It’s 9:18pm on a Wednesday night. I’m heading home from work, tired and hungry. I was reading about a new report showing that 600,000 children could die from hunger in conflict zones this year alone. Hunger is on the rise in conflict countries and yet these areas continue to become more and more dangerous, making it so difficult for people to help. Sitting on the train, I was frustrated and sad, annoyed that just as I had spent the past 12 hours on communications work to end polio, the problems just keep continuing to pile up in this world.
Two stops later, the train filled up quite a bit. I didn’t bother to look at who had gotten on, I just noticed it had gotten more full. A stop later, I began looking around. A group of pregnant women around 16 years old, I would guess, had all gotten on the train, clutching strollers with babies inside. They looked exhausted.
I took out my headphones.
I gathered they had just come from a teenage pregnancy outreach event. I also gathered they were working to stay in school, as one mentioned homework she needed to do. One said she’s been incredibly hungry lately, and is still trying to figure out how to feed Sarita and herself. [Granted, they were saying this in Spanish, so understandable that not everyone would have caught this.]
But how did no one else on the train – probably 30 others – not notice an entire group of pregnant 16-year-olds get on the same train with their strollers?
A couple of them tried to get off at the next stop. If you’ve ever seen anyone trying to get off a train with anything other than their own healthy body, it’s nearly impossible. There’s simply not enough time (only 45 seconds usually) for people to get on and off in masses and maneuver themselves around large objects. [Wait until I tell you about the guy who got on the train with a bike… coming soon.]
The women clearly had learned how to get on and off. Two of the pregnant women used their bodies as shields to keep the Subway doors open, while the other two women shoved their strollers out. When the doors detect a body against them, they still jolt closed (and can crush you), but they will eventually reopen. This was clearly their strategy.
Try to picture this: Two extremely pregnant 16-year-olds using their own bodies – with growing babies inside of them!! – to block the Subway doors [while clutching strollers] so that their other friends can make it off the Subway in time. All in 30 seconds.
Because of a series of missed moments, these women had learned to fend for themselves. They knew no one would care about their existence on the train, so they would have to learn how to get on and off.
And in this current missed moment, no one on the train – especially the three men right by the door – bothered to help them. The men were looking at their phones when there’s not even service on the train. I understand that the four of us in the corner were quite far from the door and in 30 seconds what could we really do, but what about those right by the door? Either way, I was convicted that when those pregnant or disabled get on the train, I should sit nearer to them or the door so that I can help.
No one took out their headphones to consider that the train was absolutely silent besides the women’s conversation. No one found it all ironic that four pregnant young women all hopped on the train together. No one bothered to imagine life outside themselves.
I was brought to tears as I thought about what a miserable look I probably had on my face, sitting in the corner pouting over my long day and “hunger.” I was struck by how drastically different my life looked at 16, and how drastically different their lives will look when they are my age. I was appalled by the way we treat those who are pregnant and disabled, and how we have yet to make public transportation accessible for all. I was convicted by my own ability to sit in a corner and expect someone else to help.
Since when have we become such an independent society that we expect people to battle out a moving train–with all their moving pieces–by themselves?
I got off at the next stop, picked up some dinner, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning for work. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.