Sweltering African heat scorched Robert Jamison’s face as he leaped from the truck. His European team and a native guide quickly followed.
The humid air was thicker than the small band of villagers who had come to greet them. Jamison glanced from face to face, noting a shared look of distrust. Still, as the truck had approached, curiosity replaced general apathy among the onlookers. They had gathered around the vehicle, frail men with sunken eyes, naked children boldly patting Jamison’s pockets for treats, women holding infants, stomachs distended, flies swarming in and out of encrusted nostrils. They came because they had nothing else to do as the sun baked their bodies and seared their emotions.
This small African village near the Togo Coast was once infamous as a bustling exchange point for slave traders. What had begun as a means to profit from the sale of rival warring tribal prisoners in the 1700’s devolved into abhorrent raids and violent kidnappings until almost nothing remained of the once dense population.
Most native men had long since fallen victim to tribal violence. Their ancestors were contending with even more insidious enemies. HIV Aids and malaria. The stench of death permeated the encampment while hordes of orphaned children bore evidence to the reality of incurable disease.
Who was this tall, pale stranger appearing to be the leader of the truck clan? Why had he ventured into their indigence, invading their lethargy? As the rear gate of the truck was dropped, many wondered if the team was there to offer food or medicine. Medical mission teams came in prior years bringing nets, anti-malaria potions, clean water, foods and a message of the Messiah Jesus. Could this be another mission to share tangible relief and hearts of hope? Anticipation mounted and eyes widened as the team began pulling heavy cargo boxes from the vehicle.
A thin boy, barely 5’ emerging from the crowd, immediately set to work offloading the truck. Signaling his approval to his men, Jamison quickly dubbed him Bo and motioned for him to help balance a large crate.
Unknown to Robert Jamison, 11 year old Bo was the head of his household. With the survival of three younger orphaned siblings hanging in the balance, Bo hustled to impress the truck clan hoping to secure something of nutritional value for his family.
Having never learned to read, Bo’s eyes landed on a crate’s unintelligible letters, “Media”. His face wrinkled in puzzlement as unfamiliar equipment was unpacked…television cameras, cables, microphones. How could such strange devices benefit his little settlement? What could they possibly offer for empty stomachs and sickly bodies?
Uncertain but hopeful, Bo continued to work feverishly, expectantly. The reward would certainly follow, he assured himself as he hurried to unload heavy battery packs.
With supplies off-loaded, the European crew set about exploring the village, filming countless faces of destitution and images of squalor. Stoic women in their teens and twenties cradling filthy, crying babies. A nearly unconscious man moaning in pain as death approached. Scattered grass huts with gaping holes and dirt floors. A lean-to fashioned from salvaged tin and sticks.
The team made their way down to massive trash heaps near a stream’s edge. Rancid odor nauseated them as the guide explained this water just a few yards from toilet holes, served as bathwater and drinking supply. A shy young girl, not wishing to be on display, dipped down into the stream to hide herself until the men passed by.
Filming continued until sundown when Jamison lowered the microphone and uttered “that’s a wrap.” As cooler temperatures set in, the crew hurried to secure equipment and reload the truck. Again Bo appeared, hustling to win favor from this mystifying tribe.
With the truck fully packed, men piled into the vehicle. Bo tugged at the crisp linen sleeve of the clan leader’s shirt. Jamison turned to find Bo’s hands cupped, extended, a humble request for anything that could silence hunger pains.
Reaching into his pocket with cavalier disdain for the boy’s plight, Jamison tossed something at Bo’s feet before climbing into the truck. The boy knelt down to retrieve his prize while heavy tires spit dirt into his eyes. Laughter erupted from the truck as Bo recovered from the ground a small silver coin.
Crushed at the thought of facing his starving dependents empty-handed, Bo felt a trickle sting his cheek. As the truck disappeared beyond the moonlit horizon, a single tear landed in the dirt.
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