Tell Me a Story

Hodja's Washing Day (A Turkish Folktale)

Hodja Nasreddin was a wise and learned man; so wise he always seemed to know what to do. For instance, one day when he was serving as qadi, or judge, a man came to see him to lodge a complaint again his neighbor. The Hodja listened carefully as the man explained, and when at last the man was finished, he nodded sagely. "Yes," he said, "you are quite right in your charges against your neighbor."

Next he called the neighbor into his chambers, and again he listened carefully as this man complained bitterly. "You can see that I am right, and my neighbor is wrong," he said.

Again the Hodja nodded. "I can," he said. "You are quite right."

The Hodja's wife had been listening all this while, and when the men had departed, she said to her husband, "But this is madness. You told both men that they were right, and they disagreed. Obviously both men cannot be right!"

The Hodja once again nodded. "Yes, my dear wife," he said calmly, "you are quite right."

As time passed, word of the Hodja's wisdom spread from the village of Aksehir, where he had settled right across the land, and everyone told tales of the man. Some called him a trickster, others a genius, still others a fool.

One day he was traveling through Turkey when he came upon a village that was dry as dust. He could see the people were suffering, for the sun had been shining for weeks on end, and not a drop of rain had fallen for as long as anyone could recall.

When the Hodja arrived in the village, the people ran toward him. "You have been sent by Allah!" they cried. "It has been so long since we've had any rain; our streams and rivers have dried up. Our wells are full of mud. Soon our livestock will die, and after that, it will be us. We fear for the lives of our children. Help us, please!"

They moaned as they envisioned their own deaths.

"Please, Hodja," one of the village elders said, "tell us, can you make it rain?"

"Of course!" the Hodja said. How could he say no? The people looked so beleaguered, and the Hodja had a big heart. He could not ignore their pleas. Still, their request troubled him. If he could not make the rain fall, the people might no longer trust him. He might lose some of his importance. If he failed, surely word would spread.

He looked at the people gathered before him. "Let me think awhile," he said, and he closed his eyes and thought. He must come up with a plan.

"Someone get me a basin," he instructed, and two young men ran to fetch a basin for him. This the Hodja placed in the center of the village square.

"Now," he said, and he looked directly into the eyes of the elders. "We must fill this basin with water! Bring me enough water to do so."

For a moment all the villagers only looked at each other. How could they fill this large basin with water? None of the villagers had even enough water in their wells for one cup of water.

"Hodja, what can you mean?" the elders asked.

"I need a full basin of water," the Hodja repeated sternly. "Bring me water until we have enough to fill it to the top."

The elders did not dare question the Hodja's wisdom. Not in these dire circumstances.

And so each one of the villagers went to his well and collected what little remained there. They fetched from their homes the bottles and vials in which they had been saving a few precious drops, and then they returned to the square, and all together -- drop by drop -- they poured the water from their bottles and vials into the basin until at long last it was full.

The villagers watched curiously. What was the Hodja planning? And then, before their startled gazes, as they gasped in horror, the Hodja removed a shirt from his bag -- a very unclean shirt -- and immersed it in the basin. He began to wash it, dirtying their precious water!

"Hodja Effendi!" the elders cried. "You are wasting the water that keeps our people alive!" Some of the people groaned, others wept. No one could find the words to describe their despair at the sight of this waste.

"How can you wash your shirt in our water?" one man sputtered.

But the Hodja ignored the question. He nodded. He looked at the people. "Stop complaining, please," he said calmly. "I am Hodja Nasreddin, and I know what I am doing. I always know what I am doing. You are well aware of that, surely."

The villagers fell silent, totally mystified by this strange turn of events. The Hodja continued to wash his shirt, concentrating hard.

At last he was finished, and he lifted his shirt from the basin. First he wrung it as dry as he could, and then he held it up beneath the blazing sun. A light breeze caught the edge of the shirt, and it began to dry. Still, no one said a word.

A moment later a huge black cloud drifted across the bright blue sky, and soon it had blotted out the sun.

The Hodja looked up and sighed. The others followed his gaze.

And then he looked down and smiled at the people, and a moment after that, heavy rains poured from that cloud.

The people let out a roar of pleasure, holding their faces up to the delicious feel of that rain.

The Hodja quieted them. "You see," he said as calmly as he could, "I have learned from experience that the moment I hang my favorite shirt out to dry in the sun, the rains will come."

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