Nowadays, I usually order my groceries on-line. It saves the horrid trawl around a supermarket, list in hand, trying to locate goods which used to be in aisle 3 or wherever, but have been moved YET AGAIN !
But today I visited one of those huge hyper-markets …… you know the ones I mean ….. ?
Open 24 hours a day; sells everything from a lawn-mower or a packet of frozen peas, to a three-piece-suit and a television.
This one also incorporated a Post Office; an Opticians; a heel bar and the ubiquitous MacDonalds…..
Outside, past the hundreds of cars, was a large Retail Park …
……… with all the usual High Street stores, conveniently located for lovers of ‘ Out-of-town’ shopping.
So, I wandered around the huge cathedral of consumerism, list at the ready and wondered what someone from a so-called ‘Third World’ country would make of all this. I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place and the choices on offer ….. so someone from the depths of a jungle or the desolate, dust-dry wastes of a desert, would surely feel the same.
We have so much, while so many have so little ………. and then I spotted a collection box, tucked away in a corner …..
A collection point for a local Food-Bank.
I glanced around at the shoppers; their trolleys were piled high with beer and crisps and ready-cooked meals. But, on a TV, in the electrical department, there was one of those political ‘talk-show’ programmes. Do you know the sort of thing I mean ? People telling their local MP about the hardships of life when you have no job and no hope. People in real trouble; heart-breaking tales.
And I realised that we are the lucky ones……..me and my fellow shoppers ……..
So, please forgive me if I re-post a story …….it was written a while ago, but I feel it is even more relevant today.
A NATION’S SHAME
Sean dug the stone out of his boot, noticing the hole in the sole and smiling, ruefully, as he thought of his smart brogues, designer loafers and all his other luxurious clothes, back home in leafy Hampshire. But, at least he had footwear. Most of the refugees were not so lucky. He replaced his boot and moved on to the next in line, hardly daring to look up. He had learned that, months ago,
” Just treat the person in front of you”, said the Camp’s chief Medical Officer, ” Try not to think about the ones who are waiting. You will be overwhelmed ”
“Wise words, indeed,” thought Sean, as he stole an involuntary glance at the sea of humanity that lay before him.
A sea that swelled by the hour. A tidal wave of refugees that poured into this camp at Dollo Ado, on the Ethiopian border.
Starving, sick, exhausted and terrified; fleeing pestilence, dreadful famine and the sheer, unutterable poverty that had swept through war-torn Somalia for so many years.
Sean had been here for 8 months now, working as a volunteer for The Red Cross. His “gap-year”, a time of self-discovery, before taking up his place at Oxford.
He had left his privileged lifestyle, his comfortable home in the affluent suburbs and his indulgent parents, to join one of the many teams of idealistic young people who wanted to help the poor in various Third World countries.
And so he found himself here, in this volatile corner of Africa, where human life was cheap.
Here he handed out the daily ration of high-protein food, to wide-eyed, skeletal people; to children close to death, whose bellies were swollen with the effects of months of malnutrition.
He helped doctors administer phials of drugs to the sick; to the raped and beaten; to amputees. And he heard dreadful tales and saw the goriest sights imaginable.
The sheer scale of the camp was overwhelming.
The second largest refugee camp in the world; it stretched as far as the eye could see. Makeshift tents and ricketty huts provided some protection from the searing heat.
No substantial rain had fallen here for many years and a blanket of coarse, brown dust covered everything and everyone. The dust seemed to seep into the skin. It settled in the hair and at the edges of the fly-covered eyes and mouths and crusted nostrils of the refugees. The lightest of breezes carried it into tents and huts and clouds of it hung over the area, shifting to and fro as the sea-tide of bodies moved slowly back and forth in a never-ending queue.
Sean lifted a scrawny child from its mother’s arms and tried to spoon-feed some of the thick liquid into its tiny mouth. The mixture; a porridge-like concoction but with a maltier taste, was intended to gently accustom tiny stomachs to regular food. This time it had an inverse effect and the poor mite vomited, all over Sean’s faded cotton shirt. He was used to this now, This would happen many times today as he worked his way through the interminable crush of people.
The lines stretched out in every direction as the hungry waited patiently, listlessly; an expression of resignation on their faces. There was a sort of acceptance, an inevitability that many would die where they lay, their life extinguished far too soon.
And the relief workers wove their way through the throng, helping as many as they could and, perhaps, thinking of their homes, far away, in fresh, green suburbs……………………………………………………………..
Marli had been standing in the queue for a hour now. Her bare legs ached and her feet were filthy and blistered in her flimsy sandals. A scuffle had broken out behind her and she was jostled, roughly, as one chap punched another in the “kisser” and accused him of trying to “invade his space”, of trying to “push in”.
The line of people shuffled slowly and Marli covered her head with her thin, cotton scarf. A breeze, whipped up from nowhere, lifted dust and debris into the air and Marli sighed, wearily.
Finally, the people in front of her, dispersed and Marli looked shyly up at the Aid Workers. She was embarrassed; mortified, in fact and her cheeks burned bright red under the grime.
A plastic carrier bag was handed to her.
A bag containing tinned goods, a box of cereal, cartons of milk and juice, a few apples and a packet of biscuits. She took it, gratefully, apologetically, then walked slowly back to her home in Basingstoke, feeling a great shame burning inside her.
The shame of a wealthy nation. The seventh wealthiest nation in the world, and yet its population were forced to queue at Foodbanks ! Forced to survive on Charity handouts. Shame indeed !
The above piece was originally an entry for the Countdown Word Game, but I hope it is a little more than that.
While, in no way trying to suggest that the plight of the poor in the Western world is anything like the harrowing lives of the refugees of Third World countries, I feel it is just as important.
If we cannot look after our own, we will be unable to help the refugees and the poor in other countries.
I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I am not prepared to ignore the problem.
Anyway, off my soapbox now. Oh, if you fancy trying the Game, either in the form of a political statement or anything else that takes your fancy, you will find details on Matt’s page at
This week the words to be included are;
RATION, BROGUES, INVADE, GORIEST, KISSER, PHIALS, TEAMS, MALTIER, TINNED, INVERSE