After class and dinner at Les Pensieres Global Health Centre in Veyrier-du-lac, France, I decided to walk back to the Encore Hotel where I was lodging. It was a nice twenty-minute walk and most of the way you could walk right by the boardwalk over Lac d’Annecy (Lake Annecy). It always made for a nice way to end the day with the late sunset over there compared to Southern Africa where I am from. The sun was still out though it was past eight in the evening.
I was walking briskly, headphones in my ear, listening to classical music, hands in my coat pocket, hoodie over my head for the cold. About half way through the walk I noticed what looked like a castle in the distance across on the opposite shore of the lake, though it could have been a church. I had walked this route for over a week now and had never noticed it.
I stopped to take a picture. But as I aimed my phone in that direction to frame the shot a sombre mood suddenly fell on me. I think it was the view of that castle in the distance, tantalisingly close yet so far, the empty boats tied by the lakeside and the classical music I was listening to that brought in my head the thought of a migrant with a family on a boat.
I imagined that migrant looking afar off in the distance at the castle and thinking “finally, we are almost there, almost in Europe.” He had a family, young children and a wife on the boat. The next image in my head, that I resisted, was the image of his children in the water, drowned, so close to shore.
I did not take the picture I had intended to. Instead I switched the camera to selfie mode and took a picture of myself, with the lake in the background. The castle was too small to see in the selfie. The reason I took that selfie was to remind myself of what I thought and felt that instance when I thought of that scenario.
I felt a heaviness I cannot describe. I imagined if those children on that boat had been my own. I thought of all the migrants whose children had lost their lives at sea trying to find a better life. I thought of all the parents who had died trying to make a better life for their children in their home countries. All their dreams, all their hopes, lost at sea.
Yet there I was with my latest smartphone taking a picture, coming from eating a three-course meal cooked by a world class chef, learning about vaccine science from some of the world’s leading scientists, meeting people from well over fifty other nations during the course.
There I was, not realising how privileged I was. Not realising how much blessing I had, how education had made such a big difference to me and others like me. There I was, not appreciating the things that other people have died to have for themselves and those that they love.
I had the luxury to complain about inconveniences such as the hotel not being able to do laundry or not serving dinner, or the internet being slower than I had expected, or the weather being so cold compared to home. I could get to my room and cuddle into a warm bed, out of the cold.
I was standing on land that people died trying to set foot on – and only their corpses experienced its cold, unwelcoming embrace.
What of them? What of those children in that war-torn country who have no warm bed, no food, no education, no healthcare? What of them? Those that have no parents, no money, no warm clothes? What of them – faced with despair and fear all day long?
They dreamt of starting a better life. They only wanted a fair chance to have a decent life. They wanted what every man wants – to live well and to live free. They wanted hope. But all they got was death. Death and the scorn of those who enjoy such a life. Those who are more privileged. Those who see themselves as worthier to live and to live well.
We do not see injustice until it affects us. Then how unfair it seems. How we look to the world to see our plight and fight for our cause. But all we get too is silence. The same silence we so loudly practiced ourselves. All we see is injustice when we are the ones affected.
Yet, every life matters. Every one of those drowned souls is important. They might have died in those waters but their dreams and hopes carry on in the millions they have left behind.
Their blood cries out to those that led them to that death. No, not the boatmen or smugglers that promised them a safe ride across the rough seas, but the politicians and leaders that promised them a better life and instead gave them hell.
Their blood cries out to the conglomerates, the oil merchants and the mineral gobblers that value money over human life. Those that have their gold covered with human blood. The western leaders that see Africa simply as there mine and source of raw materials, blind to its people and their plight…singed of all conscience.
Those are the real villains. Those are the real scum…and those that protect their interests at all costs. They are the ones to be really held accountable for it all. Their day will come. God will require it of them.
I took my selfie, looking serious and thoughtful, nor a smile on my face, and continued my walk to the hotel. My pace had changed. It was heavy. It was deliberate.
I said a prayer in my hotel room and asked:
“Lord, when will it all end? And what am I to do till then?”