Strength in What Remains is written by an American named Tracy Kidder, and tells the true story of a survivor of the genocide that took place in that small African country in 1993. It really made me think and question many of the things that we take for granted and which are in the scheme of life, frivulous and really quite insignificant.
Last night we had our work Christmas party, and I was fretting over what to wear. There was a lovely gold top in Sainsbury's that I have had my eye on for some time, and when I saw it was 25 percent off I was in two minds over whether to get it or not. In the end I decided not to, as I reasoned that it was not worth spending that much money even with the reduction, on something that I would in all probability wear just once for a few hours at most. I was also moaning about the standard of the vegetarian food that I was served compared to the carnivorous option, which as usual was far more substantial. Yet Burindians, and for that matter, those in many other countries worldwide, cannot afford basic clothes and have no idea as to where their next meal is coming from. The amount of money that was spent last night by some people that were there was akin to more than most Burundians make in a whole year.
The book quotes some frightening statistics about life in that country - Burundi has the lowest GDP per head of population than any other country on earth with one of the lowest literacy rates and life expectancy, particularly for women, who due to the high infant mortality rate go through pregnancy after pregnancy getting old and worn out way before their time.
The things that the main character in this book saw and experienced cannot begin to be imagined - the book describes a scene where he was fleeing from his own country into neighbouring Rwanda, and he was sheltering in a banana grove surrounded by dead bodies. It was then that he noticed the baby - a live baby trying to suckle it's dead mothers breast. He knew that there was nothing whatsoever that he could for this child and it too would die, a victim of those intent on killing those that they felt were different to them.
If I am honest, I did not really want to go last night - I like a dance as much as the next person, but prefer to do it in a quieter, less showy environment where I do not have to worry about dressing up and pretending to be something I am not in order to impress. Don't get me wrong, it is nice once in a while to be able to dress up, but it is really all about impressing others and trying to fit in and look the part. We do it for others rather than for ourselves. I had arranged to meet the rest of my work colleagues at the venue, and was so nervous on my way there and on my arrival that I drove straight past the car park and ended up having to go round the roundabout and back in again! That should really have given me a hint about what was to come.
When I entered the building, the noise of people talking hit me like a wall. I stood and waited for the boss to bring me a drink while I attempted to make small talk about how nice people looked and how much I was looking forward to the evening, all the time feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable, and wishing that I could just turn round and go back home again.
When it was time to go upstairs for our meal and the disco that followed, I found that I had been placed on a table with staff that I hardly knew, away from my friends that I had more in common with. The conversation was stilted and awkward to say the least, attempting to make yet more small talk, while at the table behind, the wine flowed and they laughed and joked among themselves. When the meal did arrive, I found that the vegetarian starter was half the size of the meaty one, and the main course, which I had been assured was gluten free, contained couscous - last time I checked, couscous is not gluten free. When I knew that I would be attending this party, I telephoned the venue to discus my dietary requirements and make sure that they could cater for them, and specifically requested that I not be given fruit salad for dessert, which seems always to be the default option at such things, what did they give me - you guessed it - fruit salad! So, while my meat eating colleagues tucked into prawn cocktail, roast turkey and chocolate mousse, I got a small salad with a few pearls of cheese, stuffed aubergine with overcooked vegetables and a fruit salad - all for the princely sum of £63 - like I said, almost the equivilant to the average Burundians annual income. Oh well, I guess it is par for the course. I may or may not bloat in a day or so's time from the couscous, but I do know that I not be returning to that venue in a hurry. At least I do know that any bloating I do experience will not be due to hunger...
For me then far from being the big night out that I was hoping for with fun and laughter, it was a bit of a damp squib. I made an excuse and left just after 10.30pm and was home before 11pm.
It left me wondering though, why do we put ourselves through all that in an effort to fit in? I could not work out whether I was more angry with myself or with my colleagues, and came to the conclusion that as always, it was about me (who else is there anyway). I should know by now that these events with their glitter and sparkle, are not me, but about glamour and falsehood, concepts which I find alien and more than a little uncomfortable. I know that this may sound like a judgement, and that I do work with those who are in their way surrounded by death, but I prefer the company of those who think about the deeper things in life, and to let my hair down in a quieter more genuine and authentic environment - the village hall rather than some glitzy racecourse with flashing lights and blaring music, where the alcohol flows freely. For some it is a chance to let their hair down, but for me it is falsehood. I will not be making the same mistake again. Real strength, like the character in the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, comes from being willing to face your demons and work with them, not by blotting them out with destractions, which for me at least, is what last night was really about.