By Magari Mandebvu
THERE is an ancient story about a frog that jumped into a bucket of water. The owner of the bucket immediately put the bucket on to a very hot fire.
The frog, feeling uncomfortably hot, jumped up on to the rim of the bucket and from the
re jumped to safety.
A second frog did the same in a different place (it may have been in France or China) and the owner of the bucket put the bucket on to a very slow fire. The water warmed up slowly.
Frogs are cold-blooded creatures. Unlike us, they can’t keep their blood at a comfortable temperature, so they often welcome a little bit of warmth more than we do. We just enjoy the warmth, but they need it.
This frog was happy when he noticed the water was getting a little warmer. His blood temperature rose, so he was able to swim more vigorously. He couldn’t climb the side of the bucket, but that didn’t worry him. He was enjoying his swim.
The water got a bit warmer. The frog swam a bit faster and he was really enjoying himself.
The water got warmer still and the frog began to feel drowsy.
Do you remember what it was like when we had enough water to enjoy a hot bath after a hard day’s work? You know that when you are sitting in nice hot water and feeling sleepy, you think more slowly.
The frog didn’t think seriously about his situation. It was just so nice and warm and tempting to slow down and let his eyes close.
The water continued heating up. It boiled for a while.
The last time the storyteller saw the owner of the bucket (and this is why I said it may have happened in France or China), she was happily chewing on some very tenderly cooked frog’s legs.
Is that just a funny story?
Doesn’t it suggest something else? Which of these two frogs is the average citizen of Zimbabwe today?
The water is already quite hot. They have gone a long way towards cooking us, and they have got away with it because they did it one step at a time.
Each step was noticeable, just as the frog could notice the temperature of the water in the bucket had been raised a few degrees, but it didn’t seem too threatening. Or at least not to us.
Other people may have been beaten up, or tortured, or killed, or raped, or slammed into stinking overcrowded jails and forgotten. Other people may have had their homes destroyed, or been banned from earning a living, and maybe had the tools of their trade stolen. A few even lost big farms.
But it didn’t affect you or me very much. The water was a bit warmer, but not too hot for you or me. So we swam on happily, not thinking of what the future might hold if things went on like this.
Now the water is near boiling. Our situation is grim, as we all admit.
But, to cheer you up, here is another ancient story about two frogs.
They both fell into a bucket of milk.
Frog No1 was not very adventurous. In fact, he was very conservative. He didn’t do anything that his grandfather had not done all his life — and probably his grandfather’s grandfather before him.
If he had been human, he would have been the sort of person you wouldn’t dare (in the days when some of us could afford to eat out occasionally) to invite to an Indian or Italian restaurant. When he saw the menu listing all those delicious curries or all those imaginative ways of presenting pasta, he would have just asked for sadza.
But he wasn’t human, he was just a frog dropped in a bucket of milk and he had never been dropped into a bucket of milk before so he said to himself: “What is this strange stuff? I’ve never seen water like this before. I can’t swim in this.”
So he stopped trying to swim and very quickly drowned.
Frog No 2 was just as puzzled by this strange white stuff, but, being of a more adventurous nature, decided that it didn’t matter what kind of strange stuff he had fallen into as long as he could still swim in it. So he tried to swim.
For a while he swam quite easily, but you know what happens when you churn milk up. Soon swimming became more difficult because the milk was becoming thicker.
Still, the persistent frog kept swimming. Now the milk around him was so thick that he could hardly move forward, however hard he swam.
At least he was still afloat, so he kept trying to swim. Moving his limbs became more and more difficult.
But he was a really persistent frog, so he didn’t give up.
Eventually, he found he could not move his limbs to swim at all. Surprisingly, he did not sink. Then he discovered that, although he could not move his arms and legs sideways, he could pull himself up. He did this and looked around him.
You can imagine his surprise when he saw that he was floating on a raft — of butter. His attempts to swim had made all this butter, enough for him to float on.
He slowly realised what had happened. He licked as much of the butter off his limbs as he could. He couldn’t clean himself up entirely because frogs are not as well designed for this job as dogs or cats are.
The butter tasted strange, but when he swallowed some, it made him feel stronger and he realised he was very hungry from all that effort. This encouraged him to swallow all the butter he could lick off himself. In the end he wasn’t perfectly clean, but he had done the best he could. He was also fully restored to strength.
He looked around again and decided that his butter raft was quite firm enough to enable him to jump to the rim of the bucket.
He jumped to the rim and from there he jumped down the other side. He was free!
Now, when we consider this second story, it offers us more hope. You would not still be reading this, dear readers, nor would I be still writing it, if we were not, both of us, more like frog No 2 than frog No1.
Yes, this strange stuff we are still trying to swim in gets thicker every day. By now it is very thick. But remember frog No1 and frog No2. One of these days we will find ourselves out of our problems and on a raft of butter. That will not be the end of our problems: we will still have to make the jump to freedom.
I am sure frog No 2 found other problems outside the bucket. There always will be problems in life, but he had solved one very big problem and this encouraged him to try harder and think more intelligently about these later problems. I am sure it will be the same for us.
* Magari Mandebvu is a Harare-based writer.