Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Brother, Can you spare me a .....?
Unlike other adventures, and especially because my guide is an agronomist and conservationist by profession, the emphasis of this trip has been almost entirely on experiencing the amazing nature of Colombia rather than its people. Nonetheless people have been asking me about what the quality of life is in this 3rd world country and about poverty.
First of all, Colombia has a population of 44 million people with incredibly diverse cultural groups and living situations. How to judge poverty would mean having criterion which is both objective and subjective. Whenever I try to get a handle on this subject, I feel like I have a mountain of sand in front of me and I need to look carefully at each grain for color, size and texture and then sort them out to understand what they mean.
First of all, it appears that rural people have abundant food and water and often share collectively in villages. The fact that they have little electricity or running water seems to be less of an issue than other places I've been. I am told, for what it is worth, that there is less craving for additional material gain than in other Western societies. They appreciate the serenity of their life style, but this bucolic description may be a myth, I just don't know. Then there are the remote-living indigenous villagers who, I am told, for the most part love their simple lifestyle, view it as spiritual abundance, and vigorously defend it from the encroachment of modernity.
The cities are a teeming cacaphony of sounds and odors, primarily from an army of obnoxiously loud-buzzing motor bikes, groaning overladen trucks and diesel-spewing buses coursing through potholed streets which lodge everything from super modern office buildings and shopping malls to barios of graffiti-littered rundown storefronts and houses. There are wealthy, fashionably-dressed professionals, intelligent-looking university students and lots of small business folk who are surrounded by a sprawling mass of humanity, who probably must be viewed as the urban poor. These people can be seen crunched on buses, jetting about doubled up on motor bikes or found relaxing or busying themselves in front of a myriad of overstocked, metal screened shops, unsanitary-looking workshops or cheap cafes. There are also the usual homeless people lying in doorways, many victims of continual coca use and, much less so, alchoholism. There seem to be not as many as I expected and, perhaps fewer than I've seen in some American cities, but I am told, exist without any support in terms of soup kitchens or temporary lodging.
Are these Colombians poor? Do they feel disadvantaged or does feeling disadvantaged really qualify as actually being poor? Are these folks poor at all when compared to the people I saw in Tanzania or Bolivia? How should I view the poor of America, many ofwhom have a car, a tv, a cellphone and medical and nutritional support poor in relation to others who have no water? I suppose adressing these questions really would make a more thought-provoking post. Instead I must confess that my answers fluctuate daily depending on my mood and my level of caring.
I am glad to hear your voices on this subject from your own tiny soapboxes. You may think that you know this subject well from personal experience and dare to generalize. For me there is only caution. There are a myriad of lives. The beach is huge and its particles shift capriciously with the wind.