By oneself indeed is evil done and by oneself is one defiled...
-Dhammapada Verse 165
A week ago he had considered himself a well traveled person.
In the 23 years he had spent in the service of his country he had been to the capital city of every state with the exception of Sacramento, Olympia, and Juneau; as well as the capitals of 27 different countries on three different continents. Up until the morning he arrived at Entebbe International Airport he held the belief that he had never been given the chance to see Africa.
The birthplace of mankind.
The old saying goes: First impressions are lasting impressions. Now that he was there, Klueggermann realized that he had only been able to avoid traveling to Africa all these years.
He had wasted no time getting to the hotel and was more than slightly dismayed to learn that the rooms had no windows, let alone air conditioning. His intention had been to walk for about thirty minutes or so before starting the half mile from the airport concourse to the hotel lobby on Lido beach, just a short stroll to stretch his legs and get the circulation going again after the flight, but he had promptly changed his mind once he stepped off of the plane and was immediately struck by the smell of the place.
A deeply rich and organic scent; decay, fish, and feces being the first words that came to mind, made more potent by the oppressive humidity.
Shortly after the second World War, in an attempt to modernize and spur the economies of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, a species of large freshwater fish known as the Nile perch were introduced to Lake Victoria which is bordered on all sides by the three countries. The goal of this transplant was to increase the profits of the fishing industry as well as to draw higher numbers of tourists and sport fishermen from the wealthier countries of Europe. The fish, which regularly grew larger than six feet in length and could weigh in over 450 pounds, were transplanted against the protests of the area’s leading ecologists whose advice seemed contradictory to what was best for the impoverished African countries, an argument made by the area's leading economists. The unheeded warnings predicted that without any natural predator to maintain their numbers, the placement of the Nile perch would result in catastrophic damage to the aquatic ecosystem.
The commercial fishing business boomed in the decades to follow, and multinational businessmen saw their investments in the African countries paying off dividends beyond their expectations as exporting the readily available giant perch to foreign countries proved to be quite lucrative. Despite this, the standard of living around Lake Victoria did not fluctuate much and it was widely common for men and women to work two or three different jobs and to earn the equivalent of less than $300 per year, the rampant over population and the desperation of workers to find employment kept the cost of operations low for the fisheries and by virtue of this kept the families of the manual laborers well below any established poverty line.
For years, primitive sewers from the surrounding cities on all sides drained directly into the third largest lake on Earth and as the fishing industry grew, dozens of factories to process and package the harvested fish were built, adding to the influx of toxic waste and waterborne pestilence. Thousands of pounds of discarded entrails and the rotting carcasses of processed perch were flushed into the streams that fed the lake daily. Along with the carcasses went a myriad of chemicals and fertilizers from large farms in the area, producing a spike in the levels of nitrogen and this in turn promoted the rapid growth of hyacinth weeds which normally grew only in the shallowest areas; feverishly, these weeds had spread hundreds of square miles into deeper water depleting oxygen levels, causing further extinction of the native species.
With the disappearance of its main sources of food: the indigenous, smaller fish and algae, by way of the massive die-off due to oxygen deprivation, the Nile perch had resorted to cannibalism, drastically reducing their own population. This, coupled with the fact that the perch were too strong to be caught with the nets that local fishermen had used for centuries and fishing crews had to resort to using individual fishing rods commonly used in deep sea sport fishing, dramatically reduced profitability; driving out companies that could not afford to bring them in literally two and three at a time.
Klueggermann thought bemusedly that if the economists had paid attention to the ecologists, or perhaps if the ecologists had taken a course in basic economics while at university they could have subsequently made a better case against the perch in the first place; it was likely that Lake Victoria would not be a festering stew of disease and Uganda might have actually dragged itself up by the bootstraps instead of sinking deeper into squalor, corruption, civil war, and genocide.
He knew all of this deeply fascinating history about fish and toxic waste, not because he gave one shit about Africa or it’s inhabitants, but rather because the flight from Richmond to Entebbe had taken the better part of two days and after he had grown tired of reading the dossier of his intended test subject; he had used his laptop computer to access the fact book about the area in which he would be conducting his test.
Surprisingly the document had been rife with some low-level, bleating-heart data entry technician’s blathering about social injustice, racial inequality, and the negative impact Western business had on such a formerly proud and noble people, things which mattered very little to him except when he brought them up during his examinations in order to judge a particular subject’s response. Outside of that, the civil rights of the grotesquely bloated population of the planet were as important to him as major league baseball scores, something else about which he truly didn’t give a fuck. He would mention his annoyance to the new asshole who had been appointed to Director and have him initiate disciplinary action on the author, if they were even still employed.
It was now his personal opinion that the Dark Continent was the most perfect example of the painful irony of natural selection and an undeniable argument for eugenics. Something he had read while he had studied at Yale, a quote from The Clansman by Thomas Dixon that was often, erroneously and laughably, attributed to Charles Darwin, occurred to him:
Since the dawn of history the negro has owned the continent of Africa--rich beyond the dream of poet's fancy, his land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never dreamed a harness, cart, or sled. In a land of stone and timber he never sawed a foot of lumber, carved a block, or built a house save of broken sticks and mud… for four thousand years he heard the thunder of the surf on his beach, the howl of the storm over his head, gazed on the dim blue horizon calling him to worlds that lie beyond, and yet he never dreamed a sail!
Klueggermann sipped chilled water from a plastic bottle that was slick with condensation and stared silently through the mosquito netting that hung from the window of his second story, open-air suite, his gaze resting on the horizon over the rippling surface of the expansive lake; it may not have been the horizon that Dixon had written about, but it would suffice. The old quote rang just as true on a lake as it did the ocean.
As far as the eye could see in either direction was a dark and somehow subtly menacing horde of young Africans, hundreds upon hundreds, crowding the shoreline. Comprised mainly of scrawny-chested males in baggy shorts and white tank top shirts, their hair shaved close to the scalp and their faces dripping with water; the expansive gaggle of black bodies undulated as if all were part of a single organism.
Perhaps, he mused, the tendency of these people to spend their weekends swimming in raw sewage had something to do with the fact that the average lifespan was just shy of sixty years.
“Thank god for small favors,” he muttered under his breath before taking another sip.
A shrill, but not entirely panicked scream made its way to his ear over the cacophonous din of the beachgoers and he turned his focus to a slender female who was being surrounded by a dozen men as she attempted to flee to the shore. She had a look of annoyance on her broad, shiny face as she slapped at their grabbing hands that squeezed at her breasts and tore her skimpy purple shorts down to her knees, causing her to trip and sink out of sight beneath the murky, brackish water.
He watched expressionlessly as the circle of men began rapidly scooping handfuls of water and splashing them up into the air to create a semi-opaque curtain, partially hiding the actions of two of their cohorts from the rest of the crowd.
The hapless girl was dragged up to her feet and slapped in the face by one of her assailants while the other managed to finish the job of ripping her bathing suit off before pulling her t-shirt up over her head, effectively exposing her completely from the neck down. Several of the men who were splashing into the air leapt and descended on the smaller figure, grabbed at her arms and legs and tugged her in several directions at once.
He took the last swig of cool water and set the empty bottle down in a ring of moisture on the shabby little tabletop beside where he was sitting, leaning back lazily in a cheap plastic lawn chair; one he had commandeered from the courtyard below and dragged up the concrete stairs into the humid hotel room. He glanced at his wristwatch before returning his attention the happenings on the beach. It was just after 10am.
Despite the distance between himself and the bystanders of the unfolding incident, Klueggermann could see that they were, without exception, all smiling. Their white teeth stood out in such stark contrast to their dusky complexions that it was unmistakable. A number of them were emitting high pitched howls, reminiscent of jungle primates, clapping their hands and pointing out the naked girl to each other excitedly.
Suddenly, a single figure clad in a black uniform, a policeman he supposed, crashed into the scene and began violently whipping at the shoulders and backs of the rowdy group with a length of fiberglass rod. Interest in the young woman was lost immediately and the gang dispersed. The would-be rape victim, with assistance from the uniformed man, pulled the shirt back down from over top of her head. Then, after a few moments of confused searching for her stolen swimsuit bottom, she located them and pulled them back up. Afterwards she seemed content to stand and absently splash water up onto herself, laughing and smiling to a pair of similarly aged girls who had been wading nearby as if nothing had happened.
He saw the same scenario happen no less than nine times in the next 40 minutes. A female victim was chosen from the crowd, surrounded, stripped, hidden from view by splashing, and most times would be rescued by the same daring man in black before she could be penetrated. Most times.
He was not surprised by any of it. The crowd’s apathy. The viciousness of the rapists. The careless, unaffected attitude of the women as the grinning animals clawed and snatched at them. How they merely swatted at their hands as if they were mosquitos. He had read in the fact book the statistics that stated 39% of women in the country had been victims of rape and nearly one in ten people were infected with HIV or AIDS.
He didn’t doubt that those numbers would grow exponentially in the near future.
He had the distinct feeling that he had been sent here for much more than to simply conduct his tests and report his findings.
Klueggermann’s eyelids slowly lowered and he meditated on the vision that had been shared with him in New Haven. He imagined the eventual and inevitable socio-economic and ecological death of this once majestic jewel of tropical paradise.
In his mind he envisioned a holy, cleansing fire sweeping across the miserable country, turning the creatures on the beach to charred piles of ash and skipping through future years in his mind, he saw the once fertile, green land healing itself and the waters returning to their former beauty; the gentle blue of silken waves, teeming with life.
A world in which there was room for nature and the mistakes of man were forgotten.
He sighed and opened his eyes.
Next to the empty water bottle on the table was a crisp orange file, its edges sealed with candy cane striped tape of red and black, the words TOP SECRET stamped in large, bold letters at the top and bottom of its cover, the ink was the same orange color as the file itself. He would be breaking the seal open soon and reading the documents contained therein, although he already knew what they said. He had watched it being written in Virginia, four days ago.
Below the TOP SECRET file was a much thicker folder, a tawny brown color with a blue cover sheet that Klueggermann could see peeking out slightly from beneath. He knew that the word stamped on on the blue cover was CONFIDENTIAL and under that the name, rank, primary MOS, and branch of service of his test subject:
Joseph Fallon Marrs
United States Army
He took the orange TOP SECRET folder and dropped it back down into his distressed saddle-leather briefcase that leaned against one of the table legs, its top open exposing his pens, his writing pad, and his laptop computer. Lifting the CONFIDENTIAL file he set it in his lap, opened it once again, and started to thumb through the pages one last time.