Educated Risk

They have a disease there is no name for in a place the rain seldom sees: a dry African plain where men hunt for food with dirty rifles and spears fashioned from tree limbs hardened in flame.

She examines the victims one by one and the brim of her straw hat presses against the childrens' heads when she lifts them, nearly lifeless, into her arms.

The desert inferno is an irrelevant annoyance. She has not had water in hours.

"My son won't eat," says a man in broken English. A strong French accent: "Help my son."

"Qui. Je comprens," the American says. I snap the picture: the tall blonde researcher holding open the child's eye, peering into it. Now she palpates the chest. Now she looks into the ears.

"My son," says the man, in tears as she hands him back the limp body. She waves past him for the next one. He is sobbing as he staggers away.

"What is it?" I say, loading a fresh roll.

"If I knew that, we wouldn't be here," she says, stethoscope against the chest of a young African girl.

She pronounces,"This child is dead." The parents know. They had to do something.

I snap the picture.

"Do you know what's happening here?" she says. "I take samples. In a year, maybe I come back with a vaccine. But these children will all die."

"Is that the value of life? If you don't know what causes the disease--"

She stops and stares to make me understand.

"Go help bury the dead. Come to me if you get the shakes. I'll need a sample."

I open the aperture. Set a faster shutter speed so the picture won't blur.