When looking back, I think I can categorize March as a month of visits and events and as such, it was a very busy and exciting month. It was also another month that allowed me to accompany both the “haves” and “have nots” of South African society and continue to struggle with the question who am I hear to be with. In other words, I have come across and spent time with those who have power and privilege as well as those who have little or no voice and opportunity to succeed in the eyes of those with power. The question that many people deal with in this country on a daily basis, myself included, is where do I fit or belong in this mix? By the very nature of where I come from and what I represent I am one with privilege and thus people in town and around my community treat me as such. At the end of the day though, I am bothered by the fact that people treat me differently just because I am white, American, educated, and privileged yet I still take advantage of that very privilege I have done nothing to deserve.
The most obvious example of this came early on in the month when I sliced my hand really quite badly late at night when I was trying to open a window to get some air in my stuffy and hot room. Long story short while I was opening the window it jammed and in the process of trying to un-jam it and in a way force it open the window gave out and my hand went right through the glass. Immediately after I saw how deep the cut really was and that I would need medical attention, I surveyed what I had to my disposal to get me to the hospital. With no car, it being much to late to fetch a taxi, no neighbors around to give me a lift, I decided to phone a friend who I knew would have a car. About 30 minutes later I was on the road to La Verna Hospital, the “best” private hospital in the area, and about an hour from the time in put my hand through the window I was seen by the doctor at the hospital. 25 stitches later, and about 3 weeks of healing time my hand is about as good as new and fully healed with the exception of yet another scar on my already thrashed hands. I am very grateful for how the situation panned out. The fact that I had a great friend who was able to pick me up in the middle of the night and drive me 40 minutes to the best medical care and then on top of that pick up the bill until I could pay him back in a few weeks time is just a small token of the great hospitality and loving nature of the folks in South Africa.
But the accident itself isn’t the point of where I am heading here. The point is what did I do to deserve this type of care? I cant get the thought out of my head of what would have happened if this accident would have occurred to my neighbor or what I would have done if I was part of the have nots part of society rather than the privileged haves part where I have access to money and friends in high places. Should I feel bad about my ability to go to the “best” hospital in the region when I know that if a similar situation had happened to my neighbor he may have not even had the means to make it to a hospital that evening let alone the next day? At the end of the day the best way to get to know your neighbor is to live with them, eat with them, travel how they travel, wait for taxis as they wait. But what about when it comes to ones health and well being in an emergency situation? Is health care an exception to the idea of accompaniment? I have to be honest the first people who came to mind when I needed to phone for help were not my neighbors or anyone who even lives in the rural area. I immediately phone a white person who had money and a car without even so much as a thought to my own community. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to think that I did not go to a public hospital and have to wait like my poor and marginalized neighbors would have if they could even make it there. Yes, I acknowledge that my health is important and with how deep the cut on my hand was there could have been some serious complications had I not sought out the best care, but what does that say about what I represent and the power I have in this country. I can seek out the best care when my neighbor cannot. Is this not a simple matter of human rights and dignity? Why should the poor and marginalized have to suffer just because they cannot afford something? How is it that if this had happened to anyone else in my community they would have had serious complications and risk not ever having full functionality of their hand again? And lastly where is the line drawn when talking about accompaniment and living in community with the poor and marginalized?
In the states we face a similar situation in the form of insurance rather than public and private health care facilities. Every day people are turned away from proper medical care because they can simply not afford to be seen while the people who run the medical world are getting fat off of the profits. Back home it is often not the situation of white and black but of poor and rich. Those with money are able to get care while those without are left outside. And so, the critical question to consider is what are we as a society doing about this? I am not suggesting that taxpayers or re-allocating the American “budget” is the answer to giving everyone free health care or health insurance. What I am advocating for is to shut down the pigs that are making fortunes off of health care and pharmaceuticals. It is just criminal that the health care industry and a very small list of people are making billions while many, if not most, people in the world are without proper care. I mean, the CEO of United health (a NON-PROFIT health provider in MN) made $142 million in the last 2 years. If that doesn’t raise more than a few eyebrows and pose a few questions about fairness then nothing will and this reflection has no point in being published.