October 23, 2008
Somewhere in Zambia
Standing in front of a human being shedding a single tear that barely has the strength to roll down is numbing. The sensation of helplessness is not compatible with our human genetics and the stun of the assault is overwhelming me. A blind woman didn’t see the blackness of her house, the collapsing roof and the emptiness of a kitchen that looks more like a mortuary. I did.
“What did you have for lunch today?” I asked the woman’s orphaned grandchild.
“What did you have for breakfast today?” I continued.
“What about dinner. What did you have for dinner yesterday?”
“When did you last eat?”
“Yesterday morning,” they replied. It had been 40 hours since the child had eaten.
Grandma could see nothing, but she could feel. She could feel like a loser, an incompetent upstanding figure of her once-upon-a-time family that was no more. She was left by every other member near or far: husband, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. She is now on her own and the legal guardian of her last grandson who was exposed when it was found that he had been given no food for nearly two days. It wasn’t particularly remarkable or unusual. It’s just one of those things. The way it is. When a good deed doer from the church spares some change they eat. When they don’t they don’t. Sunday service usually brings the most of those nice people. The tear in grandma’s eye was like a dagger digging deep and twisting at the same time. Immediately, anger and rage welled up within. I thought of all the spoiled and ungrateful children I know who are aware, but don’t care about what’s happening across the street to their neighbour.
I inappropriately took a picture of that tear. It wasn’t appropriate, but she couldn’t see the flash or the darkness in her dungeon of a hut in daylight. I needed to have the Kodak moment to believe it was real. And this way, I can look at it again and feel the same helplessness that might piss me off again to force me to find some solution for it.
I embarrassingly ask myself, “what is so terrible with hunger?” It’s a sensation like any other sensation: fear, exhaustion, joy. Do I need to get all dramatic and bent out of shape when I encounter someone on the side of the road who hasn’t eaten for two days? Let me show you the tear for you to answer this question.