Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pyo Wota

(Max, Nat and Zack are giving varying degrees of attention to Joe who has come to explain the details of his latest get-rich-quick scheme.)

Joe: I assure you, this is a 100% risk-free guaranteed money spinner! It will definitely make you rich overnight.

Nat: Joe... you know, when I hear you use words like "risk-free" and "money-spinner", I feel this urge to hold on tight to my wallet.

Zack: Yes - especially after last time when
you wanted us to contribute funds to a non-existent party. I thought you had agreed to give up these get-rich-quick schemes?

Joe (with a pained expression): Ah-ah Zack - how can you say that? That is very hurtful. Remember, I am not the person who will be getting rich quick - you will be.

Max: OK, we have heard you. Just tell us what you're peddling today and be done with it.

Joe: Yes, Max. Imagine that you're on the road, when suddenly you are struck by serious thirst. You look out of your car, and you see someone hawking pure water sachets. You think "Ah! Thank heavens - some water to drink", and you reach for your wallet to fish out the five naira needed to buy a sachet. But wait! How do you know whether it's safe to drink?

This is where this new product - called Sho-Tox - will help you. What it does is that it can instantly tell you whether the water is fit for drinking or not. It comes in the form of a powder which you sprinkle it into the water that you're about to drink. If it turns red, then that shows that it is unsafe. And of course, you can use it not just on the road but at home to check whether your local water supply is safe as well. It's definitely something you will want to buy if you care about your health!

Nat: Hmm... interesting... but Joe, are you sure that your product isn't just a solution looking for a problem? After all, nobody is complaining about the quality of 'pure water' that is sold on the streets.

Max (vehemently): Speak for yourself! As far as I am concerned, what they sell in those sachets is a deadly cocktail of toxic chemicals and germs. And they have the effrontery to call it 'pure water'! I call it 'poor water' or even 'pyo wota' which is the name its hawkers use, anyway!

Nat: My goodness! You sound like you must have had a bad experience sometime in the past. Perhaps you weren't discriminating enough - you can't just buy any pure water sachet, you know.

Zack (mockingly): Or perhaps Max's stomach is too delicate to deal with the germs that we ordinary Nigerians have no problem with. Perhaps you should reduce the amount of jam and pie you eat and increase your intake of ogbono and fufu!

Max (shrugging): Well Zack, I would have thought that most people would prefer to drink clean safe water... but if you have developed a taste for filthy gutter water, what can I say? I wouldn't have guessed it, looking at you, but then it's a strange world we live in...

Joe (anxious to restore harmony): Actually, all of you are correct. There are some types of pure water that are safe for drinking, and some that are not so safe. Sho-Tox will help you distinguish between the two.

Nat: What's wrong with just looking at the brand name on the sachet? If it has a
NAFDAC registration number, then that means it is safe.

(Max bursts into laughter.)

Max: You are not serious! Do you think that forging a label is beyond the ability of people who have graduated from the University of Oluwole? Anyway, I won't try and convince you... I guess you must go through your own near-death experience to see the dangers of 'pyo wota'.

Zack: The problem is that you're simply not used to buying pure water. If you were, you would already have developed an 'eye' for spotting fake from real pure water. It's not just the label you look at - you look at the plastic that's used to package the water, you look at how secure the packaging is... and you can even tell from the appearance of the water itself.

Max (irritated): I don't want to spend my time doing visual analysis on water sachets... I just want to drink water! Left to me, I'd just ban the sale of pure water sachets from the entire city!

Zack: Then you would throw thousands of families into poverty. Next to the okada business, the sale of pure water must be the biggest money earner for people in this city. And aren't you always preaching about how people should be enterprising instead of depending on other people for their livelihood?

Nat: And it's not only the sellers of pure water that would be up in arms. What of those of us who no longer have pure water to drink? What do we do then?

Max: OK, maybe I wouldn't ban the sale outright... but I would get agents to carry out random checks on pure water that is sold on the street, and if it turned out to be unfit for public consumption, I would punish the seller and the manufacturer of the water heavily!

Nat: Hmm... Sounds like a good idea. I think it would also be great if you combined your 'stick' with a 'carrot'... like providing the manufacturers of pure water access to up-to-date information on how to cheaply produce safe drinking water.

Zack: And you can throw in an extra 'stick' that also punishes people who are caught forging the labels of other manufacturers.

Joe (obviously unhappy that the others are ignoring his attempts to interest them in his product): In fact Max, Sho-Tox will help your agents tell whether the water is fit or not. The man on the street can even help! If he uses Sho-Tox to find that his pure water is unsafe, he can report the seller to your agents!

Max: So maybe you should be trying to sell your product to NAFDAC then?

Joe: Well, we're pursuing that angle, but while we wait for that to materialise, why not make it available to people like you so that you don't have to worry about drinking contaminated water?

Max: Well, I've already told you that I don't drink 'pyo wota'. In fact, I dislike the fact that the whole pure water industry adopts cynical measures to perpetuate its existence.

Zack: What are you talking about now?

Max: Think of it. People who drink the water typically throw away the plastic wrapping on the road. The wrappings end up being swept away into the gutter. The blocked gutter leads to flooding when next it rains. The flood causes terrible traffic jams. The jams prevent people in their cars from getting anywhere, so they sit in the sun being baked to death. This leads to thirst, which can only be cured by - guess what? 'Pyo Wota'!

Zack: And you're saying that all this is by the design of the industry? That is one of the most ludicrous conspiracy theories I have heard!

Max: Well, it's true! Added to that is the fact that the floods give the 'pyo wota' manufacturers the water with which to fill their sachets and sell to the unsuspecting public.

Nat: Max - I'm surprised! You're not usually as paranoid as this. But think about it. If the city council got people to pick pure water sachets from the road, the plan would fail. If it fixed road drainage, the plan would fail. In the dry season, the plan would fail. If people took okada motorbikes to get from A to B, the plan would fail. Don't you think that the industry would think of a more watertight plan?

Max: Well, maybe the industry knows that city council won't clean the roads or fix the drainage, and that there are some people who won't take okada motorbikes.

Joe (pleadingly): What is the matter with you guys, now? I've been trying to explain the value of my product, but you keep on getting side-tracked with this your discussion of pure water!

Nat: Well, you're the one that brought the issue of pure water up!

Max: OK, we're listening to you now. So you have this product that turns impure water red. Good. Now let's say I'm in a traffic jam and I decide in an extreme moment of madness to buy this sachet of pure water. Let's say that your product turns it red. So I don't drink the water - but I'm still thirsty! What do I do then?

Joe: Er... well, you buy another sachet, because you know that the first one is unsafe.

Max: But what if that turns red as well? Do I keep on buying sachets until I'm either bankrupt or dead of thirst?

Joe: Ah... well, we don't yet have a product to purify water... maybe the best thing would be to buy another brand of pure water from a different hawker.

Zack: What if I am able to catch the hawker of the pure water and I point out to him that his product is unsafe, because your product turned it red? Won't he just laugh at me and call me mad?

Joe: Well, as soon as we finalise the research on the product, we will launch a massive campaign to make people aware of...

Zack: Whoa! Hold it! Did I just hear you say "finalise the research"? Are you telling me that this product is still being worked on?

Joe: Well, yes... but as I hinted, it's in its final stages, and...

(The expressions of Max, Nat and Zack change instantly from interest to annoyance and disapproval.)

Zack: Then why are you trying to sell us something that you haven't even finished making?

Joe: No... I wasn't looking to sell the product to you guys. I know already that there will be a huge market out there for it. What I was looking for was some funds to complete the research so that we can market the product. The idea is that when we make a huge profit, your contribution will triple or even quadruple in value.

Max: Ohhhh... I see now. I understand. So if we ask you to give us details of the research that has been carried out up till now, details of the company carrying out the research, the names and qualifications of the researchers and what plans you have to market the product, that shouldn't be a problem?

Joe (obviously disappointed): Max - I'm surprised at you. I present you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this, and you start acting like a frightened old woman. I thought that you were the enterprising type.

Zack: But you can provide the information we're asking for anyway?

Joe: I can't believe that you guys are looking at this obvious ticket to riches with such hesitation.

Nat: Don't mind us. You can provide the information we're asking for, right?

Joe (wearily): Yes... I will go and get the information... but I don't know if I will be back. Who knows, on the way I might meet someone who is more receptive to the idea - and you know that I operate a first-come-first-serve policy. (He gets up and leaves the bar.)

Zack (contemptuously): More like a first-come-first-dupe policy. Honestly - I don't even know why we agree to listen to him when he comes with these get-rich-quick schemes!

Max: Well, I don't know - sometimes, the ideas that are popular today start out as sounding crazy. I can imagine what the reaction must have been when someone said "I'm going to take this water I'm getting for next to nothing, package it in plastic bags and sell it to people! And they'll buy it, even though they have no idea whether it'll quench their thirst or kill them stone dead!" Really, you never can tell with ideas...


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