The end of innocence

They lit up a pile of charcoal in a homemade barbecue to cook some meat and warm up, perhaps even as an innocent, cost-free pastime. Five friends in their 20s, all students, ate their meal, had a few drinks, probably joked around a bit, maybe watched a couple of movies on the computer, and then fell asleep with the fire still going, the windows to their student accommodation shut.

I doubt whether these kids had ever heard of the toxic effects of carbon monoxide, of the dangers of using a makeshift grill constructed of a metal oil drum cut in half and mounted on steel legs, especially as a source of heating, or of the risks of having a fire burning in an enclosed space.

I doubt whether they even knew that old-timers call this kind of contraption a “mangali.” The boys probably called it a grill.

I doubt whether their parents talked to them about the “mangalia” of their childhoods or their grandparents told them stories of going hungry during the Nazi occupation.

I doubt whether they knew what it means to be hungry and in need.

These were five children of the post-1990 era, like my own, who yesterday asked me what a “mangali” was when they read the word in news headlines.

These are kids accustomed to central heating and air conditioning, who cannot fathom a world without mobile phones and high-speed Internet, and who arrange their appointments with their friends and dates on Facebook.

These are children that have been coddled, that are as tender as seedlings at a nursery, children with dreams of going to university and getting a good job, like the generations before them. But there is a crucial difference between them and their elders: They know nothing of what it means to really be in danger, and as such they don’t know how to react to it. They have no idea how to survive in difficult or extreme conditions.

They are defenseless, but one day they will learn.

Two of the five students who fell asleep with the fire in their “mangali” still burning didn’t get the chance.

They didn’t get the chance to learn to discern between playing around and true need. They didn’t get a chance to learn how to spot dangers and react to them. For them life was a game, happiness, a constant discovery. There were no defeats and disappointments. They lit a fire, cooked some food, had a lark, cracked open a few beers – they were happy with what little they had. And then they fell asleep.

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