An Intersection

27 December, 2009

Roma Boy, Skopje, Macedonia, 2009.

Roma boy. Skopje, Macedonia. 2009.

Dashing between moving traffic this boy runs from car to car begging from any that were stopped by the traffic lights at this intersection. I had passed through this same intersection a day earlier in a taxi having just arrived at the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, Macedonia. The passenger window of my taxi was open and the driver warned me in broken, barely intelligible English to hold on tightly to my camera bag that sat on my lap. He then pantomimed how these Roma boys would grab and run with anything they can snatch from open windows.

My driver yelled obscenities at the young boy who approached my window. At least I assumed they were. Obscenities seem to depend more on the manner of delivery than the actual phonetics. So, if these words were not obscenities, they were certainly delivered like them.

This was not a situation in which I enjoy being placed. I was in Skopje as a Christian photographer covering mission work, and the last thing I want in any mission situation is to be defined by a class or position, i.e., the “haves” in hostile opposition to the “have-nots.” That is exactly what happened when the driver yelled at the boy seeking a handout.

As it turned out, this intersection separated a Roma ghetto on the northwest side from the United States Embassy on the southeast side. The Embassy, a huge, imposing complex intended to be the heart of US political influence in the Balkans, sat on a hill overlooking the Vardar River. The Roma ghetto sat below in the physical and metaphorical shadow of the Embassy. I learned later that this Roma enclave was the same section wherein the missionaries I came to visit had their ministry.

The missionaries of the International Mission Board (IMB) had set up a home where young school children would come to get a filling meal during lunch from school and where elderly Roma men could gather to socialize. Every day dozens of local Roma children would eat, first the younger children and then the older students would enter in a series of waves organized by grade level.

After the lunches were served, I went out with one of the mission workers to walk around the community. During the walk, amazingly I found myself in the same intersection where I had the unfortunate experience a day earlier. This time however, I was not among the “haves.” I was on foot. I was with the “have-nots,” a preferable situation. I was now an observer on the side of the children begging change as cars moved by in a myopic parade.

Many cars driven by Embassy workers crossed the intersection on their way to the compound; routine having effectively inoculated them from connecting with the faces of want that wandered this intersection daily. High on the hill the people of the Embassy tended to their work as political entities serving the needs of states, whereas on this side of the intersection the IMB missionaries tended to the needs of the hungry children. I knew I was on the side of the intersection where God wanted me as this boy dodged cars; wondering why I was on his side.

© 2009 A Mission Proclaimed

A Mission Proclaimed is a federally recognized 501(c)(3). Your support is greatly appreciated.

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