Before I became a mother I could look at pictures of starving children and sigh but not flinch. Now I find myself in physical distress. My heart constricts, I feel actual pain and the tears come.
So this morning I found myself weeping into my breakfast as I watched the images from Somalia. The skeletal babies, their eyes vacant and gaping wide, as their mothers bend over them.
Any mother will tell you the anxiety she goes through when her child skips a single meal, when her baby doesn’t get down that last ounce in the bottle. And then there are these mothers, forced to watch their babies starve.
After I had finished reading both the Bridget Jones books and was desperate for something else by the same author, I came across Cause Celeb. A chicklit novel is an unlikely place to get a glimpse of famine and how the machinery that might alleviate it turns but there is one episode in the novel that has stayed in me. It is pointed out that until children are starving to the extent that they are skeletons, and newspapers can be provided with those images, nobody will bother. The NGOs (which is not to say that NGOs don’t have their flaws) have to hunt out these starving children and click pictures of them to get the world press remotely interested. It is almost as if babies have to get to that to that state of starvation for the world to care. Also a certain number of people have to die – and be verified to have died – from starvation for it to be declared a famine and the UN to kick into action. Otherwise, you know, it’s not really that bad.
I understand this and yet I am horrified by it. When I watch the images on TV, I wonder how long were the babies starving – a month? a week? – to get to this state so that we could see these images and then finally, reach into our wallets maybe. Are we really so horrible? When told that people are starving in Africa, do we really think “oh but that baby doesn’t look starving enough?”
I guess we are. Even now, because these images seem to come up every few years and seem to have almost become a permanent fixture for Somalia (though I guess are not so because if the world press is reporting it, it must be really bad), many will not be moved. I know I am so moved, almost desperate for those babies, because I am a mother. Because I know what it is.
And for that reason, I force myself to look, to not avert my eyes, to spare a thought, because really it is the least I can do.