Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The poor you have with you always

I walked down to the Church shop to celebrate the Eucharist for nine people first thing this morning, then sat and before returning to prepare the house for Geoff and Carol's return and pack ready for my departure, I chatted outside Rosie's Bar for an hour. 

Nerja breathes an air of quiet prosperity with such a huge number of holiday visitors all year round, yet there is another side to life. I learned about regulars who come to the shop who are homeless, sleeping rough on benches and in parks when holidaymakers have returned to their hotels.  Others with remnants of stable life behind them but with not enough to rent a room. There's a woman living in a parked car near a remote beach, who walks several miles into town daily.  For much of the year, it's warm enough to sleep outdoors, but it's terrible to have no shelter when it rains hard. Some people beg in the streets, peddle cheap goods, or are casual labourers - there's plenty of seasonal fruit picked to be done in this very productive horticultural region

I've seen young mothers quietly begging outside of each bigger supermarket, bearing a card stating how many children they are having to fend for, alone. There's severely physically disabled and very thin young man begging at each Tuesday Mercadillo, and I've seen him in town as well, stripped to the waist holding a crucifix in one hand, like a figure from a Goya painting. Somebody must bring him there. There's no sign of a wheelchair nearby. I've not seen poor people trying to survive here given a police escort away from the public eye.

Last Saturday night, a man installed himself in a corner under a tree near the entrance to our section of the urbanizacion. He had a plastic chair, sleeping bag and rucksack, and a transistor radio to keep him company. He might have been a peddler arriving overnight early to grab an early pitch at the Sunday morning flea market cum car boot sale. He wasn't there the next night.

In these severe economic times, state social services must be under great pressure. High unemployment amongst the young is coped with by supportive families, but what of those who become estranged from their kin? Impoverished older folk, isolated by chronic health issues, relationship failures or lack of family aren't always looked after by neigbours, particularly if life has displaced them from a community where they once belonged. In this era of increased longevity it's an increased concern.

My final walk out with a camera was in the late afternoon, to visit the site of the abandoned sugar factory and rum distillery near Maro. It's a few hundred metres up a stone track in between plastic sheeted fields which act as greenhouses, still irrigated by the brick channels laid down 130 years ago for the sugar cane crop that fed the St Joachin factory. The water channel still runs fast and fresh, across and out of the front of the building shell. It's a magnificent ruin in yellow and red brick.
Only two outlying buildings have the dangerous remains of roofing in place. All else is stripped and the brick shell is open to the sky, like the remains of an ancient monastery in a deserted place.
On one side below the building, an unusual circular vegetable garden had been created in the middle of a larger field. The reason for this layout is hard to fathom, but it's very pleasing to the eye in its context.
I was told that the large open space of waste land surrounding the factory is now used by model airplane enthusiasts. The estate still belongs to the company that took it over from the local family which had built and run it at first, before closing it sixty years ago, when industrial production methods changed. It's a remarkable piece of industrial heritage, with complete 'at your own risk' unregulated public access. I can't imagine the being permitted in Britain - just on health and safety grounds, let alone heritage.

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