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     Volume 8 Issue 55 | January 30, 2009 |

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This Forest is Mine

Nazan Sacchi

It is that time of the evening in the jungle when the lion, the leopard even the langoor are in close proximity of each other. Jungle birds in their exotic plumage swoop down from their high perch to observe the ritual of coming together. It is almost as if the entire forest population is heading to a ceremony… soon the great golden sun will sink to rest in the western horizon… and the Serengeti will take on a sullen silence.

This is the moment when the hunter and the hunted-- congregate in an exodus to the one place where all of them-- the predator and the prey come together in a primordial ritual. Nowhere is the phenomenon of the forest family more evident than here. It is the one common denominator which prompts a natural truce to come into play…in an unforgiving habitat where only the fittest survive…for this is the source of all life…a gift left behind by the torrential rains that came and swept the dry parched savanna …bathing the dry forest with its bounty…leaving its wet footprint in the shape of large pools of water…in order that the wondrous miracle of life…on the Serengeti…the savanna and the forest reinvigorates itself- only to burst into a kaleidoscope of colors and the sight and sounds of this formidable yet fragile system- that the animal kingdom call home.

The lordly lion leading his pride takes to the water…under the watchful eye of a leopard sitting in a tree…waiting his turn. Somewhere in the distance a thumping sound rents the air…as an army of apes rhythmically announce their arrival by thumping their chests for the happy hour. Rising above the chatter of monkeys the myriad fauna come shrieking thru the trees to take up a pecking order. A spotted deer nervously observes the unfolding circus in front of it…tentatively bends its neck to drink from the pond and sees the cheetah reflected in the shimmering water from its perch and intuitively darts away into the safety of the forest.

A gaggle of geese serenely glide across the pond. Suddenly the shriek of monkeys noisily announces the arrival of its cousins, the chimpanzees-- larger defiant and self assured-- they make their way through the trees in familial groups. The oldest in a graying black coat leads the way- his demeanor as a family elder separates him from the rest. The females jealously guard their off springs…and bringing up the rear -a grunting gang of male stalwarts. Amongst them a frisky little chimp who ventures out towards the thick foliage of the forest away from the safety of his mother's embrace…his curiosity taking him further and deeper in to the trees. Overhead the parakeets scream at the young intruder as he now having lost his bearings finds himself alone in the bewildering thicket of trees and shrubs.

He hears a sharp sound as if someone heavy has stepped on a dry twig…and then pandemonium…shrieks and screams shatter the air- as birds take to wing…monkeys come crashing through the trees…followed by the staccato sound of gunfire…Poachers! These are the true predators of nature's delicately balanced habitats. He had heard of them- his grandfather would tell of this cruel breed that would descend on the forest with their fire breathing weapons that spit death and destruction. No one in the forest is safe from them. Not the mighty elephant-- it was his tusks they killed him for- not the mighty tiger- they hunted him for his golden skin and his viscera- to rob him of his power- they hunted his fellow chimps for experiments in faraway places. Those they couldn't use were taken alive to be put into cages in distant lands.

Amid the chaos and the stampede of all who had gathered near the watering hole he hears a loud familiar grunt as a pair of powerful arms sweeps him away into the trees. It is his grandfather…bleeding from the mouth and yet gathering his grandson in his powerful grip he swings from tree to tree…leaving the sound of gunfire in the distance. But his grip suddenly weakens as blood oozes out of his mouth and then with a heart rending groan he comes down crashing through the branches on to the ground. The others find him there the next morning with his mighty arms around his young grandson- his body acting like a shield to protect the trembling frame of the little one. In life the grand old chieftain may have been a story teller but in death he would be remembered as a valiant warrior.

That evening as evening shadows start to lengthen over the forest- they gather in silence and stealthily go towards the watering hole. There the sight that greets them is one of mayhem - slaughter and unspeakable cruelty. The skinned torso of the stately lioness…the giant carcass of a once noble elephant- its tusks gouged out…a hyena dragging away the skinless torso of a cheetah and countless dead corpses among them the young chimp recognizes the outstretched arms of his mother she has been shot in the stomach. His father a giant specimen of his breed has taken a hail of bullets in his body- his one arm still cradling his mother's body.

Raja- the lion king surveys the ground littered with bodies and orders as only he can:

“When the sun rises tomorrow, no trace of death or destruction must be seen on this hallowed ground. Take your loved ones- take everyone away from this well of life. Let this watering hole be a sacred place. We will always come to this sacred spot as we have and before us our forefathers have… as will our children…and the children of their children…to pay homage to the ones who have gone from us this day. Remember them with every drop of water you drink from this pond. Let this be remembered-- let this be done.”

The gathered inhabitants of the forest bow their heads in obedience. On a mound not far away-- a grey wolf lets off a mournful howl…as if to say: “We will endure and we will survive.”

The pregnant silence is broken by a desolate cry of anguish that comes from the young surviving chimp- now an orphan. His friend's mother quickly moves to hold his body wracked with sobs.

Raja- the lion king casts his royal gaze upon the young thing and asks:

“Who cries in my forest?”

“It is the young orphan, my lord.” The mother of his friend cries out.

“Let him speak for himself …” thunders the lion king. “Speak…young one why do you weep so?”

Still sobbing the young chimp stands up and says:

“My lord- I am left alone…they have taken everything away from me!” His voice trails.

“Know this - you are not alone- look around you all that stand around you including the trees and I- are your family now. You are not alone. We will not allow that.

“Yes my lord.”

“Good. Remind me then, why it is that you are not alone- eh?”

“Because-my lord- everyone in this forest is my friend.”

“True! And what of the forest itself?” asks Raja

“My lord- this forest is mine!”

“Indeed it is. Let it be said- let it be remembered.”

The gentle voice of an elderly mother of five narrating this story to the dozen or so children huddled in a basement of a bombed out building in Gaza is drowned out by the now all too familiar shriek of an Israeli bombing raid over the city… instinctively the woman in a futile but brave gesture tries to shield the children with her own body before the impact. The terrified children cringe and cling to her. The bombs hit with ferocious impact…bringing the remnants of steel and concrete structure atop them. The shrapnel from the bombs the molten steel and shards of glass pierce thru the air and settle into the bodies of the little children killing most of them and maiming all of them. The woman has taken most of the impact on her frail body. The next morning as the medical teams and First Aid volunteers feverishly dig into the rubble following the heartrending screams of the surviving children they manage to reach the survivors. Only three children are still alive but barely.

A weeping medical team worker holds one of the children-- a five year old soaked in blood with a shattered arm who stares blankly at him. Holding the frail trembling body of the child, the Medic cries in aguish: “Allah ho Akbar- what do you thing these three will grow up to be?

The child moans in pain and poignantly lifts his small little arm and sobs: “We didn't do anything wrong… we were only listening to a story.”

Nazan Sacchi is a former Turkish beauty pageant queen and film star. Ms.Sacchi lives in California- where she operates a Children's Fun House and is writing a collection of short stories for children.

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