Border Crossings Articles and Stories

God bless you and may your days be numbered

 

An ex student from my days teaching in Zimbabwe contacted me recently via Facebook. It took a few posts and some discreet questioning – What was the name of the principal Mr ah …? What was that tall guy in the class John, Joseph, what was his name…? – to establish that she was indeed the Sipelile Mutwa that I used to teach back in 1983 at Rimuka High School.

 

I had fond memories of Sipelile. She was a 15 year old with strong opinions who used to stand up in class and deliver them with the same haughty disposition force and accuracy that she threw passes on the netball court. The last time I’d heard from her way back in 1985 she’d signed off a letter to me with ‘Keep smiling it really improves your face’. I have tried to keep smiling ever since.

 

Initially I was delighted to hear from her, celebrating the wonders of Facebook that could make such a connection after 30 years possible. I was relieved to hear she was even alive. Poverty and AIDs had decimated Zimbabwean society in the 80s and 90s reducing life expectancy to 37. I had always feared many of my students were dead. Every time I saw a story about government brutality and corruption I thought of Sipelile, Joseph, Mugove, Bethuel, Rita, Debra and Dennis and wondered what had become of them. They had had such high expectations of what life in independent Zimbabwe with a secondary education could offer: an escape from scratching a subsistence living in the rock hard soils of the communal lands, professional white collar jobs sitting behind a desk being paid handsomely. Not necessarily for doing anything. In the minds of some of my students there was no obvious correlation between working and getting paid. They had plenty of experience of smartly dressed government workers sitting behind empty desks doing nothing. Having the shirt, the tie and the desk was the thing. I agreed with them that this was the sort of job definitely worth aspiring to.

 

In initial posts she addressed me as sir, sere in Zimbabwean accented English. She asked after my family. It took three posts to reveal that she was in dire circumstances. Her husband had died and she had three children to support. Of course I knew where the conversation was heading. The request for financial assistance came via text – it is unwise to put personal contact details on a website I now realize.

 

How are u doing Mr Voysey. I am not on Facebook now. I am very desperate. I need some money to pay for my children’s fees very sorry for bothering u but u are my last hope God bless u @ Sipelile

 

Sipelile, happy to help this time. I can send you $100. How do I get the money to you? Phil(call me Phil please)

 

Back came a text with her bank account details.

 

Thank u very much at least I have somewhere to start from I want to ring you when is a convenient time to call

 

The phone call came at an inconvenient time as I was having dinner at a friend’s house.

 

‘Nice to hear your voice. How are you?’ Dumb question.

‘Not so good.’

‘I’m sorry to hear about your circumstances.’

‘It is so hard here you know.’

‘I imagine.’ I couldn’t really.

‘Do you see any of the others from Rimuka?’

‘No. Some of them are dead. Some went to South Africa.’

‘Oh…’

 

Fortunately the phone line cut out. I texted her telling me to email me more complete bank details and I would send the money.

 

A week later a second phone call came while I was driving on the M4 between Blacktown and Parramatta. It was my wife Cheryle who took the call. She told Sipelile I couldn’t talk and hung up.

 

‘I don’t think you should send her the money,’ Cheryle said. ‘A one off $100 is not going to do her much good. And she’ll expect more. You should be trying to help her find work or connecting her to local NGOs who can help her.’

‘I can’t do much from over here.’

‘You can get her thinking about how she can help herself.’

 

She googled NGOs in Zimbabwe. There were pages of them. Cheryle had worked out a strategy for helping Sipelile just as we passed the turn off to Westmead Hospital.

 

Cheryle was right of course. A hand up is better than a hand out. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and …. so it goes. But if the man who approaches you is starving, you don’t send him to the nearest NGO you give him the fish off your plate. And if she is someone you know, family, friend, a favourite ex student you are desperately relieved to find alive after thirty years of thinking the worst, there are no questions asked.

 

Sipelile, I am concerned what u will do in future. Can u find work? Are there organisations that can help you?

 

Thanx for the concern surely I don’t want to live on handouts there are no jobs neither is there any kind of assistance that I can get. Right now I need $500 for my girl’s fees. If only I can raise capital to start a small business it will be better. Thanks so much God bless.

 

I can’t help wondering what sort of school she is sending her children to. $500 is exorbitant. Surely public education is free. Back in 1983 parents had only to be able to afford the cost of a school uniform and pair of black shoes to send their children to Rimuka. Not that this was easily affordable. It was not uncommon to see students walking through the dusty streets of Rimuka in bare feet, their black shoes tied together and draped over their heads, only putting them on at the school gates so as not to wear them out too quickly. Siblings often shared the one pair of shoes if one went to school in the morning and the other in the afternoon. This only worked if the siblings were of similar height and shoe size. The shoes obviously had to fit the larger sibling. I felt sorry for tall Isaiah’s sister Mercy who had to put up with wearing shoes that looked like clown shoes on her.

 

Of course 1983 was a long time ago. Back in 1983 the gleaming red brick buildings of Rimuka were beacons of hope in a township where the vast majority lived in one room elephant back houses, so called because of the curved corrugated iron roofs covering adobe walls. Rimuka was the place where students came to dream because with an O level education (year 10) everything was possible. In 1983 maize was abundant and Zimbabwe was the silo of Africa. In 1983 elephants roamed in such destructive numbers in the game parks of Hwange, Kariba and Mana Pools that they had to be culled each year. In 1983 the supermarket shelves were full and rump steak was so cheap we used it in stews. In 1983 I could walk up to Comrade Robert Mugabe at a ZANU PF fundraising dinner – his security guards must have nodded off for a moment – tell him what a great man he was, an example to the rest of Africa, and ask him for his autograph. Back then it was an autograph worth having.

 

It occurs to me that Sipelile may have been quoting Zimbabwean dollars. Maybe the school fees are the equivalent of twenty or fifty dollars. I go online to check how much Z$500 is worth only to discover that Zimbabwe doesn’t have its own currency. Hyperinflation in recent decades has made the Z$ worthless. Zimbabwean currency is the US$. My one hundred dollars is now looking extremely inadequate but it’s all I can afford.

 

I wonder how Mugabe feels about using US dollars as the national currency in his independent Zimbabwe. Surely this is the ultimate loss of sovereignty, the ultimate embarrassment for such a virulent opponent of colonialism. But then when you can squirrel millions away in overseas bank accounts a little embarrassment is probably bearable.

 

When I try to send the money electronically I discover that nobody transfers money to banks in Zimbabwe. The risks are too great and the banking system unreliable at best. I will have to send a bank cheque.

 

I text Sipelile.

 

I sent the money today. I hope it arrives safely.

 

God bless you Phil may your days be numbered.

 

*

 

Dhaka Bangladesh 1992

 

Every day driving to work I run the gauntlet of the beggars. It begins the moment I turn from Banani into the chaos that is Airport Road. Mohammad the hunchback is waiting for me at the first set of lights. Some cars are stopped at the optional red light while others go straight through negotiating their way through the brawling of cars, buses, trucks, baby taxis(motor rickshaws) and bicycle rickshaws with purposeful use of the horn, as important and necessary as the brake in ensuring safe passage from A to B. In Bangladesh you learn to drive with your hand on one and foot on the other.

 

Asalaam walaikum.

Walaikum asalaam.

How are you Mohammad?

I like your shirt. Can I have it?

 

He has to get to the point since the lights are about to change. Normally I would respond with an automatic Mapf korun – I’m sorry, I understand your pain, but no. That is how you respond to beggars in Bangladesh, automatically without thought. The sheer number of beggars makes generosity of spirit almost impossible to contemplate. To give to one would be to be besieged by many. To engage would be to let in a world of suffering far too overwhelming for any one person’s compassion. It is wise, as most foreigners do, to drive in air -conditioned comfort with the windows up to keep out the stifling heat and humidity while avoiding any sticky moral ambiguities.

 

My problem is that the Mitsubishi Jeep has no air conditioning and I am forced to drive with the windows down. My predecessor at Save the Children didn’t believe in such colonial indulgences. She believed the money was better spent saving women and children. I curse her every day, particularly on the seven – hour trips to the field.

 

Sure you can have it. Why not, I tell Mohammad.

I am wearing my favourite yellow and blue patterned shirt. But today I’m in a giving mood.

 

The lights change and the angry shouting of horns shoves me forward. At the second set of lights I am confronted with an ambiguity of beggars: the man with the elephant feet, the walking skeleton, the man with no legs zipping dangerously between cars on a skateboard, the woman carrying her brother with the polio legs that hang from his body like straps of licorice. She spends a large part of her days carrying him around on her hip begging.

 

Maf korun.

 

There are too many.

 

On Fridays, alms giving day, the blind beggars walk in single file outside my house dressed in white cap, white Punjabi, white slacks and sandals, one hand on the person in front, the blind leading the blind, chanting Allah, Allah. I watch them from the balcony of my first floor flat. The rolling beggars follow. Men with no arms and no legs rolling down the street chanting Allah, Allah.

 

Some say these men have been deliberately deformed at a young age, brought up to be professional beggars by cruel men content to maim others and exploit their suffering to make a living. But I can’t bring myself to believe this. It would be to invite in brutality too overwhelming to imagine. Just as I refuse to believe in the killing of children to supply the global market in body parts. These are urban myths peddled by people with a voyeuristic interest in poverty. No one is capable of these things. Surely.

 

A few days later I give Mohammad the pressed clean shirt. He doesn’t thank me; he takes it with a sense of entitlement and smiles. It’s not a happy smile; it’s more complex than that. Happiness tinged with surprise mixed with sadness, irony, anger perhaps. I don’t know. When I drive off the only thing I feel is the emptiness and futility of my gesture.

 

I naively expect to pull up at the lights one day and see him wearing it. That would make me happy. But he doesn’t give me that satisfaction. Of course he has sold it or given it to someone else to wear or sell. I vow never to give to beggars again. Too painful. So for three years in Bangladesh I perfect the phrase: Maf korun. At traffic lights, at ferry ghats, the jeep surrounded by beggars with outstretched hands and pleading desperate faces, I keep the windows up and my messy morality contained.

 

*

All religions and philosophies extoll the virtues of giving. They tell us that in giving of ourselves and serving others that we discover the true source of happiness. It is the giving that makes us who we are.

 

Buddhism also talks about receiving. In Zen and the Art of Begging Eido Frances Carney writes:

The art of begging does not teach us to be dependent upon society, asking for something that is not earned, or pressuring a community for an entitlement to food or goods. Rather it teaches us the fundamental teachings of the Buddha: to be dependent on everyone, to live our original homelessness, to include the homeless in thought and deed, to share everything, to accept what comes to us, to be generous, to be humble in society.

 

 

*

Back in 1997 I received a letter from Rosie, (Rosalinda), the youngest of my Peruvian sisters. It began like this:

 

Querido Felipito (con cariño),

 

Sabes hoy me senti sola, triste, desconsolada…terrriblemente desesperada. Entonces commencé a caminar y caminar quiza queriendo hallar solucion a mis problemas quiza queriendo hallar paz en mi alma perturbada volvir a casay el hambiente en casa no eranada bueno, fui a mi cuarto en medio de in encierro buscaba y buscaba hablar confesar todo lo que en mi corazon dentro depronto levante los ojos llorosos y estabas tu allí pegado en mi pared….ah! dije aqui esta mi hermano y amigo

 

You must know that today I feel alone, sad, disconsolate…terribly desperate so I started walking and walking, hoping to find a solution to my problems, hoping to find peace in my soul, worried about returning to the house because the atmosphere in the house wasn’t good, I was in my room feeling a little imprisoned looking to talk, with this urgent need to confess everything in my heart to someone when I looked up with teary eyes and saw the picture of you on the wall…ah! I said, here is my brother and friend…

 

The rawness of emotion brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. It was typical Rosie. Intense, raw, uninhibited. She’d been dying for a long time as she put it. Frustrated at living under her parent’s roof after tasting freedom. Missing her boyfriend in Bolivia. Despairing at not having the money to complete her dentistry degree. Would I lend her $350 to pay for her university fees?

 

She ended the letter with a flourish:

 

Felipito ayudame, ayudame a que pueda volar

y con tu sonrisa encender en mi un rayo de luz

 

con todo cariño

 

Tu hermanita de Cusco

 

Rosie

 

Felipito, help me, help me to fly

and with your smile inflame in me a ray of light

with all my love

 

Your Cusceñan sister

 

Rosie

 

Of course I sent her the money. It wasn’t just the emotional blackmail or sense of obligation. I understood the dream inspiring the desperation.

 

Back in 1986 when I was a boarder in the house of her parents Pedro and Maria Flores de la Montoya and she was a cheeky fourteen year old we played basket most afternoons after lunch. One afternoon we were recovering after a game she’d won fair and square – sometimes I let her win – exploiting my inability to move quickly or willingly, on this occasion, in the 3,500 metre altitude of Cusco. We were sitting in the courtyard surrounded by plastic and metal washing tubs and chilli plants when she turned to me.

 

Felipe, I want to help the poor people in Africa.

Why Africa?

That’s where the poorest people live. I’ve seen them on the television?

 

My immediate thought was why not help the poor in Peru, but this was not a moment for mean spirited pragmatism. With my very limited Spanish I told her about my experience teaching in Zimbabwe. I told her about my students at Rimuka and what a wonderful experience it had been.

 

I couldn’t help thinking that Rosie’s was an impossible dream, just one of the many impossible dreams, like Alice in Wonderland, she had before breakfast every day. In 1986 the Shining Path were on the rampage and the economy was collapsing. In a country ironically labelled El pais de maravillas – The Wonderland – by a local cartoonist, the minimum monthly wage was fifty dollars, university graduates drove taxis and sixty per cent of people worked in the unregulated informal economy earning barely enough to survive. Los sueldos no alcaza para nada – Salaries don’t pay for anything – was a bitter refrain of Peruvians. There were two chances of getting out of Peru: emigrating or being teleported and there was more chance of the latter.

 

You know, I think you’ll go to Africa. Whatever happens, you have to keep dreaming.

 

And here she was eleven years later asking me to help her keep her dream alive.

 

I sent the money via electronic transfer. A message came back that she hadn’t received it, could I send it again. I followed up from this end. Bank records showed that the money had arrived in Cusco.

 

This put me in a quandary. Were the banks in Cusco inefficient, corrupt, or was Rosie lying in the expectation that I would send her more money?

 

I didn’t want to imagine that my young Peruvian sister would play me in this way; I wanted to trust her so I resent the money. She wrote back saying it had arrived, thanking me profusely. I had saved her life no less. The dream was alive; she had ventured to the edge of possibility and was about to spread her wings and fly.

*

 

To understand the letter you have to understand that melodrama and sentimentality are part of Peruvian culture, part of the Spanish language and very much part of who Rosie was. She lived life with the flourish and abandon of a dancer. Of all the sisters she was the risk taker, the one who moved to her own rhythm. Older sister Luz, with the beauty and fragility of finely cut crystal, played Beethoven and Bach. Rosie moved to the beat of the marinera, the huayno and the lambada. And she loved performing, much to the begrudging delight of Maria and Pedro who enjoyed their talented daughter’s exuberance, while being slightly embarrassed that she insisted on displaying it in public. In conservative Catholic Cusco only prostitution was more morally reprehensible than dancing.

 

One night Rosie guided me around a dance floor to the salsa, trying to tease movement from my wooden hips. I remember her slender waist, her hips swaying, the way she flicked her long black hair back and forth, the smouldering intensity of her eyes. I danced with her in a state of shock and arousal. The young girl I used to grapple playfully with on the basketball court had grown into a sexy, powerful young woman.

 

*

 

A few months prior to receiving the letter we’d had the opportunity to talk. I was in Cusco staying with the family and researching stories for a Masters in Journalism. Rosie had just returned from Bolivia where she’d been studying medicine on a scholarship. The Bolivian government had discontinued the scholarship plan forcing Rosie to return to Cusco leaving her boyfriend behind and her degree only half completed. Having tasted freedom it drove her crazy to be under the control of her parents once again.

 

Conversation with Rosie was always filled with serious intent and laced with innuendo. I loved that about her. She could be cheeky and earnest in the same breath. She was a woman serious about tackling world poverty, quick with a saucy joke, who found comfort in the soft toys on ther bed and a poster of Micky Mouse on the wall.

 

She told me of her plan to sell one of her kidneys for $6000 so that she could finish off her degree. It was not a plan she’d told anyone in the family about and she swore me to secrecy. She’d booked a surgeon in Lima, had flown down to the city under the guise of visiting a friend and was on the way to the surgery in San Isidro when she was gripped by fear and doubt. What if the surgery went wrong? What if she died? There were other ways to live her dream; maybe there was another dream. She got out of the collectivo and went back to the hotel.

 

*

In ensuing years I didn’t see much of Rosie. She completed her dentistry degree and moved to Quillabama in the jungle, eight hours from Cusco. She married a fellow dentist Marco and had a daughter, Valeria.

 

The last time I saw Rosie in July of 2010 she had just returned from volunteering her skills in Trujillo in the north of Peru. She’d worked with a team of volunteer dentists treating the black and decaying teeth and diseased gums of Peruvians who chewed too much coca and didn’t have the habit of cleaning their teeth, certainly not with expensive toothpaste.

 

As luck would have it, my visit to Cusco overseeing student volunteer projects for Macquarie University coincided with Rosie’s transit stop and Maria and Pedro’s wedding anniversary. Rosie had stayed in Cusco to celebrate with the rest of the family before heading back to the jungle.

 

I sat next to her over a lunch of ceviche and tallarin con pollo – pasta and chicken. She was buoyed from the experience up north.

 

Felipito, the team leader wants me to go to Africa.

 

You’re kidding me. I knew you would do it.

 

I gave her a big hug. I was lying. I never imagined Rosie would ever get to Africa.

 

They’re going in 2012. But I have to learn English. Felipito, you have to help me learn English.

 

Ok then. I’ll get send you some CDs. Maybe we can talk via Skype. Have you got good Internet connection in Quillabamba?

Not so good Felipito.

 

You probably need some classes. Or a tutor. There must be someone in Quillababmba who speaks English. Why don’t you advertise for a personal tutor.

 

Yes, I will.

 

You have to practice everyday.

 

She had a look of dread on her face.

 

English is so hard.

 

You just have to stick at it. Practice each day. It’s your destiny. It’s meant to be.

 

You think so?

 

I know so. Hey, you know the best way to learn English is to get an English speaking boyfriend. But I guess Marco wouldn’t approve.

 

We won’t tell him. What are you doing tonight? She squeezed my thigh and laughed.

 

Her destiny sorted, Rosie became the entertainer. At one point she was standing up with two of her sisters the three of them thrusting their denim backsides at everyone else demanding that we choose the nicest one. Rosie’s was certainly the largest – she’d put on a little weight since she stopped dancing. At another moment she recounted a story that ended with her faking the sound of orgasm.

 

Jes, jes, jes, ohhhhhh.

 

Everyone laughed. Typical Rosie. It was the only English she knew.

Going back to my hotel, concertinaed in brother -in -law Jorge’s car, Rosie sat on my lap stroking my head.

 

Promise me you’ll help me learn English, Felipito.

 

*

One of the first things I did upon return to Australia was to venture into Abbey’s bookshop in the city. I went to the foreign language section where there was a wide selection of beginner English language CDs and books. Strangely I couldn’t find one that I was happy with. The English language teacher in me found fault with everything I looked at. And I had doubts about a large package getting through the Peruvian mail system. I left the store empty handed and frustrated.

 

A few months later I received a devastating email. Rosie had died in a car accident. She was with her husband and daughter travelling between Cusco and Quillabamba when the driver of the car fell asleep at the wheel and veered off the side of the road and over a cliff sending them tumbling into thick vegetation below. Rosie sustained fractures to her head and other parts of her body and later died in hospital. The others miraculously survived.

In that moment of shock before the tears come I imagine the scene clearly because I’ve been there so many times myself. A typical mountain road only wide enough for one car with a cliff face of falling rocks on one side and an abyss on the other, destiny waiting around each bend. It can happen so easily, with just a moment’s error in judgement.

But you push that thought away and put blind faith in this guy at the wheel who’s driven this road so many times before and plays the horn like a virtuoso. He is good. I have to believe he is invincible. Have to believe he is sober. Have to believe in the protective powers of the picture of Christ in a plastic sleeve hanging from the rear view mirror. God is our guide. Even if only for the duration of the trip. No, it can’t happen. At least not to me, and not to the people I love.

Then the tears come in tidal surges. The dizziness, the emptiness, the disbelief, the denial. Anger. Why the email days after the accident? Why didn’t Luz ring?

I phone Cusco immediately getting the eldest sister Jackie on the phone.

Jackie, No creo… como…..porque… is all the Spanish I can muster through my sobbing. It is difficult to find words in English, impossible in Spanish with grief obliterating any capacity for language.

Por favor Felipe, no, she says.

What does she mean, please don’t? What does she expect? Maybe in the days that have passed between the death and the email she’s already cried enough. But I haven’t. I still need an answer to the unanswerable.

How could this happen? Why? I am babbling hysterically now.

I don’t know Felipe.

We struggle on, barely comprehending each other. Eventually I run out of

words, hang up the phone and cry.

*

*There are blows in life so violent…..I can’t answer

Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them,

the deep waters of everything lived through

were backed up in the soul……I can’t answer

*

 

Last year when I was back in Cusco with Cheryle and daughter Maya, visiting the family for the first time since Rosie’s death, I had the chance to talk with Luz about the accident. We went to a local café, a typical tourist café with a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries on display at the front counter. It was too early for cake so we ordered empanadas and Yierba mate.

 

Luz was such a contrasting personality to Rosie. She was grace and gentleness; the eye of the storm that was Rosie.

 

Luz recounted what had happened. On that morning Rosie had hired the taxi services of a seventeen year old man who’d been out partying the night before. Without permission he’d taken his father’s car to earn a bit of extra money. You didn’t need a license to taxi people around. They were an hour into the journey when the young man fell asleep at the wheel and drove over the side of a cliff.

 

When the local people pulled Rosie from the wreckage all she was thinking about was Valeria. Look after Valeria, look after Valeria. That’s what she kept saying. And she was dying.

 

We were both crying.

 

The Cathedral was full. Hundreds of people came. It was amazing. It was almost happy. We couldn’t cry,’ Luz said. ‘People kept telling us that she was happy, she was being looked after. They said she had achieved what she set out to in this life and that it was time for her to go. I didn’t feel so sad knowing how she was loved by the community.

 

In the town of Quillabamba Rosie was known and loved for her compassion and generosity. If people came to her in desperate need of a filling, more likely an extraction, with no capacity to pay, she didn’t charge them.

 

Marco didn’t like that. She was losing money. They used to fight about it all the time.

 

She always had that in her, didn’t she. She always wanted to help the poor.

 

A couple of weeks before she died, she rang me to say that she was dying. She was convinced she had cancer. She was angry too because she found out Marco was having an affair with a woman in Cusco.

 

There are blows in life so violent…I can’t answer

 

*

 

In Andean cosmology the condor transports dead souls to the land of the ancestors. One of my most treasured memories is watching this great bird fly over my head, close enough that I felt the whoosh of its wings, before gliding beyond the mountains and fading into blue.

 

It was the climactic moment of the Festival of Blood in the remote village of Cotabambas. The previous day I’d watched as the bird was paraded around a makeshift bullring before being tied to the back of a bull. The two animals were then released. I watched in horror and fascination as the condor pecked at the bull as it tried to buck free of its tormentor. This gruesome scene was a rewriting of history. It symbolized the triumph of Andean culture (the condor) over the Spanish invader (the bull). In less civilized times locals slaughtered the bull, hence the festival’s name.

 

Leading up to the climax locals had walked the condor, its wings outstretched, through the streets to a point on the outskirts of the village where the road fell away sharply to the valley a thousand metres below. The local Shaman blessed the condor and fed it the sacred chicha (maize beer) before releasing it. I was among a gathering of about twenty people watching from a ditch below the road as the tortured bird stumbled to the side of the road spread its wings and escaped to freedom.

 

As it glided towards the mountains opposite I sobbed uncontrollably. Watching the great bird, the deity of the skies, gliding towards infinity, free at last from its captors, recalled that historic moment years earlier when I’d listened to BBC commentary from Bangladesh of Nelson Mandela walking free from Polsmoor prison, tears rolling down my cheeks. Hope and possibility can do that.

 

*

A photo of Rosie sits above the altar in the back room of my house. It is a picture of her taken in her early thirties. Her face is so perfectly symmetrical. Every feature – her slim nose, her lips as full and soft as clouds, her cheekbones high enough to hang your hopes on – carefully sculpted.

 

When I meditate on Rosie it is her generosity of spirit that fills my being. She dreamed big, she lived every moment as if it counted; she gave of herself right up until the moment of death. That seems as good a blueprint as any for leading a good life.

 

Rosie was 38 when she died. It saddens me that she came so close to achieving her dream only to be denied at the last moment within sight of Africa. But perhaps that doesn’t matter. She lived a life inspired by a dream and that is what counts. I feel some small satisfaction that I was able to give her hope at a desperate time.

 

A foundation has been established in her name to support dental work in small communities. This is the legacy she leaves behind: a legacy of giving generously to those who need it most. She has helped me to understand that whether it is Sipelile, Mohammad, the stranger in the street needing a handout or disaster victims on the other side of the world, the challenge is to respond with generosity of spirit and compassion. We must, because they are part of who we are and it is the giving that defines us.

*

My Zimbabwean students were fond of using proverbs in their writing. If wishes were horses beggars would ride was the one I liked. It would appear in the most unlikely places, right in the middle of an essay on Bismark or Hamlet. Hamlet was driven by the need to revenge his father’s death. And if wishes were horses beggars would ride. He plotted to kill Polonius… It expressed a universe of meaning. Nothing else needed to be said really.

 

It is worth remembering this proverb when confronted with a beggar in the street or a cry for help from afar. It reminds us that everyone, no matter how poor his or her life circumstances, has a dream, at least one. We have a moral responsibility to help them take charge of the reins and ride towards the blue. Because that is where life is.

 

*

 

 

*Verse from The Black Riders – Cesar Vallejo

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*