Saturday, April 19, 2008

...and death.

On Wednesday we were informed that one of our students died over the Easter break. A girl in grade 10, she was killed when the shack she lived in burned to the ground while she slept. Fires are common in the poorer areas of the townships. With endless natural and synthetic material to fuel them, they start easily and spread quickly.

She was 16 years old.

As it turned out, this student was in my Life Orientation class, although I am ashamed to say that I do not know who she is. In my defence, this is a class of 54 that I have seen fewer than 10 times since the middle of last term when I was given the lesson, and apparently she was frequently absent from school, but still. It saddens me that I cannot remember her face.

Thursday, when I saw the class for the first time since the holiday, I offered my condolences and expressed my sadness at their loss. They clearly appreciated this although I was surprised at how normally they were all carrying on. While this could have been attributed to a number of reasons, I believe that the most glaringly obvious is the reality that this sort of tragedy is not uncommon in their worlds.

As such, their attitudes towards death are often vastly different than that which my Western understanding affords me. Here, life is often seen as fleeting, hence the common lack of thought about the future and according disinterest in school. I am not saying that this is the case for everyone, though it most certainly is for some – as demonstrated by a conversation with a student that I referenced in an earlier entry.

This particular in-class experience only reinforced my understanding of how for far too many, the casual views on the value of life that their social locations have shaped allow (force? require?) death to be digested with a similar apathy.

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