As Nyadak lifts her head, trying to muster energy to continue her crawl to the feeding site, a vulture descends from the sky and lands a few feet behind her. The bird watches her every move waiting for her emaciated limbs to drop. This year of 1993 has had one of the best feeding seasons for the vultures in South Sudan as the civil war brought famine and famine brought death. Nyadak’s head now hangs low as she remembers the skeletons that remained of her family cattle when vultures swarmed from the sky to devour the last remains of their rotting flesh. She realizes this could be her fate as well considering that she has not eaten for five days, unless she counts the termites she managed to catch after the rain two days ago. Her only hope today was making it to the feeding site as she had heard a plane dropping food from the sky during the night before. A tear falls from her face as her hands are now starting to buckle from weakness. She has been crawling for the past two hours now since her bone-thin legs could no longer withstand her weight after four hours of non-stop walking. Both her hands and knees burn in pain from the heat and soil digging into her skin. Nyadak musters a scream hoping to scare the vulture away but the bird still looks on with stoic eyes.
She manages to lift her head and her wet eyes are now filled with hope as she identifies a white figure walking towards her with a bag in his hand. She thinks that the white man, now opening his bag, is about to save her from the vulture and from the suffering in South Sudan. However, the man opens his bag to retrieve not food but a camera as he envisions this scene on the cover of National Geographic.
Nyadak is 7 years old but her starved frame leads the photographer to think that she is half her age. With her head now back on the hardened grey soil and the vulture still looking on from a few feet away, he manages to get a good shot. However, he is not satisfied with the lighting and goes on to adjust the settings on his camera. After twenty minutes of tweaking his camera and snapping more shots, he is now confident that he has the perfect photo. He approaches the girl and she thinks that he is now going to save her. Instead, he walks past her, scares the vulture away, and continues walking further and further away. In his mind, he’s done the best he can as his photo of the vulture and the little girl can do more for procuring relief for the millions of hungry souls in Sudan than offering the girl a helping hand to the feeding site. For further consolation, he remembers that he was advised not to touch the people as diseases such as leprosy and meningitis were rampant in the area.
Nyadak looks back at the vanishing figure with sadness in her eyes. However, worse things have happened to her. A month ago, rebel soldiers invaded her home during the night and terrorized her family. The soldiers stole the little food the family had left before kidnapping her two sisters and then shooting her parents to death. Nyadak survived only because she had ventured against her mother’s wishes to use the outhouse in the dark. While crouching in the outhouse, she heard the last screams of her parents and the continuous cries of her sisters. Their cries faded more and more as the rebel’s truck sped off in the night. She stayed still in shock and never cried back. She continued crouching until day break as if she was frozen in time. She had fallen asleep while crouched and was awakened only by the sound of her belly roaring for food.
Her belly now roars again as she looks up to see the vulture shrinking into a small fluttering figure in the sky. Unlike her, the vulture has several prospects for a meal.
With the thought of her sisters and parents still fresh on her mind and heart, Nyadak continues on her crawl.
NB: This story is based on a real event that happened in 1993 during another famine in Sudan. The photographer, Kevin Carter, merely took the photo and left the girl to struggle. In 1994, he won a Pulitzer prize for the photo and was subjected to a lot of criticism for not helping the girl. Later that year, he committed suicide which mentions being haunted by memories of starving children. The full story on the photo and his suicide letter can be found on the following website: http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vulture-little-girl/