While the hurricane laboriously wrecks lives in America; determined on destruction and resolute in causing as much damage as possible; the people in Boggel’s Place are discussing ways of sympathising with the people in America. Destruction by water and snow and wind is something so far removed from their frame of reference, that they feel they should do something.
“We could send a telegram,” Servaas offers, “to tell them we are sorry they suffer so much.”
“And to whom do you send it? Do you know somebody over there?? As far as I know, you have to address it to a specific person.” Vetfaan shakes his head. “No, we’ll have to think of something else.”
“But, if we don’t know anybody in New York, shouldn’t we just send it to the mayor?”
“New York is bigger than Upington, Servaas. They most probably have more than one mayor. Maybe we should send it to the President of the United States. At least we know they only have one.”
“Sure. And next week they have elections and then they get a new one. This telegram will take a long time to get there – my last one to Prieska took a day. A telegram to America will take at least a week, maybe more.” Vetfaan tries to sound well-informed; he looked America up in his old school atlas.
“We’ll send a letter then,” Boggel decides, “addressed to The Current President, USA. But we’ll have to be careful how we word it: they might have a Mormon as the next president.”
“That isn’t so bad – we’ve got one too.”
“There’s a difference between a Mormon and a moron, Vetfaan. Mormons are deeply religious people. But if Obama wins, we can simply write the way we feel, without worrying about big words and such.”
The aide in the Oval Office dumps the box with letters on the mousy secretary’s desk. She has a small office at the end of the corridor and it is her task to sift through the masses of letters the president receives from all over the world. Most of these – especially lately – are letters of sympathy (about Sandy) or encouragement (with the elections).
She sighs. When she was offered a job at the White House, she had dreams of becoming the Presidential Spokesperson; somebody regularly seen on CNN and adored by an appreciating audience. Maybe, she fantasised, some oil-rich handsome man would arrive with flowers to whisk her away to his Dallas-style ranch.
That was twenty years ago. Presidents have come and gone, and she’s still the same mousy girl sorting out stupid letters the president would never see. Then, with the letters neatly organised in the Sympathy or Congratulations piles, she’d answer each and every one before printing them on the paper with the presidential signature and seal at the bottom of the page.
Letters from Cairo, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Mali … today’s pile is impressive. A gentleman in Nigeria is offering to sort out the USA’s debts with the massive funds he has discovered in one of their minister’s secret accounts. A woman in Vietnam tells the president that the recent storms in her country destroyed her chicken coop, and would the President be so kind as to send funds to help her rebuild it? There’s a letter from an Eskimo complaining about global warming, and what is the President going to do about the decreasing numbers of bears in his hunting ground?
It’s all so routine, ever so boring.
The brown envelope is the last in the pile. Addressed to: The Current President, USA in carefully hand-printed letters, it seems to have come from somewhere in Africa.
Dear Mr (or Mrs) President,
We write to you from a small village in the Kalahari. If you look carefully at the map of Africa, you’ll find us between Namibia and Botswana. It’s towards the South. We don’t have much water here and it gets a bit dusty when the wind blows.
We heard about the storm you call Sandy. Despite its name, it brought you rain and snow, two things we hardly ever hear about down here. However, we do know a lot about power failures, fire-engines that are too late and schools that close for all kinds of reasons. The hospital in Upington too, has to get by without electricity from time to time.
So we understand the hardship you must be enduring. That’s why we wrote. To say we’re sorry.
But we also have good news. You can drive on roads filled with potholes. If the schools don’t work, the kids can study at home – ours have to, often. All fires burn out eventually, even without a fire-engine nearby. And when the candles run out, you can collect firewood and have a braai. In fact, people seem to live quite comfortably if the government is busy with other things. Over here we are quite used to it.
So, Mr (or Mrs) President: take heart. We hope the storm is over by now and that you can once again concern yourself with the important things a president should do – like playing golf and talking to people about making money or even building a new mansion for your extended family.
The People of Rolbos.
She picks up the phone to contact Richard Quest , her contact at CNN.
The line is silent for a while. “I dunno. Nowhere?”
Putting down the receiver, she crumbles the letter into the wastepaper basket.
“Some cranks,” she hisses.
Then she sets about writing an elaborate reply to the Nigerian gentleman. You never know…