May 10, 2020

Harsh Realities

Harsh Realities

This is an usual country. My daughters have called it “cringey” because many of what the people here focus on, or prioritise seem corny or superficial to them. When we watch the news or adverts on TV one becomes aware of this. We could say #firstworldproblems.  Back in our birth country, South Africa, the problems are of a different nature. It is about survival. The bulk of the population are concerned about being able to put food on the table to feed their families, about being able to go to work (if they are one of the lucky ones that has a job) and not being raped or stabbed on the way.  I have seen first hand how so many people are living daily with PTSD, anxiety and depression, along with TB and HIV. It is the norm and most conditions go undiagnosed and treated.

We lived with constant awareness of the crime, going to sleep at night and listening for every little noise that indicated someone was breaking into your house. I would lie there plotting escape plans in my head, praying as hard as I could my daughters would be safe. Most of my friends can't get work because of the colour of their skin so they have to somehow forge their own way. We all know the economy is shit and the Rand is not worth much at all and to top it off, the education system is failing badly. If you work hard you find yourself lucky enough to weigh up the pros and cons of spending a fortune on private education that still counts for nothing internationally. My daughters are at an age where all this is not lost on them. The differences between the countries, their attitudes and priorities are obvious. It makes sense to me though, as it is a classic example of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in action.

I love the UK. I love the history here and the culture and arts. I am so happy my daughters futures with all its possibilities, better education, economy and safety lie here now. But it was the soft option perhaps. A few months before I left there was a movement in South Africa of people saying they were proud to be staying. I don’t feel they are brave or patriotic, I honestly feel they are naive and plain stupid. That may sound harsh but there are many people with their heads in the sand and most others who claim that they are staying are either people who hold a second passport and can get out quickly if they need to, or who just don’t have a choice. If I was single, maybe I would have stayed and tried to make a difference, but with a family everything changes and each and every day there I was sorely aware it was not my country, and there was no future for them. I felt as beautiful as it was, as filled with people I loved deeply, it was not my home and to live there was about surviving, not thriving and I wanted more - for my girls. It is a sad situation and a decision a family should never have to make. South Africans are scattered all over the world and so many grandparents seldom see their grandchildren. Africa's children are displaced. I tried to do my bit where I could over the years, from an informal non profit with a friend, to daily little tasks of giving money or food to people in need, aware always that it was not enough, could never really be enough. The boat has holes in it and is sinking. But I believe no matter where you are in the world, no matter what the problem, it is our duty to each other and planet to always try and help where we can.

And so when I sit here, I am so grateful to be here on this soil, yet it does not stop me thinking about all those left behind. Not just the family and friends I love, but those that have no choice. The little boy Alessandro and his horse, along with the other cart-horse people that used to come to the door each week for food or anything else you had to give. What are they doing now? How are they managing to eat and stay warm as the winter draws near? How is their little horse? I think about the trolley people - the hagad men and women that get up at the crack of dawn and walk miles to be in front of the houses when the dirt bins are put out, just so that they can scratch through all that filth looking for food to eat or things to sell. What are they eating now? Where are they sleeping? How are they coping if they get sick?

One early evening just before I left,  I saw a woman going through the bins. She was dressed much smarter then most of the usual trolley people, but she was scratching through people’s rubbish for something to eat. She wore gloves and had a little bottle of sanitizer and wipes and would take her time to wipe things down before putting them in her bag - all in an attempt to protect herself against Covid-19. Scratching for something to eat through rubbish. If you ever need something to be grateful for, you need go no further. No one should ever have to do that. It breaks my heart every time. I called out to her and took her to my house where I gave her the last bag of my clothes that I couldn’t fit in my case and some food to eat. I reminded her never to scratch in our bin - that there was nothing good in there, but that I always put the food or decent things in a bag on top. I know they won’t listen. It is survival and within a minute of the bin being put out, that bag of good things usually disappears.

Long before coronavirus ever arrived in South Africa, people have been struggling to survive. Battling for your life is nothing new for them and wearing a face mask can’t save anyone from that reality.

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