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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Not a Drug on Earth"
This poem is spillover from the July 16, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek, [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron, [personal profile] curiosity, and [personal profile] inky_magpie plus conversations with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "substance abuse" square in my 4-7-18 card for the Origfic Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Aquariana thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and follows "Going Down into the Abyss."


"Not a Drug on Earth"

[Thursday, September 4, 2015]

After the encounter with
Calpurnia and Hamon,
Ras el Hanout decided that
it was time for him to approach
the President of the Maldives
about Aunt Flo's Flushies.

This prospect was
more than a little daunting,
but Mamadou Latheef had
a reputation as soup-friendly,
even for supervillains, as long as
you didn't break Maldivian laws
in Maldivian territory.

Mentioning the topic
and his super status
had gotten a meeting
scheduled promptly.

The President's Office
was a handsome building
in Malé with function rooms
for all different purposes.

They met in a small room
with comfortable chairs.

A coffee table made of
acrylic to resemble an atoll
had a navigation problem
written on it in marker, with
a solution in another color and
crayon scribbles on one end.

"Please pardon the mess,"
said President Latheef.
"My children had a lesson
in here recently, and I haven't
had time to clean up yet."


Ras just smiled. "Children
are a blessing," he said.

"They are indeed,"
said President Latheef.
"My schedule says that
you would like to discuss
Aunt Flo's Flushies."

"Yes," said Ras. "I am in
the business of meeting
people's desires, and
recent developments
have shaken the market."

"I know who you are,"
the President said quietly,
"and what your business is."

"And who do you think I am?"
Ras parried. He had used
a pseudonym, of course,
but that was no guarantee
of anonymity with anyone
who had the right connections.

"Ras el Hanout, greatest smuggler
in the world," said President Latheef.
"I confess that I'm very interested
in hearing what you have to say."

Well, that was ... unexpected.

"Very well then, a discussion
in the open," Ras said. He had
learned to think on his feet.
"I want official recognition
as a distributor of flushies."

President Latheef sighed.
"I would if I could, but I can't,"
he said. "Aunt Flo just got here
six months ago, her lab is still
in construction, and the first of
the factories isn't due to go live
until this time next year."

"No, no," Ras said with
a chuckle. "Supply is
no problem. I don't need
you to furnish the product,
merely allow me to hand it out."

"Well ... flushies currently have
provisional approval, since they're
popular but haven't gone through
official testing yet," the President said.
"I suppose I can do the same thing with
distribution, giving you provisional rights,
but I must insist you work with Aunt Flo."

"Of course," said Ras. "I wholly support
her plans to make the flushies legal.
As you explained, though, we're not
there yet. I'd rather not tangle the plan
by smuggling them here, but I don't
want to leave people unsupplied."

"And you care about the supply
because ...?" President Latheef said.

So Ras told him about Calpurnia
and Hamon and their problems.

"People come to me," Ras said.
"They come seeking help for problems
nobody else would solve for them.
They ask me for what they need
and I get it for them if I can."

"I've heard that you focus
more on necessities than
recreational drugs, especially
for people with superpowers,"
said President Latheef.

"I serve a wide range of
wants and needs, but yes,
those are priorities," Ras said.

"You could put yourself out of
business," President Latheef said.

"I should be so lucky!" said Ras.
"Who wants to keep fighting
the same problems forever?
When flushies become common,
some other thing will be rare.
Better to solve what we can,
with as little fuss as possible."

"Then I believe we can come to
an agreement," the President said.

"Very good," said Ras. "What
would you like in return?"

"I've heard that you know
more about these things than
anyone else in the world,"
said President Latheef,
"so I'd like your advice on
how to handle the problems
of smuggling in general and
illegal drugs in particular."

Ras stared at him, stunned.
"No one has ever asked me
that before," he admitted.

"I keep hearing that,"
the President said with
a grimace. "People should
learn to listen better, I believe."

"So they should," Ras said.

He let his telempathy waft
through the room, just a little,
trying to get a feel for the man.

President Latheef was warm
and bright as the tropical sun,
almost fizzy with energy. Ras
wondered if he had superpowers,
but if so, they must be something
he had never encountered before.

"Who knows a customer's desire,
knows a customer's soul. We are
all creatures of desire; it is what
motivates us to do more than drowse
through our lives. But few indeed
dare to become students of it,"
Ras said with a little bow.

"I'm not a smuggler!
I'm not a drug dealer.
I just want to find what
is best for my people,"
the President protested.

"And to do that, you must
know them," Ras said. "You
understand that you do not,
so you are asking me, for
Ras el Hanout knows
the desire of all souls."

"Then teach me,"
said the President.

So Ras did that.

He spoke eloquently
about how smuggling
always exists to meet needs
that the conventional markets
refuse to meet for whatever reason.

He explained how shadow economies
interact with open economies, which
can be a good thing or a bad thing.

He revealed how the most effective way
of discouraging smugglers is simply
to take good care of your citizens
so that they don't need any.

"Excellent," said President Latheef.
"It sounds like this connects with
our ongoing efforts to eliminate
poverty and its attendant problems."

"Excellent if you have the money for
support programs," Ras pointed out.

"Right now, we have so much zakat
that we have to go looking for places
to spend it," said President Latheef.
He used a tablet computer to take
notes. "That's before the boom in
various revenues predicted once
Aunt Flo's Flushies go public."

"That's one of the biggest markets
in the world," Ras said with a nod.

"I do wonder if you're tempted here?"
President Latheef said. "I hope not,
because I like you and I would
hate to disagree over politics."

Ras shook his head. "No, I'm
not tempted. If people wish to sin,
they can simply visit the resorts
where alcohol is served and tourists
run around nearly naked, or worse.
They don't need it hand-delivered."

"That's a relief," the President said.

"When it comes to other things ...
you must understand, much of what
we smuggle is health care. Equipment
or medicines that didn't develop through
regular channels so aren't legal, things for
people with superpowers who can't use
the usual items, birth control where that
isn't legal at all," Ras said. "I would
rather work with you than against you."

"Agreed," said President Latheef.
"We get some spillover from tourists,
as you said, but the problems we have
on our own islands are not nearly as
bad as most other countries face."

"It's the environment," Ras said,
waving a hand to encompass it.

"The fact that climate change
threatens to flood us out is
an asset?" the President said.

"No, no, not that," said Ras.
"I meant that you live in
a beautiful country, and
beauty helps with healing."

"Ah," said President Latheef.
"Yes, we try to provide views
of nature from the hospitals."

"Think of it the same way with
addiction," said Ras. "If all that
people have for pleasure is a drug,
then that's what they turn to for comfort.
But there is not a drug on Earth that
can make your life meaningful."

"That is why Allah advised us
to avoid them," said the President.

"Yes," said Ras. "Now consider what
most countries use to fight addiction. They
send armed police after armed dealers.
They put people in jail, like rats in cages.
That only makes the urges stronger!"

"What else can we do?" the President said.
"Some people will always have problems."

"Solve the problems," said Ras. "Ask why
people become addicted. What is so bad
in their lives that they do these things?
And then fix it. Give them food, shelter,
work to do, people to care about.
Only then will they outgrow it."

"Oh," said President Latheef.
"So that's how you're doing it.
I heard that you had built up
an amazing organization.
You do it by saving people."

"I do," said Ras. "So do
some other friends of yours."

Kraken had decloaked recently,
which sent upheavals rippling
through the whole underworld,
but change was good for business.

In the world of smuggling, of course,
everything was good for business.

"Yes, it's good to have friends,"
President Latheef replied.

"When people have good lives,
not a drug on Earth can compete
with that," Ras pointed out.

"True," said President Latheef.
"So if addicts need a place --"

"Don't put them somewhere with
only other addicts, like rehab centers,"
Ras warned. "They need to be with
people whose lives are whole, so
they can see how that is done.
They need to make new friends,
not just have paid caregivers."

"Hmm," said the President.
"Some resorts build villas in pairs,
or larger ones with two bedrooms.
That would help pair addicts with
a caregiver or a sober friend.
Let's see what's available now ..."

"The tourism is suffering from
your innovations?" Ras said.

"No, it's fine," said the President.
"The resorts are suffering. Now we're
getting visitors who want to see what
our country is really like. The resorts
don't offer much of that, so they keep
going bankrupt. They sell fast, though --
they're nice little villages, basically."

He leafed through a few pages on
his tablet computer. "Ah, here's one
without a bar. It's a couple of hours
south of here, a little out of the way."

"That could be good, as long
as it has a clinic," said Ras.

"Yes, it's called the White Room,"
said President Latheef, then offered
his computer. "What do you think?"

Ras smiled. "I think it needs a new name."

"I know just the thing," said the President.
"Maana -- the Dhivehi word for meaning."

* * *

Notes:

"There's not a drug on Earth that can make your life meaningful."
-- Sarah Hane

See a map of the Malé area.

This is the President's Office in Malé. His lagoon table is made from layers of glass.

Meaning, n., maana
-- Maldives Dictionary

See an aerial view and a sitemap of Maana.

Greenery reduces cravings for all kinds of addictive substances from alcohol to drugs. This is just a tiny, specific example of several much broader principles:

1) The Rat Park effect. Addiction is strongly driven by miserable environmental factors. In a positive environment, few individuals develop addiction and those who already have it tend to shake it off. So the most effective treatment for long-term recovery is putting people in a healthy, happy environment while that same environment minimizes the risk of developing addiction in the first place.

As a T-American example, Street Rat Park is a drug abuse treatment center in Slidell, Louisiana. It is modeled after the famous "Rat Park" experiment and is thus a giant playground along with other facilities. This type of treatment center is called a parkland. The premise is that if someone's environment is enriched, they won't crave chemicals to feel good. So the center provides fun things to do, trauma-informed staff to hang out with, plus they support visitors' survival needs. There are no obligations beyond not hurting yourself or anyone else. There isn't even a requirement to be sober on the premises, although they don't allow illegal drugs there, so visitors have to leave if they want to score. Down the street is the Clean Spot, a harm reduction center for addicts that offers clean supplies and facilities; addicts often travel between the two locations. The way that Street Rat Park usually gets people off drugs is that someone drifts through a few times, becomes intrigued, spends more and more time there, and gradually stretches out the span between hits.

2) Nature views boost healing from all kinds of illness and injury. When separated from nature, people heal slower and feel worse while doing so. This informs the choice of hospital artwork and healing gardens, which are not "frills" but evidence-based parts of a treatment plan.

3) People need at least 2 hours of nature per week for health. Nature deficit disorder causes a wide range of mental and physical problems in people of all ages, although it was originally described regarding children. This problem affects many people in modern society, with ruinous results. Of course, in the Maldives most people are surrounded by nature, with bicycles and boats more popular as transportation than cars.

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