Our guide opened the little wooden door that led inside the two-story building and, with a wave of his hand, beckoned us to enter. The group formed a line, stepping gingerly around a puddle of black water, then entered one(more) at a time. Once we had regrouped, the guide came last, pulling the door closed behind him. The overwhelming smell of mold filled our nostrils. The guide coughed, then continued his spiel.
Child labor is alive and well in this country.
He let that sink in for a bit while our eyes adjusted to the half-light furnished by a single bulb burning weakly in the ceiling.
What you are about see is straight out of Charles Dickens. Except these children are African, and are not characters in a book. They are flesh and blood, just like you, only far less fortunate.
He walked deliberately to the other side of the room, and pushed against a section of the wall that revealed itself to be another door, whether hidden by design or merely indistinguishable in the darkness, I couldn't tell.
Let me show you how these children live.
Never would I have expected what Insaw next. My eyes beheld the flickering light of candles shining softly on the surface of an immense, slow turning machine that filled up the room. Our guide raised his voice so we could hear him above the sounds of meshing gears .
This treadmill furnishes power for the entire village. If you look up towards the ceiling, you can just make out the bare feet of the children.
Thirty boys work this wheel twelve hours a day, seven days a week. They do not stop even to eat or drink. Working the wheel.... is all.
i met tommy on the fourth of july. he was standing underneath an oak tree in the park, hands and knees and elbows bruised purple, waifish and careful in his gestures while his sister, sun-blond and chipper, held him by the pointed edge of his shoulder to lead him(more) towards the other barbecuers. he looked pale and pointed, mottled like a dying leaf, and his hair feigned an impression of frayed wheat-heads.
"who is that?" i asked, and the old woman selling me fresh strawberries made an odd noise that i interpreted as something negative. her crepey hands balled up into fists, tossing a pine tree green carton my way, a strawberry breaking loose to crawl across the folding table towards me. "that young man. who is he?"
"no man," she muttered. i could feel the implied "city folk" on the edge of her tongue, and i handed her a ten dollar bill, greasy and cashmere soft with age. "well, is now i guess. her real name is abby, but she goes by tommy now."
oh. i could see tommy grabbing his sister's arm then, a beg, a plead, some sort of cry that didn't seem to venture far because she was pulling him along, directing him towards the others. there was fear there, in his eyes, and i could understand why.
the old woman cleared her voice, eyes pointed skyward as if directing me there, away from her table. she could probably smell the city on me, all that neo-liberalism and atheist mumbo jumbo.
i met tommy on the fourth of july, but god, oh god, i don't think i ever knew him. (less)