Tuesday, June 5, 2012


4 Kilos   3 years old

how do I even begin telling you about this child?  from the moment I tell you the measurements - you will shut off.  from the moment you see tiny arms and legs, the puffy feet, the veins on the bald head, the wrinkled armpits and stomach - from the moment you see it your brain is switched to shut off. 

because this is the poster child

this is what flashes before your brain when you think of Somalia, this and Black Hawk Down
this is what flashes before your brain when you think of famine
this is what flashes before your brain when you think of refugee camps, NGO's, children lying in the desert having their innards pecked out by birds while they watch quietly blinking fly-encrusted eyes

the West can't be shocked anymore.  the media has done that.  the NGO's have done that.  the reporters have done that. 

and can you blame them?  you see an atrocity so horrible, something so repulsive to your eyes and your ears and your heart and everything you believe in, and you want to tell the story - and you know in a society where people read unblinking about the thousands dead in Mogadishu and then eagerly scan the gossip column as they browse CNN.com over a bowl of Kellog's Cornflakes, you know that to reach them - to make them understand - to make them pause over your words, over your photo - that is has to be truly horrendous.  that somehow you have to make this war, this genocide, this child matter more than the thousands of others being reported and largely ignored.....

and so you to try shock

and the more the viewer is shocked, the more they are desensitized.  The more they are desensitized, the greater the shock value must be, and it goes on like this, getting more and more vicious, more and more ludicrous, more and more self-destructing, until what is true and real and vibrant and beautiful and dying gets lost in the cycle

until now - when you this picture - you think AFRICA

Tchad becomes no longer a country, no longer a unique piece of carved up Sahel with its hundreds of cultures, languages, ethnic groups, ideologies

Tchad becomes Africa

this child becomes Africa

and when it becomes AFRICA you shut off.  you don't even know it is happening. 


This Is Africa

TIA  - its something expats say to each other - jargon in a club whose members have spent time in the trenches and seen too much

but its something else also

something more sinister - its a moral escape route - its a little arrow leading to the back door - its a welcome familiar exit sign that lets you leave personal responsibility behind

its the hand that flips the channel before you even think about it
its the eye that scans the headlines and then turns the page
its the check you write in a moment when the shock actually registered
its the salve you put on a moral wound you didn't even know was there

because somehow the very people that fought the hardest for people to "see" to "care about" to "know" Africa are the very people that have unknowingly created this other planet - these images, these stereotypes, this pathos, that somehow allows you to shut off because it is SO far removed from your reality

I'm not articulating it right.  I know what I want to say and can't get it across. 

Everyone thinks something a little bit different when they think of "Africa" but everyone is also still thinking "Africa"

Africans themselves are fiercely proud of their cultures, their lineage, they celebrate and spill blood over their differences.  they are insulted when the West thinks famine, poverty, dictators, corruption, civil war, limbs being hacked off, genocide, safaris. 

somehow because it is in "Africa"  we don't connect to it.  Somehow it is so far removed that it is not our problem.  We may as well be broadcasting photos of people dying on the moon. 

And I understand.  I have been there.  I am still there sometimes. 

it isn't your fault this is what you see when you think of malnutrition, when you think of famine, when you think of the problems of Africa. 

But although "Africa" may not need saving, and even if it did, only "Africans" can save "Africa" if we could just get out of their way, even though all of that may be true -

this picture is STILL your problem

but how can you connect to something so far removed from your daily life, so far removed from anything you have seen or touched or felt or experienced?

and if I do manage to move you, to touch your heart, to make you want to reach through your computer screen and take this child home - what then?  what can you ACTUALLY do about it? 

This is Marie

I called her an "it" tonight.  a Freudian slip perhaps or maybe I am still disconnecting even when its in front of me -

4 Kilos   3 years old

its the worst I've ever seen

it represents every selfish decision ever made, every act of arrogance, every effect of greed, the collective of indifference, apathy, zealotry, and failed policy

it represents a world in which everything is broken
in which there are few to no viable bridges in which we that are fat can reach out a hand and lift up this child

a world in which the food in your garbage cannot possibly be given in a way that would make a difference

a world in which the few have too much and the many have too little

a world that is so horrific that few are brave enough to look it in the face and instead largely unknowingly create their own home, their own planet, their own routine, their own family, culture, legacy

we all create our universes according to our exposures 

but how can we be content in a world where this picture is possible

she hasn't eaten or drank anything for a week.  She has been sick with dysentery at home for 3 months. 

she has never walked

she has never lifted her own head

her hands are slowly batting away water, slowly brushing away flies

her fontanel and eye sockets are sallow and sunken

her eyes keep rolling back in her head

her limbs are cool and limp

I bolused her with Ringers, put her on IV quinine, de-wormed her, mixed up Oral rehydration salts and hit up Bronwyn for some nutritious bouille, put an NGT down, left strict pleas that it be given every 2 hours on night shift - gave it myself every hour -

and i don't want to say anything this time

because yesterday, i did.  i said to Bronwyn, see this child - these are the ones that disapper - these are the ones that are so malnourished, that lay there and cry weakly, these are the ones i think we can save, and these are the ones that disappear - the ones where i come to work and the bed is empty

and she did.  bed 5 disappeared.  just like that. 

and then ten minutes after I got to work - bed 9 was dead - malnutrition, dehydration, malaria, anemia, parasites - all rolled into one

too little too late, bolused, transfused, started having convulsions, night nurse gave diazepam, day nurse gave ceftriaxone

ten minutes after i got to work, the screaming began, the IV was taken out, the medicines exchanged for money, the face covered, the family staggered into oblivion


your gone


your dead


a life


the last puff

see this picture

I'm not going to lie - I was trying to shock you too - just rephrase it a little differently -

did it work? 

can we cut through the shock into action?  turn off the neon emotional exit signs?  face the arrow inward instead of outward? 

say "no vacancy" to apathy?

can this child in this time, at this moment make you want to pick up a pen, get on the phone, board the airplane, do something, ANYTHING to diminish the suffering of just one human?

so, what can you do?

can pour your resources into a channel that feeds them DIRECTLY to the child

you can donate to Olen and Danae - who constantly pay for children that otherwise would die
you can give it to Gary and Wendy - who are opening a malnutrition center in the next month that will save lives exactly like those of this child
you can give it to Tammy Parker - who works tirelessly getting to the bottom of every sob story, sifting the truth from the lies, helping the ones that truly need it, giving formula to babies whose mother's are dead, putting orphans in school, bringing sacks of food to the starving, making bouille in her kitchen

or you can come

and see

and be changed

because all of us prove that you don't need to be anyone special to touch someone's life

you don't need to be perfect

you don't need a specific skill set

you don't even need to come for the right motives

you just have to go.

4 kilos

3 years old

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