A Walk Through Stellenbosch

Written by Samuel Strand

There is a man I walk past on my way to the
Stellenbosch SPAR. For three years I have walked the same road, and for three
years he has sat under the same storefront balcony, week after week, month
after month. Every time I have walked past laden with food, he has given me a
gentle smile. He has never asked for money, food or clothes. Maybe this is why
I have never changed my route to avoid him, as I have done so many times in
other places to avoid those who walk alongside me and plead for anything I can
spare them. There’s a sick irony in poverty’s ability to be so rife that those
with the means to create change become so desensitized to the sight of hardship
that they will seldom raise a finger to correct it. I have gazed through people
and said no more times than I ever want to admit.

The older I’ve gotten the more value I’ve
placed on wealth. Maybe it’s from watching my dad grow old and increasingly
bitter upon the realization that he will never impress his father. I won’t be
like my dad. I’m now twenty and have a well-paying part-time job, but I often
struggle to enjoy it. There’s a guilt attached to wealth here, even if you
argue that you’ve worked hard for it. That argument doesn’t hold up when your
family’s gardener always greets you with a smile, even after waking up at 4am to
commute for two hours to reach your house. It’s immoral that I already make
more than he ever will. But I don’t change anything. I get paid too much to want
to change anything. It’s these constant, uncomfortable reminders of how much I
have to be grateful for that make me long to move back to Sweden where I was
born. Every single time I have said no to someone on the street, I have thought
about how Stockholm’s cobbled roadways offer such peace of mind. Life is easier
when everyone around you can afford to be beautiful. On those cobbled streets
and among those beautiful people, money doesn’t feel so political. I guess
carefree wealth comes easily when the only time you see desperation is through
another person’s camera lens.

This July, I spent my winter holiday savoring
the gentle warmth of the Swedish countryside. I bathed in vast lakes and
watched amber sunlight filter through the pine forests onto the rich moss of
the forest floor below. When I came back to Stellenbosch, the man I had walked
past for three years was no longer there. Maybe he found a different spot, or
maybe he went to stay with his grandkids. Or maybe he died of pneumonia after
being forced to sleep outside, through rain and hail, night after night. There
was a nauseating sickness in my realization that, although I had the power to
follow the sun’s warmth into the Northern Hemisphere, I may have looked a man
in the eyes for three years and never asked his name.

In the end, what difference does my
self-awareness make? I’d be a fool to think that it makes a difference to
anyone else. Moral quandaries and self-pity don’t help the man who freezes to
death under a storefront balcony. 

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