3. I Invented Farming
The sand is heavy and hot. I feel like I’m walking with bricks attached to my legs. Every step is a struggle. Every step I get closer to nowhere. I look behind me and see sand. I look to the right, to the left, still sand. I peer forward, trudging along, seeing nothing but sand. The wind whips up the sand, battering my face, hands. My skin blisters from the sun beating down on me. Each gust stings my raw skin. I can only open my eyes a little bit, yet the sand still finds its way through the slits and into my eyeballs.
The two hours I have been walking in this scorching desert seem like two weeks. My moment of joy and jubilation from the Stone Age has long past away. The golden coin, the first I have secured, rests in my pocket, no longer giving me happiness as I struggle through this desert. I have made it into my second world, Mesopotamia. I remember the blazing sun, the golden sand, and the never ending thirst from my first trip. Here I am, in only my second ancient world, trying to find my second golden coin and I am already feeling defeated. I am weary and tired, and my energy is on the verge of distinction. I am physically and emotionally drained. I am quickly realizing that this adventure will be far different than my first ancient exploration. This time, I will not be going back until either my task is accomplished or I am dead. I have no time to rest, I have to figure out and accomplish my task, whatever that may be.
The sand fills my shoes, crawls into my socks. I look down and see the sand has turned from brown to red, the result of my blisters popping. I am knee-deep in the sand as I walk on, trying to find something, anything to save me from this torture. I wonder if it is worth it. I wonder if I have enough courage inside me to make it through all eight ancient worlds without dieing. I want to quit right now. They say once you think about quitting, you already have. Maybe Buddha knew I didn’t have what it takes. Maybe he knew I would fail. Besides my unbelievable thirst, quitting is all I can think about. My mind is in a three way battle between quitting, thirst, and the tiger. Yes, the tiger. The only thing moving me forward. The only thing urging me on, pushing me to get through the pain. My thoughts of the tiger are always with me, reminding me of why I am doing this, reminding me why I am here, right now, in the cradle of civilization that is the Fertile Crescent, walking through the sand.
As I struggle through the desert, my thirst overwhelms my thoughts. I have never been so thirsty in my life. My tongue feels like it’s glued to the roof of my mouth. My lips are cracked and bleeding. My vision blurs when I look out into the distance. Great, not only am I lost, but can no longer see clearly. My heart pounds more rapidly with each step. My muscles ache, I feel lethargic. My chest and stomach shoot pain through my body. Dehydration is upon me. The blazing sun is zapping my body’s fluid. I desperately need to find water.
I stop walking and drop to my knees, vomiting all over the desert floor, covering the sand with red liquid and brown chunks. The horrendous stench floats through the air. I vomit again and again. I seem to have lost control of myself. I continue to vomit until nothing comes up but air and pain. My body is becoming even more dehydrated as I sit here in the desert, vomiting all over myself, totally lost. My energy level drops even more. No longer able to keep myself upright, I fall over, face first, into the hot sand. The sand sticks to my vomit covered chin as I manage to roll myself over to my back. I lay there, starring up at the sky, wondering what Buddha is thinking, wondering if I will ever get to the tiger. The only thing strong enough to pull my mind away from the constant thirst is once again, the Tiger. Regaining my focus, I manage to reach down and gather what very little strength I have left. I pull myself up and through my blurred vision, see a cow meandering past. I manage a smile, but only momentarily as the widening of my mouth makes my lips crack and bleed even more.
This cow is the first sign of life I have seen since I fell from the sky and landed in this desert. I stare at the cow. The cow stares back. I know that a cow can not survive without water either and that for a cow to exist right here, right now, there must be water close. The thought of water being close gives me a badly needed dose of optimism. Perhaps I won’t die in this desert. Perhaps I will find my destination and figure out my task.
I look up ahead of the cow, to see where he is going. About one hundred yards up ahead I see it. A glorious, blue, huge, flowing river crosses the horizon. I blink twice. The river is still there. I close my eyes, praying to whatever higher power that will listen that I am not imagining what I see before me. As I open them, I see the river again. It is not the dehydration playing tricks on me. It is real.
I walk slowly, focusing on each step. The one hundred yards I must walk to get to the river feels like I’m climbing Mt. Everest. I reach the river’s edge and plunge myself into the cold, fresh water. A feeling takes over my body that I can’t explain, a feeling like no other, a feeling that tells me I will live. I gulp the water down, washing away my thirst, my dehydration, my pain. I take off my shirt and submerge it in the water, scrubbing out the vomit, the dirt, the struggle. I put my soaking wet shirt back on and it feels amazing. Standing in the blazing sun, I feel refreshed. I feel strong. I feel like a new person.
Now that my thirst is gone, I take a moment to scan the area. This river is enormous. It flows mightily past me. I look up stream, then downstream and see no end to this river. I walk down the bank a ways and see a narrow bend in the river. I decide that I must cross the river because my destination must be on the other side. For the side I’m coming from is nothing but desert and misery. I take my time crossing the river, not wanting to overly exert myself with swimming, as my energy level has still not fully recovered. When I reach the other side and pull myself up onto the bank, I again smile wide. I see a sight more glorious then the river. I see a city. Not just any city, but the city that contains my task.
The walk to the city is much better than my walk to the river. My legs feel less like jell-o and more like legs. I confidently stride up to the city entrance but stop to gather my thoughts. I breathe deep, focusing on my courage and strength, for I know that whatever awaits me in this city, whatever my task may be, I will need to be strong. As I walk through the gate and into the city, I notice right away all the activity going on. People are everywhere. Talking, walking, and interacting. It’s a scene of total commotion. I walk down the street noticing everything. I see farmers with baskets of wheat and barley, artisans carrying tools. I see small mud-brick houses. I see herders gathering their sheep together, I see other herders bringing in their herd of goats. Up ahead, I see a huge pyramid like building rise up into the sky. I see a lot, but see nothing that would offer a clue to what my task is.
Standing in the street thinking, I reach down into my pocket and find a small piece of paper. I open the piece of a paper and see that it is a note. The note reads “Stay on the main street. You are wanted behind the Ziggurat. -Buddha” I can’t even begin to understand how this note got into my pocket, but with this as my only clue as far as where to go, I decide to follow the instruction.
The door looks like nothing special. I am standing in front of it trying to work up the nerve to knock. Finally, I reach up with my fist to start pounding and like magic, the door opens by itself. An older looking man with a white robe on greets me with, “We’ve been waiting for you.” A chill goes down my back. How could he know I was coming? The man begins again: “I am Nasr. Please, come in.” I enter the dwelling and follow Nasr into the main room. There, I see six others waiting for me. Nasr introduces me to the group. Jemdet, Cowdin, Magyar, and Dilbot are sitting together. Nasr informs me that these four men are farmers that have been brought in to discuss the problems that we are facing. Kuara, the lone female in the group, is standing in the doorway, holding a tray of tea. Jazeer, a boy no older than eight, sits off in the corner, digging a hole in the dirt floor. The group nods in my direction, acknowledging my presence but showing no warmth at all. They look at me with distrust in their eyes, not totally understanding why I am here. I sense that my task will be revealed soon and that it will not be easy.
Nasr resumes the meeting by speaking directly to me. The rest of the farmers listen intently, with depressed looks as Nasr explains to me that the whole city of Mohenjo-Daro is on the verge of distinction. The crops have not been successful. Every year, it is a struggle to farm and grow enough crops to feed the city. People are not surviving. The city, therefore, is in danger. Nasr tells me that the farmers work very hard, but they just can’t seem to figure out a better way to grow the crops. As Nasr explains this to me, it hits me like a ton of bricks. My task has been revealed. I now know what I must do to accomplish my task and secure the second golden coin. I must invent farming. Not only must I invent farming, but I must also help the people figure out a better way to grow crops so there is enough for the whole city. I feel focused as I know now what I must do.
I look at the group sitting around me and say to Nasr, “Take me to your fields.” The group exchanges nervous looks, not sure if they want this outsider to be let into the fields. I ask again, “Please, take me to your fields. I want to see them.” After a long pause, Nasr nods, and directs the group towards the door. They all follow, all except for Dilbot who has fallen asleep on the dirt floor. Jemdet gives him a kick to the ribs, and Dilbot shoots up, fully awake. Wow, I think, Dilbot is a weird dude. Nasr and the group of farmers lead me out into the fields. As we walk and observe the activity, I see the dry, cracked land. I see the wilted strands of wheat. I see the scorched black stems of barley. I think to myself that there is no way anything can be grown here. Perhaps this task will be more difficult than I thought.
“Nasr, how is it that anything at all grows in this barren desert?”
“You see, we depend on the Euphrates River for water. It hardly ever rains here, so we must use the water from the river. In the spring, we wait for the river to overflow, then plant the crops in the fertile soil.”
“What happens if the river doesn’t overflow?”
“That is our problem. The flooding is very inconsistent. If it doesn’t flood, we plant anyway and hope at least something comes up in the fall. We worry about the crops constantly. We are always under maximum stress trying to produce enough crops for the city. We believe that if we please the gods, they will look favorably upon us and bring the flood.”
“Well, what has been happening lately?”
“Good question. Last spring, the river overflowed, causing the soil to be rich and fertile. We were elated. We got the crops planted. They began to grow and flourish, then suddenly the river overflowed again with such violent force that it crushed and destroyed all the crops. We did not know it would overflow again. We weren’t prepared. And even if we had known it was going to flood again, there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done to stop it.”
“So there was no food last year?”
“Sadly, you are correct. We had no food. People died of starvation. It was an ugly, gruesome scene. Watching someone die of starvation is something no person should have to see. As the population continued to die off, the guilt on the farmers reached an unbearable high. They felt it was their fault for not providing the city with enough food.”
“And this year?”
“No flooding. We have been waiting months, yet no floods have come. We are in real danger of not having any food for the second year in a row. If that becomes a reality, I shudder to think of the death that will follow.”
No food for the second year in a row. Nasr’s words linger in the air as I try to digest them. My conversation with Nasr more than identifies the need for help. Indeed, this city, this civilization is in grave danger of extinction. Seeing the lack of farming success first hand jolts me with the reality that is this place. Here I am, with a city full of starving people. Here I am, in a desert, with the task of trying to figure out how to help these people grow crops in rock hard fields. As I wander around the dried up fields, the dead crops, and the questioning looks, I realize I have no time to waste for this task. These people need my help. I am glad Buddha sent me here. I am glad I have a chance to help these people. Now, the only question is, how do I help them?
Days pass and no flooding. Day after day, I wake up, head to the fields to meet the people, talk with the people, think with the people. I must figure this out. I must accomplish my task, not just for my sake, but for this city’s sake. Each day I am accompanied by one of the farmers I met on my first day here. Jemdet, who tends to keep his distance from me, showed me the empty bins of crops, Cowdin, the very outgoing and pleasant type, pointed out to me which areas of the river are the most likely to overflow and which areas we hope overflow. Magyar, a monstrous brute of a man, walks me through the tools, explaining to me how each works. My walks with Dilbot are far different than the other farmers. Dilbot doesn’t seem to know anything that is going on.
“Hey, Dilbot, what part of the farming do you do?”
“Uhh, what, I mean, huh? Sorry, I thought I saw a unicorn over by that field.”
“Dilbot, what are you talking about?”
“Oh, uh, nothing, I mean, I didn’t see it. It was nothing.”
“Man, you are strange. Don’t you farm?”
“Oh, me, uh, yeah. I am in charge of watching the crops come up through the ground.”
“Huh? Seriously? You just sit there and watch the crops grow?”
“Oh yeah, Jemdet told me it’s the most important job. The bravest farmer has to be the one to watch the crops grow.”
“Oh…ok….So, what do you do when you see the crops come through the ground?”
“Me? Um, I just, ya know, keep watching them. Jemdet tells me to make sure I watch them until they are fully grown.”
“Wow, buddy. You might want to think about your job. It seems to me it’s pretty pointless. Why won’t Jemdet let you plow the fields or harvest the crops?”
“Oh, well, I use to until I plowed up the wrong field and we lost all the wheat. I got my left and right mixed up and plowed the field instead of harvesting it. Jemdet wasn’t too happy. I am not sure why, but oh well. Anyway, I love my new job.”
“Hey, Dilbot, why don’t you go over there and check to see if that water is still wet in the river.”
“Hey! Yeah! Great idea. I can do that.”
As Dilbot makes his way towards the river, I see Magyar sprint past me and tackle Dilbot to the ground, inches from the stream. On his way back toward me, Magyar explains that Dilbot can not swim. Oops, I think to myself.
The river still refuses to flood as the days continue to pass. It has been weeks since I first arrived here, but still no solution. I continue to make my daily trips out to the fields. Magyar is the one who typically accompanies me now. I find that he is the smartest of the farmers and I am sure he and I can figure this out.
One particular day, Kuara, thirty years old, dark hair, medium build with defined cheek bones and sad eyes, decides to bring me into the city. As we walk and talk about the state of the city, the effects of no food for the second year in a row are everywhere. People mope about the streets, not really sure what to do. There is no produce to sell at the market. There is no demand for tools; people simply are existing, waiting to die. Kuara brings me into a brick house of a friend of hers. Kuara explains to me that her friends’ dad is very sick and wants me to see starvation first hand. I say I am ready to enter but in reality, I’m not prepared for the scene.
The moment I stepped through the door I could smell death. I could smell the vile, permeating stench of the dieing man. Kuara’s friend explains to me that her dad has had gnawing pain in his stomach, extreme weakness in his limbs, faintness of breath. His feet and ankles are swollen; his muscles are soft and deteriorating. She explains to us that he had constipation for weeks, now diarrhea. His eyes are glassy and sunken in. His skin is pale and loose, hanging on his bones like a dress from a hanger. His voice is but a mere faint. His mind is gone. He lashes out with screams of horror, screams of words she cannot figure out. He rambles on about nothing. He is restless at night, unable to sleep. When sleep does come, he startles awake, dreaming of plenty. The sight of the starving man is too much. I tell Kuara I need to go. She leads me away.
“Kuara, we need to do something.”
“Yes, I know. Time is running out.”
I am more determined than ever to accomplish my task. The moments with the starving man made it crystal clear that my time is limited. I have been here for three months, living each day with these people, struggling to survive. The lack of food has begun to take its toll on my body. I feel weak and dizzy. I have no energy. Each day it’s harder to pull myself up, into my daily routine of working in the fields. The deal was made with Buddha, I do not leave the ancient world until I accomplish my task.
“Magyar, there’s got to be a way to do this! We’ve got to think!”
“We have tried everything. I just don’t think we can do it. How are we supposed to control nature? How are we supposed to control the flooding of a river?”
“I am not accepting failure. I need to do this. We have got to think! There has got to be a way to control the water in the river, control the flooding.”
“I just think it’s hopeless.”
Magyar and I walk in silence back into the city. Jazeer tagged along this time, for his friends are too weak to play. Jazeer, only eight years old, is a little chubby, so the lack of food hasn’t affected him as much as the other kids. The three of us stop to check in at the market. Magyar and I begin talking to an artisan. Our conversation isn’t about anything important, mainly just shooting the breeze, trying to take our minds off of our own gnawing hunger pains. Becoming disinterested in what the artisan has to say, I glance over my shoulder and see Jazeer playing in the dirt. I glance back towards Magyar and the artisan. Wait. What did I just see? I again look towards Jazeer. He is still busy playing in the dirt, something I have seen him do many times before. I focus on Jazeer and watch him for a few moments. He has dug a little hole and has poured water into it. With his finger, he digs a little rut away from the hole. Jazeer laughs to himself as the water follows his finger as it digs its way further from the hole. That’s it. That’s the solution. I feel a tremendous sensation sprint through my body as I begin to perspire. I stand, watching Jazeer, my mind racing at the possibility of what I am seeing. We will do just as Jazeer has done, only on a much larger scale.
I can barely speak. Due to excitement or hunger or both, I have a hard time articulating to Magyar my idea. Finally, I am able to put together coherent sentences and explain to him that I have figured out what to do. I have finally figured out how to control the flooding. After months and months of frustrating thinking, finally I have it, thanks to Jazeer. Who would have thought, a kid playing in the dirt could have quite possibly saved a civilization?
“Magyar, listen. I know what to do. We can control the flooding. We will bring the water where we want it. The river will no longer be in control. We will be in control and Mesopotamia will rise up to be the greatest civilization the world has ever seen!”
“Alright, alright, hey, slow down. What are you talking about? How could we possible control the river and the flooding?”
“Glad you asked,” I say with a sly grin stretching from cheek to cheek. I gather Nasr, Jemdet, Cowdin, and Kuara. Nobody knows where Dilbot is, and frankly, nobody cares. I explain to them what we must do to take control of the flooding and use it to farm.
“Listen, we will build walls on the banks of the river with sand bags, since it’s obvious we have plenty of sand. These walls will act as a dam, preventing the river from flooding. When we want to use the water from the river, we will simply take part of the wall down, like a door, and allow the water to flow in to our fields. Once we have enough water, we will close the wall back up with the sandbags. This will also prevent flooding from destroying our crops after we have planted them.” Jemdet is skeptical.
“How are we supposed to get the water to where we want it? What about the fields that the flooding does not reach?”
“Again, Jemdet, glad you asked. We will dig huge ditches from the Euphrates River across the land, through the desert, to our fields. When the flood comes, these ditches will channel the water to where we want it, and no longer destroy our crops. We can dig these ditches wherever we need water. We will also dig ditches to bring water to holding areas, in case we come to a year where the flood doesn’t come. In that case, we will still have water to use.”
By now, the group is offering comprehending nods, even Jemdet. They see the logic of digging ditches to bring the water to where we want it to go. This makes sense it theory, but it needs to be more than just theory, it needs to work. The spring is around the corner, the time of the flood is upon us. We have little time to waste in getting this system of irrigation set up. I have been here for almost one whole year, now is the time to accomplish my task and leave this place. I must succeed. I can not fail with the flooding this spring. If I do, it will mean another year without enough food, a year that I strongly doubt I would see through as a living person.
We all begin furiously digging ditches from the Euphrates to where we need water. After the main ditches are dug, we then spend our time making smaller ones to get the water to the specific fields. Despite the weakness we all suffer from, everyone works extremely hard, everyone except Dilbot. Dilbot is busy making fart noises with Jazeer.
The walls go up very quickly, which is good, because at any moment, the flood may come. We decide only to build walls on the banks of the Euphrates River. Being that the Euphrates is the higher of the two rivers, it is this river that has the most dramatic flooding, from the snowmelt in the highlands of Anatolia. We will use the Euphrates to irrigate the fields, while the Tigris will be used as the drain.
Our work is near completion. The ditches are dug, the walls have been constructed, and the reservoirs have been set up. Now, we must wait for the flood, praying to a higher power that it comes. I feel confident of my plan. I feel confident that if the floods come, we will be able to control the water. My confidence and optimism are shared by all. After actually getting everything done, the rest of the farmers see that it may just work.
Though we have a sense of reserved optimism, we are desperately hungry and the waiting game is brutal. My plan could be the best thing in the world, but if the Euphrates doesn’t flood, it will all be for naught. We anxiously wait. Day after day, we sit and wait. Spring begins, then progresses along too quickly without the flood. Jemdet is getting very nervous. Nasr tries to remain calm and collected, but he also shows signs of beginning to crack. Then, without warning, we hear a rumbling coming from the north. The dried, cracked earth shakes slightly. We all exchange glances. I have never seen the flood come, so I give the others questioning looks. Is this rumbling a sign? Nasr stands up and looks towards the Euphrates. He stares, then looks back at us.
“The flood is here.”
With those words, the farmers jump into a frenzy of activity. The flood is coming. It is now time to see whether my plan works or not, it is now time to see if we will control the flooding or not, it is now time to see if we will live or not. The water comes rushing down from the north, totally overwhelming the Euphrates. We rush out to our fields and watch as the wall holds. The water does not breach the sandbags we built up. So far, we are in control. I give the signal to Magyar, the strongest one, to remove part of the wall. He does, and the water comes splashing through. Instead of covering all the fields like it used to, the flood directs itself into the ditches we have dug. The water runs through the ditches, making its way across the land, to our fields. The ditches and canals we have dug are working beautifully. The water is being controlled. Nasr looks at me with a sense of thankfulness. I am happy, but a reserved happiness, for I know it is early in the process and at any moment, things could fall apart.
The water continues flooding the Euphrates and continues to get channeled through our ditches. The ditch to our holding area is also working. The reservoir is filling up, which means they will have water in the future, even if the flood doesn’t come. All the farmers are running around, watching, checking the ditches to make sure they hold. Nasr is satisfied with the amount of water we have taken in, saying it is enough to make our soil fertile. I nod at Magyar and he closes up the wall. The flooding stops. The cool, fresh water continues to flow slowly through our ditches, irrigating the fields, filling up the reservoir. The fields are no longer dry and cracked. They are no longer useless. They will no longer frustrate the people of this city. They will no longer drive Mesopotamia to the brink of starvation. They now possess irrigation, opportunity, and deliverance.
An enormous celebration breaks out. The farmers, even Jemdet, shout and yell wildly, with huge smiles on their face. The plan worked. We have irrigated the fields. We have controlled the river. We have the power. I look at Nasr, we exchange hugs, knowing that they will survive, knowing that even when I’m gone, this city will thrive now that they have irrigation, now that they are in control. The future of this place will now look much different. It will no longer look bleak and hopeless. Now, it will be the beacon of light for all civilizations to follow. It will show that even in the most hopeless of situations, one can rise up through the adversity. This place will possess abundance, ingenuity, and success. Now, with irrigation, the crops will grow and flourish, the people will be able to build a surplus, a future.
I leave Nasr by the banks of the Euphrates and walk down towards one of the ditches. I dip my hand in it, feeling the cold, fresh water. I have been here for one year. I think about my time here, the struggle of the people, the problems they faced. I think about the stress they were under to produce enough food in this desert. I think about the farmers who felt guilty about the starvation, the inability to grow crops in this piece of scorching land. Now all that has changed. I have shown them irrigation. I have shown them how to control the water. My thoughts continue to swirl as I look down at the clear, flowing water. As I do this, something shiny catches my attention. I squint, trying to focus on the shiny object moving along the bottom of the ditch. I reach in and the cold water feels great on my arm. I reach down and retrieve the shiny object. I pull it out and hold it up to my face. It’s a golden coin. I have accomplished my task and secured the golden coin. I now have two, which means I am one step closer to accomplishing my overall task. There are six more coins out there. I must find them. I will find them. I look over at the group of farmers, wanting to say good bye. They are busy celebrating, laughing, so I give a slight wave to nobody, thinking of how much I will miss them after spending so much time with them. Nobody returns my wave. I am sad to leave these people, but excited to see what is in store for me next. I hold the golden coin in both hands. I close my eyes and squeeze hard. Then, I am gone.