Across the Bridge

In a town in Ethiopia, I left the central historic district- crossing a bridge to reach a predominantly Muslim area.  Amongst other people, I met Sabuto, a wiry, fire-cracker of a girl, with a great intensity of energy, emotion, and ferocity, despite her diminutive size and young age.  Clothes hanging off her small frame, she would regularly produce and smoke cigarettes, organize and direct the other children, and excel at games being played.  Unable to communicate verbally, we none the less learned one another’s names and formed a fleeting friendship.  Sabuto urged me to take photographs of her and the others (which I did), and the following day I returned, prints in hand ready for distribution.  While I was able to give away the majority of the photographs on the spot, my young friend was not there, so I left her keepsakes with a middle aged woman who indicated a willingness to pass them along.  None the less, when I next saw Sabuto, a day later, she rushed over to me looking distraught, shaking her hands in a manner that indicated their emptiness.  Clearly, Sabuto and I had been swindled.  Down the edge of the riverbank we went, to where the woman I had left Sabuto's pictures with was camped.  An exchange ensued between Sabuto and the woman, as onlookers gathered.  Finally, Sabuto with a look of complete dejection turned to walk away.  One word that was translatable was “photo”, so pausing, I queried the woman, “Sabuto, photo?  Sabuto, photo?”  The woman shook her head no, but looking down I could see the edge of a photograph poking out of a magazine on the ground.  “Photo, photo,” I excitedly pointed at the magazine.  As the woman lifted the magazine photos began to fall out, many of which were of her own children, but mixed amongst them was one of Sabuto!  Laughing along with the gathered crowd (but in my case partially to deflect confrontation), I grabbed the magazine and removed all of the remaining photos, separating the ones that belonged to my little friend.  Sabuto was thrilled!  She kissed my hand and went buoyantly skipping away with the photographs, leaving her smile and happiness etched into my mind.