One nearly Coronavirus-unrelated article
Please note that this piece is not going to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic, although its subject is a distant relative of the issue the current pandemic has presented us with. The issue I’m talking about is that in addition to the public health and economic concerns, it is also our humanity that is now facing a massive challenge.
In my humble opinion, we are about to learn a lot about ourselves, from the ‘humanity vs reality’ contest point of view as it’s described here in a slightly alternative way. Even the early signs are already indicating that our collective solidarity is already being confronted with the shameful actions of various opportunists from either economic or political interest points of view. But this isn’t a new phenomenon, is it?
Coronavirus has affected us on an unprecedented global scale as far as most of us can remember. On the other hand, there are millions of people who have faced equally hard, if not even harder challenges throughout their lives, regardless of COVID-19. I’m talking about poverty, children’s malnutrition, famine, curable disease epidemics and so on, which we allow to exist in some parts of the world. How do they cope? What are the measures taken?
My problem vs not my problem
Whether we want to hear it or not, the fact that Coronavirus also affected the First World countries makes the difference in our approach to how we act upon it. It is the difference between the distant tragedy we read about in the paper and the situation that happens in our courtyard. But don’t worry, unlike most of the recent articles, this one hasn’t been written to prey on the darkness of the current atmosphere, nor it is to accuse anybody of hypocrisy, whether we deserve it or not.
I just wanted you to look at the bigger picture of what has our world turned into in 2020, only to provide me with the premise for this piece. To be honest, when it comes to COVID-19, I don’t believe that the world order is going to change much, but I do wonder what will we learn from this lesson. I am also curious, whether the potential rise of solidarity among the general population will affect the way we approach the more or less similar challenges, people born in poverty-stricken regions face throughout their lives.
Backpackers and effects of poverty: Your non 99% status
Having the premise out of the way, let’s move on from COVID-19. Let’s get on the actual subject of this piece and explore some of the challenges people living in poverty-stricken regions are confronted with. And let’s do it from the perspective of the First World traveller because that is how I have first seen things during my travels. In addition, let’s also look at how travellers cope with poverty, violence, corrupted officials and so on upon their travels in developing countries.*
As I’ve mentioned in this piece, when travelling in developing countries, the First World person is often confronted with the consequences of the unequal distribution of wealth. For the first-timer, facing poverty could be a rather brutal reality-check, especially in the contrast with the First World privileges, which so many of us take for granted. Facing such contrast is not easy and everyone deals with it in their own way but that’s something to be expected. What surprised me, was that I also had to find a way to cope with how other travellers dealt with the same issue.
The way we react to poverty
I guess that the way we react to various situations in life forms our personalities. But in case of facing rather extreme poverty for the First Worlder, some prefer not to see anything, some take advantage, some try to help and some of us feel guilty and angry. Others are just overwhelmed and there are also types that believe that if they were facing such economic circumstances they could do better than the actual people in such situations.
I have witnessed various angles and observations regarding the harsh reality of life in some parts of the world. There’s no one universal way to take it and I understand that people react to things in their own way. I’m not judging anyone, however, I couldn’t get rid of a certain distaste of the attitude displayed by the “I would do better” people.
Theories vs reality
“Survival often doesn’t have much time for humanity. It is sometimes not about doing right or wrong. It just is. Having a chance to decide between right or wrong could be a privilege sometimes. ”
Regardless of the fact that the intentions of such comments were nearly always meant well, witnessing the self-righteousness that demonstrated itself in a form of judgemental comments about what people who are trapped in their economical circumstances should or should not do, got me thinking. I’ve started to observe more closely what the actually affected people do, how they deal with their problems, rather than just talking to other travellers about it.
In contrast with the ways how the locals deal with their situations, I’ve learned that there are always different perspectives to look at particular issues and that I might not have sufficient knowledge to be able to fully understand and/or assess the situation unless I was part of it. In other words, I’ve learned that it is important to know the full picture, which involves the individual circumstances and the consequent possible options as well as limits they come with.
Because while some of us are looking for solutions reaching to higher moral grounds, for those directly affected it often is all about survival. And that’s when I’ve realised that survival often doesn’t have much time for humanity. It is sometimes not about doing right or wrong. It just is. I’ve therefore learned that having a chance to decide between right or wrong could be a privilege sometimes. Humanity vs reality.
Let’s use an example from real life. Try to stay judgement-free, if you can please. There’s a single seventeen-year-old girl, a mother of two. Let’s say that her name is Eliana. In order to support her children, Eliana sells her body to the Western men passing by the popular tourist spot, where she was forced to move, running away from her violent husband. She’s not proud of her job but given her situation, she doesn’t have much time thinking about it.
Now, is she a prostitute or is she just a girl who does her best to survive? I personally don’t think that things are so black&white. Yes, technically, she’s both, but let’s leave the moral part of that story on the side this time. Let’s not talk about how she should have a chance to make her living in a different way. Of course, she should. But at present, she doesn’t have many choices so she’s doing what she’s doing. Survival is, after all the oldest game in our history.
Here’s a thought, I’ll try to elaborate on, even though it sounds rather twisted. From her point of view, those men do provide the money she needs for her and her family so she’s kind of happy that they are around. She doesn’t really wanna do it but at the same time, she’s happy if they pick her over her competition.
She’s “a freelancer” and therefore kind of lucky not to be a part of the far worse segments that the cruel white meat industry comes with, where many of her fellows badly suffer from when their human rights are stripped to below zero. Yes, there are tens of thousands of horrible stories, but instead of sinking deeper into the super-dark subject of human trafficking and modern slavery, I’d like to stick to this particular case, which is Eliana‘s reality.
All the likes a post receives on Facebook, the theorising “Champagne hippies” posted on their walls about how bad the situation with the prostitution in Mexico, Cambodia or some other country is, don’t bring any funds to Eliana and nor does all the sadness in the world about her situation. She needs to be able to buy milk and eggs in the morning.
I’m aware that what I’m saying comes across as cynical as hell. I’m also aware that being “a freelance” is a privilege in that industry and that there are far heavier cases out there): But we’re talking about Eliana and in this case, from her point of view, it’s all about pragmatism rather than cynicism.
There are always those circumstances I’ve mentioned above. She’s happy that she escaped her violent husband and her life is now better for her and her kids, although from the humanistic Westerner’s perspective it’s still sad and unfair. “She shouldn’t do what she’s doing”, they say and they are right but rather than a statement only, she needs a solution and nobody is providing her with one.
What would you do if you meet Eliana or one of her 40-odd million fellow street workers? Pretend not to see them? Judge them or their “customers”? I can say that in our case, after our conversation over few snacks (she approached me sitting on a terrace when my FF went to the bathroom), we gave her some money she could apparently make during that night if she worked in order take a night off that evening so she can stay with her kids.
I’m fully aware that it wasn’t a solution for her problem, it was only giving her a little insignificant break. Was that the right thing to do under the circumstances? Did she really go home? I don’t know. It’s possible that we were just two naive idiots but we knew that the important thing, regardless of what did she do that night, the thing that actually mattered for her was that she had the money to keep going the next few days.
Sort of conclusion
I guess that according to the known Taoist proverb, we gave her a fish. I really wish we could also do the teaching part of that proverb but if we stay inside this metaphor, all the fish in that country was already owned by a small group of greedy men, who owned even the water as well as mineral resources, if you know what I mean…
* Please note that I dislike the term “developing country”. It is however better than “Third World” or “emerging economy”. All of those are rather negative labels and what country is not developing? Or emerging? Let me know if you have a better way to describe what is intended here, pls…