Living in Fear
Have you ever whinged about the speed of your internet? Have you ever complained that the supermarket had run out of your favourite brand of coffee? Have you ever bemoaned the fact that you couldn’t go on holiday because of the pandemic? Have you ever, like “Weird Al” Yankovic (2014), “bought too many groceries for (your) refrigerator” or been unable to “get WiFi in the kitchen”? I certainly have, as have others around me. Yet most of us reading this are living in comfort, in safety. We have a roof over our head, we have food in the fridge (we have a fridge and electricity to run it), we have the benefits of a health service if we fall ill. This is not the case for vast numbers of people in the world.
“Man-made” events such as war, repression and rape are the daily reality of thousands who live in fear that their home will be raided, their loved ones shot or taken away to be tortured, their family and friends raped.
In Syria, “It is estimated that there have been almost 207,000 civilian casualties since the beginning of the conflict in 2011; and about 25,000 of them were children” (Statista Research Department). What is it like to live like that? How do people survive under such conditions? How do they get up every day and carry on?
Those that choose to flee face the nightmare (how easily some of us overuse that word to describe minor upsets) of exploitation by unscrupulous dealers, overcrowded boats followed by hostile officials and refugee camps if they succeed in making a crossing to a safe haven.
The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan brings chaos and fear. I have many times read Ellis’s The Breadwinner with grade 7 students who were captivated and horrified by the situation portrayed. It was an opportunity to raise awareness of recent history, of oppression under an extreme regime and our focus was always on human rights: which rights were being violated in the novel? We ended the unit by having the class research Afghanistan post-Taliban and the return to a freer society. No more. The oppression is back. The fear is real and present.
A friend recently posted these comments by Clark Renney on Facebook:
In 1940, Winston Churchill said that if the United Kingdom fell in the Battle of Britain, the World would: “sink into the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
It seems to me that a similar nightmare vision now faces the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan, as their country falls back into the hands of a dark and twisted ideology.(Mike Harrison, 13 August 2021)
I try to envisage what this is like but it is so far from my privileged experience that I cannot even get close.
Then there are those who live with the fear of natural disasters. This week has seen Haiti devastated by a major earthquake which has killed over 1400 people. Rescue efforts are threatened to be hampered as another natural event, a tropical storm, moves towards the island republic. Just eleven years ago, an earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 200,000 people. Do Haitians live in fear?
California and Australia and many parts of South America have had huge swathes of land, homes and wildlife destroyed by wildfires over the last few years. This year, Mediterranean countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, France, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, not generally known for wildfires, have been heavily hit and, at the same time, Turkey is suffering severe flooding. Only a short while ago Germany experienced the worst flooding in two hundred years (Tenz, 2021).
As I read of, watch and listen to news of these dramatic and destructive events, I am again struck by how fortunate I am and how petty are the things I moan about in comparison.
Reflecting with our young student volunteer at the end of our meeting this week she said how good it felt just to take time out to think about what is going on and how very very lucky we are. We must not take this for granted.
Let us prepare young people to live with uncertainty and to develop the inner strength they will need to engage with our volatile world. Let us do what we can to alleviate the suffering of others. Most of all, let us encourage each other to focus on our fortune. Here is a link to an activity to help you do just that: The Gratitude Jar.
BBC (2021, August 17). Haiti earthquake: Tropical Storm Grace hampers rescue https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-58222888
Ellis, D. (2000). The Breadwinner. Toronto: Groundwood Books.
Statista Research Department (2021, April 1) The Syrian Civil War – Statistics & facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/4216/the-syrian-civil-war/
Tenz, C. (2021). ‘Like a bomb went off’: survivors of Germany’s worst floods in 200 years relive their agony. The Guardian, 17 July 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/17/like-a-bomb-went-off-survivors-of-germanys-worst-floods-in-200-years-relive-their-agony
“Weird Al” Yankovic (2014). First World Problems. USA: RCA Records.