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Vulnerability in Hangberg

I have just had the privilege of visiting the Hangberg Clinic. There are more than a hundred people waiting patiently (pun intended) – old, oldest, young, youngest. The mood is depressed. The staff is very friendly. The wind howled sand through the waiting room. I will refrain from a lecture (or even worse, a sermon) about how grateful we should be…

I will rather reflect on vulnerability. As I walked onto the premises, I could sense so many emotions. First of all, my own recollections of my childhood. No, I never had to wait at the clinic, I played there because my Mother was one of the District Nurses. I helped to put ointments in little plastic bottles with a wooden spatula. And count pink pills into little bundles of ten. Decant cough mixtures from a large brown glass bottle into little plastic bottles. I had no idea of the reality of the people who came to the clinic. I heard babies cry when they were immunised and saw faces in tears. But mostly, I had fun at the clinic.

The harsh reality of what I saw this morning was so different. I could not help but wonder how long it has taken some of the people to get to the clinic, how long they will have to wait, and what news would await them. Vanessa, a Caregiver angel who took us there, was telling me that many Elders would come to the clinic as a social event, simply to combat loneliness. If they do not get a turn today, they will come back tomorrow. The place is after all buzzing with kids running around and animated conversation, mostly. I could however not help seeing some looks of despair, maybe fear? And some faces filled with defeat. Maybe just another step towards the inevitable.

Of course, my brain immediately went to opportunities – why do they not have a big screen television where they could show educational programs on noncommunicable diseases or HIV or dementia? They have a captive audience… The typical response of a white man, sadly. Let’s educate them while they suffer. The habitual “us” and “them” scenarios.

What would I have wanted whilst sitting there for the next however many hours? Educational videos? America’s funniest home videos?

What would soothe the vulnerability of my dis-ease in this harsh environment? What would give me a sense of hope, a look into a future that is not perhaps dark, uncertain? I have no idea. I could never imagine what it must feel like to be in that position. The powerlessness of being at the mercy of a system that is not very user-friendly. Hoping to see someone who could shed light on your troubled mind, that ache or pain that does not go away, that dark night of your soul perhaps.

The Sister is beautiful and friendly, engaging. I stand in awe of her gentle smile and soft touch when I shake her hand. I cannot imagine what she must witness on a daily basis. I cannot begin to think what news she has to impart and the decisions that she must make. And yet, she is soft, gentle and kind. These are the angels walking among us – the people who truly make this world a better place.

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