Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Red Sweater Kid

I stood on the perimeter of the group, choosing to watch rather than to participate in what was unfolding before me. It had some semblance of chaos, with kids running around yelling and screaming as kids often do, and the adults trying to rein in their excitement. My choice had some merit, since I was the one with the camera and I felt most comfortable seeing things through a lens of some sort. It offered a measure of detachment and emotional protection…or so I thought.

It was hot and dry and dusty. The ride in the car took us from the calm of our hotel, through the chaos of traffic in Eldoret where lanes seemed like suggestions and traffic lights often ignored. In addition to trucks spewing diesel smoke one also had to be on the lookout for various bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, cows and goats. On the fringes of the city the pavement gave way to gravel and then dirt, and finally two red ruts bouncing us into the clearing on the edge of Kambi Teso, a collection of mud and dung huts forming one of the many slums that is home to thousands. The rusted metal roofs blended with the red dirt, mud and dust to give the scene an eerie sepia feel.

It is one of the weekday lunches that is part of the orphanage’s feeding program for the children of Kambi Teso. For many this is their only meal. Technically these are not orphans, but for most the family situation is strained at best and in some cases riddled with drug abuse and despair. I watched the kids fidget about as the leaders got their attention to perhaps sing a song or hear a story. Our presence was a cause for excitement and many looked at us with a child’s innocent curiosity.

Occasionally one or another child would find an adult willing to pick them up and hold them. I took their picture, and it began to touch me deeply. One does not find something like this in the USA. We may have poverty, but nothing like this…nothing even close to this. I kept busy with my camera, but one little boy in a tattered red sweater made his way towards me. I tried to avoid eye contact, but then I felt two outstretched arms reach up and touch me. I took more pictures.

Questions boiled up in my mind. Dare I do this? What gives me the right to allow some connection to form between this boy and me? I will be here for a few hours, and then I will leave while this child has no choice but to remain in whatever circumstances are his. Where is the justice in this?

Other questions came over me. How clean is this kid? He certainly has not bathed in who knows how long. I looked down on his earnest face, caked with dirt and snot running down his upper lip. The brief feeling of revulsion gave way to profound sorrow and it took a herculean effort to keep from losing whatever composure remained in me. I reached down and held his hand as I walked to another vantage point for more photographs.

The hand was not enough. He stepped in front of me, arms outstretched up to me…insisting…imploring. I threw my camera strap over my shoulder, bent down and picked him up. Something released in me as a huge lump rose in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes. I looked away so no one would see.

My reaction even surprised me, and finally a peace came over me as we walked closer to the crowd. It no longer mattered what filth or parasite was carried. I don’t think he even knew from where we came, or if he knew anything at all beyond the red hills surrounding the slums. What did matter…and still matters now as I write, is that a human connection was made. It doesn’t matter how long or how deep it was. What was important was that I did pick him up. It established him as another being, with value and presence in this, what we call the great cosmos.

I often wonder what became of him, or what life has in store for the thousands like him.


(If you want to see more photos and thoughts of my trip to Africa, here is the link to a separate blog: )

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Green Energy or Visual Pollution?

Last week I drove to the Yakima valley in south-central Washington to visit a potential project.  Although the trip was work-related I seldom travel without my camera and I have no qualms over stopping at an unusual sight or interesting vista.  It had been some time since I traversed Satus Pass on Highway 97, so you will forgive my surprise as I saw all of the wind turbines planted on the hills. 

This has always been one of my favorite drives and I love the velvet-covered rolling hills on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  I was not prepared for that vista to be peppered with a crop of wind turbines sprouting out of the verdant hills...and quite honestly not so sure I liked it.  Please bear in mind I am very much in favor of green technologies and philosophically agree with the development of wind power wherever possible.  However, I am also very nature-minded and do not like to see beautiful scenery visually polluted with objects that really do not fit in.

So therein lies my quandary...and I don't have the answer.  I will toss the question back to you, dear reader.  I would love to know what you think.  You can leave your 2 cents' worth (or more if you want) in the comments below.  Don't be shy.

Of course, Washington isn't alone in developing wind power.  As I drove south (on my way home) towards the Columbia River, one can also see various wind turbine farms across the river in Oregon. 

This was taken from a point on Highway 14, near the town of Biggs, Washington.  Across the Columbia River is Interstate 84 curving along the base of the basalt cliffs.
Biggs Junction is a major switchyard for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.  Looking down from my vantage it looks like a model railroader's dream
This probably should have been the first photo.  It is sunrise taken while hurtling down the Interstate at 70 mph or so.  It's nice having an automatic camera...though I must admit it took a few tries. 

Remember...let me know what you think.