Spying on the global workings of society. The vast majority of humanity live in desperate third world conditions. Fifteen percent of the world population who are starving to death, have no voice. In many countries, the average length of life is just under forty. In 2009 it was announced there are now over one billion people dying of starvation. Crossing Africa alone by bicycle brought home to me a very direct understanding of the lifestyle of this forgotten segment of humanity. Seeing starvation in a magazine or on the television fails to leave the menacing trail of emotion as does looking into the eyes of someone who has only a few weeks of miserable existence left. I was travelling on half a shoestring, so it was cheapest to live out of Moma's pot. Due to this fact I rarely had food to spare. However, there were a few occasions where I was able to offer temporary relief in the form of small food gifts.
I can recall a man from a desolate village called Arlit. Located in sub Saharan region of Niger, it offered little opportunity for survival. I spied his skeletal body slumped up against a decrepit building. His age was indeterminable, seemingly he was at deaths door. Bones protruding against slackened skin, with a visage so distorted by starvation, his appearance was almost alien. Compelled by compassion, I approached the man speaking French, the adopted language of Franco occupation. He opened his mouth to say something, but only a breath of air escaped. I gestured for his benefit the conventional sign language for eating, he stared blankly. His black eyes rotating up to compensate for his inability to firmly raise his head from it's quasi eternal resting place on his shoulder. There before me, was a man unable to do anything but wait to die. I knew of a Moma's pot a few hundred yards down the road. I placed my arm around his waist, wrapping his one arm over my shoulder I raised him up. I was shocked by his light weight, I could have easily carried him as he weighed no more than a young child. After a few steps in this fashion, he regained enough strength and composure to walk relatively well on his own steam. You could see the microscopic semblance of what pride remained, forcing him, to prevail without aid. Slowly, we made it to Moma's hut, six wooden tables about two meters each were placed under the tent. Small, but clean and relatively free of flies, we made our way to a corner table. Another patron sat quietly eating from his bowl, slurping the broth filled meat stew with vigor, he seemed idly curious. I arranged for three bowls of stew soup which were quickly placed in front of me. I slid them over to the man encouraging him to eat. As he lifted to bowl to his lips a throng of newcomers arrived. The patron was quick to intercept them screaming obscenities, their efforts to gain entry soon flagged. Relenting to the forceful patron, they deferred to staring from just outside the hut. The group grew in numbers until there must have been twenty or thirty hopefuls. The embarrassed patron began nervously explaining, I waved her off, I knew what was happening. They were part of the many hopefuls I had met on my journey to the dark continent. The bitter fact I quickly came to accept is that I was in no position to help them. However, every now and then, I found myself in a situation where my breaking heart demanded something be done. This little town of Arlit and the nameless man represented the first of many such occasions.
I find it criminal that we live in a world where one seventh of our fellow brothers are forced to experience such a lifestyle. Why do we allow this tragedy to befall so many helpless souls? When asking ourselves how starving people live day by day we, need look no further than the Arlit gentleman referred to earlier. The world they perceive is limited in a most extreme way. We could never fully appreciate what it would be like to exist in such despair. No person with food in their belly and a roof over their head is exempt from culpability in the encouragement of global starvation. Grotesque is the testimonial of one billion emaciated humans. None could argue a complete lack of compassion exists in our world today. You might say, well there are many compassionate people ready, willing and able to offer aide. This may be true, however the stark reality is, to date our species has not demanded this outrageous reality end. This my brothers and sisters is all that matters to the afflicted billions. Why is this the reality we have allowed the corporate elite to shove down our collective throats?
A step higher up the ladder of society we find the masses who are living under the poverty line. Last year the World Bank standard for qualifying as living under the poverty line was upgraded in 2008; for developing countries it now stands at
$ 1.25 per day from the long held standard of one dollar. In first world countries like America the standards are $ 30.00 per day for a single person and $ 60.00 per day for a family of four. The global average for living under the poverty line is
32.6%. This global average, like most poverty statistics, is hotly debated with opponents, on both sides of the fence, grinding their axes for political and financial gain. I can't say how far $ 1.25 would go, but keeping an American family of four afloat on $ 22,000 per year would take some creative math to accomplish. If we deduct the one billion people who are starving, from the 32.6 % global average living under the poverty line, we can deduce approximately 1.3 billion people or 18.6% of the world population lives under the poverty line but are not yet starving to death. So what is life like for this 18.6% of humanity. Let me preface this analysis by stating; when speaking to the lifestyles of any given segment of society, it must be understood we are limited to gross generalities. There are always exceptions to every rule of thumb, it would serve us little benefit to dwell on the many possible lifestyle iterations which fall out of the norm.
I found living below the poverty line as a single man in his twenties to affect little detrimental consequence. Sure I wanted for just about everything, but I was also content in enjoying my circle of friends and the many free social activities available to me. I naturally searched for ways to make tough situations more tolerable. I think the greatest challenge poverty offered me was in demoralisation of my psyche. Growing up in Canada I could not resist the constant programming to win. Like most school children who struggle in school, I stressed greatly over my inability to excel. I passed each year, never distinguished myself with offerings of excellence. In the most important world of youth sport, I again found myself unable to determine a level of expertise worthy of note. Adoration heaped upon those more accomplished, only served to further diminish my self worth. Navigating successfully through college and then university buoyed my self esteem, for a few years I felt good about myself. I first experienced poverty as a student, rising above and dipping below the poverty line during my early twenties wreaked havoc on my egoic perception of self. Experiencing poverty created the image of myself as damaged goods, by extension I was not worthy of acceptance or love.
My second stretch of poverty came in my early thirties while trying to resettle from Ontario to British Columbia. Times were very tough, I had a sales job working 50 hours per week, but still could not cover the rent and food, let alone the bills. Months passed, constantly stressed to stay afloat, until car troubles burst the dam. We had to visit a local food bank twice. It was just before Christmas, the cupboards and fridge were almost bare. We found a tree in the forest and decorated it with popcorn and rings of paper baubles we made together. Finally complete, my daughter glowed at it's magnificence. With childlike wonder, she openly considered what Santa would place below it's pine scented boughs. I remember sitting in the living room that night, distressed over how I could maintain my daughters fantasy. That quiet evening, the tree without presents, came to symbolically represent all my failures. With tears wetting my cheek, no hope in my heart, a solution solidified in my mind. I lifted up the cushions finding nothing. Checking the pockets of all the clothes in the house provided about one dollar fifty. I didn't expect to find much, all those places had been checked quite frequently over the last few months. The car was my last hope, I never ripped out the seats to see if anything could be there. What a bonanza, I found almost three dollars in coins; one of the coins was a loonie, somehow by great providence, there were two rolls of pennies lost long ago. Loonies and twoonies are cool, because you can always spend them without the emotional coinage baggage. Adding it all up, the family's net worth was almost five dollars. It was three days before Christmas, I had a plan, excitement was in the air.
I carefully sorted out three dollars, counting it three time then plopping it all in my pocket. I had spent a long time deciding how much to take, each dime was so precious. I ran out the house, making my way to a nearby gas station. I put exactly three dollars gas in the car and headed to the cash. I was going to wait until the store cleared of patrons before paying, but my luck was not with me this evening. Usually I would wait until after 2am to get gas, but tonight was special, a plan was afoot. I waited in line until finally it was my turn. Making the usual off the cuff remark( If delivered right, the remark can greatly mitigate the humiliation factor ) about wanting to get rid of my change, I placed the handful on the counter. What else could I do but suffer the embarrassment. Shrinking under the exhalation of air coming from the impatient card holding patron behind, I turned with red face offering a smile. Note, this is why the coinage must be counted three times, you want it right and done with, so you can get the hell out.
To save the red face I had three rules of thumb for large coinage purchases.
Never make a purchase over two dollars with a female teller. For some unexplainable reason, obvious disclosure of financial peril to the opposite sex was just too much for my fragile ego to bear.
Never make a purchase in front of a waiting line of patrons. The objective in this rule is obviously damage control. The faithful observant to this truism greatly reduces the emotional impact of the activity.
Lastly the obvious solution many of you may have already gleaned is to use a local shop to convert the change into bills. The first few months under the poverty line we were able to pilfer from a penny jar. I would wrap up the coins in whatever paper was around then visit the local mart just before he closed. He already knew my family were on the rocks, shopkeepers always know. Astute shopkeepers, with big hearts, often find ways to help patrons they feel sorry for. He used to give us deals or claim the milk or bread was about to expire. At times, he allowed me some credit to carry the family over until payday. My motif operandi would be to pretend I was helping him cover off his constant lack of change with my unwanted abundance. We both knew it was a lie, but generous as he was, he often went out of his way to thank me for helping him out. Being of Korean descent, he knew how vital and necessary his comments were in allowing me to save face. In times of poverty, these small gifts are very welcome indeed. When you are broke, holding a ten dollar bill in your hand instead of a fistful of change, is " priceless ".
Having negotiated the ever insulting coin payment for gas, I could now forge ahead with my brilliant plan. I had filled at the furthest pump so not to be noticed. I began squeegeeing my windows while casing the scene. Once hidden from the view of patrons and staff I tossed the squeegee through my open window, quickly making a getaway I felt exhilarated. It was about 9pm which left me a few hours still to enact my plan. I showered, put on my best pants shirt and tie, grabbed a bucket and left the house. I drove a bout 10 miles or so to a busy intersection, I would have driven a hundred miles if I had the gas, such was not the case. Fifteen minutes after arriving at my destination, I looked around to spy the mess I was in. I looked great; spit polished shoes, creased and cuffed trousers, clean white patterned shirt with freshly ironed creases. A bright silk tie, with my favorite fake gold tie pin and cuff links offered accent to my attire. To round it all off, a worn but nice, London fog rain coat effected the successful business like image I coveted. Looking at the smile on my face you would think I just closed a million dollar deal. So far, so good, right! Panning my immediate environment, we see the fabricated picture of wealth suddenly change. Next to me, a sign which clearly reads, need x-mas presents for my daughter. Steaming mist rises from the bucket of hot water, low and behold the stolen squeegee is in my hand. I spent the next few weeks augmenting my paltry income in this manner. In time, an opportunity for greater income swept away the desperation of those hungry days. Luckily, I never had to squeegee the car windows of a friend or acquaintance. I always dreaded such a confrontation inevitable, alas it never materialised. Grace sometimes comes to us in the things that don't happen, just as much, as in the things that do. I very much appreciate my financial troubles have been insignificant and fleeting relative to many others. However the point being made is that, for the most part, we are all tied to the mental programming of equating self worth with financial worth. Living below the poverty line demands a mighty toll in self esteem. The bill doesn't sit on the counter for all to see, nonetheless ego uses it to rip mighty holes in the hearts of many.
From my limited perspective I suggest living with poverty creates a lifestyle of angst. The bills pile up, the work hours lengthen and the quality of life takes a dramatic turn for the worst. In such times, it is very difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. Salvation and peace of mind always seem to remain out of reach, just around the next bend that never comes. Conversely, financial chaos seems to lurk in every dark alley. Many nights sleep can be spent bemoaning the what ifs that could derail your lifestyle by forcing your family out of your rented home. Whether ones self esteem flags or has been completely overwhelmed, the final result is a dis empowerment of self. I found being poor creates emotional trauma which makes it near impossible to pursue self development. I became frozen by the mechanisation's of my ego mind. Feelings of uselessness, failure, regret, helplessness and even hope stifled my inquisitive mind. Hard earned spiritual gains were tossed to the wind. Replaced by the need to defend against an ego not yet understood.
However you choose to define the effects of poverty, I can unequivocally state this is no way for our brothers and sisters to live. For children to see their parents struggle under the embarrassing weight of financial slavery is hideous. We all know people who are living in this manner, yet we do nothing. Is this because it is not us, not yet? I am not suggesting we donate to Unicef or one of the many scam programs designed to capitalise on our emotional heart strings. I am however urging everyone to inform our brothers and sisters about the many aspects of the corporate matrix which enslave our minds and bodies. Unity and unconditional love is the only solution which can free humanity from the beast. Today we have looked at poverty from dire and fringe perspectives, we know how our idleness impacts our brothers. We could watch T.V. instead of helping our brothers, but does that make any sense. Raise your voices in unity, shout out slogans of freedom! Take back the right for all our brothers and sisters to prosper in love. This is the generation which will change to socio global landscape. This my brethren is the generation of love.
In Lak' ech, free my brothers and sisters with love...