I wrote a post that was entitled, “Sometimes I feel everyone here is forever at camp,” and it basically talked about how it would be a mistake to pity these people (I don’t think pity is ever useful) because they are so content, surrounded by family and friends they’ve had since they were children.

Sure, they could use some things. Like I’m sure they’d like 24/7 electricity or indoor toilets. But they’re not lacking happiness.

But then I deleted that post.

After I went to visit the new house a woman and her husband have been building since I got here, I couldn’t bear to read the stupid things I’d written about how carefree these people are. It was unsalvageable. I scrapped everything.

“Laura, the house isn’t done yet, but we moved in. You should come visit.”

“Okay, I’ll come tomorrow,” I promised a woman as we passed by one evening.

After visiting her house the next day I hit a pretty low point, just in terms of whether I’m the right person for this job and understanding how hard this job is.

Seeing how they are living in the house made me uncomfortable. It is a room and they have 6 children. It’s a dirt floor and the roof is made of zinc so old that when it rains the inside of their house becomes mud. They closest water faucet is up the hill. They don’t have a bathroom. I don’t even want to think about how often they wash their hands. They have 2 chairs for 8 people. The mother was cooking, crouched on the ground attempting to get a pot of water and yuca to boil over a fire she’d started right there outside the doorway as I attempted to balance on a relatively large stick on the ground and act like the smoke didn’t bother me.

I wanted to leave.

“You are a gift from God,” her husband told me and I’m sure I turned bright red. I wanted to yell, What do you think I’m going to do for you? I don’t know how to fix this! Don’t be grateful for me because I can’t help you. I don’t know how my teaching about condom use or breast feeding will help a family of 8.

Everybody knows that part of the Peace Corps is living more intimately with poverty than most likely ever before. I try not to even write about that. You already know that people here are poorer than you. You can infer it from stories. I don’t think it’s the most relevant thing about these people.  You can still live comfortably on very little (when you have your health), I can attest to that.

But people have a way of romanticizing the poor and I didn’t figure out until embarrassingly recently that there are different kinds of poor here. But when we’re talking about the poorest here, I can’t honestly write about it in any way that gives it any kind of closure.

 

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