When poverty reaches your modest neighborhood and bursts your bubble

I spent my childhood in Veles, Macedonia as part of former socialist Yugoslav federation. Life was OK, social welfare state was somewhat functional, unemployment was high but still with two times less then now. Jobs were mediocre, slow, poorly paid, but without much stress. By chance, I am still living with my family in the same city right now and commuting to Skopje.

I consider myself quite lucky when it comes to travelling. I have been in many places, having spent quite some time in small and big cities, meeting a interesting people. I feel quite safe when travelling and I could honestly live in such environment. You change few behaviours and keep up with your life. To be honest, I really love metropolitan areas - they are ripe with culture, business and potential to have different finish for every day of your life.

I am not weak of heart, and I have definitely seen a lot and managed some nasty situations previously. Still I was not prepared (mentally) for the image that I saw that morning. When I was locking my door on my way out I noticed that there was something on the level below the first set of stairs. Rarely a dog spends the night in the hall taking refuge from the cold night. I am used to deal with it. But unfortunately what I saw was a grown up person laying on the ground covered with card boards to minimize the chilly draft across the hall. I am still not sure if it was a girl (having long pony tail, dark blonde hair) or a guy since his face was directed towards the wall below the hall windows.

In my small (then industrial) town of Veles, 30 years ago there were 0 registered homeless persons out of 50.000 residents (actual wandering-the-streets type of homeless people). The image of homeless person sleeping under the open sky in makeshift cardboard house was something you would see in a pirated movie on VHS tape rented from the local “video club”. This “bad parts of New York in the seventies” image was something unseen of in the community where I grew up.

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(S)he was probably sleeping and I was quite early that day, around 6 AM, probably the first person to go through the stairway. (S)he moved a bit, it felt like (S)he was trying to make some room so I can pass without hitting her with my shoes.

I never, not even in a split second, feared for my security, and even more interestingly, for the security for my family left at home. I was also well prepared for the scene, although unfortunate - it was something I saw too many times to make it awkward for my stomach. Two stairways down, nearby the post boxes there was not-yet-dried out urine by the wall. And wide open hallway door with brisk morning air. Smelled like the Brussels subway, or some very bad part of the Paris metro station. But 4m from my home. The place with untouched sanctity. At least until now.

A totally different feeling overwhelmed me. I was sad. Depressive kind of sad. Very depressive kind of sad. Although Macedonia was never the leader in payroll levels, although we were the latin part of Europe for quite some time, I grew up with the notion of relative equiality, that every man or woman and child would have enough to eat, enough to keep her safe, under the roof, warm, at least over the night even if it was state run building for social welfare.

Bubble-bust

I guess the simple answer is - my bubble busted. Nobody is safe. Even if someone is modest, does spend as much as she earns, takes care of family as much as she can… She can still end up on the street, alone, sleeping on cardboard bed. And not on the movies, not far far away, but here, really really close to my home. It could happen to anyone in the community… Even to the ones I love most.

Probably Maslov kicked in, making me feel insecure. But I still think that the main reason why I felt sad is that the community I live in, the broken image of the past I have with me is no more. The harsh reality is that I live in the eye of the storm. Harlem, Bronx, Tottenham or Clichy-sous-Bois are not different than Veles. A city with 40% unemployment [Census 2002, page 40] is a ticking bomb waiting to go off. Even one of the main reasons why Egypt rose was “high level of unemployment" which, although alarmingly high, was 2.5 times lower than the unemployment rate in my own city. We all live in the ghetto. And even more scarier, the ghetto is spreading westwards, as we speak. So next time when you accuse someone protesting for social rights of being “left wing extremist" or "finding an excuse to loot and steal" better think twice who’s next in the cardboard box near you. Or dealing drugs or weapons near your home. We need deep changes, and we need them now, and common politics does not have a clue how to provide them!

  1. textgeek posted this