Living in Poverty and Coping with Realities (With Pictures!)
A week ago I spent a couple of nights in a village and it was the most eye opening experience I’ve ever had. I had gotten the contact through Couchsurfing and on his profile, his English was pretty good and he had 6 references so I was pretty trusting that I’d have a good experience. However, good probably isn’t that adjective I would use.
As I approach the house, if you can call it that (the place didn’t have any doors), there was a commotion between the local villagers. Kids just started appearing out of nowhere. There were free range chickens everywhere pecking rubbish for food, talk about organic. Everyone was looking at me, from the children to the old ladies.
My contact, Ruslan, doesn’t have a good a grasp of English as I’m lead to believe. As we talk I discover that he is a father of two small boys but he seems to be somewhat of a father figure to other boys in the village. He is poorly educated and works in construction. That is when he has work. He says his favourite hobby is to work. And as I enquire further he tells me he only works about once a month for $15 a day.
To supplement this measly sum he sells game time for 20 cents an hour. He has a modified PlayStation 2 to which all the local boys play. There are boys as young as 2 or 3 years old playing Grand Theft Auto. Needless to say the kids, like the chickens, are free range.
After some enquiry at 9 pm, we share a simple meal of rice and vegetables with anchovies to which I am grateful. Grateful, for breaking bread with someone so poor and grateful for getting a meal.
The local guys, friends, come and join the commotion. Interestingly, there are no females in this group nor any other group I encounter. I meet a guy named Ojiq and he tells me that he is a tour guide. He has a better grasp of English and we get on.
I excuse myself and go to my room (lucky I have one). There is a very small mattress, the type you might put down for a picnic. It’s 3cm thick and it’s hard. The pillow is hard. I say to myself, “I am only practising poverty. This is a choice and I tomorrow or the next day I can go back to living how I am used to living. There are people poorer than this, you know?”
In the morning, I wake up early. Ruslan is sleeping in the same room where the kids were playing PlayStation and where we shared the meal. He is with his two sons on a mattress thinner than the one I have. He gets a bit of privacy from the other villagers by putting a large piece of plywood over the entrance to his home.
As we rise, Ruslan offers me a coffee and I give him an English lesson. He isn’t very focused though as his kids are running a muck and other kids have started to come round. He asks me what I’m doing today and I tell him that I want to spend time with you, perhaps he can show me around the village.
We go for a walk through the picturesque rice paddies and we meet his auntie. She also is humble but seems to be in good spirits. Next thing you know her husband comes from the field a man who’s work ploughing in the field has rewarded him with a hunchback and a jovial personality. Ruslan picks and cuts a coconut for me to drink. As I’m drinking I notice that around the iris of the auntie’s eyes are blue. I point out to Ruslan how beautiful her eyes are and was told that her eyes weren’t blue and that it was part of the ageing process. My mind went to the more sinister and likely case of cataracts.
As we went back to the village I met some more of the local children. One child had an eye completely covered by a cataract. My involuntary disgusted look on my face made the child hide behind the other children to which I immediately realised how I looked and tried to make it better by including him in my games. But the damage was done. Here is a child who probably gets made fun of by the other kids and as an adult, I reinforce this behaviour by being disgusted just by looking at him. Needless to say, I was heartbroken when I saw this and later enquired to a charity to see if they could help this child. I haven’t heard back from them.
It’s around midday and it’s clear that Ruslan isn’t going to introduce me to any other person as we sit at the local fishing pond (a man made pond used to farm fish). So I call, Ojiq to go on a tour.
From there I end up doing more of a normal tour around the local area and go water sliding down an aqueduct. I choose not to spend another night at Ruslan’s as I reached my limit of what I could take. Instead, I spend the night singing to Bob Marley songs and eating dinner at a place that has a door.
Going to this village has shown me, first hand, how a lot of poor people live. I know, there are people that live in worse conditions than these but for me, it was enough. All the theory made sense. The malnutrition, the access to health care, the access to clothing. The injustice these kids have by not getting adequate help.
It got me asking myself? Having seen the poverty first hand, will I now give to charities such as World Vision? Or will I continue to give as I always have? A bit here and there whenever someone is going around collecting for a cause.
Did I just engage in a bit of poverty porn? To come and swoop in taking photos with the kids in the village and then leave not helping anyone? I have always questioned the helpfulness of charities, churches and other groups that organise trips for people to go to the village and teach English for a couple of weeks or help build a house. Who is it really helping? Is it helping the local children by giving inconsistent English lessons? Is it helping the local job market by helping build a house? Or is it making the people that go there feel good about themselves by believing that they did something to help those in need?
Did I just do a version of that? I ended up buying some lollies and chocolates for the kids and buying a couple of packets of cigarettes for Ruslan because I felt so bad that I couldn’t offer something.
What type of person does that make me being able to sympathise with those in need but then going away and doing nothing about it?
In all likelihood, I will probably go on with my travels and then return home and live the way I used to live, being a little bit more grateful about my situation, a little bit wiser. But that’s it, I’m not going to start a $40 a month plan to sponsor a child. I’m not going to do a fundraiser night to get medical help to the village. I’m not going to do anything.
Why? Because it’s too hard. It’s too uncomfortable. Does that make me a worse human being for thinking like this?
Over to you. What do you think? Are you like me? Have you visited an impoverished village before? How did you feel? Did it change you in any way? Ping me a message in the comments, on Facebook or on Instagram. If you like this post, don’t be afraid to share it!
P.S. An interesting thing I found and an example of how poor the family is, was the window shade was actually a cigarette banner advertisement.