Friday, January 14, 2011

Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen, Page 173

Living poor is like being sentenced to exist in a stormy sea in a battered canoe, requiring all your strength simply to keep afloat; there is never any question of reaching a destination. True poverty is a state of perpetual crisis, and one wave just a little bigger or coming from an unexpected direction can and usually does wreck thing. Some benevolent ignorance denies a poor man the ability to see the squalid sequence of his life, expect very rarely; he views it rather as a disconnected string of unfortunate sadnesses. Never having paddled on a calm sea, he is unable to imagine one. I think if he could connect the chronic hunger, the sickness, the death of his children, the almost unrelieved physical and emotional tension into the pattern that his life inevitably take he would kill himself.

I South America the poor man is an ignorant man, unaware of the forces that shape his destiny. The shattering truth-that he is kept poor and ignorant as the principal and unspoken component of national policy-escapes him. He cries for land reform, a system of farm loans that will carry him along between crops, unaware that the national economy in almost every country sustained by a one-crop export commodity depends for it success on an unlimited supply of cheap labor. Ecuador needs poor men to compete in the world banana market; Brazil needs poverty to sell its coffee; Chile, its tin; Colombia, it cacao and coffee, and so on. The way United States pressures shape the policies of the South American governments can make a Peace Corps Volunteer who is involved and saddened by the poverty in his village tremble to his very roots.

Death, of course, is the great release. I lay in my house on night trying to sleep, while up in the hill a fiesta went on until dawn-drums in an endless and monotonous rhythm connecting a series of increasingly complicated songs, some changed by women, some by men, some by mixed voices. It gradually became beautiful and moving, but I was puzzled because the celebration was just a week before the great Semana Santa, Holy Easter, a fiesta that everyone saves up for and that leaves everyone broke and exhausted.

"Why were they bombiendo all night on the hill?" I asked someone.

"They were celebrating the death of Crispin's first-born," I was told. "He was born dead, an angelito." There wasn't a bit of sadness in the town; it was a real celebration. Crispin's son had struck it lucky; he was one of God's angels without all of that intervening crap.

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