Monday, January 9, 2017

The Problem of Poverty

I'm going to write this blog post in a hurry and try not to edit it too much. I don't want to delete out the parts that make me look bad. I need to be honest.

See, I'm struggling with the issue of poverty. I used to be the kind of person who changed the channel when starving kids from Africa came on. I never gave to beggars, figuring any money I gave them would go to drugs. I have never been good at sharing. (Ask my sisters!)

But here in Guatemala, it's so hard to look away. Poverty is all around me. My neighbours -- noisy jerks that they are -- don't have running water. Their kids play in the dirt with sticks and pots. In town, I see beggars every day, many of them disabled. Five-year-olds have jobs working the street selling bracelets and gum. I regularly encounter old women scouring the garbage dump by the river for anything they can find. In Guatemala, poverty is in your face.

Yet here I sit at my fancy computer in my secure apartment with a solid roof and an indoor bathroom. How can I justify that?

Selfishness, that's how.
Or can it be called self-preservation?

We all feel like we work hard. We all hang on to what we've worked for. We all want more. Don't we?

Today on Facebook, an old friend of mine posted a photo of some hors d'oeuvres he had made for a party at his apartment. The scene could have been from a glossy magazine. And it made me sick. I couldn't stop thinking that their foolish fancy cheeseboard probably cost more money than my neighbours make in a month. How can people live in such ridiculous excess when other people are going to bed hungry and cold?

But here I am, not hungry, only slightly cold. Who am I to talk?

I don't like to give to beggars, but I do it anyway. Sparingly. Bert is more generous than me. He gives away his last Q5 to any big-eyed shoeshine boy who says, "Tengo hambre." I am always thinking of how much money I need to save for bread and water and cat food and my Internet bill.

But if I was in their shoes, my stomach aching, my head pounding, my eyes dry from lack of sleep.... how would I see myself, fat white woman that I am?

Poverty makes people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't want to be reminded that there are so many people in the world who are going to bed hungry. I don't want to feel guilty for buying a chocolate bar that costs as much as two pounds of beans and 15 tortillas.

But you know what else? Poverty is relative. By many standards, I am poor. My sisters cannot understand how I can live like this. My sandals are held together with a twist tie and hot glue. My glasses are scratched so much I can't see out the edges. I don't own a single pair of shorts without holes in them. And I eat beans and tortillas a lot. A lot.

All of these thoughts just tumble around my head and I'm not quite sure how to reconcile them all. I am richer than some. I am poorer than some. I give, but not as much as others do. I am generous yet I am selfish.
This is life.
All I know is that I want more things. I want nice clothes. I want to eat fancy hamburgers. I want a nicer apartment. I want I want I want. *sigh* But how can I want -- no, how can I feel okay with wanting when others NEED. This is a problem that Guatemala brings to the front of my mind daily. And I don't really like it.
A photo I took last year of inside an old couple's bedroom in Santiago.
So it's super late at night and the crazy winds are finally dying down. I am grateful for my cement roof that has not been blown apart today. I am grateful for warm blankets on my bed on this cold night. I am grateful my belly is not empty.

Tomorrow I will work hard and be even more grateful and try to be a more generous person, a less selfish person, a more open-hearted person. Care to join me?
Wanna help? I recommend Mayan Families, a wide-reaching organization that provides assistance to Guatemalans in the areas of nutrition, education, elderly care, healthcare, and so much more.

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