Another lovely day’s walking, on our own this time. We passed a vast fruit farm and a small army of Bulgarian fruit pickers, all scurrying along and gesturing that they don’t speak English.
Marcus, our Zimbabwean driver was surprised that whenever he stops in a village and parks by a verge, a spry pensioner often dashes out of a cottage and demands – often aggressively – that he moves at once and what did he think he’s doing parking there anyway!
Marcus is one if the most well mannered and gentle people I have ever met (that’s why he is our driver) and he always tries to disarm them with an apology and a smile and then off he drives. I wonder whether these folk spend their day just building aggression and waiting for the opportunity to have a go at someone. They say that in an uneventful life there is no such thing an an unimportant event and maybe Marcus and his parking is making their day! They are able to say to their friends – if they have any – “Disgraceful behaviour so told him, good and proper.”
Out of Sight, Out of Mind…
Some time ago a Zimbabwean friend of mine died suddenly. I knew him and his wife well and noted that they were the proud parents of two sons: one a lecturer at Durham university, and the other a professor at Exeter. Within six months, my friend’s widow mas making applications to ZANE for financial assistance.
I was astounded and rang both of the sons (readers, you can be proud of me: I was the epitome of discretion itself). It soon became clear that neither had any idea that their mother was facing acute hardship. They both expressed genteel surprise and told me that they would attend to her financial needs.
Go figure as they say. How rubbish is that? But ZANE is not in the business of assisting families who cannot communicate properly, and we often have to ring relatives to explain the harsh facts of life to them so that we do not waste donor money.
Time and again, our staff have to remind relatives who have left Zimbabwe to forge new lives – be it in Edinburgh, London, Toronto or Hobart – that the people they have left behind are having a hard time and need assistance. Experience shows me that the speed at which people forget their friends and relatives as they forge a new furrow someplace else is truly astonishing.
Longing for the Limelight
There is a poem by W.H. Auden called “Musée des Beaux Arts” that deals with this theme. Based on the famous painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, it describes how Icarus plummets from the sky while a ploughman carries on with his work and a ship sails calmly by. Wholly unconcerned by his plight, they presumably have more important things to do and worry about.
We are all guilty of being self-focused. I suppose growing up means trying to hide this iron fact as far as we are able.
There is a story about how an actress playing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet was asked what the play was all about? You will recall that the nurse is a great part for an older woman. She’s been around for a while, she says things that the audience wants to hear, and she raises a few laughs. But the fact remains that she is not Juliet, and she only is in a very few scenes. She probably appears in just one costume like a green bin bag, and she has a rather insane sort of headdress, a vast construction with horns and a veil.
Anyway the actress thinks very carefully about how best to summarise the plot of Romeo and Juliet: “Well, it’s about this nurse…”
So on we go. We are the stars of our own stories and sometimes we forget we are not at the centre of other people’s as well… and that other people can forget about us altogether.
One of my vital roles is to ensure that the forgotten people of Zimbabwe are remembered against the background of the many other worthy causes that battle to gain our attention. It isn’t easy.
As we go round the subject of “Brexit” arises. Interestingly, Theresa May is a popular choice as Prime Minister in both camps. Apparently she voted a reluctant “remain” and makes encouraging noises about “Brexit”. She is firm, honest, hard working, tough, competent with no small talk. Many people try to compare her with Margaret Thatcher, which I think is a touch silly as Mrs T was a Titan whose talents were suited for her time, whilst Prime Minister May is her own woman. And able women who play their cards right have an advantage in a man’s world, particularly if Chancellor Merkel’s career ends later this year in the aftermath of foolishly allowing one million refugees into her country against the heartfelt wishes of so many of her people.
But I think May has an advantage over Thatcher in that she has no children to distract her, no son Mark to be helplessly stranded in a desert somewhere. No teenage son to be found helplessly drunk in Trafalgar Square (Tony Blair’s lot). No worries as to which school to send them to. She can just get on with the job without distraction.