The following encounter happened over 400 days ago but it was only recently that I found myself capable of talking about it. I had first talked about it on Thursday the 27th of September, 2012 and first wrote about it yesterday. Here it is.
26th of July, 2011. It was my first day in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, and I decided to go for a walk.
Antananarivo, or Tana, is characterized by the architecture of its buildings, the product of its African, Asian and European heritage, by its steep sun-baked hills and, of course, by the very mixture of cultures that can be seen on its people’s faces.
But despite being a tourist attraction, Tana carries within it a deep burden, long hidden beneath its scars. It is slowly recovering from decades and centuries of pillage and destruction from both foreign and local Men and has put itself the task of overcoming the damage caused by the slow passing of misery-infested time.
Being well-read in Socialist literature, I quickly noticed the obvious disparity that existed between the rich and the poor. The rich Man, either part of the local minority or a foreigner, distinguishes Himself from the poor Man by the simple fact that He is wearing actual clothes; the poor Man is wearing what clothes would look like after centuries of pain and suffering.
I then saw a five-stars hotel with shiny glass walls in the midst of half-built houses and half-dead Men so, naturally, I walked towards it.
Barely a few seconds later, I stopped and looked at what was behind the building.
Three children, all below ten years of age, were shoulder-deep in the garbage behind the building, searching for whatever food was left behind. I hurried towards them to get them out but soon stopped.
Another child was standing behind the garbage, looking at me. His eyes were empty, blank and his hair filled with dirt and mud. The holes in the cloth covering his body looked as if they were created by termites. His hands were frail and his legs skinny.
I couldn’t move. I just looked at him. I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him.
The child took a step towards me and still I couldn’t move. He looked at me with empty eyes and opened his mouth and still I couldn’t move. He closed it and then opened it again and still I couldn’t move. He was hungry, he was thirsty but I did not move.
I looked at the child without saying anything. My body was paralyzed, I had nowhere to go. Whatever identity I had built got lost and whatever plans I had for my future were, at that very moment, destroyed. The bubbles I had created for myself were gone forever.
The slight change of wind velocity seemed to affect his balance so the child ended up sitting on the floor in front of me with his head tilted towards the sky, and then towards me.
I wanted to extend my hand but didn’t. I wanted to carry him, to hug him, to feed him, but didn’t. My eyes were fixed on his when I realized that I was weeping.
I don’t remember taking a single breath. I don’t recall my own thoughts. I don’t know how long I stood there, looking deep into the child’s eyes. My memory is distorted by fear and angst.
But I must have been standing there for a long time for someone to come and walk me back to my hotel. I don’t even remember the walk. I only remember thanking the stranger and walking back up to my room.
The next day, I walked down that same path when I met the stranger in front of the hotel. I asked about the child and he looked at me with heavy, sad eyes.
“L’enfant est mort,” the stranger told me. The child is dead.
Monday, October the 8th 2012.
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