There’s a song out there (I don’t recall it) of which its gist is this: “You got problems? Some people out there have *real* problems.”
I think this because my mom called me a few days ago, asking that I contribute money to her poor side of her family in the Philippines. “We’re so lucky here,” she said, feeling guilty. “They have nothing.”
I still disagree that it’s luck… but yes, living in America, we have more opportunities than most in the Third World. We have more choices than most in the Third World. And we tend to take all of that for granted.
For instance, the safety of our children and the law-abiding order of our government system. Yes, we have problems — child predators out there, corrupt politicians — but folks living in America still feel that they have freedom to do something about it. How about other parts of the world? How about, say Sierra Leone, where systemic assault, rape, kidnapping, and mutilation happened, under the eye of its president?
And jobs — sure the dollar is soft and inflation is happening and we may be heading for a recession. How about other parts of the world? How about, say Iraq, in which you just may die, just trying to go to work, or to school, or to run errands?
After talking to my mother, I realize just how damn fortunate living in America — especially living in middle-class America — is. For many people in other parts of the world poverty is something beyond their control. They are born poor. There are no schools for them — there are no schools. No paved roads. No electricity. They are grateful to have some food in their bellies for that day — and that food being as simple and as tasteless as a bowl of rice, AND THAT’S IT. They have no pantries, no refrigerators. No climate-controlled living spaces, no running water. They have no closet filled with clothes. No TV, no telephone, no computer, no car, no paper, no pencils, no books, no CDs, no stereo… nothing. They have nothing.
And some of them happen to be my cousins.
How can I say no to my mother, when she describes these things to me? I, who can *choose* what job I can get — hell, can choose to be poor, because I was, when I was in grad school — how can I say no? I lived off of $700/mo when I was getting my master’s degree, but I chose to live that way. For the sake of furthering my education, for the sake of not *settling* for a job that I didn’t want, I chose to do without — in other words, to be poor. I can choose to be a Bartleby, to “prefer not to.”
If I were to say that to some of my poor Filipino cousins, they’d think I was CRAZY. For poverty is *never* a choice — it is a grinding, soul-sucking FACT that can drive them to despair, and so they can’t afford to be choosy, to be discriminating, to be picky. They’re just grateful that they’re not starving. They’re just grateful to have clothes on their back. They’re just grateful that anybody is helping them out. And, unlike some other cousins in California who squander their money on drugs, alcohol, partying, sex, etc. etc., they’re grateful just to be alive.
For unlike my Cali cousins (and me, for that matter) my PI (Philippine Islands) cousins don’t even have extra stuff to sell to get money. They don’t have well-to-do family and friends to stay with if they lose what poverty-level jobs they have and lose their little shack of a house.
And what poverty-level job do they have, in a country that’s economically depressed, bars public schooling after the sixth grade, and is hemorrhaging able-bodied workers to the rest of the world?
They sell what little food they have on the streets. And how did they afford to buy that food?
My mother sends them money.
So how can I say no to my mother, when she tells me these things?