Just a Smile

It’s amazing to me how unaware most people are to the suffering around them. The longer I am in this country, the more I am starting to realize that we, as Americans, live in a bubble: a comfortable bed to sleep in, three meals a day, & a guaranteed education.

Those of you reading this blog will never be able to fully understand the truth in my words unless you were to witness it for yourselves. 

Bar Lonyo: a former IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp & the site of the mass murder of 319 men, women, & children.

Here is where I got my first glimpse of humanity & its rawest form.

We conducted interviews all morning, asking what life was like during the war, & how the inhabitants of Bar Lonyo reacted to the rebel attack that wiped out most of their village. It amazed me how heartbreakingly honest their responses were.

After the interviews, the entire village gathered to welcome us. They performed songs, dances, & skits. Everyone was smiling & laughing, especially the children. 

We brought a suitcase full of gifts for the people of Bar Lonyo. Inside were various everyday items like shirts, towels, pencils, & sheets. The children formed a line in front of the suitcase & as they did this, a scary thought occurred to me: there was no way we had enough gifts in that suitcase for everyone in the village. 

It was complete mayhem.

There were women behind me clawing at my shirt. There were men shoving me, trying to grab whatever they could get their hands on. There were children screaming & crying because they were getting trampled.

By the time I got out of the chaos, I was shaking. We all were.

Standing there in the middle of the camp, the sun beating down on my neck & flies swarming my face, it took everything in my power not to break down & cry. I was capturing photos of these people with a $600 camera, yet they were prepared to do anything just to get a new bed sheet for a bed they don’t even have. 

I got to the bus as fast as I could. As we drove away from the camp, I looked out the window & made eye contact with a little boy about 10 years old. He was wearing a tattered red shirt…& he was smiling at me. He was smiling at me like I was the greatest person in the world. I have never felt so ashamed in my entire life. I was about to drive away on an air conditioned bus, eat a nice dinner, & sleep in a comfortable bed, leaving him to grow up in this village, where most children don’t even get to attend school because it is too far away.

I wanted to get the hell out of that camp as fast as could.

At the same time though, I never wanted to leave. I never wanted to leave because I knew that when I did, I would be taking their only hope with me.

I will never forget that smile.

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