Sunday, February 10, 2019

Old Ladies Just Want to Have Fun

When I was young and with toddlers I lived in Indonesia. I am sure I have mentioned this a few times before on this blog. I had a maid/washerwoman, a cook, and a yard/nightwatchman. I did not have any appliances so everything in the house was manual labor.  Also, culturally we were supposed to hire servants because our wealth in the community was too obvious and the U.S. wanted a better profile for its civil servants.  It all balanced out because I truly needed them.  Shopping for food took a half day three days a week!

It took me a short time to adjust to having strangers in my house, perhaps an unusually short time because I am not uncomfortable around people I employ if I trust them and like them. I am an introvert, but when you employ someone you can see them as often or "unoften" as you like.  My cook was Muslim and my maid was Catholic and the night watchman, Jaga Malam, was a young good looking man in his late teens who seemed so sweet I could eat him. I must have been a good employer as they all stayed with me for the two years and we became friends. (Other Americans had trouble hanging on to their staff and I think one of the husbands had a "hand" problem and one of the wives was a perfectionist bitch.  Another family were Christian missionaries and refused to have anyone not Christian in their home, which narrowed the servant pool greatly.)  God knows I need all the various religions I can get and I thought about them all.


Anyway...where was I going with this?  Oh, yes.  There was/is a lot of poverty in Indonesia.  It was not unusual to have beggars come to our door offering odd things to sell for money.  It was not unusual for me to see a woman in rags and in one case stark naked, offering an empty rice bowl for food.  I was young and very busy trying to teach at the mission school and raise a family and adjust to living outside my homeland, therefore I was able to hand some money over and shelve the images to the back of my mind before they touched my heart and soul.  I grew up with a family that lived pay check to pay check, so perhaps I was hardened to the hardness of life.

Somewhere when I had passed middle age, my children were out on their own and we began to live an upper-middle-class lifestyle (or maybe it is just middle class), I started to see such things as poverty with more insight.  When I travel now, I truly enjoy the food, the music, the art, the history, but I hate seeing poverty.  It grabs me like a clawed hand and throws me back against the wall.  It grabs my gut and shakes it roughly.  I become angry at the injustice of life across the globe.  I am a liberal in the purest sense that I believe most people want an honest and fair living and the prevention of that goal is usually due to large, wealthy, powerful corporations that lie.  As an example here is an incident that happened in Santarem, Brazil where Cargill has left a polluted imprint and poverty is tremendous and Cargill has not come through on its promises to raise the standard of living.



I have burned into my brain the sorrowful face of a Brazilian man in his 40s or 50s who offered to take us around his town on his bicycle cart.  The rain was drenching as we left an elaborate cultural school dance show and we just wanted to get back to our boat and get dry and sit in a stuffed chair on the foredeck and catch our breath and clear our heads from the sugary rum drinks they had passed out before the show.  



The man was small and dressed all in dark grays as he held in front of his chest a sign in English offering tours.  My husband speaks enough Spanish to explain to him that we could not go because of the rain.  He was still standing near the wall with the sign as we stood in line and pulled out IDs to get back on the cruise boat.  I asked my husband to go offer him some money...enough for a ride, enough to feed his children, enough to make me wash guilt from my mind that evening.  I hated doing that because he wanted to work, he did not want charity.  I knew that.  He accepted, but I could not watch his face and turned away and do not know if he was relieved, embarrassed, or reflected numbness.

Would he tell his wife that he got one customer in spite of the rain?  What work did he do when the Cruise ship was not in town?  Why did life rob him of his dignity in this way?

That evening we ordered a lobster dinner to celebrate the nearing of the end of our trip.  The lobster tasted great.  My guilt did not overcome my enjoyment of the meal.  Lobster is still an expensive ritual in my life.



BUT, I just want to go on a trip to exotic areas of the world and have fun.  I do not want to bring home so much reality.  His face stays with me to this day.  This fall I am going to China!

17 comments:

  1. This is poignant. Good for you for caring. The discrepancy in wealth is obscene, and I don't really mean your kind of wealth when I write that. I'm talking about wealth well beyond middle or upper middle.

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  2. When I was a teenager my dad was stationed in Puerto Rico. We had a maid who worked hard for us all day long for $2, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, ironing. I still remember a couple of dishes she made that were really unforgettable. And I understand what you're saying about wanting to help and not give out charity. But sometimes it's impossible to turn away. I've been to China, it's different than the rest of Asia, I think. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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  3. There are so many deep causes of poverty, i do not believe it is any one cause. Yes, everyone should have a chance to work and earn enough to take care of him/herself well wherever it is s/he lives.

    This afternoon, i spent my last $5 in grocery money for the week getting a bit to eat, and i was munching on my cheap, boxed meal on the way to the church prayer meeting. After having eating less than a third of it, i saw one of the homeless people (who have been driven out of their dry place under the bridge, where they at least had some protection from the elements). He saw me at a red light, and he asked if i had anything, so i opened the door and gave him the rest of my supper. It was worth it.

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  4. It is a thought provoking post and no easy answer at the end. When you see immigrants streaming across countries in the search for a better life, or even just three meals a day, guilt descends that somehow we got a better deal. But you demonstrated one thing, wealth moving down to help others......

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  5. Thank you for heart felt post to shake the reality tree. This is a good start to the week. I think all of us that know poverty, carry some of the feeling bad with us. It takes a good heart to remember it.

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  6. I have a hard time with it in our country too. It's hard not to see how some just don't have a chance in life. Some of their faces stay with me too. I always have to decide whether to give money (some are scammers and make quite a living out of it) and when i know I'll be in an area where I'll see it, I keep some cash in my pocket loose and feel guilty if I give or don't give.

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  7. my whole working life I have lived hand to mouth. rare were the times when we made more than enough and often the times when we had no work and still we had more than so many others and have helped friends and strangers when I could. as a society we fail those less fortunate, we pass laws making it illegal to feed the homeless under the guise of protecting them! we turn them out of safe or sheltered places so we don't have to see them. we demonize them to justify our coldness. and those who have more than they need only want more.

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  8. Thanks for your reminder. My travels haven't been broad but along with the memories of the scenery are the memories of small children who should have been in school but were out selling small items along the streets, Chiclets gum among other things. I give out some cash at times. If someone fools me that's on them, my guess is most of them need it.

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  9. As we know, the discrepancy between the haves and have nots is increasing every year. We can each do something for others in our own lives and work for change. Otherwise it would feel hopeless.

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  10. I know how you feel in the face of poverty. I too see faces and remember situations long after they have passed in reality. There was a time when I was poor but not the soul destroying, hopeless poverty that some people experience all their lives. And I could always ask my parents for help.
    Now that I have more than my fair share I am still fearful at times that one day it could be taken away from me.
    I wish we could really do something to alleviate suffering but I don’t believe we can, to be willing to share is not what humankind is known for. Just look at the migrant crisis.

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  11. If that face has stayed with you this long, think of what the faces of the Chinese people will do.
    I have no money to travel. How we managed it when we were younger, I do not know. Living on the border here, we see it all. We are headed down to Mexico in December. Both G and I agree that we don't have to get off the ship. That makes us small and petty, but I am glad not to be shot at.

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    1. I will probably answer this post several times. It's very moving...thank you.
      I've been very poor, I've eaten out of dumpsters, I've been homeless. Never did I think there wasn't an end to it all. For me, there was an end in warmth and regular foods, and best of all, love.

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    2. Yes, I know. Even though I do not really know.

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  12. Difficult to know who to help sometimes. Possibly best to provide actual food or other rather than cash in many instances in the U.S. Have been so many cons uncovered in our area. Had family in Indonesia developing rice plantations with govt then years ago. They also nourished artist community by aiding in marketing here some objects from craft artists there. I think of all the displaced people fleeing their countries around the world and how they manage. There is just so much need around the world as well as here, the challenge can be finding how best to help.

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  13. George grew up in Pakistan. He not only had a body guard and all the housekeeping staff, but they all lived in a building in the back with their families. He has a good story about the egg Wallah, and ask him about when the cook tried to kill his mother. LOL

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    1. Wow. If ad when we ever get together again, I want that story.

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