Thursday is usually reserved for our work in Soho, but instead last week I walked the streets of Shkozë, a growing suburb of Tirana in Albania, and I noted a Roma woman rummaging through the large bins on the main road. This isn’t an unusual sight here and it’s one that is usually ignored by locals and foreigners alike; either because of disinterest or inability to actually do anything which would make a standing difference.
I noticed this woman on the day that at least some of the UK and the Commonwealth celebrated the Queen’s 90th Birthday and much of the rest of the world mourned the death of Prince. Both symbols of something that this woman would never be able to achieve, either because she was not born to entitlement or because her (suspected) illiteracy, place of birth and upbringing would never give her access to the world in which talent is found, refined and then appreciated. She will never wear diamond jewellery, nor ever be the tale of a diamond in the rough.
It was with some irony that I read part of the back of her ripped T-Shirt: “Come and join the party.” I doubt she intentionally chose the shirt for its unlikely choice of slogan but instead for its ready availability, probably found on one of the many piles of waste across the city.
Life for this woman has unlikely been a party, it has likely been a hard slog with no hope of rags to riches but rather a hope that there will be enough sellable scrap in the bins of Tirana to resell for a measly $2. Can you even buy a Prince album for $2? And there’s little point in asking the question on what the Queen can afford, seeing as her face is on it.
It’s with a sense of hypocrisy that I write this as someone who has a steady and comfortable income, an apartment of good quality and prospects based on further education and access to employment. I’ve had to work for all of this, granted, but I was born into a world in which I could work for them. My British passport always gets some attention when visiting Albania, because such a small document gives me access to so much: a symbol of something that those outside of its privilege can’t comprehend. However, you don’t have to visit developing countries to find those who are excluded from such a world, you can find them on the streets of any town or city in the UK, big or small. It’s not just our major cities that the lines of poverty grow deeper; “class-divide” may seem to be resigned to the history books but the fact is, it remains. It looks and sounds different and isn’t necessarily based on financial means or wealth in property (although that certainly helps), but it surreptitiously remains in our society, disguised under the supposed value of “hard work achieves everything”.
Frankly, there are some that no amount of hard work will ever change their situation. They will not don diamonds, earned or inherited.
It is with an air of defeat that I accept this, acknowledging a rift in our way of being which just cannot be resolved by any effort of mine or others. The life of one person can occasionally be changed, but the lives of millions will likely remain much the same as they always have been.
Perhaps then it is down to this “now and not yet” that I am so fond of these days, and I remain uncertain that it’s not just a way of appeasing my white, middle class, male guilt. Christ focussed on the untouchable and unreachable during his earthly ministry, knowing that everyone would never be reached by Christ the man. However, as the Church we look ahead to a time when Christ the Divine restores us all to God, regardless of social standing, financial status or ability. I follow the example of Christ the man, attempting to help the lives of but a handful as he did, with the hope of a future perfection enabled through Christ the Divine. It seems to me, that whilst we sit in the “now and not yet” the tension that I feel is perhaps a small price to pay, whilst serving to keep me focussed. Focussed on the Christ who is not limited by human means, but who has worked in amongst everything for a future full of hope and equality that shines brighter than a diamond.