Stick insects shuffle over the horizon. Now, in the middle distance, the camera seeks out human degradation and despair.
Mercilessly, it focuses on the walking skeletons who have trudged for five days in search of the fundamental necessities of existence.
Three days will pass before the survivors reach the river and the aid camps. The magic eye homes in as a man removes the dead baby from a woman’s flaccid breast. Her eyes cannot follow him as he limps to the growing pile of dead bodies.
Stumbling with weakness he trips, drops the wizened infant with its never lived-in face. It lies, crumpled like an empty, discarded puppet in a forgotten toybox. The camera pans in on a man, supporting his wife with all his remaining strength. In despair and anguish he squeezes a maggot from the weeping sore at her elbow, tries to push it into her mouth. Resignedly shaking her head, she slides to the ground, exposing a concave, naked belly; etching their unborn child onto the worlds’ stage. She does not rise.
A woman sits at her desk, ready to begin her gruelling eighteen-hour day. The city, far below, hums with workers, scurrying antlike, to complete their tasks before the fierce midday sun puts paid to toil.
Slowly, she pours water from the cooler, giving heartfelt thanks for its gift of life. Having allowed herself five minutes for contemplation, she closes her eyes. "Grant me wisdom, that I make correct choices. Grant me dignity that I may face the Official, with courage today."
She repeats her daily affirmation. "In the beginning was the seed; it was good; it grew into a tree,a sustainer of life. Let there be receptive ears to hear my pleas. Let trees be planted in abundance" The secretary enters, curious about the woman’s flagless energy; the telephone rings. Their eighteen hour day has begun.
"What was it like in South America Maathai?"
"The women were sceptical. I explained how trees attract moisture, give us oxygen, provide shade, food, fire and shelter. They have agreed to plant. We will supply the trees."
In the full heat of noon Maathai waits outside the officials hut.
She knows he will not offer water; that The President will not offer hope. Inside now, Maathai takes the bottle of water from her bag and drinks. The Official waits, fidgeting; embarrassed. She is very slender, appears fragile. He knows better.
"The President is sorry Maathai, it is not possible, this year, to allow the planting of trees. It is… difficult…"
Shifting, he avoids her steady gaze.
"For our economy we must have money. The only way to earn it is to sell what the rest of the world desires. Perhaps tobacco; cannabis; coffee; opium. That is what will be planted. Another year…perhaps trees"
Now he is speaking to her graceful back as, with quiet dignity, she leaves. Rubbing tired eyes, he sees their childhood, two children starving in the dust. Now his two boys must be educated, his wife is often ill. There is no choice but to do his work.
It is more than his job’s worth to bend the rules.
Wangari Maathai plants trees. All over the world she faces governments; even prison. Now she has a university degree and professorship and dedicates her life to planting trees. The world needs millions of trees in order to breathe. People do not survive on handouts. Although greatly appreciated, they are the short time assistance. Humanity needs its own space in an environment which it has created, and which it can sustain. Trees give that long term solution. Along with their sustenance, clean water and a plot to grow vegetables, some cereal and a few hens - why are these treasures denied to our brothers.
© 2007 By Gladys Taylor