CHILD SOLDIER

 

            The sun had hidden it’s self behind the large and eerie hill that was known as the Hill of One Thousand Souls. The hill was reportedly given such an uncanny name because of the estimated one thousand men that had died trying to take it; whether or not this was true remained unclear to Michael, and unimportant.  Michael’s thoughts were focused on trying to find some shelter as the early evening air was becoming increasingly bitter.  The past few nights were cold and sleepless for Michael as his militia group continued to push on with the hopes of outrunning the government’s soldiers.  With very little to eat in the past week, and without any sleeping gear, Michael knew that his only hope for sleep lay with staying out of the wind.  Michael wished that they were able to start even a small fire; a small fire would certainly take the chill off but even if they could find enough fuel to burn they could not risk the fires giving their position away.  The government’s soldiers would be quick to react if a fire was spotted, and Michael was in no hurry to come in contact with those brutal savages again.

 

            There were small cook fires burning when the soldiers came blazing into Michaels small village.  The village was made up entirely of farmers whose crops had been affected by a severe drought the past several years.  The majority of the men in the village, including Michael’s father, had been taken away by the local warlord’s militia in order to fight against the corrupt government’s troops, a fact that the soldiers made reference to as they viciously raided the village.  Michael was startled by the sound of automatic gun fire and the horrendous blood chilling screams of village women and children.  His mother franticly hustled Michael to the side of the family hut and threw a mat over him as she ordered him to stay completely still and quiet.  It was within seconds of being covered that four armed soldiers entered the hut and began shouting at Michael’s mother and older sister.  Two of the soldiers struck Michael’s mother and sister on the sides of their heads with the butt of their weapons; the sound of their bones cracking seemed strangely muted by their frantic crying and the gushing blood.  Michael’s mother dropped to her knees; the once proud woman now begging for her and her daughters’ life to be spared.  The men laughed wildly as they continued to strike the women and tear at their clothing until the two women were reduced to limp, bloodied and naked bodies.  Michael, frozen with fear, could only watch as his beloved mother and sister were continually raped and sodomized by the four soldiers.

 

            As the cutting wind picked up, Michael could only feel the burning pain that stayed in his chest as he remembered the brutal night that his mother and sister had been so savagely beaten and raped.  He no longer cried; in fact the last time that Michael could remember crying was when he was told of his father’s death at the hands of the government soldiers. Soldiers that now hunted him and his militia group.

 

            When the soldiers left Michaels village they had taken several of the women and younger girls, Michaels mother and sister included.  The remaining villagers were killed and the village huts set ablaze.  Michael was able to stay hidden until the fire forced him to flee into the bush.  The days following the murderous attack on his village Michael was unable to think about what had happened; he was living in a muffled existence void of any pain or pleasure and continually pushed by an unseen force to the next village.  Upon arrival at the next village Michael learnt that the soldiers had also been there.  However, although their visit to this village was far less savage it was considerably more disturbing.  The soldiers stopped only to drop off the bloodied and tortured remains of several women and children.

 

            Awakened by the shouts from members of his militia group, Michael fumbled to grasp the only worldly possession, excluding his clothes, that he had, his AK-47 assault rifle.  Sentries had spotted some movement several miles back and the militia’s leader was afraid that it may be government troops.  The militia was not in a favorable position to engage the soldiers because the soldiers had superior training, numbers, and firepower.  The militia was about to make a desperate push to reach the hill country by mid morning; a push that was their only hope for survival.  As the unit pushed forward the only pain that was comparable to his shoeless feet was his gnawing hunger pains.

 

            This village had not faired any better than Michaels own drought stricken village.  Many of the villagers were starting to show signs of malnutrition and starvation, and those that didn’t complained of hunger pains.  The villagers were unable to spare any food for Michael.  Although they were noticeably moved by the horrendous attack on Michael’s village they were unable and unprepared to help.  Michael was not aware of any surviving family members on either his mothers or his father’s side.  His closest aunt who used to help care for him when he was younger was widowed by the ongoing civil war.  Her three children had also been either displaced or killed.  All of this did not matter though as she had been taken by the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging the country along with the war.  His grandparents had all long been dead and his mother only had the one sister.  In the not too distant past many of the families in this village and his own would have taken him in, such was their custom.  However, in the recent years his people had been afflicted with drought, an AIDS epidemic, and an ever escalating civil war.

 

            It was the civil war that was presently consuming Michael’s thoughts.  He had stumbled several times and even fell once or twice scrapping his knee.  His labored breath began to hurt his lungs as the cold air ripped into his warm body.  Just as Michael thought that he could no longer continue the horizon showed trace amounts of the suns early morning hue.  The reddish tinge on the horizon began to grow into a golden sphere of hope and rejuvenation.  The searing pain in Michael’s chest began to dissipate as the rays that leaped from the sun seemed to feed Michael as his hunger pains were driven away by the warmth of the morning sun.  With the added hope that the morning sun had brought to Michael’s militia unit they were able to push themselves into the protection of the hills.  

 

            When the militia had come into Michael’s village they had promised protection from the governments troops to anyone who would join them.  For those who were opposed to joining the warlords unit’s life was completely uncertain.  The leader of the militia made it clear that they could not protect anyone who did not join them.  For Michael joining the militia meant that he would be given food and shelter.  In contrast, by not joining meant that he was unsure of when and where his next meal would come from.  It appeared that only government soldiers, and to a lesser extent militia groups, were feed and clothed.  Michael had no real choice in the matter.  Joining the militia was his only chance for survival.

         

 

The militia settled into the protection of the hills and prepared to ambush the pursuing soldiers.  The sun had now risen above the hills and was almost as brilliant as it would be at high noon, but unlike the high noon sun it was at the perfect height for making the advance into the hills blinding.  With the sun at his back Michael anticipated the arrival of the advancing troops.  This was not going to be the first time that Michael had been involved in an ambush.  To the contrary; Michael had been in what seemed like an unlimited number of fire fights over the years.

 

            Michael had known a lot of people who had died over the years.  To the best of his knowledge he was the only survivor from his village and his family.  He had also witnessed the death of many of his fellow freedom fighters in the militia; so many in fact that he now rarely made friends in order to protect him from the pain of losing them.  This did not seem strange to Michael; this was quite simply the way that life, and death, was.  There was a time in Michaels past when he had, like his parents had, believed in life after death and more specifically in reincarnation; village life was set up and structured around that belief.  These were no longer Michael’s beliefs.  Having witnessed far too many deaths and seeing and endless amount of pain and suffering in the past several years Michael developed a pessimistic view of the world where human beings were nothing more than animals, and the most savage of all.

 

            The savages that hunted Michael and his unit were now no more than one hundred meters away.  At the command of the group leader Michael and the others raised their assault rifles and sighted in on their assigned targets.  At precisely the right moment the command was given and just as he had done a hundred times before Michael pulled the trigger.  The bullet ripped through the neck of one of the government soldiers and just as fast as the bullet had struck his neck his lifeless body hit the ground.  Michael instinctively looked for another target and when he found it he fired again.  The situation was at the very least chaotic.  Soldiers and militia men fell screaming as their blood was absorbed by the drought stricken ground.  If the fire fight was favorable to the militia Michael would have new shoes and equipment, and quite possibly some food and water as well.  If the engagement was won by the soldiers Michael would be killed if he was unable to escape deeper into the hill country.  The battled continued to produce the sights sounds, and smells of men dying.  As the skirmish began to decline the aroma of death began to fill the air, an aroma that stays with an individual their entire lifetime, however short that may be.

 

            As the last of the gunfire died down it became evident to Michael that they had won the engagement.  He then set to the task of collecting footwear, clothing, and supplies off of the deceased.  It was with absolutely no emotion that Michael scoured the area searching the bodies for any worthwhile equipment when he heard a gunshot and then felt a sting in his back.  Spinning around as the pain in his back began to intensify; Michael unloaded the remainder of his magazine into the wounded soldier.  A member of his militia ran to Michael’s side and aided him in lying down on his stomach.  Although the pain in Michael’s back began to increase he instinctively knew that it was not life threatening; in fact the gunshot wound would only be fatal if an infection developed.  Michael was going to be alright as pain was not an obscure concept to him; it was a constant part of life in his country.  The wound merely meant that he was having a bad day.  Tomorrow would definitely be a better day; after all it was Michael’s twelfth birthday.

WHAT'S UP?

CURRENT PROJECT

 

Timothy has recently returned to San Cristobal de Las Casa, Chiapas after spending time in Canada, and parts of Central America.

In addition, he continues to work on the flagship site for The Faces Group,  in addition too several other projects.

As such, this is a very exciting time with more travel through Central and South America planned for later in the season, where several of these projects will be shot alone and possibly in collaboration with other photographers.

 

 

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