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Field Notes From
Megacities



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On Assignment
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From Author

Erla Zwingle



On Assignment
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From Photographer
Stuart Franklin



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph courtesy Erla Zwingle (top) and by Brian Strauss.

 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Megacities

Field Notes From Author
Erla Zwingle
Best Worst Quirkiest

In Hyderabad, India, I met Frauke Quader, a woman working with an unusual environmental group called the Society to Save Rocks. The Deccan Plateau is a granite shield that has weathered into beautiful, bizarre formations. These have eroded in a way that gives the granite a texture characteristic of rhinoceros hide. It's distinctive to this part of India. But Hyderabad is expanding, and the rocks are in the way. They're also useful for building roads and houses. So, recognizing the value of the formations, the group wants to limit quarrying to one place. Frauke took me to what looked like a small mountain but was really one huge rock. We walked up to the shrine and burial place of Baba Fakhruddin Aulia, a poet from the Persian era who later became a Muslim saint. Families lounged and picnicked in the cool, late afternoon. When the sun set an imam came out to chant the evening prayer. He stood on the roof of the shrine, silhouetted against a purple-blue sky where the thinnest crescent moon shone. Surrounded by such beauty and devotion, I could almost ignore the quarrying going on under my feet.



I was visiting a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria when a woman came in with her adolescent son. The doctor examined the boy and found a growth under his arm and on his neck. They were noticeably large and giving him quite a bit of pain. He had had them for five years.The doctor ordered tests that I suspected would reveal that this boy didn't have much longer to live. I asked the doctor why the mother was only coming to the hospital now. She told me that the woman tried every other means until now. For her, the hospital was the last step. I couldn't get them out of my mind, so when we were ready to leave I asked my assistant to help me find them. When we finally located them elsewhere in the hospital, I went up to her and said, "I hope your son gets better and that this will help a bit." Then I put a little money in her hand. She looked at me, grasped my hand, and fell to her knees in front of me. It was so spontaneous and so sincere, but I was not prepared to face the reality of what this meant to her.



Lagos is a city with a lot of crime and not enough police. There is a lot of street life after dark, so some of the neighborhoods are particularly dangerous at night. In one area, a group of local men decided to organize a volunteer vigilante squad in an effort to make the community safer. And they're really serious about what they do. They patrol the streets every night, then they go to their day jobs. The city pays for their uniforms, and they get a token payment, hardly anything. But the most remarkable thing is that they patrol with bows and arrows. Of course, guns are available, but they're very expensive. Even the regular police have to pay for their own weapons. When I think back on Lagos, I think of so many of the desperate unbelievable things I saw while I was there. And then it comes to my mind: bows and arrows.





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