What we hear is the sound of metal scraping metal. It was that deliberate, unsettling sound that echoed across the compound of this remote village in Luangwa District, Zambia and drew me to discover its source. What we see is a three year old boy scavenging for every morsel of charred and hardened cornmeal leftover from his neighbor’s cookware in a vain attempt to quell his hunger.
As I frame this stark picture I’m reminded of an occasion when I myself scraped a bowl with such vigor. I’m reminded of the times growing up when my mom made cake or chocolate chip cookies and I relished the sweet remains in the mixing bowl as the batter baked in the oven and the sweet aroma filled the house. The comparison of pleasant childhood memories and the dismal situation before me is a vicious reminder of the reality at hand, the reality of plenty vs. want, of want vs. survival. I’ve never stood so closely to the divide before.
After I film the scene I enquire more into Mika’s background. “Doesn’t he at least have something to eat other than these scraps?” The picture becomes more bleak. Late last year Mika’s father was out farming in his field when he was trampled by an elephant. He didn’t survive the encounter. In one moment Mika lost both his father and his family’s primary source of income. This year, as a horrible drought rages and the entire community faces food shortages, Mika’s mother, now as a widow, has become one of the least likely to succeed over the odds. So often the family simply doesn’t eat. As a sign of the times, the kindness of neighbors in this hospitable Zambian village has dwindled to the mere leftover scraps of bland cornmeal porridge.
I had not come to this village to capture such a shocking scene. I didn’t even feel right filming it. Knowing that a harvest was not received this year, I thought I’d come to this village before it had gotten to this point. Sure, I gave my lunch to Mika that day. But what has he done every day since then, and what will he do in the days to come? How many other children are out there scavenging as they wait for the rains to fall?