Story 1: The Camel and her child
Circa: 2nd century BC (a zoo somewhere in the ancient world)
Once upon a time there was a camel who lived in a zoo. She gave birth to a child who was curious and asked a lot of questions. One day the child asked: “Mother, do you have some time. Can I ask you some questions?” “Of course you can my son,” replied the mother.
“Why do I have two-toes and thick leathery cushions on my feet? I looked at the cows and they do not seem to have it. The mother answered: Son, camels are animals of the desert where there is a lot of loose sand. This cushion-like pad spreads when we place our foot on the ground and supports our bodies on loose sand.”
The child asked: “Mother, then why do we have these long eyelashes, the elephant does not? The mother responded: “As I told you before we are animals of the desert where there are many sandstorms. These long, curly eyelashes keep the sand out and protect our eyes. Also, the desert sun is harsh and our thick eyebrows shield our eyes from the desert sun.”
The child had one more question: “Why do we have these humps on our back? I looked around and saw that the horses or elephants do not have these humps on their backs?”
The mother replied patiently: “Most people believe that the hump is a storage place for water. However, it is really a storage place for fat. Sometimes in the desert it can be hard to find food and water for days. During such lean times, the fat in the hump provides energy. The hump allows us to survive in the desert.”
The child was quiet for some time. “What’s bothering you son? You seem to have something on your mind. Go on and say it,” said the mother.
The child said: “I understand now. My feet and legs are meant to allow me to walk for long distances in the desert sand. My eyelashes and eyebrows keep out the sand and sun of the desert. My hump protects ne from starvation in the desert. Almost everything I have on my body is meant to be used in the desert, then what on Earth are we doing in this godforsaken zoo?”
Story 2: Carmen and her child
Circa: 2014 (Any city, Anywhere, Today’s world)
“Mom I need those material for my craft class tomorrow. This is the seventeenth time I am asking you. If I go unprepared to class tomorrow and my teacher scolds me then it’s all your fault,” cried Carmen’s 6-year old son from amongst his pile of books scattered on the floor of the living room.
The kid was extremely anxious about his performance in class like any other child who is intelligent, punctual, dutiful, and takes her or his homework and education seriously. Carmen was proud of that. However, there were times when she was overburdened with her double life – as a manager in a multinational firm and a full-time mother. And although she managed more than 1000 employees across 11 countries; sometimes it felt like she just could not manage her own life anymore.
Carmen set aside the meal she was putting together, threw a sweater on top of a casual t-shirt that had the words “Super-Mom” inscribed on it, snatched the car keys from the bowl kept on the table, grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him out to the elevator and then 7 floors down to the car park. They got into the car. “Let’s go and get your craft stuff,” she said.
She started the engine and drove the car out of the parking lot and into the street. The side-streets seemed to be empty that morning. She took the road that joined the highway. A 5-minute drive down the highway and Exit 42 would take her directly into the parking lot of the mall. Carmen could drive this route blindfolded. She started counting the number of time she might have driven herself or the children when the child’s question interrupted her thoughts.
“Where are we going mother?” the son asked. “To the Krafty Store in the mall. They keep everything that your teacher asks you to bring to class.” “Can we stop at the book-store mom?” asked the son. Normally Carmen would have been happy, but today was a bad day. “Please, please, please Mom,” begged the child. Carmen smiled.
And the smile soon froze into a mute scream of horror. Her car had already entered the highway when she realized that she was stuck in a massive traffic jam. She attempted to manoeuver herself out of the jam, but none of the cars – on her left or her right – made way for her. The car engines were running, everyone was honking – the highway was a noisy, chaotic mess that just would not move. The child put his hands to his ears.
“We may be here for a while. Let’s make the most of it.” Carmen tried to cheer her child and turned up the air-conditioner and the radio.
The radio-jockey from the radio station said: “Residents of Anycity. Aren’t you familiar with this ritual? The weekly gridlock on the roads of Anycity. It happens a few times every month; only no one can predict the exact day on which these gridlocks would occur. We are giving away tickets to the cinema for those who can predict the next gridlock.” The voice trailed off as Carmen’s child turned down the volume.
“Mom, can we play a game of “Questions & Answers” instead of listening to the radio. Carmen did not have choice; this usually meant that her child wanted to ask a series of questions.
“Mom, my skin feels dry. Why do I have this skin?” the child asked while pulling the skin on his arm. Carmen replied: “The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It is filled with blood vessels and its blood supply is greater than its actual requirement. When blood vessels dilate or increase in size it increases our sweating and causes heat loss from the body and when vessels become smaller or constrict it reduces blood flow and conserves body heat. Thus, the skin regulates our body temperatures. It helps us survive on this planet even when seasons change.”
The child pulled his legs up onto the seat of the car and asked: “Mother, why do we have two legs?” Carmen said: “Humans are perhaps the only animal that can walk on two legs for extended periods of time. This is a unique feature of humans provided by the evolutionary process. Although other animals are also bipedal, which means they can walk on two legs, such as the chimpanzees or orang-utans, the human legs have strong muscles that help us walk, run, move around on two legs with minimum expenditure of energy. This helps us walk around looking for food and run from our predators. It also lets us play sports.”
The child started scratching his head. Perhaps all this was a little difficult for him to understand. He asked: “Mom, why do we have such big heads?”
Carmen had to think before answering: “The head supports and protects the brain inside it. Human beings have the largest brain when compared with body size. It is the brain that makes human beings special: they can understand the world better, think, reason, innovate and create almost anything. Thanks to our brains, we can solve the problems we face. Without our brains we would be helpless on this planet.”
The child stared out the car window for a few minutes and then said: “We have skins that allow us to regulate our temperature, we have legs that allow us to walk and run, we have brains that can help us create anything and solve any problem that we may face. We are well equipped to survive in Nature. Then what are doing sitting still in an air-conditioned car stuck in the middle of a huge traffic-jam on this concrete highway, a problem that no one seems to be able to solve.”
Carmen looked outside. The cars appeared like cages and the streets seemed like zoos of our own making. The radio said that the traffic jam would not clear for at least four hours. The child said: “It seems we are going to be here for a while. Can I ask questions about each organ in the human body? Please, please, Mother, please.”
Carmen was trapped.
© Parababel, 2014