I was busy in the kitchen cooking when my flat mate rushed through from her room, out onto our balcony this afternoon. A man has collapsed in the street, she said. There, by the communal waste bins lay a man, maybe in his 30s/40s, it was hard to tell: very dishevelled, a beard covering his face, not malnourished looking, but clearly all was not well. He lay flat on his back, one leg outstretched, the other knee up, the one arm I could see lay flat out, palm up. After a bit of movement in his arm, nothing. From where we were we could not tell whether he was asleep, drunk, ill, alive or dead. My flat mate went across to some of the local youth sitting under a tree a little way off to try and get someone to help. They would not do anything, not even move him off the road. He’s not our concern they said. meanwhile cars passed on our residential road, a young man walked by, but no one stopped.
Situations like this are hard and my flat mate was really upset at her inability to do anything, and at the reactions of our neighbours. I remember one of the women in the Programme Office in India talking about death on the streets, how we would see it. And we did. No 999 service, no ambulance, little or no medical treatment even if the person got to a hospital. Not being a medical person one really can’t help at the individual level when it gets to this stage. One can only remember that by being here, doing what we are doing, we are working to alleviate poverty and its consequential miseries. My Indian colleague was very insistent that when leaving a restaurant that we take any uneaten food from our plates in a “parcel” and leave it beside whoever we saw on our way home who was living on the streets. That was what we could do, she said. This was what we should do. That message has stayed with me.
Abuja is a relatively sanitised experience, in many ways it feels like any other modern, purpose built city. Built for the car, open streets, large multilane carriages ways, modern shops, malls, cinemas, bars, restaurants etc and some fairly palatial houses in certain areas. Yes there are huge variance in income levels, and one sees people raiding the waste bins in our fairly middle class area, typically housing government workers, but as yet no one living on the streets. Outside the city life is very different.
Finally, another one of our neighbours arrived on the scene with a bottle of water and moved him off the road, and laid him up against one of the tree trunks. Then he came back with some food from his house. An hour later I am really pleased to report the man is sitting up, is eating the food given him, and has thanked his good samaritan.