A photo originally posted two months ago to Reddit's "Morbid Reality" thread (or, as the kids say, sub-Reddit) was re-posted last weekend to the "WTF" thread, and proceeded to re-blow everyone's mind.
It's a pretty baffling shot: A small child swishes down the same red plastic slide that an African refugee is using as shelter, as the child's light-skinned parent — in Teva sandals and a fedora — waits with open arms. (See below.)
Not surprisingly, it has caused mass confusion and debate in the comment section. Some Redditors insist the photo was taken in South Sudan, because of all the Africans in the photo, and because of "Welcome to South Sudan" message on the slide. Others can't help but use the post as a jumping-off point for yet another argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Still others are fighting over the gender of the parent.
One thing's for sure: We are, unmistakably, looking at the bizarre dystopia that is South Tel Aviv. The photo was taken in Levinsky Park, a grassy spread in the shadow of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station that has become a second (and, in some cases, first) home for the roughly 60,000 African asylum seekers who have reached Israel from Eritrea and Sudan.
I returned to the spot where it was taken this morning. A young African mother was pushing her children on the swings. Dirty clothes and other personal items were strewn across the play structure, evidence of the many homeless who sleep there each night. Two of the homeless were still there, at the top of one of the slides. One of them, a blonde woman who looked Russian-Israeli, told me her name was Christina, and showed me around her makeshift home at the top of the slide. She said she has lived there on-and-off for about five years. Shelves had been fashioned out of a jumbo tic-tac-toe game built into play structure.
Christina collects useful and comforting items from the streets and stores them there: Olive oil. Vodka bottles. A gas mask. A bong made from a plastic water bottle. A kiddie piano that Christina plans to start playing, once she finds the right batteries. Winter is bad, she said — "like Alaska." But other than that, she likes sleeping in her fort at Levinsky Park just fine. "The kids climb up and play here, in the blankets," she told me. "The play all over."
It's also worth nothing that until recently, a canopy filled with child-sized holes was stretched over the top of the play structure. Much to the horror of passersby, children would somehow climb onto the canopy and use it as a sort of trampoline — with, of course, little in the vein of safety guards or padding, in case they fell. I never saw one of them fly off the canopy, but I don't see how it couldn't have happened at least once.
The Reddit photo is actually a near-perfect commentary on the refugee situation in Levinsky Park, and in Israel overall: We see the desperation of the asylum seekers forced to take refuge in a child's play structure. (The majority are denied residence or work visas, and are afraid to step out of line, lest they be sent to the terrifying desert prison for immigrants down south.) We see sarcastic commentary scrawled onto the slide by an opponent of African immigration to South Tel Aviv. (The outrage in the area is so great that last year, largely religious and conservative Israelis staged race riots, prodded by right-wing politicians who called the refugees a "cancer.") We can see the liberal Tel Aviv hippie parent, so intent on integration that he (or she) is willing to brave the heartbreaking squalor that has overtaken Levinsky Park. (And indeed, the child looks mixed-race. Perhaps the child and adult aren't even related — anything's possible.)
One Redditor interpreted the photo as "a critique of the middle and upper classes enjoying themselves, completely oblivious to the poverty they are right on top of." But I find it bittersweet — equal parts injustice and defiance.
Here are some additional photos that I took at the Levinsky Park playground today.
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