Saturday, January 28, 2012

David Shrigley, 1998

Friday, January 27, 2012

She doesn’t talk

A friend writes:

The neighbors in the shantytown are worried about her. She is 6 years old. She doesn’t go to school. She is beautiful. And she doesn’t talk.

They all live and sleep together in one room, her three brothers, her mother and her mother’s male friend. Her mother doesn’t work and doesn’t seem to want to work, but receives the government child subsidy and asks for handouts from churches and neighbors. The neighbors hear her shouting and swearing at the kids.

At night when the children are asleep she leaves them and goes out.

The neighbors in the slum are worried about her. Because she is beautiful. And she doesn’t talk.

‘Tears are something to hide or something to fake’

Cities are seemingly the least private places in the world. I remember my first dining experience in New York, memorable not for the meal but for the conversation of the lady in the adjacent booth who proceeded to recall - in nauseating detail and broadcast in that particularly American way - her most recent visit to the gynecologist. 

Cities are perhaps even more unforgiving to those whose personal circumstances and private shames cannot be expressed without an audience.  After walking for some time in the city recently, I rested on a paving stone by the side of the road. Then, from the other side of the street, came the quiet sound of sobbing.

It is rare to see a man cry - this isn’t the movies. And never before have I witnessed a homeless guy (often the silently stoic) pour out his personal grief with such abandon. Now I do not know what is the greater grief: to have one’s childhood spoilt, but to have it salvaged in later life (and therefore finish well), or to have a wonderful childhood, but to blow it in adulthood (and therefore finish badly).


“I’ve long heard that the Port Authority is one of many public spaces across the country that uses classical music to help control vagrancy: to drive the homeless away. In 2001, police in West Palm Beach blasted Mozart and Beethoven on a crime-ridden street corner and saw incidents dwindle dramatically...Some sources report that Barry Manilow is as effective as Mozart in driving away unwanted groups of teens.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

God save the Royal Mail

That’s where my Christmas card went.

Camping (afterthought)

Mosquitoes: angry, but stupid.

The Brazilian B&B

I don’t hate many things. I become frustrated. Things irritate me. For the most part, though, not many people can accuse me of being a hater

I hate camping. 

This should of course come as no great revelation to those who know me. And it’s not simply for the more obvious reasons, either: the colourful snakes near the tent, the hairy spiders that gather around the breakfast table or the restless nights in a damp and stony bed.

It was the first time that V (aged 8) had seen the ocean, and even the trip down produced some comic moments, but one might have thought it was his first time out in the wide world by some of the baffling expressions he blurted out:

- on seeing cows grazing on a hillside: Korrr! Lions!
- on some low-clouds around the mountains: Look at the snow!
- on the sea: Who put all the salt in here?

The saving graces of this week have been (1) the beach, in which I always seem to find solace - the near-deserted sands we chose were blissfully free of what I have come to call the Brazilian B&B (all bellies and boobs) and (2) quiet words spoken around a closely gathered circle.

One of the fundamental tenets of quantum mechanics is that measuring a physical system always disturbs it. When working with children and adolescents in situations of risk, I am only now learning the importance of patient and respectful enquiry and weighing responses garnered following months of confidence-building.

And I have always underestimated the importance of sharing. Oprah-style public confessionals have never appealed, and personally speaking, SPD is as about as candid as it gets, most of the time. There is a certain power though that pertains to a story told to others, in a shared testimony. One evening, the brothers C and C spoke openly of their gang and drug-addled past. A following evening, E recounted with hesitation and shame a story of a self-annihilating family unit, his leaving home and early life on the street. 

Then came W’s turn. He had been complaining of a sore throat that evening and I was waiting for the inevitable excuse not to speak as he coughed more and more awkwardly before he was due to share. There was a silence, and then he started. A story I’d never heard before. About his father’s death when he was a young boy, about how his mother struggled to cope with a large family, about his being sent to a home and being told by the carers - three months after the event - that his mother too had died of an illness she was too poor to get treated.

I knew some of the details, but not from him. W never speaks about his past. His story didn’t include the part about his time on the street. And, somewhat inconceivably, it gets worse: his brother was later shot dead by drug-dealers. He stared at the floor the whole time, and as his monotone monologue continued, he spoke of how the helpers at the rescue house were now his family and how his faith gave him hope.

W has been with us longer than all of the other boys put together.

He will always be an orphan, but that doesn’t mean that he is without a family.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Don’t cry for me

The most heart-warming response from the boys on my return to the rescue house this week must surely have come from E, when he enthusiastically asked:

“So how was Buenos Aires?”

Almost, but not quite.