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Mr. Dickens In Africa

I was running around this morning doing incredibly important stuff and listening to the BBC Worldservice through my radio ear-buds. Half the time I pipe the news into my head strictly for its value as noise, deploying it primarily for the purpose of filtering out even more annoying noises like idiotic political opinions expressed by the people around me, or the smacking sound people make when they chew with their mouths open.

But every once in a while, some news item miraculously finds its way into my awareness. I didn't catch the first part of this particular report, but the tail-end of it went something like this: the BBC reporter was interviewing the director of what I guess was an orphanage somewhere in Africa. Many or most of the children at the orphanage were suffering from AIDS. The director mentioned, sardonically, that some of the children were engaged with the making of coffins. You know, small little kid-sized coffins. Which the children themselves will eventually occupy.

My God. It's hard to know what to say to something like that. I suppose I could make the observation that it's an arrangement Jacob Marley might have admired, before his demise. But beyond that, I'm more or less struck dumb.

UPDATE: Here is a link to an article in The Independent (subscription only) referencing the above mentioned activity. Here is a link to the full article on another site. From that article: "'Police bring the children here every day,' Ms Mochokocho says. 'They pick them up in the streets or in public places. We can't refuse to accept them even though we are overstretched.' Several children are severely ill and many infected ones die soon after arrival. The orphanage struggles to acquire coffins, so orphans are taught how to make makeshift ones so they can bury each other."  And, of course, if you can imagine such a thing, the rest of what the article has to say is even worse.

To be fair, the woman being interviewed did not seem unaware of the awfulness of this little detail of these children's lives. You certainly get the feeling this Useful Employment of the children's time was thought up by somebody far removed from the actual day-to-day taking care of the children. And despite what it seems like, it isn't really the awfulness of the idea itself that is the problem here. It's the epidemic of HIV infections in Africa, and the multiplying numbers of sick and soon-to-be-dead orphans it creates.

I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I think if I was the upper-level bureaucrat assigned the task of coming up with something for these children to do, I think I might have passed on the "build your own coffin" handicrafts class and suggested instead having them, I dunno, distribute condoms on the street? Something a little less depressing than building your own coffin? The work is outdoors, after all. Lots of sunshine and fresh air. And I'm sure it would help develop the children's people skills. Not that they will have much use for them since they'll be dead soon anyway. But still.

Of course, having the children distributing condoms would be evil in the eyes of the Church and would probably piss off the Bush Administration. So forth and so on. Which, you know, are certainly considerations. You wouldn't want these children knowing about sex or anything. I guess the ideal here is to have them die well before they encounter anything that would cause them to lose their incredibly endearing childhood innocence.

Jesus Christ, sometimes you just want to vomit.


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They bring kids in infected so they won't live long,
And you have to give them coffins which you can't buy for a song,
So we teach kids to build coffins against the day they die,
It's a life skill, it's a death skill, if you don't stop to wonder why.

One infected boy called Desmond was a tiny waif, but brave,
Saw the others building coffins then be lowered to the grave,
Asked for wood to build his coffin, that would hold him, as the plan,
Built it strong and long and hopeful, for a six foot man.

I love Desmond.

(Poem boosted to front page here.)

Being evil in the eyes of the Church, pissing off the Bush Administration, AND possibly saving lives. All good things.

Yeah, but getting money & cooperation from both the Church and the Administration would be better, probably. But I do understand the thought.

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