A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Pt 2

There are children everywhere. More than half of the 60 000 refugees who have flooded into this camp in recent weeks are children. Some have come alone; some as young as five.

They scamper after us. Intrigued by the camera crew – the videographer is tall, towers above the rest of us, he wears a panama which elevates his presence further. He engages with the children with grace, stooping to their height when he speaks to them. They trail him excitedly; a Pied Piper line straggled behind him.

Later he instructs me on how to interview two small boys to camera.

Stick to my side, he says, so that they don’t need to work to watch your face.

And get down, he urges, get down to your knees so that you are level with their faces. I sink and kneel on red dust and begin my questioning.

This is the hardest bit. Untangling untold trauma. I battle to maintain professional dry-eyed poise when they tell me about the loss of their parents, murdered by militia.

I struggle almost as much when they tell about their aspirations, to be doctors, teachers, journalists, to go to London, New York, to see the world.

I expected to fight tears as they recounted nightmares. I didn’t expect to have to do so when they told me of their dreams.

I say to the crew, ‘that’s enough now, they’ve done well, that’s enough now’.

Where is this resilience grown? I see it in smiles and hear in voices that question me in Kiswahili, French, English as the children try to find some common ground to connect. I watch it in toys they have fashioned from nothing: a truck created from wire with little wooden wheels, ‘did you make that?’ I ask the child towing it. He nods bashfully.  It’s a perfect piece of engineering, observed to tiniest detail. A little boy, his hair patchy and his scalp scaled from malnutrition, clutches an almost perfectly round football made from paper and string. Another holds a kite cast of scraps of plastic sheeting. When the wind tosses it skywards, his head tips back and he laughs up into the blue.

Where is this resilience born? And what sustains it in the face of such horror?

We interview a young mother. Her toddler objects to our intrusion and howls. The crew tells me that sometimes long lenses frighten small children – for they prompt terrifying recent memories of the barrels of brandished guns. The mother is torn, needing to tell her story and wanting to shush her child. A little girl of 8 or 9 steps calmly in and scoops the crying baby up. He is hushed immediately. I turn to motion thanks and she smiles, a beatific smile, white, white teeth, a smile that touches her eyes. I give her a thumbs up and mouth, ‘asante’. She returns the gesture.  And I smile back.

But inside I weep.

10 Responses to “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Pt 2”

  1. Ad dy Says:

    You are not the only one weeping – that is one very vivid description of the suffering and the resilience to survive. It would be hard NOT to be affected.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      yes, impossible not to be affected – by both the harrowing and the heartening – that took me by surprise, the heartening.

  2. iotamanhattan Says:

    I’ve followed your blog for years, and know of some of the ups and downs of your writing, and the isolation of living in Africa, and the frustration of feeling purposeless. Well, I feel this is your moment. This… this… is where it has all been pointing. You are the perfect person to write whatever it is you’ve been appointed to write. Here we are… This is it…

    For such a moment as this, you’ve waited and blogged and waited some more.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you iota. i hope so. they’ve asked when i could be available for more. and for how long. and where i’d be prepared to go … so i hope so x

  3. Hannah Brewer (@MuddlingAlong) Says:

    This is incredible writing – you aren’t a fraud, you aren’t a fake, you are a writer and you have written wonderful powerful words

  4. chris Says:

    I second Hannahs comment. Always look foward to your posts Thank you.

  5. daisyfae Says:

    Everything you’ve done seems to have led you to a place where you need to be. Compelling, as always.

  6. Was Living Down Under Says:

    Your words have painted a thousand pictures.

    Somehow it is the heartening that evokes more emotion than the harrowing – I wonder if it is because it is less expected or perhaps because it is so pure – children’s thoughts and dreams.

    This is your moment – fly high, with no fear.

  7. Kit Says:

    Beautiful description, all in the details – I agree with the others, that this is maybe where your long path has been leading for now and who knows what else in the future. You’re telling the story so that we can feel it, even after having been de-sensitised by so many news stories. And I think that’s where writing can have the advantage over images – we’ve seen so many that we blink them away to protect ourselves, while people stories sneak past that barricade.

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