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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 26 January 2014

Strange Meeting

Your face stares back at me behind a window. I'm not sure if you are smiling or grimacing; I can't make out if you have cried or laughed. I don't know a thing about you. Except, a strange meeting.

We were walking back to the Lodge, in a beautful place among the mountains of Nepal. Three tourists, with their guide, paying to enjoy the universe, safely snugged in expensive clothes to keep out the cold. You had spent the day cutting up logs into wood, packed on your back in an impossible load. Dressed in rags, stinking of sweat. Down the winding muddy path, you followed us. Stopping whenever we paused, curious, amazed at a camera lens. You exchanged hand signs with our guide, and I realised, you couldn't speak the same. As we approached the village below, we watched the locals laugh while you tried to sell them your day's work in urgent gestures. 'She's dumb,' our guide said. 'She's mute,' he made sure we understood. 'But she's good,' he added, and I was grateful for that word against the burden of stereotypes.

An hour later, we had made it back up the final trek. Exhausted, we sat with our mugs of fine tea by the Lodge fire, writing postcards, exchanging stories with fellow travellers. All of us, happy to widen our world through the wonders of Nepal. Then, I saw you. In the corner of my eye, I felt you approach the window from outside, as the night began to grip the sun. Freed from the burden of wood, your mouth hanging open in adventure.  Watching us watching you, and watching you watch us, I sensed the room retreat. Someone laughed. Someone turned away. Someone coughed in fear, incase you made it inside. Someone felt compassion for your wide beautiful eyes. And I, amongst it all, felt, in that famous wonderous phrase of Wilfred Owen, 'the pity'.

There you were, like the picture in every charity poster I hate, dishevelled - but not in pain; poor - but playful; blocking the sunset - but bringing reality to view; without a voice - but saying so much more than the conversation inside; stopping every thought with the fact that you had your own sense of wonder that none of us could include in our self-serving lives. The pity of charity, the pity of pity, the pity of it all distilled.

The lodge staff went and chased you away, like a dog. So we could get back to our plans for tomorrow's walk, the excitement of what dinner would bring, without interruption. I felt my stomach sicken in revolt. The one thing the room lacked; the one thing charity no longer seems to know how to do; the one thing in that moment I couldn't act on - is this: the ability to break through the glass with love.

Love, a word dirtier than the smears on your skin.

The face that stares back at me with a million other unknowns around the world. Like the faces opposite me as I write, hidden in a bleak London estate that not a single charity or service commissioner sets foot in. One day, someone will chase us away instead. Down some profound dull tunnel of disadvantaged thinking and disgust, we will find all the lives and their talents we have killed infront of us. Let's not sleep now...

'Strange Meeting' and other encounters will feature in The Adventures of Tata-man, a performance of ideas at The Cockpit, Marylebone, on 6th August at 7.30pm. Tickets now on sale HERE