Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Archive: Selling Pipe Dreams to the Poor (14/sept/2010)

As I drove in to work last night I was listening to a news report about fifty shacks burning down in an informal settlement somewhere in Johannesburg. I fleetingly wondered about who would be providing relief to these people.

Later on that evening, paramedics brought in a heavily pregnant woman. She was stable but gave a story about inhaling smoke ten hours earlier. Her shack had been burned down from the same fire in the news report.

The nursing staff gave her a rough time, accusing her of just wanting a place to sleep. I think that they may have been right - she probably came in for a warm bed and some food to nourish her pregnant body. All her documents had burned. Fire has a way of devouring paper. She had no pregnancy records and no identity papers.

I've become a bit hard and mechanical about my job, which is partly why I need to take a breather for a bit. In a moment of recently-uncharacteristic concern, I asked her, " So where will you be staying now?"

"by the pipelines," she repeated about four times before I finally understood what she was saying.

"you mean by the pipelines, on the streets? " I asked.

"Yes," she replied.

It hit me.

Like that unexpected blow to the conscience - the one that makes you almost nauseous for a few seconds.

The problem with this feeling is that it often catches you offguard - just when you think that you are least capable of feeling anything.

I gave her big instructions about getting an antenatal card from her old clinic, then sorting out her identity documents as soon as possible.

These were all just formalities for me. I could tell that I was just wasting my breath to appease my conscience as she probably wouldn't have the resources to drive around and sort out paperwork.

She would fall back into the world of the 'unknowns' - the people who are shunted between jobs, places and instability.

I looked at the T-shirt that she wore. "Vote Cope" it said.

With a sense of irony I realised that she was sporting a banner for some of the leaders who had let her down. This was a political party created out of the egos of Power Politics and it's now disintegrating for that same reason. Maybe she really supported 'Cope' or maybe she just needed the free T-shirt.

In the corridors of post-revolutionary leadership, champaign flows freely as 'crony capitalism' enshrines the spoils of war in the hands of a select few. Somebody , somewhere has failed my now-homeless-soon-to-be-living-alongside-some-pipeline patient ... and I don't think that it's God that's failed her.

I wonder where her baby will be born...

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