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LEADER RESOURCE 1: The Old Alchemist — A Play

A story from Myanmar/Burma.

NARRATOR:

Once upon a time, there was an old man whose daughter was married to a handsome young lad. The young couple led a happy life, except for one problem. The new husband spent all his time dreaming of a way to turn dirt into gold. In those days people who tried such transformations were known as alchemists. Soon enough, the young man spent all of his inheritance, and the young wife had to struggle to buy food each day.

WIFE:

Your obsession with turning dirt into gold is going to kill us all! We have no money for food, and what little money I can earn is paying for your chemicals rather than feeding and clothing our children. Please, please, can't you give this all up and find a regular job?

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

But I am on the verge of a breakthrough! When I succeed in turning dirt into gold, we'll be rich beyond our wildest dreams!

NARRATOR:

Finally the young wife went to her father about the problem.

WIFE:

Daddy, what am I to do? My husband spends all day messing around with his silly chemicals, trying to turn dirt into gold. It will never work, and in the meantime we're all starving.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Really? Your husband is an alchemist? What a surprising path for a young man who seems so sensible. Let me talk to him and see if I can help.

WIFE:

I've talked until I'm blue in the face, but he just won't listen and he won't let it go!

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Well, you never know, I might be able to help. I'll go see him tomorrow.

NARRATOR:

And so the father went to visit his son-in-law, who looked none to happy to see him, since the young man expected a scolding. But what he heard was a complete surprise.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

So, my dear, my daughter has shared with me the interesting news that you are an alchemist.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

That's true... .

OLD ALCHEMIST:

It might surprise you to know that I, too, was an alchemist when I was young. What could be more exciting than the prospect of turning dirt into gold? What have you tried so far?

NARRATOR:

So the two men spent the afternoon in excited conversation about the young man's experiments. Finally, the old man threw his hands up in the air.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Why, you have done everything I did when I was your age! You are surely on the verge of a breakthrough. But you need one more ingredient in order to change dirt into gold, and I have only recently discovered this secret. I am too old to undertake the task, as it requires too much work.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

I can do it, dear father!

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Hmm, perhaps you can. The secret ingredient is a silver powder that grows on the back of banana leaves. You must plant the bananas yourself because it's important that you cast certain spells on plants. Then when the plant grows, the powder on the leaves will become magical.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

How much powder do we need?

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Two pounds.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

Why, that would require hundreds of banana plants!

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Yes, and that is why I cannot complete the work myself.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

Do not fear! I will do it. I know I can!

NARRATOR: [Throughout this section, as the Narrator speaks, the Young Alchemist acts out the Narrator's words.]

And so the old man taught his son-in-law the magic spells and loaned him enough money to start the project.

The next day, the young man bought some land and cleared it. He planted the banana shoots just as the old man had told him to do and murmured over them the magic spells.

Each day he examined the seedlings, keeping weeds and pests away. Months later, when the plants bore fruit, he gently brushed the silver powder from the banana leaves. But there was scarcely any powder on each plant so the young man had to buy more land and cultivate more bananas. It took several years, but finally the young man collected two pounds of the magic dust. He rushed to his father-in-law's house.

YOUNG ALCHEMIST:

I have the magic powder!

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Wonderful! Now I can show you how to turn dirt into gold! But first you must bring your wife here. We need her presence.

NARRATOR:

The young man was puzzled, but obeyed, and brought his wife to join them.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

While your husband was collecting the banana powder, what did you do with the bananas?

WIFE:

Why, I sold them. That's how we've earned a living all this time.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

Did you save any money?

WIFE:

Yes.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

May I see it?

NARRATOR:

So his daughter hurried home and returned with several bags. The old man opened them, saw that they were full of gold, and poured the coins on the floor. Then he took a handful of dirt, and put it next to the gold.

OLD ALCHEMIST:

You see, my son? That is how you have changed dirt into gold!

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Last updated on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

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