Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Vultures

Two pairs of black eyes stare at me from behind the rock. As I look back, I see no escape. Miles and miles of golden sand, stretched as far as the imagination allowed and beyond. No wet, no green.

Hungry, desperate eyes. I look into their depths and read one message – survival.

Trapped. I have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

I relent. Holding out one hand with a smile that I hope will allay their fears I beckon them with the other, and wait patiently as they approach. They are hesitant, but hunger, youthful innocence and curiosity quickly overcome their initial apprehension at what to them must resemble an alien from outer space.

That was the last of my Cadburys. Melted, no doubt, but still chocolate. My only sustenance, my last link to comfort and security in this God-forsaken wilderness. As I walk towards the Land Rover I turn back and see a little girl, mouth full, giggle with pleasure as she offers a bite of the divine luxury to her tiny brother.

I feel comforted and saddened at the same time. Elated, yet depressed. It is our last day here and I am glad. I am glad because I know that we will win, because I know that our picture, my picture will be the best. I have followed my dreams, lived my dreams, I have won the biggest game of all.

Being the best in a man's world.

Chira says I look like hell. He does, too. Everyone does. Seeing it all with your own eyes, living here, even for a week...

It is not the same thing, seeing it in Newsweek, sipping morning tea and watching Ellen DeGeneres doling out cruise trips to Timbuktu. But it is impossible, I know, for even the stoniest hearts to refuse to melt at the image.

Stripped of embellishment, devoid of colour or drama, hauntingly transparent in its meaning.

 A little boy crouches in the sand, head down, hands clasped together in unintentional prayer, motionless.

But he is not dead, not yet. The vulture remains perched on the rock beside him, waiting patiently, hungrily, for the moment to arrive.

Sometimes, photography is like trying to catch lightning in your hands...if you miss the moment it is gone, forever. Every photographer gets one such chance in life, one such chance to capture true magic...

 And I did.

I told myself at the end of the first day, that I would never return...that success, awards, glory, fame- nothing was worth returning to see it all again...such desolation, such misery, such wretched beings that somehow seemed to me less than human.  

But now I know.

I will come back.

I feel a strange lightness, a feeling of otherworldliness as I realize and am humbled by the experience. It is my soul crying with the joy of liberation.

I look at my picture with a new sense of awareness...it is spiritual, almost an epiphany. I suddenly notice that it is the same rock where I saw the children hiding a short while ago. Perhaps it is the same boy...perhaps not.

I recall those eyes...

In this barren desert, with its wide open spaces I feel suffocated, claustrophobic. Life, as we know it, here is meaningless, empty, save for that one emotion I see, again and again, wherever I look...and yet it is not emotion, for isn't emotion experienced by humans alone?

Survival of the fittest.

The vultures have left but hunger- no, greed will bring them back again...

And again. And again, and again, and again...

And always, they will win.

Inspired by Kevin Carter’s photograph of “The Vulture And The Child”

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