Wednesday, 22 April 2015

I couldn't want you anyway

Almost every Tuesday the nameless Zimbabwean would come to deliver the free weekly paper. I'd make him a sandwich, grab some fruit, and come out to hand him the food in between the bars of the enormous black gate. Me in the prison of my own home, handing him what probably amounted to the only sure meal of the day.

In light of the recent wave of xenophobic attacks I wonder what has become of him. Moreover, what has become of us. What have we as a people chosen to be, in this situation? When do other people cease to be people? When does one think it is within your right to take two Ethiopians, lock them into a container, and burn the container down? How can any person not see another as sister, brother, mother, father, as someone worthy of life? This I cannot understand. 

In 2008, when the first wave of xenophobic attacks happened, I was also safely far away. I was a foreigner in a foreign country, deserving of necklacing simply for existing there if one follows the logic of the perpetrators. Now, again, I am far away, a foreigner in a country I happen to have a passport for. 

This hatred for another, an Other one does not know, is overwhelming. At this hour, the personal, the political and the public fuse into an aching in the night for something to be better, at least for a moment. In South Africa, locals are murdering foreigners just for being foreign. In the Mediterranean, 800 people escaping their home countries in the hope of a better life elsewhere capsize and die. In Johannesburg, my friend worries because her insurance will not cover a treatment she needs. In Switzerland, after a glimmer of hope another friend has had unnecessary complexities added to her life. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, my mother is dealing with her own mother, forgetful, demanding and impatient at 86. My sister is ill and we are talking past one another, if at all. I worry about having saddled myself with too much, about the work interfering with the thesis, but depending on the money earned for survival nonetheless. I worry about what will happen come September 1 2015. I worry what will come next. 
In this light, in this hour, darkness drowns out the light, causing negative epiphanies. Everyone worries mostly about themselves, perhaps it is time that I follow suit. I am reminded of the Steinberg article about how things don't matter enough here, because the everyday is not tinted with the presence of danger and risk in most of the things we do. If I don't finish the thesis in time, I can get an extension. If the move to wherever doesn't pan out, fuck it, I'll stay another month. There are back-up plans in place for everything. 

But perhaps it is exactly this sense of things mattering that am desperately looking for again. Making that sandwich mattered. Giving mattered. Today an acquaintance asked if I could organise some bread for him (I work at a bakery) and although I was not working today, I gave him the contents of our freezer (which amounted to 3 loaves, 15 rolls and some scones) for an impeding trip. I enjoy giving without consequence, I enjoy being able to help. But this, this was strange. This felt strange. This was not a sandwich. This did not matter, because although here I might know his name, this person is flesh not friend and the bag of bread an empty gesture. 

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