What does this image mean?
What does it represent? Just stare at it a while and genuinely think what images, thoughts and feelings it alights.
No don’t worry this is no oxfam -
‘10 children will have died by the time you’ve seen half of this, thought bugger that, got a cuppa and updated your facebook with ‘don’t really give a fuck’
I’m not on a patronising holier than thou, BUT THIINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!, save the whales, make love to the trees, get a free tibet with every full price BigMac rant. I know, I know but honest this time I’m not!
It just so happens that this week(night) I has mostly been thinking about…imagining the unimaginable. This image is one such unimaginable image for me. On this occasion the image happens to come from the current Somali drought and famine in the horn of Africa. Its unimaginable as I have no idea what it must feel like to be that child. It is an image of an alien world and an alien life to me, and for that reason I wanna explore what that means psychologically.
It just so happens to be an image of yet another black kid starving to death, dieing of diarrhea and a fever, possibly malaria. His mother has been carrying him for 3 weeks across the desert without water or shelter.He’s lucky he doesn’t have AIDS to add to that morbid list of human atrocities. However I doubt that would provide much solace for him or his mother.
I call it a list of atrocities because everything on it is preventable by some very minor human actions on a macro level. We all know this and so I’m not going into it. We have all seen the adverts reminding us what our £20 donation could do for a child like the one in the picture. Most of us are aware that our governments create the economic conditions that produce famines and droughts even in the 21st century around the world. Yet we more often than not don’t really think too much about any of it, and its even rarer we actually think twice to put our hand in our wallet or want to help out in some way.
What happens when you look at that picture now when I tell you that his name is Jamal, he is 3 years old, born premature as his mother was severely undernourished and until now has struggled and survived, past the age of 2 of his previous siblings. In his 3 years on this earth he has learnt to say ‘mummy’ in Somali, however because he is so malnourished, his brain has not had a chance to develop at the speed it should, nor have his legs and he has never been able to stand on his own two legs. His mother has been told she is now infertile and so Jamal is to be her last surviving child. Jamal’s mother has single handedly carried him for 3 weeks across drought ridden Somalia, however thus far they have not found one drop of water to fill their empty water containers. When the picture was taken, Jamal and his mother had just arrived at a UN refugee camp in Kenya and Jamal started to receive some treatment along with 100,000 other malnourished children. He was used in a Save The Children add last month at the beginning of a massive ad campaign to raise money for the drought.
However since last month and the ad campaign, it has been reported that Malaria soon set hold of Jamal and under excruciating circumstances, MSF doctors could do nothing to save him from his inevitable early death, leaving his malnourished widowed mother, childless and in morning, waiting for her inevitable early death too, as a stranger in a mass camp of the starving and dieing in a country foreign to her own. Her fate is not that unlike many of the victims of the Holocaust in Europe. She too did nothing to deserve her fate or that of her child Jamal, yet she too will just have to put up with it as the rest of us stand by and inevitably do too little, too late to save her or Jamal.
Or you could save a child like Jamal now…
Your donation of £15 a month to Save the Chil…..
That’s how the ads go these days isn’t it? That how they desperately try to get you to associate with those pictures. Link in your empathy with a world so far removed fro our own.
By the way before you all call me a prick for ruining your day, that first picture isn’t Jamal. Its just a picture that comes up when you type in ‘Somalia famine 2011’ into google images, and Jamal is the first name you get when you type in ‘Somali common names’. Yeah ok I’m a bit of a dick to make up such a heartbreaking story and yeah i suppose it is a bit patronising to make something up then go “HAH FUCKING HAH I JUST PLAYED WITH YOUR EMOTIONS!”, but overlooking that part of the made up story, there is a point I’m getting at. I promise.
I can only speak for myself, but when I first look at that image of the wee starving kid, it doesn’t really shock me at first. I’m sure if we got all scientific about it, if detectors were attached to my eyes and sweat glands, there wouldn’t be much reaction, which I’m assured by the ‘People That Know Such Things’, that means I don’t have much emotional reaction to it. I kind of categorize it in the ‘another image of a starving African kid’ section of my brain, and subconsciously prepare all the muscles needed in my face needed to properly cringe at the anticipation of Pope Geldof and our Royal Supreme Overload Bono appearing on tellys across the nation…coincidentally coinciding with a new U2 album release aptly named ‘Do They Know How Much My Sunglasses Cost?’. (In years to come children of the future will no longer debate over which came first, the chicken or the egg - instead they shall debate long into the night about what came first? The African famine, or the Boom Town Rats record sales.)
Anyway, it is not until I see an advert or a news report or documentary that tells me the story of Jamal and his mother, only then to I begin to think about reaching for my wallet. Until then I knew that famine was a bad thing and that bad stuff was happening somewhere in the world, but it is almost as if we are completely desensitised to words like famine, and statistics like ‘half a million people are caught up in a drought’. Just like we are kind of desensitised to images like the ones above. They provoke some reaction but not enough to actually be bothered much by them. This isn’t true for everyone of course. Millions have donated and many commit time to volunteering and working in such areas. But a lot of people, like me so far, haven’t done a fecking thing. Routinely, stories of individual celeb lives and deaths get far more air time and create far more chat than the story of the slow deaths of thousands.
The story of Jamal may be made up, but it is a story that is being played out en mass by the thousands right now, today, this very minute. Yet why do I have to depress myself to the point of crying over Jamal’s personal tragedy before I try to help? Surely when the word famine is used, we should all be so shocked that we all rush to do what we can do? I mean by definition famine means thousands of people are starving - dieing because they literally cannot find enough food or water to consume, day after day for their livestock, themselves or their children. These people are actually spending months and years of complete despair watching everything they know die until they themselves die too, often alone with nothing and no-one to remember them or keep their family line alive. That is the actual definition of famine, any famine, all fucking famines! Why should I need to hear about goddamned Jamal before I realise that which I already know? Only then am I maybe shocked enough for it to challenge my actions and the way I see the world.
Maybe its a genetic thing whereby we have not developed the emotional capacity to take in such large scale human atrocities and so instead we fill out minds with the gossip of high flyers and their tittle tattle instead.
From now on though, I am going to make a conscious effort to be more aware of the information that is fed to me on a daily basis. When I watch the news, I should be shocked and maybe sometimes brought to tears by what I see. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I shouldn’t be so desensitised that I need bullshit sob stories to place meaning on the events of the world around me. Maybe if when I watch the news and view the world around me on a day to day basis and actually take on board what I emotionally feel about what I see, I won’t be so cut off from the world and humanity we are all apart of. Not so much will I be one of the ones who stand by and spectate with a cuppa in hand as millions suffer needlessly around me. Maybe it will remind me that I can, no, must do something, with my life that takes into account the well-being and suffering of others around me that I can in some small way improve…if I want to.
If I want to imagine the unimaginable image.