First world problems in a third world country

I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday, half engrossed in a meeting, but honestly not really.

It was a magnificent day in Johannesburg and we were sitting outside, but under cover. I was easily distracted and noticed someone drive up and park alongside, near to where we were sitting.

The car was one of those Porsche 4x4's that glimmered and shimmered and bounced radiance wherever it glided. It pulled up quite urgently and parked in two lesser vehicles. The owner slid out at a pace, re-tucked in his slim-fit shirt, adjusted his Ferragamo belt, which was slightly off centre, and stalked into the store.

He had no idea the horror of what would await him.

There is no easy way to say this, so I will just come out with it; the store had the wrong brand of almond milk in stock. It wasn’t the one he wanted. The one he enjoyed. And he had told them that. Maybe even more than once. It just wasn’t fair. Not one bit.

And so, not being a complacent and accepting sort of customer, he made sure that the barrister, the owner and all the customers were well aware of the appalling situation that he was now forced to confront so early on a Monday.

Until yesterday, I wasn’t even aware that almonds lactated.

I considered my options. As he had now written the entire establishment into his Monday “mourning” I could have unquestionably become involved and reminded him that a significant portion of South Africans are living in poverty. That healthy nutrition is a luxury and that children across the continent would do anything for any brand of milk. And that he might want to pull himself together.

I considered reminding him that our Constitution is under threat, that Zuma and his cronies are going to force us to speak Russian and that we might as well have Google Maps permanently saved on Dubai.

If that didn’t work to make him feel guilty I thought I might even raise the Esidimeni tragedy just to see him squirm. If anything would make him see the error of his behaviour it was that. Surely.

But I didn’t.

Because somehow I remembered the night before when my “takeaways” were a few minutes late and I remembered how I reacted. It wasn’t my proudest moment. And yes, it was true that my time is very important to me, but it is probably not nearly as important as I made it out to be.

And I can say for certain that whilst I moaned under my breath about service delivery, I gave little thought to the fact that for some that term means piped water and electricity or a safe home. It does not refer to a “medium-well” versus “medium” cooked steak.

South Africa, like many countries, straddles a few worlds. The fact that we confront the homeless and the hungry on every street corner is a reminder as to the real tragedy that exists amongst us. It is almost impossible, no matter where one lives and no matter what one drives, assuming one does, to avoid the reality of a country that has failed its people.

In contrast it is also a country of international brands, sophisticated banking and immense opportunity. It is a place where first world problems inhabit a third world environment. Where third world realities tap on the windows of first world cars.

Monday morning taught me something. It gave me insight into how I might look when things don’t go according to plan. It reminded me that although we do need to push for higher standards and more options, we need to keep them in perspective and remember what it might look like to a person who had no idea that almonds lactated. 

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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