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Cars, houses and rape gates 

Letter to Tom van Leeuwen, 16 November 1994:



Everyday people die. So what? Life is cheap and easy to manufacture on an industrial scale. Occasionally I take our helper Ivadney home to her tin shanty town settled snugly within the visible wealth where I live. Late at night she warns me that I should not stop for anyone. Not even for fragile old ladies whose cars appear to have broken down. It might be a trap. And so I drive past fragile old ladies whose car appear to have broken down and I feel justified! When the members of Ivadney’s stretched and extended family see me, the young, barely dressed men surround me and call me “Big Man”. They ask me for 50 dollar to buy a box of biscuits. I say “Later Man” in my best Jamaican and with all the self-confidence I need. That is good because “No” is, on the advice of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, far too strong and is likely to provoke rage. Later, my friend, the architect Patrick Stanigar advises me to look into their eyes and to say “NO” very clearly and without remorse; I find it works better than lying. But I haven't learnt that yet. The car is my territory, with its automatic locking system, and the soothing asthmatic breath of the air-conditioning, I am my own boss.

Wealth here is always imprisoned behind bars or glass. I am very white here. I live in a “compound”, a conspiracy of luxury and fear. Houses, which themselves refuse to turn inward are surrounded by high fences or high walls and kept under smug control. The neighbours are doing well, you can see that. The houses in my compound are not large, but very comfortable. They have large walk-in cupboards, an abundance of toilets and bathrooms and a gate separating the living and sleeping quarters. It is well hung with padlocks and popularly referred to as "the rape gate". The children play prison with it. Every evening the gate has to be locked, with us behind it, a small moment in the liturgy of fear.


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