This is a story told long ago about two kingdoms that lived next to each other. Although they spoke the same language, they had different looks, occupations and belief systems. One kingdom lived high up in the mountains and in the grasslands between the sprawling mountains. Their land was dotted with red-earth anthills, which they squatted on while tending their cattle. They loved the solitude while grazing. They were thinkers, smokers of pipes or players of reed flutes as they sat atop an anthill scanning the horizon for danger or for someone from the enemy kingdom.
The other kingdom lived in the fertile lands close to the giant green forest, tilling the land. They spent their days in conversation and in the evenings in song and dance. Generally they were a kingdom of peaceful people, going about life carefree. But, every so often they became afraid and unhappy when the mountain people turned their wrath on them. The hatred meted out against them went deep and so far back that no one could remember who started it or why the forest people were so despised. But it was accepted as the normal way of life.
The forest people were beaten up, spat upon and insulted by the mountain people. It was a taboo if they found themselves walking on the same village path. Accusations against them were the order of the day. When they were accused of stealing one goat, they would pay back with two goats. When they were accused of stealing ten chickens, they always made sure they paid back double. This was their way. Make double payment maybe that would create a place for them in the hearts of the mountain people.
Then one day, someone in the mountain kingdom whispered to his tribesmen that the forest people had a treasure buried somewhere in their soil since the beginning of time. When their king heard about it, he was livid. “How can these people have something I don’t have? He swore to wage war and take it by force. “Perhaps this war might help us get rid of the forest people once and for all”.
The forest king and his people heard about the impeding war and gathered to make a plan to avert it and put a stop to hatred that went beyond their collective memories. One old man spoke out saying they were doomed. “We will die for nothing, we have no treasure and no weapons to fight with”. As far back as his great-great-grandfather anyone who tried to resist had been imprisoned by the mountain kings. Everyone agreed with him and the usual helplessness set in. Just then, before the king waved his fly whisk to close the meeting, a young man stood up nervously to offer an idea.
He proposed that the forest king send a message to the mountain king telling him that it is high time for the two kingdoms to share the treasure buried in the forest kingdom. To accomplish that, all the able-bodied men in both kingdoms were to work together to build a road from the kingdom of the mountain through the forest kingdom leading to the minefield where the treasure lay so that they could cart it back.
This was like music in the ears of the mountain king. He thought that these people were naive. Yet the forest king was strategic. He laid out the plan through the swampiest, hardest and thickest parts of his land. But the mountain people accepted, after all a treasure awaited them.
Day one of the project – silence as they worked, for no one dared to cross the divide.
Six months later – the kingdom teams started to talk across the road to each other, only as necessary.
Twelve months later – they began to banter with each other and work together. But they were still eating as separate teams.
Twenty four months later – they were cracking jokes and eating break together (but each man still ate what he had brought from home).
Thirty six months later – when the project ended, they shared a meal cooked by the forest people and served out of calabashes brought by the mountain people. This broke the ice completely, and the accusations on the forest people were dropped that day by the mountain people.
After the meal some foresters sneaked into the kitchen where the calabashes were being washed, in order to check whether the mountain people were going to smash the calabashes used by the foresters. To their utter joy they confirmed that everything was being washed to be re-used. This was the seal to the transformation. An age-old practice to show scorn to the foresters was broken that day. Significant transformation had taken place during the project’s duration.
As you can imagine, the treasure was not found in the ground but in a shift of their mindsets. Throughout the duration of the project, the people went through processes of self-discovery and finding common ground. They went through renewal and restoration of their abilities to take control of their situations, and the helplessness lifted. Finally after each side had gone full circle, they came round to see opportunity in reconciliation rather than threat.
The project itself was the challenge to status quo, but held out because there was something of benefit to all. To one side it meant survival and to the other an opportunity for gain. Most of all, they discovered that they could live side by side without warring and had a bridge, the road that helped them to cross the divide.