Children of Asia

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Landi Kotal, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, October 1994. Nabil shadowed us in the market. Nabil nous a suivis dans tout le marché. Légende en français tout en bas.

He followed us everywhere in the market, under the canvases protecting the buyers from the sun, through the blue smoke of the fires, along the dark alleys, in the middle of the cries and shouts, the smell of cakes and scents of tea, before small stalls overflowing with goods — himself vending pop-corn in three small, plastic packs, he held them more than he peddled, without a word, a smile, all his expression concentrated in his eyes, in a gaze I found imploring and which I remember still today, little boy among thousands of Afghani refugee children struggling for survival.

Little boy, what has become of you? Have you finished school? Have you ever been to school? What have you been taught? What could have you been taught? In two, three hours of class a day, with one battered textbook for twenty pupils, without paper or pencil, without the hygiene necessary to keep up your strength – but what strength? – coming from food so lifeless, dry as the pop-corn you were selling? At a time when an infinitesimal fraction of human beings sail in a cyberworld, cut from the reality of the majority, of life, you simply let yourself exist. Do you still wear your torn, unbuttoned, grubby shalwar, and your threadbare skullcap, smartly, could we say, pushed back? No! There is no place for a smart-alecky attitude in your life.

Enough of this. One is lucky or not. Either we are born on the side of the affluent or on the side of the have-nots. But who is the luckier of the two?

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Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India, October 1999. Amrita stands bravely at the bus terminal, a big smile hiding a deep pain. Amrita cache sa peine dans un grand sourire au terminal des autobus.

She was bright, she was pretty, she was helpful, she was smiling, and she wanted to leave with us… For whatever its value, know, little girl, that you make us regularly shed many a tear… about the insanity of the word, about the unfairness of the world, about the immensity of the world. We miss you dearly.

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Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, December 2008.  On the way to a Contemporary Ceramics Festival at Silpakorn University in this large Central Thailand city.

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Sri Chiang Mai, Thailand, December 2008.  On another bus in another part of the country. Nothing to do with the touristy Chiang Mai, we are in a sleepy town by the Mekong River, right across Vientiane in Laos.

 

Légendes enfantines

PAK94-CHI2. Landi Kotal, North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan, octobre 1994. Il nous a suivis dans tout le marché, sous les toiles tendues pour protéger les acheteurs du soleil, à travers la fumée bleue des foyers, le long des ruelles sombres, au milieu des cris et interpellations, entre les odeurs de galettes et les senteurs de thé, devant les petites boutiques aux étalages débordants, lui-même vendant du pop-corn dans trois petits sachets en plastique, qu’il tient plutôt qu’il n’offre, sans un mot, sans sourire, toute l’expression concentrée dans les yeux, dans un regard que j’interprète comme implorant et dont je me souviens jusqu’aujourd’hui, petit garçon parmi les milliers d’autres enfants de réfugiés afghans luttant pour la survie. Petit garçon, qu’es-tu devenu aujourd’hui? As-tu terminé l’école? Es-tu même jamais allé l’école? Que t’a-t-on enseigné? Qu’a-t-on pu t’enseigner? En deux, trois heures de cours par jour, avec un manuel écorné pour vingt enfants, sans cahier ni crayon, sans les soins ni l’hygiène nécessaires à préserver les forces, mais quelles forces?, venant d’une nourriture aussi morte, sèche que le pop-corn que tu vendais? A l’heure où une infinitésimale fraction d’ êtres humains vogue dans un monde cybernétique, coupé de la réalité de la majorité, de la vie, toi tu te contentes d’exister. Portes-tu encore ton shalwar déchiré, déboutonné, terreux, et ta calotte élimée, crânement dirait-on rejetée en arrière? Mais non, aucune crânerie n’a de place dans ta vie. Cela suffit. On a de la chance ou pas. Soit on est né dans le camp des nantis, soit dans celui des démunis. Mais lequel a de la chance?

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