Eduardo Galeano: Fables

By Eduardo Galeano

February 2006 Issue

An old biblical prov-erb says that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.

Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, who was not born in America but knows the country inside out, asks what happens when they poison the river?

Or if someone buys the river, which used to belong to everyone, and bans fishing?

Or what happens when what is happening now happens?

Teaching is not enough.

Arms of a woman
Juan Antonio Medina was sitting watching television in his house one day.
He had never thought very highly of advertisements, but this one featured a line that wasn’t bad at all: “A charmed woman is a safe woman.”

The images that followed were of small revolvers and pistols, switchblades, pepper sprays that stop men dead in their tracks, and other diminutive devices that seem perfect for a lady’s purse in troubled times.

And then Juan Antonio Medina realized he had heard the expression wrong: “An armed woman is a safe woman.”

The International Community
A chicken, a duck, a turkey, a pheasant, a quail, and a partridge were summoned and traveled together to the summit.

The king’s chef welcomed them:
“I called you here,” he explained, “so you can tell me what sauce you would like to be eaten with.”

One of the birds dared to speak:
“I don’t want to be eaten at all.”

The chef quickly set it straight:
“That is out of the question,” he barked.

The International Expert
I have heard this story in a number of places attributed to different people, and because of this any resemblance to reality must be sheer coincidence.

Here is the version I heard in the Dominican Republic:
One day the children were running circles around Doña María de las Mercedes, clucking and throwing kernels of corn to her chickens. She sat where she sat every day, when a car ap-peared, dazzling, out of a cloud of dust on the road from Santo Do-mingo.

A man in a jacket and tie, briefcase in hand, asked her:
“If I guess exactly how many chicks you have, will you give me one?”
The woman made a face.

The man promptly fired up the global positioning system on his 60-gigabyte Pentium 4 laptop, linked up to the satellite photography program, and activated his pixel counter.

“You have 132 chicks,” he said.

And he bent down and scooped up a chick.

María de las Mercedes then asked the man:
“If I guess what line of work you’re in, will you give me the chick back?”

The man made a face. The woman guessed:
“You are an expert at an international organization.”

She took her chick back and then said to him:
“It wasn’t too hard to figure it out: You came without giving any notice, entered my farm without asking permission, told me something that I already know, and then charged me for it.”

A candidate from the left traveled to the town of San Ignacio in Honduras during the 1997 electoral campaign. He climbed the stairs to the podium and before a small audience proclaimed that the left doesn’t bribe the people, that it doesn’t sell favors for votes.

“We do not give meals! Or jobs! Or money!” he boomed.

“Then what the hell do you give?” a drunk called out, just awakened from his nap under a tree in the plaza.

Word and act had never met.

When word said yes, act did no.

When word said no, act did yes.

When word said more or less, act did less or more.

One day, word and act came across one another in the street.

Because they didn’t know each other, they couldn’t recognize each other.

And because they didn’t recognize each other, they didn’t exchange greetings.

I was wandering lost through the streets of Cádiz, thanks to my acute sense of disorientation, when a good man rescued me. He instructed me on how to get to the old market, and to any other destination in the wide world:
“Let the road lead you.”

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer and journalist, is author of “Open Veins of Latin America” and “Memory of Fire.” His most recent book is “Upside Down.” This article is published with permission of IPS Columnist Service.