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!