** Four new photo's added of the journey to Wajir. The photo above was taken in Ethiopia, days before our journey into the "Triangle of Death" described below.
The idea of hunger is nearly impossible to grasp. Hunger is being an hour out from Burlington on I-70 and obsessing for the next 72 miles on the impossible choice between Cheetos or Rye Crisps. Hunger is more akin to boredom than crisis for us. An inconvenience, a blip on our radar of mostly harmless afflictions that preoccupy the American spare tiredom of today. This morning, as I was in line for my tea at the local coffee shop I noticed a photo of the Somali boy on the cover of the Seattle Times. I looked away immediately, then looked back. Like walking by a dead bird on the sidewalk. Initially, I was disgusted. Sunken wide eyes and jutting teeth on a skull covered in drum tight copper black skin. As the barista placed my drink before me on the counter the disgust shifted inward. I looked again with empathy. I paid $4.08 for less than a pint of flavored milk and walked to a table thinking of my very brief experience in the "triangle of death"... Disgust, guilt, desperation. Misguided emotions? Absolutely. There is nothing we can do to save this child. Whether he is dead now or lives and ends up the next Achak Deng is outside our control. That, however, doesn't make it OK to shift our eyes away as I did earlier.
Hagadera Refugee Camp is about 120 miles south of Wajir, just across the Kenyan border with Somalia. Kori and I traveled through Wajir in transit from Ethiopia to Nairobi in early 2009. We had hitched a ride on a lorry convoy transporting grain, cattle and Southern Sudanese refugees. I could only imagine how terrible things were in the south of Sudan if all of these people were heading into Wajir on purpose. Picture red dirt and driving dust. Bare scratching tree's, ant hills and dry, dry heat. From the border of Ethiopia down, we seemed to be heading further into desperation. Much of this journey was through the night. I recall staring forward through the kicked up dust at the tailgate of the lead truck, the brake lights illuminating the eyes of crowded steer in the bed and Sudanese men and boys balancing on rafters above.
We stopped for maintenance in a village somewhere past Buna. The sun was rising, the heat of the day was already stifling. We were welcomed into a hut by a man who spoke some English. They sat us down and presented us with hot cokes and asked us for any medicine we had. A elderly man who must have been a chief sat in the smoky room and offered us food, biscuits and other drinks. We drank our boiling cokes outside and took in the surroundings. The homes were constructed of mud, branches and reused USAID metal boxes. USAID boxes were everywhere. Picture an oversized square Folger's can, easiler pliable. Such a vessel is very handy in a land that provides nothing. They were walls, livestock bins, wind guards, seats and tables. The USAID logo was as much part of the village's landscape as Starbucks is in Seattle.
Kids were kicking around a make shift soccer ball formed of bound plastic wrappings, likely from aid shipments. People were walking by and checking us out. Everyone was thin, some were emaciated. I have an image of this baby playing in the dirt. Grabbing handfuls of red dust and throwing it, wiping it on her legs and repeating. This may seem difficult to comprehend, but even inside the huts there were no floors. If you were to sit down, or put your baby on the ground, it would be on dirt. In a setting like this there is not place for worrying about getting dirty and no room for us to be angry at the mother of that child for placing her infant in the middle of the road. Worry's carry far more gravity here. Will the well be dry tomorrow? Will the "Mazunga's" drop more shiny cans with food? If they do, will the chiefs' horde the food or spread it among the people? How many of that woman's children will die this year? Its that bad.
When grappling with the concept of hunger, consider what the people of southern Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya are dealing with day to day. Look at your child and imagine if you had to force them to skip just one meal. One day of meals. Two weeks of eating. Imagine your faucet's turned off, no A/C, no chairs. 120 degree heat, flys. Imagine looking into the eyes of your daughter, your brother or neighbor and genuinely wondering if they are going to die today. Imagine not having the energy yourself to even pick them up. Imagine all of these things happening around you and still going forward with the will to smile.
I was reminded today that shifting my eyes away from that image of a living skeleton is far more than inhumane, its a disservice to myself. Even in the worst of times, we live in abundance. If I were reminded of that more often, I would likely start each day with a wider smile and fervent want to enjoy each passing hour as if I am lucky to have it.
This clip was taken from the train pulling into Delhi. The same scene went on for over an hour, miles and miles. The track seemed to act as lifeline, like people living along a river. The same can be seen outside of Calcutta, Mumbai and I imagine many of Indian's largest cities. Pause the video an any time and you will that they are made of garbage and rusted sheet metal, sometimes stacked three stories high.