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Zuberi the Orphan
|I just returned to the United States from a one year stint as a volunteer in African refugee camps. It was an incredible experience seeing first hand the horrendous conditions in the camps and seeing how these desperate people lived day to day, with just barely enough food - provided by the relief agencies - to stay alive.
I spent about six months at a camp in the Congo, out in the dry plain where there had been hardly any rain for the last three years. A fierce war had been going on between government troops and a group of rebels and the poor people who lived in the villages were easy pawns for both sides, with murder, rape and plunder going on constantly.
My camp had about 500 refugees from many villages in the area. Most of the refugees were women, children and some younger teenagers. The men and older teens had either been killed or forced to join in the war. The children and teens lived with the women in tents, with a woman and six or eight children and teens sharing one tent.
At the camp, we passed out food three times a day -each time it was a cup of grainy cereal which was mixed with water and eaten ravenously by the people. As I settled in at the camp, I noticed that some - not many - of the teen boys looked very healthy, with slim but muscular bodies. It was amazing to me that these boys could grow muscles eating only a cup of cereal three times a day. On the other hand, many of the boys were extremely skinny. You could see the bones sticking out under their skin. Their arms looked like little sticks and their shoulders were nothing but bone. It was amazing seeing the difference between their skinny little bodies and the very healthy bodies of the boys with muscles.
None of the boys had any fat on his body. The skinny ones were just skin and bones - no flesh at all on their pathetic bodies. The healthy, muscular boys had muscle bulging underneath their thin black skin. And the muscle showed very clearly, flexing with every move and covered with veins pumping blood in the flexing muscle.
One of the skinny boys drew my attention. He looked to be about 14 and he was a little taller than the other boys of his age. But he was so skinny he could have been in a concentration camp in World War II. He looked like he was about to die from starvation. He lived with a woman and her children, boys aged 15, 13, and 10 and girls aged 16, 12 and 8. I could tell he wasn't related to the woman or her children because he looked so different. Plus all her children looked strong and healthy and the 15, 13 and 10 year old boys were three of the boys who had muscles. So here was this skinny, almost starving kid living with this woman and her healthy family with muscular boys.
I found out from our leader that this kid was an orphan who showed up in camp about a year ago. Both of his parents had been killed by the rebels in his village and he escaped to the grasslands. He wandered around for about a month with hardly anything to eat and finally showed up at the camp as thin and skinny as he is now. For some reason he had not been able to put on any weight. The relief agency paid the women he lived with $1.00 per month to look after him, and that money was very welcome to the woman and her family. I found out his name was Zuberi, which in Swahili means "strong." He was far from strong.
The boy had no clothes to wear except some old dirty shorts and he had no shoes. He really looked pathetic. But when he smiled when I gave him his food his teeth were very bright and white and his black face actually looked handsome except for the fact that his cheekbones pushed out with no flesh around them. Then something caught my attention. After I gave him his food I watched him leave the food line and start eating. But then one of the kids with muscles - the 13 year old son of the woman - grabbed the food out of his hands and wolfed down the rest of it. The poor skinny kid only got about half of his food eaten, maybe less. And the 13 year old muscle kid got an extra half portion of food. A light suddenly dawned in my brain. The muscular kids were taking food from the skinny kids. That is why some of the kids had muscles and some of them looked like skeletons. I started watching the skinny kids as they got their food and I confirmed my suspicion. The muscular boys grabbed food away from the skinny kids left and right. Thatís why they were able to build big muscles while the skinny kids were nothing but bone. The muscular kids were eating at least five times more food than the skinny kids. The muscular boys would always let the skinny kids eat a half of their serving. I watched as the 13 year old ended up getting half the food the food of five skinny kids and the 15 year old got half the food of seven skinny kids. Those muscular boys were eating very well.
I saw one skinny kid, probably about 14 or 15, try to keep his food away from the muscular 15 year old. The 15 year old smashed his fist into the skinny kid's little gut, causing the kid to buckle over in pain. Then he jerked the food away and flexed his arm in the skinny kid's crying face. His muscles werenít huge, but they were ten times bigger and stronger than the weak almost non-existant muscles in the skinny kid's twig like arm. "Don't fuck with me, you little worm. I got muscles and you donít got shit. Next time I'll smash you even harder." He flexed his arm right in the skinny kidís face. The skinny kid looked at the 15 year old's muscles in despair. There was nothing he could do to stop those muscles. He would be giving the muscular boy his food forever.
I realized that the muscular kids were eating three or four servings of food each meal while the skinny kids were only getting one half serving apiece. No wonder the muscular boys had healthy muscular bodies while the skinny kids had nothing but skin and bone.
And I realized one more thing. The muscular kids always let the skinny kids eat about half of their food. Even though they could have easily taken the whole portion, they didn't want the skinny kids to die of starvation. They wanted to keep the skinny kids alive - just barely - so they could keep eating half of their food and they could keep getting bigger, stronger and more muscular. And sometimes the strong older teens, like the 15 year old and the 13 year old, gave some of the extra food to their younger brothers. To make them strong too so they could start taking food from the weaker boys. It was the perfect example of the strong taking from the weak, of the alpha males taking what they wanted from the weak males. But the alpha males were smart enough not to let the weak males die, because that would reduce the amount of available food they could take. They kept the weak males weak while they, the alpha males, got bigger and stronger. There was no way the weak males could resist them. It was perfect if you were one of the alpha males.
After lunch I watched the healthy, muscular boys play soccer. The skinny boys were standing at the side watching the game. They knew they didn't have a chance playing against the boys with the muscle. The most they could do was watch. Then, one of the muscular boys twisted his foot and came out of the game. One of his teammates pointed at Zuberi and said "You!" Zuberi jogged onto the field. He was so weak he couldn't really run. But he did the best he could. He acted as a defenseman, trying to keep the ball away from his team's goal. He had only played for about two minutes when the ball was coming towards him. The 10 year old brother of the 13 and 15 year old muscular bullies was kicking the ball. The 10 year old was muscular too. He was getting extra food from his brothers and now he was forcing other kids to give him extra food too. He was a foot shorter than Zuberi, but his short body was covered with muscle. He ran the ball up to Zuberi. Then he looked at the skinny kid and smiled. Suddenly he smashed his muscular shoulder into Zuberi's bony chest as he kicked the ball into the goal. Zuberi went crashing to the ground with pain surging throughout his body. "Fuckin' stick boy!" the 10 year old yelled. "Get off the fuckin' field. You can't play with real men like me." The boy put his foot on Zuberi's bony chest, looked down at the weak skeleton of a body and flexed his arms. The other muscular boys clapped and cheered as the 10 year old flexed and stomped his foot on Zuberiís chest. The 10 year old strong boy had conquered the 14 year old weakling. Zuberi looked up and the muscular 10 year old and cringed. I could tell he felt like shit. He was far weaker than the 10 year old, and the 10 year old was going to get a lot stronger while he stayed weak. It just didn't seem fair.
I felt so sorry for Zuberi the orphan. He was living with a family whose three muscular boys bullied him all the time, taking his food and anything they wanted. He was just a toy to them, a source of extra food for their growing bodies. I thought about him all night. The next day I handed Zuberi his portion of breakfast food (which was the same as lunch and dinner). As soon as the 13 year old came up to him to take his food, I stepped over and grabbed the 13 year old's hand. He was fairly strong but I was way stronger. "Let him eat his food," I said, looking at the 13 year old in his eyes. The kid looked back at me with a scowl, like ďwho are you telling me what I can do.Ē He didn't say anything. He turned and looked at the skinny 14 year old eating his food. The skinny boy looked at me first with a look of shock at what had happened but then with a look of fear in his eyes as the 13 year old stared at him. Then I noticed that the 13 year old had made a fist with his right hand and had tensed the muscles in his right arm. I could see the fibers of biceps and triceps flex in his arm. They looked big and menacing. I could also see the vein covered muscle in his forearm bunching up like coiled snakes. His black skin looked as thin as paper as the muscles flexed underneath. The skinny kid looked at those muscles and cringed. I quickly realized my idea of forcing the muscular kid to let the skinny kid eat his food was nota good idea. But I had to go back to the feeding line. I watched as the 13 year old grabbed Zuberi by the arm and dragged him away.
At lunchtime, my worst fears came true. Zuberi was near the end of the lunch line. He could hardly walk. His face was bloodied and his body was covered with bruises. I could only imagine the pain he suffered at my doing. He looked at me with pitiful eyes. The 13 year old boy was right behind him, smiling at me. First I gave Zuberi his food and then I gave food to the 13 year old. He flexed his arm right in my face as if to say "You can't stop these muscles, you asshole white man." I looked at his flexing muscles. "Might makes right," I thought to myself as I looked at Zuberi's battered body and then at the 13 year old who was proudly flexing his muscles right at me. His little biceps bulged in his arms. They weren't very big, but they were bulging and they looked rock hard. His forearms had little muscles that looked like snakes, flexing and bulging and covered with veins. His shoulders were capped with muscle and his chest had pecs that bulged out. Zuberi looked at the kid's body with a look of awe and fear. Then the kid turned towards him and sneered. He reached over with his muscular arm and grabbed the food away from Zuberi. The skinny orphan ate only one bite of his food and then the 13 year old took it away with his strong arm. I stood there stunned. Zuberi got a whole breakfast so now the 13 year old was going to eat his whole lunch. Plus the half of the lunches of some other weaklings. The 13 year old was standing there with two cups of food in his muscular hands while Zuberi had nothing. I looked at Zuberi and almost cried.
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