What is a lift?

One of the things I found most disconcerting after the September 11 attacks was a story I heard about an american journalist who went into Afghanistan before the american invasion, and was showing afghani villagers pictures in glossy magazines of the world trade towers collapsing, and asking them what they thought about the attacks. The interesting thing which put many things in perspective, was that there were many villagers who commented that it was sad that so many people had died, but that they had never known that buildings could be built that tall, and additionally a number of them were fascinated by the magazine, having never seen a glossy magazine before in their life.

It created a nice contrast of priorities, when we were so outraged that 5000 people had been killed, but weren’t even aware, let alone concerned, that there were many people in the world who were so poor that they had never known highrises or magazines even existed (although whether this in fact made them very lucky is a matter for debate at another time) (and lets not even begin to get into illiteracy rates).

Now the reason that I was reminded of this story is because the other day I was on the ground floor of the hospital and an old aboriginal lady asked me how to get to one of the medical wards. I told her that it was on the 4th floor, and she asked me if I could take her there. She seemed quite nervous and so I took her up in the lift to the ward, and it was only afterwards that I realised that the probable reason for the request was that prior to coming to the hospital it was quite concievable that she had never been inside or operated a lift before.

I actually remember being told about this situation in some lecture in medical school, but it wasn’t until I experieced it that it hammered home the disparity of development that exists, even over relatively small distances within a supposedly first world country.

If (as I suspect) she had been flown in for treatment from a remote aboriginal community on the Cape or in the gulf, or even from one of the torres straight islands, then she may actually not have seen a building taller than 2 or 3 storeys. I take lifts for granted. For her it may have been a completely new and (at the age of 70-odd) frightening experience.