A few years ago, in a country far away, lived a young girl. She was only five years old. Her name was Jabar. The country she lived in, with her Mom, her Dad and her sister, was a very hot country. It was always sunny. Jabar loved to play outside with her little sister, Tonny. Tonny was three years old. They played with a ball which her Dad had made for her, and sometimes their Mom took them swimming. They were a very happy family. Jabar's and Tonny's Dad worked on a farm. He drove a tractor to plow the fields. He enjoyed his work and every morning he had a big smile as he left the house to walk to the farm. It was a good job. Every day, Mother would clean house, cook the meals, wash the clothes, wash dishes, go shopping and teach the girls new things. Mom also went out into the forest to pick fruit and berries for their meals. She grew some grain behind their house and made flour out of that grain. She then used that flour to bake bread. They were a busy, happy family.
Their house was very small and very simple. Mom and Dad did not have a lot of money and they did not have fancy things like a TV set, a VCR, a bathtub, computer, car or fridge. But they had never owned such fancy things and did not miss them. Mom and Dad did not know how to read or write. They had never been able to go to school. Mom and Dad very much hoped that Jabar and Tonny would be able to go to school and learn how to read and write. They worked hard so that they would be able to let the girls go to school as soon as they had their sixth birthdays.
One day Jabar and Tonny went to play at the edge of a river that ran by, close to their home. Mother had told them not to go far from the house and to stay away from the river. But, sometimes Jabar and Tonny did not remember what Mother had told them, and this time, they forgot. So, they went to play by the river. They threw rocks into the water and watched the circles grow larger and larger as the rocks splashed into the river. Sometimes, a stick floated past, and they tried to make their rocks land on the sticks. But that was not easy and Tonny hit only one stick. Jabar did not hit any. But, she was happy. It was not important.
Then, they saw an old chair float past them in the water. "Oh, look, a chair!" shouted Jabar to Tonny. "I'll get it out of the river, so Dad can sit in it when he comes home tired after working all day." She loved her Dad and wanted to please him. She knew very well how hard her Dad and Mom worked so that they could have a nice house to live in, nice clothes to wear and good food to eat. So, Jabar waded into the water. She pulled her skirt up a little so that it would not get wet. Tonny was afraid. She told Jabar, "No, don't go into the river; Mother said we have to stay away from the river; it is dangerous."
Jabar did not even hear her little sister. All she had on her mind was the chair. She just had to get it out for Dad. She did not know that the rocks under the water were slippery. Suddenly, as the water was just over her knees, she slipped. She fell into the water with a big splash. Jabar screamed but her scream was changed to a lot of bubbling noises as her face went under the water. Tonny panicked. She screamed too. Tonny did not know what to do so she ran back to the house screaming for her Mom. It seemed like a long way.
Jabbar struggled to get up. She couldn't. Every time she almost got back to her feet, she slipped or the rushing water pushed her down. Suddenly, the chair did not seem important any more. She could not get up and the water was pushing her farther and farther from the shore. She splashed and struggled and yelled for help every time her head came above water. Nobody heard her. Once she could see Tonny running to their house but it seemed very far away, and getting farther every moment. She was moving fast. Down the river. She was scared. Very scared. Now she could understand why Mom had always told them not to go near the river. But now it was too late. Would she ever see her Mom and Dad and Tonny again?
Tonny got back to the house, panting and screaming for her Mom. Mom was upstairs, making the beds. The radio was on and she did not hear Tonny. Tonny looked all over for her Mom. Finally, she went upstairs and found her Mom. "Mommy", she yelled, "Jabar drowned". Her Mom looked at her in shock. "Jabar did WHAT?!" she demanded. "In the river", cried Tonny. "Come and help her." Mother picked Tonny up and hurried down the stairs and out of the front door. "Where?", she cried. "Over there, by the big tree at the edge of the river", Tonny told her. Mother put Tonny down and told her to stay right by the house. Then she ran to the water. She could see the little girls' tracks in the mud but there was no sign of Jabar. She called but there was no answer.
Some people finally saw Mother at the river and came over to see what all the commotion was about. Mother was too shocked to speak. They set her down in the grass and gave her some water to drink. Then she was able to tell them that her darling daughter, Jabar had drowned. One of the men ran to the farm to tell Jabar's Dad the horrible news.
But, Jabar had not drowned. At least, not yet. She was still struggling in the river. Every moment she was getting farther and farther from her home and her family. She was sure she was drowning and would never see them again. There were no rocks under her feet now. Only water. Deep water. Sometimes her face would go under the water and then she would come up again, sputtering and trying to get a breath of air. She was moving fast. And as she moved, she was getting farther and farther from the edge of the river. The farther from the edge that she was, the faster she went.
Back at the house, Tonny was sitting down, crying. Her darling sister was gone. GONE. She would never see her again. Oh, why had they not listened to Mom? If only they could start over and stay away from that river. But, there was no going back. It was done. Jabar was gone. She could see her Dad running toward the river. She saw him rush to her Mom and hold her, crying. People were running along the river, looking and yelling. Nobody could see Jabar and there was no answer from Jabar. Some of the men ran very far but they could not find Jabar. Tonny could see Mom collapse. Mom fainted and fell into the mud. Her dad picked her up, getting mud all over him too. He carried Mom back to the house. Tonny cried to him, "Dad, what are we going to do?" Dad put Mom on the couch and told some of the ladies who had followed them in, to look after Mom. Then he ran to the river again. Like the other men, he ran along the river, yelling for Jabar. There was no answer. He saw nothing.
They ran a long way. So far that Tonny could no longer hear them yelling. Finally, the men stopped and gathered into a group. They discussed what they should do. One man ran off to tell the police. The police came to see if they could help. Much later, they found a small boat with a tiny motor. They put the boat into the river and two of the policemen went racing down the river, leaving a spray of white, foamy water. They went quite fast and quickly disappeared around the bend in the river. The men went back to the house. Mother was sitting up and the women with her were trying to make her drink some tea. "Did you find her?" they asked. "No", said one of the men, "the police are out looking for Jabar, with a boat."
It was getting late. The sun was getting lower and lower and it started getting dark. Yet, Jabar kept struggling in the water. She was still moving fast and was very afraid. She heard a noise. It was getting louder and louder. She recognized the noise. It was a boat. She and Tonny had often heard that noise before and had seen boats on the river. She tried to call to the people in the boat but the water kept dragging her down and all she could make were gurgling, bubbling noises. Nobody could hear her. She even saw the boat. It was not far, but she was down so deep in the water that very little of her face was visible. The boat went by and the policemen did not see her. Later the boat passed her again, going back. But now it was even darker, and they did not see her. Farther and farther from home she went. Would she ever see her family again? It seemed to Jabar as if she had been in the river for years.
When it was very dark, something hit Jabafs leg under the water. A stick. And then another hit her shoulder. Jabar grabbed wildly with both hands. A tree. The water had drifted her into a tree. That meant she had to be at the edge of the river. She got a good grip on the tree and pulled. Her strength was gone but she managed to pull herself out of the water and along the tree, into the mud at the edge of the river. The tree had fallen over, long ago and was half in the river and half on the shore. Jabar lay in the mud. Exhausted from struggling so many hours in the river. At least she had not drowned. She was still alive. But so very tired, and so very scared, and lonely. And she cried for her Mom, her Dad, her sister Tonny.
Jabar fell asleep there, in the mud. When she woke up she was very hungry. It was light and warm. The sun was well up in the sky. She wondered how long she had been laying there in the mud, with her feet still in the water. She got up and walked away from that scary river. There were no people. No houses. Nothing but trees. Now what should she do? Which way was home? Where was everybody? What should she eat? All kinds of questions ran through her mind. In some bushes nearby, she found some berries and she happily ate them. Finally, she was not hungry any more. She was a brave girl and decided that there was only one thing she could do. That was to start looking for a way home. She started walking. But she had no idea of which way to go. She went in the wrong direction.
As she walked, she heard some loud noises. The noises were getting louder and louder. Trees were breaking, making very loud noises. What could it be? Now, in the country where Jabar lived, there were great animals, called elephants. They are the largest animals in the whole world, except for the huge whales which live in the sea. Jabar had seen elephants. Once, on a vacation trip, she, with her sister and parents, had taken a bus tour to a place not too far from her home, where people used these huge elephants to pull trees out of the forest after other men had cut the trees down and cut off the branches. One man would sit on top of the elephant's neck and call instructions to the elephant. The great animal would do just as he was told and pull the trees to a mill where they were cut into boards for making things like houses, bridges and so on. One of the men had invited Jabar and her Dad to take a ride with him, on his elephant. This had been a very great thrill for Jabar. Next day she told all her friends about it. They all wished they could have had a ride on an elephant too.
When Jabar heard these very loud noises, she thought there might be elephants ahead. Sure enough. She walked awhile longer and then she could see them. There were five elephants. Three were large ones and two were young ones, not much larger than a horse. The large ones seemed as large as mountains. They were huge. The three mother elephants were tearing branches off the trees and eating them. The young ones ran around, playing and pulling at bushes and grass, using their trunks. They were close now, and Jabar could see them very clearly.
She was not afraid because she did not know that these were wild elephants and could be dangerous. She thought they looked funny with those long noses called trunks. She wondered how she would feel if she could use her nose to tear branches off trees! They were certainly a funny - looking animal. They moved slowly. The large ones had long, white tusks.
Jabar decided to take a rest and sit under a large tree to watch the elephants for awhile. She promptly fell asleep because she was still tired from her long struggle in the river the day before. She dreamed of her Mom, her Dad and Tonny. It was a very pleasant dream and she smiled but there was nobody there to see her smile. Suddenly, her sleep was interrupted. Something brushed her face. Something big, and rough. She jumped. The sun was gone. The sky was gone. Everything was hidden by the huge, dark shape that stood right in front of her. All she could see was a great dark gray form. An elephant! One of the mother elephants was standing right in front of her, and had just brushed her face with its trunk! This frightened her. She was only a little girl and this was one of the largest animals in the whole world!
What should she do? She could not run. Her legs felt frozen with fear. So, Jabar stood still while the great elephant looked at her, with its trunk slowly swaying back and forth. Then the elephant backed up a little, as if she knew that Jabar was frightened. The elephant lay down like a great mountain in front of Jabar. Jabar could see now, that the elephant did not want to hurt her, and was interested in her. There they were; looking at each other. One little dark-skinned girl and one great, gray mountain of elephant. After awhile, Jabar decided that the elephant wanted to be friends. So, she got very brave and took a step toward the elephant. She remembered seeing those men riding on the necks of their elephants and she thought that perhaps, this elephant would let her ride on its neck. She walked closer and touched the animal's trunk. The elephant did not seem to mind. She walked right up to it. Still, it lay there, quite happy. Jabar patted the animal's head. The great head moved a little so it could see Jabar better. Now, Jabar got really brave. She climbed onto the animal's neck. She put her feet behind the great ears. The elephant continued to lay there, as if enjoying Jabar's company. The other elephants had not noticed what was going on. Jabar sat there, quite proudly, and felt fairly safe and comfortable.
After she had sat there awhile, the elephant got up, slowly, carefully. Jabar got quite a thrill. Why would a wild elephant be so friendly? She wondered about that. Maybe this elephant had been with people and maybe it had been used by people in their logging work. Sometimes, she knew, people got tractors to replace the elephants and sometimes their elephants were turned loose in the forest. Maybe these elephants had been turned loose. She hoped so. Elephants should be much happier, she thought, in the forest than working in a logging camp.
It was nice in the jungle; sometimes she saw a monkey and beautiful birds were all around her most of the time. She envied the monkeys for the way they could swing from one tree to another without falling. She wished she could be a monkey, but only for a little while.
With Jabar on her neck, the elephant wandered back to the other elephants. They saw Jabar sitting up there and seemed to like the sight. They all seemed so happy that even Jabar could not help but feel a little bit happy too, even though she desperately wanted to get home. She spoke to the animals and wondered if they knew what she was saying.
The elephants wandered around for awhile and Jabar got more comfortable all the time, riding on that huge neck, so far above the ground. She soon felt as if she had been riding elephants all her life. It was a bit scary to look down, though; she was so very far up. Falling off that huge neck would be serious. She would be hurt. But, the elephant was very careful. Jabar decided to give her a name; SingSing. Now, Jabar decided, SingSing is "my" elephant. My very own elephant! Wouldn't her friends be envious of her if they could see her now!
Back at Jabar's house, friends, neighbors and relatives from all around came over to tell Tonny and her Mom and Dad how sorry they were to hear that their darling little Jabar had drowned in the river. Tonny told everyone how sorry she was that she and Jabar had forgotten what their Mom had told them about not going to the river. They did not know that Jabar had not drowned but was riding on her own elephant, far, far away. Dad stayed home for a few days, to mourn for Jabar, with Mom and Tonny and then he went back to work. He thought about Jabar all the time though, and he no longer enjoyed working on the farm. One day he thought about Jabar so much that he drove the tractor into a ditch and it fell over on its side. Another man brought a truck to pull the tractor back up on its wheels. At night, Dad could not sleep and neither could Mom. They could not stop grieving over their little Jabar.
Riding her elephant was great fun but in the afternoon, Jabar got hungry and wanted to get down to pick some fruit or berries. SingSing seemed to know how Jabar felt and she got down, very carefully, and let Jabar off. Then, SingSing stood up again. Jabar was amazed at how huge SingSing was. She could not imagine anything bigger. She was very glad that SingSing was her friend and not her enemy. Those feet were as big as table tops! And that trunk was long as a fire hose. The ears were like bedspreads. She could walk under SingSing without bending over, and still not touch SingSing's belly. Jabar did not dare try this yet, but she just knew she could.
Fortunately for Jabar, in her country there were a lot of wild berries and fruits. She could easily pick all she wanted and she soon ate enough so that she was no longer hungry. A sleep would be nice; she was still not fully recovered from her terrible experience in the river. Even riding her elephant was tiring because it was a bit scary, and she had never been alone with an elephant, without her Dad to take care of her. So, she was tired. She lay down against a big tree and soon feel asleep. While she slept, the other elephants came very close to her, and studied her very carefully. They liked her. Jabar had nice dreams most of the time but also dreamed a little bit about being in the river. Then a bug sat on her nose and woke her up. She was glad that the bug had awakened her because that part of her dream was not much fun.
She noticed that the sun had gone down and it was getting dark. She was not worried about getting cold because in her country, it was always warm. She did not know what snow was; she had seen snow only on pictures. She had not seen snow on TV because she had never even seen a TV set. Some friends of her parents owned a refrigerator and they had shown her ice, so she knew what ice was. But, she could sleep under a tree without getting cold, all night. With the elephants nearby, she even felt safe. And so, she slept all night, waking up only once, when some animal made some very loud noises some distance away. She knew that there were some dangerous animals in the forest, but the elephants made her feel safe.
In the morning, Jabar ate some more fruit from a bush which grew right beside the tree where she had slept. She noticed that SingSing and the others were very nearby. It seemed to Jabar that they wanted to be near her, to protect her. This made her feel good. SingSing was awake, as the others were, and Jabar went to her and climbed aboard. After awhile they all moved along, tearing branches off trees and eating them. SingSing was more careful than the others. She knew that Jabar would be hurt if she fell off.
Jabar was getting very homesick. She missed her family very much and wanted desperately to get home. She had no way, however, to know which way she should go. Rather than just wander through the jungle, and get lost, or meet some dangerous animal, she decided to stay where she was, for now. At least with "her" elephants, she felt safe. The elephants seemed to actually enjoy her company.
One time, the elephants decided to take a swim in the river. SingSing got down and let Jabar off before entering the water. Jabar took this opportunity to wash the mud off her clothes. They were still very dirty. Now she realized how wonderful it was to have her mother keeping her clothes clean. She had never really thought about that before. While the elephants were rolling around in the water, she hoped they would not swim across the river and leave her. There was no need to worry. When they were done, they came back and ate some more leaves. Soon, SingSing lay down for Jabar to climb on again. The great back was still muddy and wet, but Jabar climbed on anyway. SingSing could not know that Jabar would rather wait until the great, gray back was dry. Jabar could understand. When she was back up in her seat, the great beast stood up again. Jabar was now getting very comfortable on SingSing's neck and she found that she could show SingSing which way she wanted to go, by using her knees behind the great ears. She did very little of this, however, because there was no particular need for Jabar to go one way or the other. SingSing knew where she wanted to go; she wanted to go where the best leaves grew for her to eat.
At the end of the day, Jabar sat by a big tree as she had done the night before, and the elephants bedded down nearby. All of them slept well all night. They did the same every night until after a few days and night, Jabar could not remember how long she had been away in the jungle. She still missed her Mom, Dad and Tonny very much, though, and thought about them all the time. She wondered if the elephants could feel or understand how much she missed her family. Sometimes she thought they could sense her feelings.
A scary incident took place one day. She was sitting by a tree, after having a nice lunch of berries when a tiger came by, planning to eat one of the young elephants. The tiger sneaked up and was suddenly very close. It had not seen Jabar. But, the elephants saw and smelled the tiger immediately and got between Jabar and the tiger, making loud, scary noises and flapping their huge ears like wings on a great bird taking off from the water. The tiger soon realized that he had no chance against such a huge animal and left. The elephants were excited for awhile and then SingSing lay down for Jabar to climb up onto her neck again. Jabar was very happy that SingSing and the others had protected her from the tiger.
Before she climbed up on SingSing's neck, she gave the huge head a big hug and a kiss. She was sure SingSing appreciated it. The big trunk came around and touched her back as if the animal was trying to kiss her in return.
The days went by and Jabar felt very much like part of the elephant family. She did not begin to forget about her own, real family, though. She wished she knew some way to find her way back home. She knew it would be very dangerous, however, to leave the elephant family and start walking. She did not know which way to go, and the incident with the tiger reminded her that the jungle is a very dangerous place for little girls.
As the days went by, Jabar and her elephant family moved steadily through the jungle. One day, Jabar heard noises. People noises. Sounds of machines and trucks. This was exciting! If there were people, maybe they could help her find her way back home. Jabar got quite excited. She looked hard in the direction from where the noises came. She saw what looked like a road not too far away, through the jungle. The elephants were headed toward it. She wondered if the animals knew that they should take Jabar to some place where she would be with people. They came closer to the road. Then they were on the road. It was a real road; the first one she had seen in many days. The elephants walked along the road.
They had walked down the road for a couple of hours when Jabar heard a loud noise behind them. She looked back and saw a small truck, blowing its horn to make the elephants move out of the way. In the truck were a man, a lady and a little boy. They stopped and so did the elephants. SingSing seemed to know exactly what to do. She turned and walked very slowly toward the truck. The people in the truck were excited to see a little girl riding on the huge animal. They took pictures with their camera. Then, SingSing got down low and let Jabar get off her neck. While Jabar ran to the truck, SingSing stayed down, watching her. The people asked who Jabar was. Jabar was so excited she could hardly talk. She tried to tell them everything at once. The people could not understand a thing. Everything was all mixed up and confused. They urged Jabar to slow down, to take it easy and to tell them one thing at a time.
Jabar finally got herself under control and she told the people who she was and how she had fallen into the river and how she had been swept far away by the rushing water and nearly drowned. She told the people where she lived and asked if the people knew her parents. They did not but they remembered hearing, a long time ago, of a little girl drowning in the river. They could hardly believe that Jabar was that little girl, and that she had not drowned at all.
While all this was going on, SingSing stayed nearby, and got up. The other elephants had wandered back into the jungle. Before Jabar could ask the people if they could help her get back home, they were already urging her to get into the truck so they could help her. Jabar almost did, and then she remembered who had looked after her all this time in the jungle. She ran back to SingSing and hugged the great trunk and kissed it. SingSing stroked her head and shoulders with her trunk. She seemed to be glad that Jabar had found people like herself. As Jabar walked back to the truck, SingSing walked into the jungle and disappeared.
Not knowing how to find Jabar's home, the people in the truck decided to drive to the nearest police station. There they let Jabar tell her story. The police did some checking and found a report of a young girl drowning several months earlier. The reports told them where Jabar's family lived. Jabar felt that she would now be returned to her family, and she thanked the family very much for helping her. After speaking with the family who brought her, the police took Jabar to one of their fancy police cars, with lights on top, two policemen got into the car and all three of them headed for Jabar's house, many miles away.
The policemen wanted to stop for a cold drink along the way, but Jabar would not let them; she pleaded for them to drive faster, without stopping, so she could get back to her Mom, her Dad and Tonny quickly.
It was nearly dark when the police car came to her house. Her Mom saw the police car arrive and became very worried. She was afraid that something bad had happened. One very bad thing had happened to them already; their little Jabar had drowned, months ago. Now what could be the matter? Mother slowly came out of the house as the policemen got out of the car. "Look what we have for you. Madam!" said the officer, as Jabar jumped out and ran to her mother.
"Jabar", cried her mother, so loud that everyone in the area could hear. Even her Dad, who was halfway home from the farm, heard. And so did Tonny, who was having a nap. "Jabar", she cried again, as she rushed to her little daughter. "You are alive; you did not drown!" The tears of joy rolled down her cheeks and also down Jabar's cheeks. They hugged and hugged. They could not stop. Even the police officers had to dab at their eyes with their sleeves. Neighbors came rushing over. "She's alive", they shouted to each other. "Jabar is alive; she did not drown!" Soon, Jabar's Father and also Tonny were there. Everyone was crying great tears of happiness.
All of them went into the house. The policemen came in too. Mother took out some fresh bread she had just made, and gave everyone a slice. Then she made tea for everyone. Tonny was so happy she could not speak. She just hugged Jabar and cried. Her Dad just kept wanting to set her on his lap and to hug her and tell her how he now felt "alive" again. Everyone was talking and asking questions. There was no opportunity for Jabar to answer any of them. There was just too much noise. They could not stop. They were so excited.
Jabar managed to tell her Mother, "Mom, I am so very sorry that I forgot you had told us not to play near the river. I hope you are not angry." Her Mother could hardly speak with joy, and just hugged her in reply. Jabar knew she was not angry. Finally, the noise died down. Then they let Jabar tell her story. There was not a sound in the house as she spoke. They could hardly believe all the exciting things Jabar told them. When she was finished, many of the people had questions for her. She answered them as well as she could. By then it was late and everyone went home. The policemen, after enjoying some more fresh bread and tea, also went back.
A week later, a small truck pulled up in front of Jabar's home. It was Sunday, and Father was home. He wondered who it could be. He did not know anyone who owned a car or truck. He went out as the man, lady and little boy got out of the truck. They spoke with Father for a moment. Jabar had just noticed what was happening and she looked out the window. She recognized the truck and rushed out. The people realized immediately that they had come to the right house. The policemen had drawn them a little map to show them how to find Jabar's house.
Father was shaking the man's hand and thanking all three of them for helping Jabar get back home. Everyone was so happy. Jabar's Mother came out with Tonny right behind They all went inside for a cool drink. It was a very hot day. Mother and Father just kept thanking the people. Jabar had not had a good opportunity to meet the boy when she first met the people, because she had been so excited. Now, she and Tonny soon became good friends with the boy and took him outside to meet their friends and play with the ball their Dad had tied to the top of a big pole while she was away.
The people visited for several hours and then said that they must get back home. Jabar and her family were sorry to see them leave and asked them to come back again as soon as they could. Perhaps they could all go on a picnic. Just as they were ready to get into their truck, the man said, "Oh, I almost forgot; here, Jabar, are copies of the pictures I took of you and your elephant, SingSing." With that, he gave Jabar five photographs he had taken when they first met on the road in the jungle. This was terrific for Jabar. Now she could prove to everyone that the story she had told them was true.
Photographs did not lie. This was proof. The pictures were excellent. They showed Jabar sitting on SingSing's neck, it showed her standing beside SingSing and bugging her trunk, and it showed several other scenes. This was wonderful. She thanked the family and as they drove away, she showed the photographs to everyone.
Next day, mother made a beautiful frame for the pictures and mounted them in it. She put glass in front, and hung it on the living room wall for everyone to see. A few days after that, a lady from another town, where they had a newspaper, came and took pictures of Jabar, and asked Jabar to tell her the story, and asked to see the pictures. Then she put her story into her newspaper, and came to bring Jabar a copy of the newspaper. Mother made a frame for that too, and hung it beside the other frame.
And now, the two frames are still hanging on the living room wall. If you are ever near Jabar's house, be sure to drop in and see her. She might tell you her story and show you her pictures. Tell her I said you should stop in to see her!