Wednesday, November 19, 2008
the african dream
i had been working too hard and long hours. i found that i was a bit irritable on the whole. usually i enjoyed talking to people and hearing about their hopes and joys, but i found myself rushing through consultations. then an old couple came in. he needed a hernia repair but had no medical aid. they had heard i did some work in the state and wondered if i could help. i explained that i could not book my own patients there but would do operations at the request of the normal state staff. i was willing, however, to put in a good word for them. shortly thereafter i found myself waiting to get the relevant state doctor on the line. so we got chatting.
they lived in a small flat and it apparently drove him mad. you see he was born on a farm and had farmed his whole life. he went on to tell me that all his old neighbours, like him and his wife, had left their farms. life became too dangerous. you see farm murders are a fact of life in our country.
they explained that life on the farm became too stressful. they always had to carry guns with them, even when going to church. when approaching the farm house they would drive slowly looking for any movements in the bushes. i asked if anything ever happened. no, they said, not to them. then i got to hear about their one neighbour who was killed at night in his bed (he had erected an electric fence around his farm house to no avail). and the close family member who took a bullet through the chest but survived. then they went on to talk about the night they heard cattle rustlers and went out in their bakkie, the old woman on the back with a shotgun and the old man at the wheel with a hunting rifle. the lights had apparently driven the criminals away. there were other stories, all boiling down pretty much to the same thing.
the man looked at me and said. "you know, doc, we thought we would live our entire lives on the farm and die in peace. but it became too dangerous. now we live in a tiny flat and i hate it." i thought of how somehow our dreams don't work out. it was a poignant thought and i felt quite depressed.
like in zimbabwe the farmers here are being driven off the farms. the lucky ones survive and end up with shattered dreams in small flats (apartments) in the city. we read about it all the time, but when you speak to them in the privacy of your consulting room waiting for a state doctor so you can maybe help him get an operation he can't afford and hear the longing in his voice for the african farm he loves, it somehow makes more of an impact.