Try, for a minute, to imagine this scenario: You live next to a massive oil pipeline. Rather against your will, but you do. You know it's an oil pipeline, though you usually don't think about it too often. It's just there. One day, a cacophonous crowd alerts you to the fact that this pipeline is leaking copious amounts of refined oil, gasoline. The stuff's just flowing out.
What now? Panic? It's quick, quick, there's no time, right? Get the hell out of there. Just go. Do NOT go back for your keepsakes, your pet hamster. Go. That's the correct response, isn't it? The only response? It might seem to be -- but only to those of us who aren't mired in such abject poverty that rushing towards the leaking fuel to gather it up not only seems like a good idea, but an instinctive, propulsive response.
The fact that over 150 of those gatherers -- people who initially thought, above all, that they'd caught a break -- were incinerated in Nairobi when a lit cigarette finally caused that pipeline to explode is not only heartbreaking. It is a visceral window into the kind of desperation that remains incomprehensible to Americans and to readers of this blog (or at least the vast majority of them).
The shameful YouTube comments are already piling up on videos on the story, and too many, as usual, callously blame these tragic deaths on stupidity. "fucking idiots were trying to steal fuel again......." says the wonderfully eloquent tradernorton05. These people, the true idiots, idly peck out nasty and moronic comments on their PCs at home or during lunch break from their office jobs.
That someone could be so impoverished, so desperate that they were willing to risk their wellbeing to gather a valuable resource is beyond the logic systems of these first world simpletons, who understand only how the situation described above should be responded to in their own socioeconomic terms.
But reading this story should be like a punch in the gut, certainly not an excuse for mocking the poor (there's a special place in hell, and all that). Along with being yet another horrifyingly vivid reminder of the dangers of fossil fuels, the event should leave us striving for empathy. Just try to imagine how poor you would have to be, how few of your needs met, how valuable gasoline would have to be in relation to your income -- for you to be inspired to run towards a font of highly flammable fuel, risks be damned. You're not dumb, you're starving. You're not reckless, it's just that no idiot would actually light a cigarette over here, not now ... And if you could fill just a couple buckets with gas, you'd double your annual income ...
Try to imagine that. Won't be able to, but try.