Among the hallucinations
Finally start feeling some strength in my body, not feeling like vomiting, and the shaking of my body finally stopped. “Finally. It’s about time.” I murmured, yet having enough strength to curse at whatever the left-over of half-dead parasites in my veins.
A little souvenir from Southern Sudan, spending a couple of weeks in the bush, waiting for the chance to photograph LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) solders and their leaders. After all the waiting, sleeping in a mud hut, battling mosquito, eating SPLA solders’ rations (beans and rice, very nice of them that they shared a little they had), I got a few photos of them, and a brief interview with Vincent Otti, the no 2, not Joseph Cony, the head honcho. In one of sweaty and miserable nights, in between the hallucinations, I was wondering, “Was it worth it?”
I was also having repeated flash backs of the memory from more than a decade ago, when I first got the glimpse of the horror of this disease. I was in a dingy room with a single cot, standing in front of a skeleton of man. He was dying. I asked a nurse at the hospital in Phnom Pehn what he is dying for and if there is anything they can do for him. He was dying from malaria and its complications, and there is nothing they can do for him. It’s just too late. “We don’t have enough medicine. Please tell your people we need more medicine,” said the doctor who was showing me the place around. I promised him that I will. There wasn’t enough beds, doctors and nurses, not enough of everything, familiar sites for me now since I started working in Congo. Smell of sickness, open wounds and death saturated the whole place, and it was making me nauseous. Then I woke up from the dream feeling nauseous, making me rush to a bathroom and hug my toilet.
That man could live, go back to his wife, kids and fields if he could have a handful of one of those pills, but he was one of unlucky ones, one of many, one of majority. Malaria, the biggest killer in impoverished countries.
Every time I think of that dying man, the sense of guilt grips me because I didn’t keep my promise to that nice Cambodian doctor. Photographs I took at that hospital that day never got published. I showed photos and told stories to friends and colleagues, but could not find the way to get them published. I was too young and inexperienced. I just quitted my first full-time job as a newspaper photographer in less than a year. I was in between, thinking what to do next. A friend told me that I should go to Cambodia for a while because he knows someone there who works for one of wire agencies and he might be able to use my help. I was green, very green.
Thirteen years since, I see the same thing here in Congo. Hospitals with not enough medicine, beds, doctors, if there is a hospital at all. To my comfort, I have learned my business a little better (although not enough because I am hardly scraping by) and often find the way to get my images to be seen by someone or somewhere. (check out Weekly Asahi this week if you happen to be in Japan. They are running my Congo photos with texts J But it’s not very easy to find someone who is willing to publish images from Africa). Ok. So would that erase, or at least ease my sense of guilt from that day? Well, probably not. I don’t think it would ever go away, and it probably should stay with me for the rest of my career. It would help me motivate and push, keep me going. It’s like my closest friend.
That day at the hospital, I wish I were more experienced and prepared so I could keep my promise to that nice doctor. But I wasn’t. Then do I wish that I never went there that day? Well. No. Because I learned a valuable lesson from the experience, and it still lives with me to this day. I hope that man found the peace in his resting place. I hope some photojournalists more experienced and matured visited that hospital and got the photos and words out, and they received more medicine and saved more lives.