Stories come from unlikely places sometimes – the back of my retinal screening van, for one!
I waited in the dark with my patient, waiting for his eyes to dilate so I could take retinal photographs, and as we sat he ran through the usual “Do you like your job?” small talk that the less inhibited patients seem to go for.
My answer was the same as ever – yes, because I get to see lots of different people for ten minutes at a time; some of them I’m glad are only with me for ten minutes, and others are fascinating and I wish I had more time with them.
Here I gave my example of the old soldier who’d touched my heart, telling me about his memories of the Normandy landings, and how he was hoping to return to the beaches where he had stood and watched his comrades mown down.
My patient smiled knowingly. “I was in the army too”, he said “and I could definitely tell you some stories.”
“I once got offered the chance to buy a girl.”
My face must have registered shock, because he grinned then, and told me the rest of the tale:
He had been in Bahrain, in a drinking hole on the wrong side of the tracks – an illicit haunt for the army boys, who weren’t meant to frequent such establishments – and was settled at his table watching some of the local boys having an argument amongst themselves (here he paused for an aside – the local boys were all Muslim, but were ‘allowed’ to drink, because “Allah couldn’t see beyond the causeway”), when he realised what they were arguing about.
They were trying to decide a price to offer the barman for the Filipino girl he had working there.
More shock from me – a squeak of it escaping to interrupt him.
Yes – they’d scraped together the equivalent of $5000 US dollars and were trying to decide in what manner they would share her amongst themselves.
I expressed distaste “I guess that’s what a human being went for in those days, huh?”
He smiled wryly. “Nah. The barman wasn’t impressed with their offer – it wasn’t enough. They left then, after a ruckus – probably a bit upset at having their offer rejected. But as I left, he offered her to me (everyone knows white guys are rich). I told him I didn’t have enough either, but I’m not sure he believed me.”
His eyes were sufficiently dilated then, and I took his photographs in between further snippets of conversation about how awful it is to live in a world where this kind of thing takes place. And never mind one Filipino girl in Bahrain; how about those 250 Nigerian girls?
“Yes”, he agreed “sometimes I don’t like living in this world very much, because I know there are people out there who will buy those girls, and I know what kind of people they are. They aren’t nice.”
His appointment ended then, and he took himself and his stories away, leaving me stunned and with a sense of unease at belonging to the human race, which can be so glorious and so utterly depraved, almost all at once.
And that got me thinking – what can I do about it? What AM I going to do about it? Because as a member of that human race, I have a strong feeling that we somehow all belong to each other, by virtue of our existence. So these Nigerian sisters of mine have been stolen – who knows what their fate will be – and I sit here, typing; wondering…
Can I help them?
Probably not directly. Nor can I help the thousands of others who are stolen or trafficked or forgotten or marginalised or cast aside or who find themselves facing awful circumstances – I can raise awareness, but can I do more?
Using the principle of ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ – yes, I can.
I can contribute to organisations which seek to keep people from poverty.
I can buy magazines from the homeless in my city.
I can buy them a cup of coffee and something to eat, or contribute to food banks.
I can get involved in supporting my local council to make sensible decisions about schooling and education and how our taxes are spent.
I can choose to spend money on Fair Trade products, so that farmers get a fair wage.
I can seek to support my friends and family in providing a stable base and strong starting-point for the next generations.
I can set a good example by showing I care, and doing it with actions, not just words.
Can I do more? Always.
But just doing something is a start – so I’ve written this, in hopes that I might somehow inspire you, even to just consider what you could do.
Here’s something right now, in fact – you can head to http://slaveryfootprint.org/ and see how many slaves work for you. I was shocked to discover that even with all my care and attention, I scored 30 slaves. Thirty people slogging their guts out for little to no repayment, on my behalf. Sickening, and definitely food for thought.
Or you could check out The A21 Campaign – a non-profit organisation working to prevent human trafficking.