patron

she resented me —
for treating her like some kind
of “project”, she said
— if I were African I’d
feel that way about Geldof

This was something said to me in 2000 by someone who was a kind of platonic girlfriend for a few months. Her name was Sabita. The poem also refers to a TV debate I saw on the BBC ten days ago, where a Liberian lady called Robtel Neajai Pailey was arguing with Esther Ranzen about Bob Geldof’s latest effort to raise money for Africa. She was very convincing I thought. Began by acknowledging that Geldof’s motives were pure, but proceeeded to demolish the whole notion of Africa as needing charity when what Africa needs is for the WTO to cease certain policies designed to enrich the West at the expense of the poorer nations. Titus Alexander‘s book Unravelling Global Apartheid dealt with this kind of thing, back fifteen years ago. I’ve always found the word patronise to be very elusive as to its meaning. And have sometimes worried that this must mean I am patronising, myself, since it seems to be a blind spot. Looking for a title for this poem, I landed upon patron and thought I would look online for a definition. Turns out to derive from pater the Latin for father. And finally it all fell into place. In my dream last night I was acting very strangely. Falling in love on the spot, apparently for no other reason than because the girl in question had cancer and her hair had fallen out.

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