There was once a village where everyone who ever existed, in the beginning of time, lived. And they lived happily. I mean they had the problems we all have – mortality and illness and unrequited love and the occasional migraine from drinking too much of that fermented grape juice…but other than that they lived happily.
One day, a crack began to appear in the back garden of one of the houses, and it tore at the ground and it grew and it grew and it tore at the ground, until it had ripped the earth into a deep valley splitting the village in two halves. And the village became two villages, perched on two mountain tops, but the people didn’t forget that they came from one village, and it became a running joke between them that each village proclaimed itself the original village, from which the other had broken off.
And the years passed. And you know how with your family and your friends your memories don’t always align – well the same happened with the two villages. The word for human in Arabic is ‘insaan’, and the root of that is ‘nasa’ – ‘to forget’. It is our fate to forget. And so they forgot! Time erased their memories of their traditions until they started to build their houses out of different material, and dress their bodies in different clothes and stir their food into different spices. Even the dialect of their speech – the way they rolled their r’s and hissed their s’s – became distinct.
But what they still had in common was that space between them. That space between them where some kind of unspoken, invisible meaning sparked and zinged and breathed and shivered into being.
One day, just as the sun was setting against a purple sky, and the villagers were preparing their dinner, the distant tinkle of clanking of pots and plates filling the air, a man in a cloak rode his horse through the crack that had become the valley. And the next morning the people in the East Village asked those in the West village ‘Did you see the man in blue who passed yesterday evening?’ and the people said, ‘You mean the one who in green?’
‘No, no, the one in blue,’
‘Ah! We did not see anyone in blue, but we did see a man dressed in exquisite green robes!’
The next morning the man passed again, in the opposite direction and the next morning the people in the West Village said to their neighbours in the East Village, ‘Aha! Yes, we saw the man dressed in blue! He took this route last night!’
‘What are you talking about?’, said the people in the East Village. ‘This time he was dressed in green!’
Well, weeks passed, and the villagers went back to their usual routine, waking up at dawn and tending to their crops and sending one another letters and food. But something had changed – the letters were not so gushing, and the food – you know when you make a meal that’s ‘so-so’ and you think, ‘meh, let’s give it to the neighbours and we’ll make a better one for ourselves’. Oh, you’ve never done that? Aha! Neither have I but this is precisely what those nasty villagers did to one another!
Until again, one night, the man on horse back rode through the valley – and the people of the East Village rushed out to the people of the West Village, ‘Did you see? He’s wearing blue’
‘But these people must be colour blind,’ said the West Villagers, ‘He’s clearly wearing green.’
And they began to quarrel like their existence depended on it.
‘You’ve certainly gone mad. There is no doubt about it!’
‘I’d check those mushrooms you’re eating. They’re messing with your brains’
‘Idiots! Donkeys! Monkeys! Plonkeys! That’s not a word!
And they were so busy quarreling that a whole day had passed without them knowing until the man on horse back was making his way back.
‘Aha! Stop, good man! Tell these imbeciles that you’re wearing green’
‘Show those idiots you’re wearing blue!’
And the man on horse back swung a leg over his horse and hopped off, then he turned this way and that way. And what the villagers saw was so simple, so basic it can only be described as hilarious. And they laughed the kind of laughter that rumbles in your belly till it hurts, the kind of laughter that turns your toes up, the kind of laughter that sticks to the particles in the air so that it becomes infectious and spreads & scatters its seeds in the wind.
The traveler was dressed half in green and half in blue.
‘It’s the latest fashion, don't you know’ he said.
And the villagers made up instantly. and threw food to one another and some of them even dared to make the dangerous journey to live with the others.
And ever since, the villagers grew a bit more careful with that precious space between them, that space where the unspoken is formed, and where meaning is sowed. And they were that much more cautious, that much more wary before they judged one another because that space between them is their common ground.
And they remembered that for a long time, until they forgot.
As is often the case with the storytelling tradition, this is a Sufi tale that was shared orally with storyteller Alia Alzougbi. This is the written transcript for the tale that Alia performs on the films. https://www.aliaalzougbi.com/ https://globallearninglondon.org/