$523 Billion by 2002 “Not my debt?”

The ground was hard, hot and dusty. I didn’t quite understand why I had to take my shoes off, everyone else had (of those who had shoes). It was going to be us against them; the boys from the built up estate versus the boys from the nearby slum.

I remember one red nose day, watching Lenny Henry, trailed by a BBC camera, trudging through the small alleyways scented by the makeshift drainage system that ran through the middle of the footpath. It seemed like such a world away. Even now, narrating the beginning of this football game, I still feel the mix of pity and disgust at the thought of walking in the slums. My feet had been there once, but that was a world away from Charring Cross Road with its regularly cleaned concrete paving, and the allure of the nearby galleries and theaters. The slum’s smells, and the people, had already been forgotten by the time my earlobes greeted the cold at Heathrow. I was fourteen then. Ten years on my mind is turned back to that game; and the shoes.

We had come from different quarters: us from the recently developed flats, them from the mud uprights that peppered the gap between the school and the dam. We were no different from each other bar the tattered clothes they wore and possibly the tougher skin on the palms of their hands. It was evident, in their eyes and mannerisms, that life was tougher on that side of the railway line – There was a railway line- a steel bar of commerce – that virtually separated the slums from the suburbs. Each morning you could catch the half drowsy commuters jumping aboard the hourly trains that coasted by and never stopped. If the train was missed then the final option was to squeeze through an alley between the school fence and the estate walls; the busses only ran on the pothole filled tarmac on the estate side of life. I took my shoes off and after a few minutes during which the team selections were finalized, we kicked off.

Watching Lenny Henry, I also remember being ambivalent about the huge figures being quoted. It was interesting to think that the appeal being made was also toward me. I had lived next to the people needing the help and had played, and studied, with their children. Yet here was the BBC throwing terms such as Third World debt and figures such as $523 billion in between me – sitting on a soft sofa in a warm three bed house – and the memories I had. Funny enough, I couldn’t watch the whole program as I had to go for football training.

I find it worth more than a passing thought and am amazed at the far reaching effects of those somewhat innocuous numbers. For instance: between 1970 and 2002, a space of 32 years and less than my lifetime, the amount of debt owed by developing countries had risen by an astonishing 2100%. Thats an annual increase of approximately 65% per year. How can a country whose annual GNI (Gross National Income per person) is less than half of my monthly wage cope with such demands?

Each one of the twenty two who played that game owed approximately £225 at the time: thats a total of £4950 which is my current annual disposable income, and I’m a student. It seems trivial. Consider however, that – factoring in Aid grants and not considering interest gained on the debt owed – each African ends the year on a £46 pound deficit, meaning that after six years the amount we each owed would have doubled.

Sweaty, tired, and hungry we stopped with the sun in center of the sky. Feet turned homeward and the shoes, though tattered, were clutched on to. I’m unaware of the fate of all but three boys (my own brothers) who played that game. There is now a huge gulf of time and space between us. I suppose as soon as I landed in Heathrow at the turn of the millennium, that growing $523 billion stopped being my debt.

The Facts

16% of the worlds population live on $1 a day.

The richest 358 people have more wealth than the wages of 45% of the world’s population.

When a child is born in the Republic of Congo, it already owes $2,278.

Africa ends each year on a $2 billion deficit. And that is increasing.

To cancel the debt wouldn’t affect the IMF’s capacity to function as an organization.

Is it that difficult to take our shoes off?


Ps: Many thanks to Alex Adide for the inspiration.

The Beautiful Game

My feet tingle as I wake, breakfast awaits
the golden sun like succulent bait
causes my heart, alive, to salivate.

The grass is greener now,
Winter’s slow howl makes
for the weekend a softened brow.

The slow ticking clock – a tease –
as I set my sights on my pilgrimage,
with thoughts on the soft breeze.

I know as in the forgotten night’s dream
reamed into morning, the greens
will welcome me again.

© Denis Adide 2010


Recommended Read.

Genesis Corrected (By The Serpent)

by D. Patrick Miller.

I honestly felt a tickle when I saw the title of the book and intrigued quickly downloaded it through my Borders app on my new HTC. It took me about half an hour to pour through what was possibly the funniest thing I had read since The Buddha of Suburbia. His take on the characters of the creation story is somewhat ingenious. I had to shy away from any sort of theological analysis in order to accept it as a fantastic piece of fiction.

Google it my friends. It isn’t at all difficult to procure.

Story experiments: Scared 1

The sun was about to set. If you could see past the blinding streetlights, it would be possible to make out the blue hue – dawn’s cloak awaiting the emerging stars. From where she stood however, they never shone. Their lights never quite managed to squeeze through the skyscrapers. All her attempts at squinting and concentrating were thwarted by the noises of the passing traffic – the busses, cars, rickshaws, and unforgiving pedestrians, some of whom never passed up the chance to grimace when she sought their help.

The years had made her resilient. It seems as though the winter cold didn’t pinch as hard as it did the first time. The summers would have been lovely but the increase in faces to check ensured that she never got to bask in the day’s glory: that was all for a life she had left behind long ago – they were the shards of person she half remembered. Those were the days when her face glowed, the tips of her fingers felt like a rainbow, and her sole like silk. Her hopes were then built on the dream she carried within, a dream that she lost as quickly as it emerged.

She no longer stood like she used to. Her legs had grown weary from the earlier days when the lampposts applauded her determination. After a million faces, she was assured that the same people walked in those streets, and would only get up when she thought she saw someone new coming. They were like a cascade of blurs that let her know how much of the day had passed by how quickly they walked. Morning and evening were too similar at times and she found that she had slept through some of the grey days and woken up at night.

She ate when the night commanded that the streets be scarce. Crumbs usually; pieces of whatever she had been able to gather while at her post. There were half eaten sandwiches, cold chips, and occasionally, when someone had mistaken her for a beggar and dropped a coin or two, coffee. She had become accustomed to the consistent hum of hunger and in her own way had managed to harness its persistence. But like most things from her past, food had lost it’s appeal; its colors and tastes were as distant as the dream she had all but lost.

She can still remember his little fingers, clasped over her index and middle. His scarf, wrapped around her neck, still carried his scent and with it the months when they shared a heart replayed: they had come here to get him a new one for the coming winter. Constantly she replays the minutes between him letting go and her waking up. They told her he was gone, and that he had taken two of her summers with him.

She knew he wasn’t: the street that took him would, in its own time and with its own summers, bring him back.

The woods

The chair creaked as I sat on it. Tired from the running, I didn’t pay much attention to that almost silent lament. I’m not the heaviest person around but, like the rest of my human compatriots, I depend heavily on these miniscule amenities. My heart, still thumping, kept the adrenalin that facilitated that harsh sprint flowing. Though the fear had left, there was still the lingering flight reflex.

I still don’t know what had possessed me to go into the woods that day …

The branches

I spent the latter half of today with an eight month old baby in an office that was eighty percent female. You would have thought it a nightmare, to have all the swooners pass by and take their fair share of the baby’s chuckle. It was however, a lot of fun because he was great company to have. Unlike the rest of us there, he was open, unguarded and honest about how he felt. He farted when he felt like it, cried when he felt sad or deprived, laughed when he found something funny, and never once hid his desire to learn new things. I ended the evening, on my way away from the child – someone else was going to look after him now – comforted away from the anxiety surrounding my own children (potentially on their way via stalks from heaven): it seems the biggest swooner of the day was myself.

The comfort however, was twinned with an aching heart. There was a thought emerging, a concern for the millions of children who – in that very vulnerable phase of life – are left to endure extreme hardships. It felt in my heart – and this is the image I had – as though the adult hidden inside that small body was being pounded out of shape by the various circumstances that the child was forced to go through – circumstances that we, society and their parents, are supposed to shelter them from. There was a sorrow for the abused, neglected, forgotten, as well as murdered children. This sunk me and almost brought me to tears – I didn’t cry though, I stopped for a minute to compose myself, tears didn’t seem becoming of a tall, hooded, black man.

To all the parents – potential and actual – think on this. I heard it said somewhere that we are possibly the only animals that require others in their species to survive for the first ten or so years of life. Nearly all other animals can survive on their own after the first year. We however require assistance for much longer. That level of fragility is one that we should look to cater for and cradle with as much love, affection, and care as our human potential can muster. It’s far from a question of instinct, our brains are more developed than the rest of the animal species: there is the depth and wealth of love that we must tap into and discipline ourselves in the acknowledgement of our weakness, with a view to change or seek assistance. It takes two to conceive but more than two to parent: we are all hollow in some areas, knit the web that’ll cradle our children.

To the rest of us ‘adults’, here is a thought. Why is it that as we grow older, the things we lose are the very things that kept us happy? I was shocked at my dishonesty when close to tears I turned away from view and took a few breaths: the image of composure was one I was desperate to keep; as though weakness was somehow an inhuman trait. What happened to the nakedness of out youth: the tears and laughter, the dependency and honesty, the vulnerability that made us carefree, and the peaceful sleep. In my experience, they are cultured away by the rod of pretence. The more we learn deception and pretence, the more we mask who we are, using the tools to our freedom to hide our scars – when our scars are the marks that make us uniquely beautiful.

I yearn to be attached again to that child inside, to be free again; attached to branches of life: unique and yet part of something bigger. Happy and honest, that’s the aim.

Adideism number one.

“Love fiercely, freely, and without compromise; but begin with yourself”

Found by Africa on the Tube

So I leave Uxbridge on my way to Regent Street to get my Brother’s suit fitted for my wedding. While on the platform at West Drayton station waiting for the FGW train to Paddington, I notice an elderly man. He was black and I remember thinking he looked like Nelson Mandela. He had the hints of grey as well as the sunken eyes that told of vast experiences. There was something about him that drew me to make conversation but my sunglasses were on, that and my bright green jumper made me feel lost. You can’t approach a Mandela lookalike dressed like that.

This man intimidated me, because he represented what I had began to – and probably already had – lost. So I kept my sunglasses on and put my hood on. Picking a seat on the furthest end of the carriage I spent the journey staring out the window, sorrowful and yet determined to hide my discontent: never away from the gaze of the man, he was two seats away and within sight … Read more

© Denis Adide 2009

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