Once, sitting in a taxi in a Manila traffic jam on a Thursday evening, on the way back to the airport, knowing that I would be in Dublin the following lunchtime, I tried to imagine what it was like for those who couldn’t get on a plane and fly to Europe.
What was it like to be trapped in the life of the man who was trying to make a few pesos selling peanuts to passing motorists?
What was it like to be one of the family who were living under one of the highway flyovers?
What was it like to be living in a house made from bamboo and woven leaves in one of the many villages we had visited?
When these people watch a European pass by, what thoughts do they have?
Their whole life, to us, is an unknowable experience.
“Muzungu, muzungu”, shouted the children last week in Rwanda, “whites, whites”.
Kids in second hand European clothes, running barefoot at the roadside, watched as people from another world passed by in a four wheel drive pick up.
What were their lives like in their mud brick houses? How far did they walk to fetch water each morning? When they went to school, what lessons did they learn?
It is impossible to stand in their place; impossible to unknow what we know. We know we have comfortable homes to return to. We know we have our treasured possessions. We know we have our friends or family to turn to in times that are dark.
There are few people in our community who would contemplate turning away from all we have and willingly facing the nothingness. There are few people who would put themselves into a situation where there was no way out.
It’s impossible to let go of all the things that are important, to stand alone and vulnerable in a foreign, place; to imagine ourselves with nothing.
If we cannot go into that other place, perhaps we could, at least, more often try to think about their lives from where we are.