One of the interesting differences between, i’ll term it London culture and KZN culture, is public awareness. In London, and perhaps in most mega cities where development and a population influx of migrants and members of various social strata mean a) time is money and b) communication can be a laboured and to a degree difficult process, is that lack of public awareness. Sure, people are on high-alert in terms of being street wise; are there potential muggers about, is this a red-light district, am I lost and making my self vulnerable, but public awareness doesn’t, in my opinion, feature. We rarely notice or considered the emotional visage of the hordes that walk alongside us, sit next to us, or even drive us. One man’s frown is another man’s impassive forehead.
Yet in the KwazuluNatal Region of South Africa, in my experience of it as a rural area, it was filled with public awareness. With the constant, and at times tedious, exchange of greetings to every Tom, Dick and Harry, (or rather Sizwe, Thembeka and Ntokoza) around, one was forced to be aware of the extras in the film of My Life.
Today, as i treaded on worn heals over poorly lit cobbled streets, I drew alongside and began to overtake a woman in a turquoise coat. Simultaneously we stepped into a pool of light that was leaking from of a shop window,and I saw her shoulders heave. My hand gently touched the small of her back as I asked – “Are you ok?”
The question took her by surprise, and as she turned inside the leaking spool of light, I saw tears and a trembling mouth distorting her face. “Yes,” she offered hesitantly, before explaining that a month ago her friend had died, she had come from the memorial service and was just starting to deal with it.
After enquiring after her health and offering to pray, we hugged it out and amicably parted ways. I hung back to give her space, yet I was reeling from the dull impact of her revelation.
Supposing I had never asked, but walked briskly home, head tilted towards the heavens, or grovelling at the ground? The relief that painted her white-washed features, the relief that someone cared, a stranger, who was touched by her pain and concerned enough to ask, seemed a premature catalyst to the healing process that she will need to undergo. Herself and her friends family.
Public awareness. So different from being street smart, but even more vital if we are to express compassion, love and basic humanity.
Rest Well Marcus.