MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “despair”

The sound of gloom

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There was a poor person in the metro the other day playing a famous song on his guitar. He was dressed decently. Wasn’t begging really. His voice was imbued with feeling. He sounded almost professional. He sang from the heart and that was evident. It made you want to give him something. Some change to show your appreciation for the way he was striving to make a living.

Perhaps he could have searched for a ‘regular’ job. But everyone knows these are hard to find in a country where ‘crisis’ has become an everyday term.

At least he was giving melody to a train ride. And you could see the passengers actually stop looking at their phones for a minute and letting their mind wander at his tune.

You were almost mesmerised to give him spare change. Coins whose possession to you may not have made a difference. Perhaps it was the cost of your daily cup of coffee. But to him it was a measure of appreciation. Of the fact that there were people out there who liked what he offered and who were willing to grant a helping hand.

There are many people who leave aside their dignity and in their despair decided to ask strangers for help. There are the ones who feel outcast from society. Whom we look at demeaningly and most often choose simply to ignore. There are the ones who cause controversial discussions of whether they are worth our pity or our ignorance, of whether they are choosing the easy road of begging instead of searching for a ‘real job’.

Everyone we meet carries their own story, their own burdens, their own heavy loads. But it is people like these that make you realise all that you have and how little you appreciate how lucky you in fact are. Because what you perceive as obvious and ‘normal’ is not so for many others.

When forgiveness is a privilege

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51a04613e4b0007c06d7c81a/t/57a0f0f8197aea59d470b83f/1470165244816/There is a man on the street, sitting at the same spot on the pavement each day with almost the same clothes, clean and ironed, and a small bag on his side. He sits there watching people pass him by. He holds a sign that reads, “Please forgive me. I’m hungry”. He stays there all day. Every day.

There are others too. They get on buses and trains asking to be forgiven for the intrusion. Asking not to be seen as beggars. Asking for the understanding that their need to survive is greater than their own dignity. They sometimes sell something: a pen, a notebook, a pack of handkerchiefs; solely for the purpose of giving something back in exchange for any money they would receive from anyone who pities them.

Some even have a dog with them. One that sits next to them trembling in the cold, wagging its tail miserably once someone comes a little closer in the hope that they will throw something edible at it. One whose eyes have lost that glow it has as a puppy when it enters the world full of excitement.

Sorrow has many faces. So does despair.

People are brought to the brink of their tolerance, of their ability to survive, that they decide to do what they perhaps vowed never to do: to ask strangers for help.

But they do so without abandoning their dignity. They sometimes are stronger than us, because they acknowledge their inability, the fact that they have nothing to lose because they have already lost it all. They are asking for forgiveness from a world that has cast them aside. They are demonstrating to the society we live in that it has no dignity, no empathy, no respect, if it ignores them and hopes this problem will solve itself.

Forgiveness, they say, is an attribute of the strong.

Yet, instead of requesting our forgiveness, we should be the ones apologising to these people. For disappointing them, for letting them down, for allowing them to see only the ruthless and dark side of life.

Anyone with even the slightest sense of emotion feels ashamed when passing by these people. Because we have food, warm clothes and a roof to go back to. Contrary to them, we still are part of this society, no matter how much we blame it for all the difficulties we have to face. But they have something we lack: the acknowledgement that the reality we live in is fragile. Yet, they are the ones who can better manage happiness and fortune when it comes to them. Because we take these things for granted. And do not appreciate them enough.

Everyone you meet has something they fear, something they love, something they lost, something they are missing, and something they need. It is in the silent ones that you acknowledge everything you have and realise what it is you are missing.

Between a couch and a wild place

The leather couch used to squeak whenever he would slide down onto it. It didn’t anymore. You could even feel the small dent in the middle caused by all those people it had accommodated over the years. He could proudly or shamefully (it depends how you saw it) proclaim that he had grown up right there on that brown leather couch. In that down town office that was as modern as could be, with white walls that were repainted every five years and modern, funky furniture that invited the waiting patients and offered the illusion that they would take their troubles away.

Relax”.

That was the first word he heard every time he sat on that couch. It was Mr. Waterman’s job, though, to say so. He needed his patients calm so that they could pour out their soul to him during the next hour and he could attempt to provide some solution, consolation or advice to their problems. And these were many and varied. But over the years he had heard a lot. Just not from one particular patient. This one had proven to be an especially difficult case.

Brandon would simply refuse to speak out, to tell the professional sitting across him what troubled his mind, what made his heart ache, where his eyes wandered when he stared at the horizon out of the window. Whatever the exhortations or appeals Mr Waterman would use, discreetly or not, Brandon did not want to speak. He simply sufficed to say that he had nothing to say. Mr Waterman even tried to entice him with milkshakes and chocolate, but that didn’t work even when he was a young child, let alone now.

After around twenty years of therapy, Brandon still had nothing to say. Yet, he was as confused and tormented inside as he had always been. A storm was still brewing inside of him. It was just silent to the outer world.

Brandon was a child that kept to himself. He became quite the introvert as a young man, although he loved to socialize and go out with friends. But when he returned home, he liked to stay in his room doing his own thing, whatever that was – reading a book, listening to music, surfing the web. And just like he disturbed no one, he himself did not like to be disturbed. His upper class parents believed he was a troubled child. They described him as “emotionally unavailable” and “awkward” and pleaded Mr Waterman to “fix him”. So Brandon grew up in the office of a shrink. Only none of them knew about it.

Mr Waterman watched Brandon grow from a quiet boy into an unsuccessful rebel, into an elegant and well-educated young man. From the few things Brandon had uttered in his office, the professional understood that the boy felt misunderstood, that no one could comprehend what he felt or thought and that is why he preferred to stay silent. So the hours were spent talking about culture, the news, and well, anything other than himself. The latest thing that made Brandon’s eyes gleam with excitement was a photo book of the most amazing places in the world that should be visited. The first-page inscription –a quote by William G.T. Shedd: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for” – was what mostly inspired his heart to sing. But Mr Waterman knew that the storm would finally break out; he could see it the young man’s eyes, his gaze was looking further than meets the eye. It was obvious that he was in search of something out there that was not immediately visible.

And the storm arrived.

It came in the form of a hand-written letter and a tidied-up room.

I run because I no longer want to hide.
Because there is so much more out there to explore.
Because I want to move on with my life and do something substantial.
Because I feel I cannot reach my true potential if I
am locked down here, without facing any real challenges or the endless possibilities that seem to be out there.
Because I want to be somewhere where people know me for me and not because of who I know.
Because I want to be heard without needing to yell and fight.
Because I want to rediscover the joy of Fridays and looking forward to the weekend.
Because I want to live and see places and not just hear about them from other people’s past experiences.
Because I want to find a house that is mine from the start, that I decorate and organise to fit my needs.
Because it is part of growing up and independence is a powerful thing to have.
Because I don’t want to waste time anymore, waiting.
Because I want to finally find and taste at least one happy ending.
I run because I am not running. I simply want to live.

Captain James’ Journal, day 134

goodridge_m_r_e-clipper_ship_in_stormy_seaI woke up to a stormy sea today. I almost fell out of bed and my back is so sore. I feel as if I’ve been carrying the weight of the entire boat on my shoulders. It’s cloudy outside and the sun can barely shine its rays past the thick cover of cotton surrounding it. As I climbed onto the dock I realized the whole crew was gone. They weren’t missing because they were still in bed. They were simply gone. They had preferred to jump overboard and be swallowed up by the raging waves, than stay onboard and fight through them.

It’s hard when you lose hope like that. When you simply surrender. It’s as if you’re giving up your entire life and everything that matters, simply because you have no more energy to fight.

I’m still struggling.

There are moments where I too wish a tidal wave would just gulp me and my ship away. But then I dream of something so much better. Of reaching a land as peaceful and as prosperous as I imagine it. And as I lay on my hammock, enjoying an exotic cocktail, a slim, elegant figure would approach. I would only be able to see her shadow as she would be standing right in front of the sun, her dark hair waving in the wind. I would be mesmerized from the first moment I laid my eyes on her. And as she came closer, I would be able to distinguish her stunning features. Her emerald green eyes, deep as the ocean itself. Her diamond smile that could bring light to even the darkest of nights. And that voice of an angel. I could stare at her for hours, days even. How fortunate I would be to have such a woman on my side. We would talk, flirt and laugh. And when night came we would salsa on the beach at the sounds of a live band. And hot as we were with excitement we would continue the interaction elsewhere. And sunrise would find us wrapped in each other’s arms, with only a white sheet for cover.

I think of this and regain some element of hope. Because without that there is nothing keeping me from walking the plank – even if I don’t see any sharks waiting for me on the other side. At least not yet.

Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

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It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

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