/ / “A Fire and A Doner and A Moral Dilemma”

“A Fire and A Doner and A Moral Dilemma”

Here’s the dilemma that Doctor Bob faced at his Congolese Hospital station at Nyankunde; does the big donor who sees himself as having some priority claim on the agency towards which he makes significant contributions, have the power to influence decisions at the sight of his benevolence? 

The old friend and wealthy physician from North America had come to Nyankunde to satisfy himself that the contribution he was making there was being used to his personal satisfaction. He arrived with his 8 mm movie camera (this was in the 1950’s ) and every building and the people in it and around them were recorded. He was impressed. He was impressed by the things he saw and was satisfied that his investment/ donation was paying off. 

While at the supper table near the end of his stay, a tropical thunderstorm was brilliant and frightening flashes of lightning and roaring thunder passed overhead. The older buildings on the compound we’re covered with thatch cut from the nearby Savannah and we’re doing their assigned duty of letting the rain runoff the surface keeping the underlying grass dry but flammable. A lightning bolt hit the roof of the storage mud-hut mud brick building and within minutes the whole community rallied. People were rushing with buckets of water, but it was clear that the storage building, and the tools and grain within it, we’re lost to the roaring fire so the chief effort went into soaking the thatch of the rooves nearby. It was a stirring and artistically photogenic scene with all the running and shouting people to say nothing of the drama of the burning roof of the mud brick structure.

Any photographer with a handy camera would understand that this was a promising subject and the donor immediately was moving about, 8 mm camera held to his eye, enthusiastically covering every angle of the drama. At last the fire burned itself out and everyone slowly drifted back to their nearby homes.

Dr. Bob was awakened in the morning by a cry of frustration. “Oh No!” Everyone was sympathetic until the photographer said, much more quietly, “ I forgot to take the lens cap off !“ The sympathy turned to laughter while the guest berated himself for losing the best scene with which he had planned to entertain his friends back home.

Then Dr. Bob was presented with his dilemma: The guest suggested that the participants from the previous night’s event come together again, this time to rebuild the roof with dry grass from the Savannah, wait until nightfall, set the new roof on fire and replay the scene over again, Hollywood style, so that he could capture it, with certainty, on his camera. 

With some inner turmoil Dr. Bob agreed to the plan. The community was mobilized, groups of people gathered grass, others built the framework for thatch, and soon the ruin looked almost back to normal. Volunteers were asked to be ready with water buckets. When darkness set in, the new thatch was ignited, much to the horror of the Congolese observers, and the whole orchestrated scene was replayed. This time the lens cap was off, and the re-enactment was captured for the entertainment of viewers back home in America.

Dr. Bob is certain he could not agree to such a plan again no matter how generous the donor.

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