Swaziland takeover after the Indian attack. Or maybe its the South Vietnamese initial aggression. I dont know. Perhaps one of the soldiers may know.
Zimbabwe? I queried.
I dont know, she said.
How would I find out?
She looked at Budos watch, reaching down to haul his wrist close to her eyes, and she stared at it cross-eyedly. She flung it down in disgust - cant understand those new things - and pulled her head back in the window. In a moment she popped out again - It is well past midday, so the invasion should be over by now - no one likes fighting when the tide is good for swimming. You will find most of the soldiers at the beach. Perhaps there may be some drinking somewhere. Look for the men in the green uniforms. Good day to you. She threw her head back in the window, and shut it with a forceful tug.
I then noticed what a pointless gesture it was - the window had no pane in it - it was just rim, a little pretence, an image of the western world that was so hard to imitate convincingly.
The sun beat down on the two of us standing outside the newsagency. Almost at once we set off again.
You seem to take these foreign invasions very lightly, I said. Even your army seems not to care.
Lightly?! replied Budo, they mean everything to us! You westeners have your culture and your imports-to-exports ratios and your constitutional rights, but what have we got? Nothing! You talk about developing self-esteem among yourselves - but dont talk about self-esteem for countries! Youve no need to, you can be proud of your country - it is powerful and everyone is jealous of you. But us? What have we got to offer?
You must have something worthwhile. Why else would every country in the world be so keen to take over?
We have nothing. The only way we make money is to lease out our army as mercenaries. And even thats drying up.
Y-y-your army as mercenaries? Other countries hire your army? And use them as troops in their own private wars? Budo nodded. Who was defending against the takeover today? Budo looked confused. Suddenly I had an idea : Your standing army is always away from the island! So any country that wants to can come and invade. I get it now.
Budo looked even more confused. No, you dont understand. Our army stays on the island. It was our army that was doing the invading.
The colour must have drained from my face. Your army is hired to invade and kill their own people?
Budo nodded. It is our only way to make any money. And we understand it is necessary, so no-one gets in the way of the army. We try to make sure that nobody gets hurt. Our invasions are very safe affairs now - much safer than they used to be.
Selling your country to foreigners....
Yes, that is right.
I looked around in dazed shock. The tiny streets seemed to crowd around me, the drab greyness making me feel so rich and alien. This country made me sick - how can I explain the way this affected me? It is like a child whose family is so poor that he is sold into slavery for life so that his father and mother may eat one good meal. But not just one child - a whole country.
But why do you keep getting invaded? Once one country has taken over, how can you sell your army again? It is no longer yours to sell.
Ah, said Budo with a sigh, that is where we have been very clever. Our army is very useless - it cannot fight at all well. Every country so far has broken the hiring contract before time out of frustration, so we keep ownership.
That is where we have been very, very clever. It states in the hiring contract that if the hirer has gained any territory using our army, and they break contract, then ownership is forfeited to the Mondakiland peoples.
How very wonderful! I said brightly, some of the naseau fleeing. Slowly you gain more and more land - and your country grows richer.
Ah, no, not exactly. Budo looked down at the ground, and kicked away a small pebble. In the contract it also states that under no circumstances does the Mondakiland army have to leave Mondakiland. Our army stays at home all the time. That is why we keep getting invaded by our own army - the hirers can use the army for nothing else. The only thing that the contract lets them use the army for, is to invade Mondakiland. Which they do. They then discover that Mondakiland is of no value to them, and that they are burdened with a contract for an army which can do nothing more for them. So they break the contract.
So why does anyone hire your army in the first place?
We are very cheap, and they dont find out the problems in the contract until it is signed. These technicalities are in the fine print.
But surely for something as big as an international contract the hirers would read it very carefully.
Ah, that is where we have been very clever. Im sure that they would want to, but it is sadly impossible for them. Budo gleamed a white-toothed smile. It is a Mondakiland contract, and the language is very difficult.
Wouldnt they just hire a native Mondakilander to interpret it for them?
Ah, that is where we have been very clever. Many years ago we devised a language for our lawyers, an impossibly difficult language. It is filled with strange forms where similar sounding words can have opposite meanings, or completely different meanings. It takes a long life-time of study to learn to use it and understand correctly. That is why our lawyers are chosen from birth. It may take the first thirty to forty years for them to learn to speak the law-language correctly, and longer still before they can fully grasp subtle nuances of meanings. A non-lawyer has no way of understanding a Mondakiland contract.
Well, I said, wouldnt they just hire a Mondakiland lawyer to do the interpretting?
How would they do that? asked Budo, quite confused.
Just give him (or her) some money, and say translate this for us. Or something like that.
Ah, no, said Budo. I think you misunderstand me. There is a special language for lawyers. It is very difficult. It requires a full-time commitment to learning it.
Yes, but once they have learnt it...
They never stop learning it. It is a full life-time task to gain any proficiency just in the law-language.
Now it was my turn to be confused. So they have no time to learn anything else?
Yes! said Budo. Lawyers have not the time to learn any other language - they must spend all their time learning their own. Our lawyers have a special language of their own.
Incomprehensible to anyone else?
And they can understand nothing of anyone elses language?
So how the %@#^&!! do you run a legal system when the lawyers cant communicate with anyone else? How do you decide who wins a case? How am I supposed to nail anyone? Whatever verdict the judge comes to, only the lawyers will understand what it was, and wont be able to tell the clients.
Ah, that is where we have been very clever. Budo paused before continuing. Our legal system is much simpler than yours. In your country, you hire the most expensive lawyers, who argue about the case for many weeks or months. The more expensive lawyer argues until the other lawyer gives up and has bored the jury silly. Then the case is decided, and it goes to the more expensive lawyers side, because if they dont give it to him, he will come back again and bore them silly with the case all over again in a higher court.
Budo swept his arm around the island. But here, we are much more clever than you in the west. We save the trouble of having a court case. If two people have a disagreement, they both go out and hire themselves a lawyer. They both go to the court, where they leave their lawyers arguing. After a few minutes of the two lawyers gibberish the two people leave the court-room bored and confused. They meet outside and the person who hired the most expensive lawyer declares himself the winner. And then life carries on as usual. The result is the same as if it were in your country, but we waste far less time.
Isnt that a trifle unfair? I asked. The rich Mondakilanders would win all the court cases, and the poor would get no justice.
But that happens under your system, too.
Yes, but we at least pretend that it isnt like that. Wouldnt the poor give up hope?
Ah, that is where our system is very clever. If a rich man has too many cases brought against him, and he tries to hire expensive lawyers for all of them, he soon finds himself broke. So he has to hire himself cheap lawyers every now and then. And those are the cases that the poor can win.
It sounds like the lion-or-the-lady sort of justice, I said. Trial by fire or water and all that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, it doesnt matter whether you were right or wrong. Sounds terribly unfair.
We continued to walk, but in a subdued silence, passing a few more shops, then a moderate Catholic church. The stonework was old, yellows and browns seeping through into the joints. A small garden on either side of the pathway held a few flowers, and some dark compost. An old-looking gardener was kneeling in the beds, trying to seduce some small beauty to grow in amongst the ugliness of the compost. A worn sign outside a run-down house next door loomed over the scene. It read CONFESSIONAL. The two men walked past it.
Well, said Budo cautiously, there is more to our legal system than just the courts. If one party confesses, then the case is immediately won by the other side.
So provided that one side feels sufficiently guilty about their misdoing, I said, justice is still done.
Yes, Budo replied.
But how often do people admit that they were wrong?
Oh, many many times, he replied. For we are a very honest people, and like to make money fairly.
Sounds too good to be true, I replied. I turned a little, matching eyes with Budo. With a slightly quizzical stare, and a mischevious smile I asked, Budo, have you owned up to any of your crimes?
Budo gave a strange look as a reply. How could I misunderstand him so? No one would own up to their own crimes. The point is to get your opponent to confess. Why would anyone want to admit their own crimes? - You would lose immediately!
But I thought you said that there were lots of confessions - that you like to make money fairly.
Yes, said Budo. There is much money to be made in confessions. A good confessor can earn a weeks wages of normal worker in less than a day. But it is fair money for the work done.
Why, I asked, what is is that they do?
Confess, of course. What else would a confessor do?
Whatever you want, Budo said tiredly, as if explaining the simplest thing to a child. That is the work of a confessor.
I dont understand. I must have looked confused.
Come, said Budo. I will show you. Budo turned around and walked back to the confessional. They stepped inside - a dingy office with a secretary-less desk, and little else. They must be very poor, whispered Budo.
Because they have no secretary?
No, Budo whispered back. None of those silly yellow sticky pieces of paper that every office has but no one in their right mind actually uses.
The whispered conversation stopped suddenly, as an attractive Mondakiland woman stepped through into the office. A tall and powerful woman, her voice was deep and filled the room. What do you want?
Budo responded, This is a confessional?
Yes, she replied. You wish to speak to one of the confessors?
Yes, Budo replied. Any will do, its about my case against the parliament.
Certainly, the woman replied. Government confessions are my speciality. What would you like me to confess?
Hmmmm... said Budo. Could you confess that you were fairly high in some parliamentary position and that you ordered the electoral office not to tell anyone about the election.
Not a problem, she said, jotting into a small notebook that she had just picked up from the table. Anything else?
Do you do reasons as well? asked Budo. I must have (still) looked confused, as he explained. Some confessors can also come up with convincing reasons as to why they did their supposed actions. Taking my case as an example, she might say that she had a large amount of money placed on a bet for when the election would take place, which would explain her actions. The better confessors can actually come up with reasons that someone might believe, but that would be a bit of an overkill for my case.
It would probably be a serious disadvantage, interrupted the confessor. She turned to me, if Im confessing that I was involved with the parliament, and then come up with some logical reason as to why I did what I did, that would make everyone suspicious. If Im meant to be part of the governing of this country, I should be trying to make as little sense as possible. I think that Ill confess that I did it because my horoscope told me to.
Not bad, said Budo. How much will that be?
She named a price, and he handed over the money. She slipped out of the room, and we - Budo now more calm - turned and left.
Does your whole country run like this? I asked him.
Run like what?
Like a one-legged wingless fly. Like a bicycle with square wheels. Like a bomb waiting to explode.
Dont say that! shouted Budo suddenly.
Dont say what?
The E- word. Budo was frantic. A bomb that was waiting to.
Explode? - Budos hand instantly flung to cover Tims mouth. Tim peeled it off again. Whats wrong with the word?
If you say it too loud, youll frighten all the neighbours.
Why? I asked.
The bomb squad will come.
Whats wrong with the bomb squad?
Budo looked at me for a moment. That is a state secret. Until you get clearance I am not allowed to tell you.
I suppose I didnt matter about the bomb squad, but it nagged my curiosity. How does one get security clearance? What would be the point of having levels of security when the entire countrys defence forces were regularly hired out to the highest bidder?
Budo had set me down in a bare hotel room - looked rather like my office, actually - with a guide-book (not that theres anything in it), a map of Mondakiland (printed before anything had been built on the island) and the bill for the flight (wasnt he supposed to pay that?).
As there is absolutely nothing to do or see anywhere on Mondakiland, it must have been very difficult to write a guide-book to the place. The publishers had filled it out somewhat by including twenty blank pages, a number of crossword puzzles, two pages out of an IBM disksystem manual, and a complete 1974 phone-directory in the back. (The logic being that anyone who was rich enough to afford a phone in 1974 would have had the money to leave Mondakiland. If you rang any number from it now, you would get the a message from the phone company, which might give you the New and altered numbers line. You could then ring that number and ask the operator to connect you manually to whomever you were after.) In fact, there was only one page in the guide-book which was in the least way informative. It called itself An overview of Mondakiland.
An overview of Mondakiland
Mondakiland sounds a perfect name for some desert-laden and famine-stricken African country in the midst of turbulent upheavels. Which is a pity, as it is a small tropical island in the Pacific.
An island of beauty and treasure, and home of some of the worlds least important industries, its vast and dotted history extends into the easily imaginable past.
Population : unknown. Nobody has ever seen much point in finding out. What difference would it make if it were known?
Government : A democratic socialistic communal representative non-oligarchial semi-patriarchal semi-matriarchal system which seemed a good idea when the constitution was devised.
Language : Unknown. This question was very difficult to answer for Mondakilanders. How do you find out what language people are speaking? If you ask in English, then the Mondakilander cant tell you because there isnt yet an English word which means the language which Mondakilanders speak. And how do you ask in the language itself? Excuse me, but what language am I speaking? You tend to get escorted to the local asylum - what sort of person wouldnt know the name of language which they spoke?
Culture : As no-one has yet come up with a reasonable definition for the word culture, its a bit hard to describe what one particular countrys culture is like. Theres the usual answer which is The ______ people have a strong sense of identity and culture. Folk dancing and folk songs are popular.... . Its a bit of non-statement - it could be applied to almost any group of people at all.
Climate : It rains some of the time, and is sunny the rest of the time (except for when its overcast and not raining). Why should I really care? Its been years since I was in Mondakiland. Why do I have to write these silly essays all the time? Sometimes when I sit in my hot smelly office miles away I dream of starting all over again
but the next page proved most interesting :
and wishing that I had taken up that offer of joining the army. My mother told me it was a good job, and my father told me how to become an officer, too. He said that all you needed to do was to have got yourself security clearance. And all you need to do for that is to run for president.
It might seem bizarre to you, but it makes a lot of sense. Elsewhere, if you become president, you get security clearance, and only then can you discover that your government has been hiding aliens (and their UFO) in a secret air-force base, that there is corruption all the way through the public service, and that, as-a-matter-of-fact, you do now have complete control over an amazing new weapon that can blow the planet to pieces.
Truly, who would put up with that? If you applied for a job, and your boss never told you what your job would entail until the day you started work...?
And having no choice but to keep it all hushed! Whats the fun in a secret if you cant spill it and tell it out in strictest confidence...?
But the Mondakiland system is much better. Just by becoming a candidate, you get security clearance. Then you can find out before you actually get in. Much better! And if you th - Oh no! Ive left this dictation running!
... and there was no more.