Doing Much for Little
After six months in Central America, three years in Africa and five years in Southeast Asia poverty seems normal. Until recently when it didn’t.
On a class field trip to Hoi An, our funny photo scavenger hunt called for a student to take a picture carrying one of those iconic stick/basket things. They’re quintessentially Vietnamese for carrying stuff – almost always by small women. My class asked one such woman to borrow her load for the photo op. She stood as tall as my shoulder, but only our biggest, strongest high school student could even lift her baggage. It was enormously heavy. Her job description requires her to walk and carry it all the day long for very little money; admirable, unbelievable and suddenly explains the many stooped backs around town.
During an afternoon excursion to Saigon I watched as tourist. A growing observation began on the plane over when I noticed that three quarters of a domestic Vietnamese flight passengers were white; one hundred percent of first class. In the city the bombardment of spa fliers convinced me to stop for a foot massage. As Her Laziness lounged I noticed through the window an unsettling pattern of poor. Vietnamese young and old being haggled by tourists to sell their key chains for even less than the ridiculously low starting prices; cyclo drivers approaching foreigners eagerly but driving away no one. An old chi rolled her cart by and stopped to check the rubbish for buried treasure. The irony (hypocrisy) of my sympathy for the downtrodden while mid-foot rub did not escape me.
The profound poverty re-realization made me tip the staff well and not argue too adamantly when buying handmade cards afterwards. But, really, I did nothing about it. Except, of course, blog about it, since we all know that will make a global impact [awkward silence].
Quite honestly I’m not sure what inspired action to take to rectify the bank (im)balance of the world’s most populous corner. But whilst pondering I’ll at least start by actually noticing, maybe even appreciating, how much those around me are doing for very little.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post–and the reality check. It’s just so overwhelming a problem, the having vs the not having–everywhere, the US included. It can seem so huge a problem as that you (I, at least) honestly don’t know WHAT to do about it. All I can hope for is to do the best I can every day, in every little situation.
Thanks for the great, thoughtful comment, Philip.