poverty

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Looking at Beggars

Quick link: Responding to Beggars

begging
Today I’m writing at A Life Overseas about how I’m learning to respond to beggars. I resist calling them ‘beggars’ because of course they have names, but for the sake of the blog post, that’s the word.

There are a lot of beggars in Djibouti and with the new stoplights (that’s right, Djibouti recently got stoplights), street corner begging has increased. By street corner begging, I mean when you stop at a red light (that’s also right, in Djibouti most drivers stop at red lights) and kids swarm the car.

There are other places where people beg and there are beggars who come to our door. I want to talk about two kinds of interactions – the ones on the street corner and the ones at the front door.

I have to confess that I haven’t always responded well to street corner beggars. I used to ignore them. Stare straight ahead. Continue the conversation with the passenger. Pretend there isn’t a young girl holding a baby or a boy with a pouty look tapping his fingers against his lips for ‘thirsty.’

Click here to read the rest of the piece and join the conversation (offer me some suggestions?!) Responding to Beggars

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When Wealth is Dangerous

Quick link: Dangerous Riches

Last month I wrote about the ways in which we talk about poverty, sometimes glibly assigning simplistic emotions to people in situations we barely comprehend. Today I’m writing at A Life Overseas about the ways in which we (I) must address our (my) addiction to wealth and consumerism.

dangerous wealth

I’m proud and I think: look how good I’m doing. I live at a lower standard than so-and-so. Or: compared to many Christians in the US, I look pretty good. As if holiness were based on how other people lived instead of being based on an absolute standard. And in the very next instant I can be self-pitying and think: I better get a good reward for this in heaven. Or: why can’t I just live in America where my standard of living would look poor?

Click here to read Dangerous Riches

*image via Flickr

Stop Saying, ‘They Are Poor but Happy’

Quick link: Please Don’t Say, ‘They Are Poor but Happy’

This photo is of Medina’s home, a member of our running team. In this older essay I write about when someone asked me if the girls on the team were poor: Finding Their Strong

aqal house

Today at A Life Overseas I’m writing more about poverty and what Paul Farmer calls the, ‘White Liberal Line that they are poor but happy.’ The post was hard to write and kind of scary to share but I believe we have to work on the way we talk about and write and think about and engage with poverty. I’m absolutely a work in progress here myself.

Bloggers and writers and tourists and expatriates and development workers, I have two questions/challenges for us.

  1. Can we stop finding holiness in poverty?

  2. Can we stop saying: ‘they’re poor but they’re happy’?

Click here to read more about why the poor but happy line and the tendency to find holiness in poverty are troubling issues: Please Don’t Say, ‘They Are Poor but Happy.’

Run or Hide

The comments in response to my post Running Barefoot, Dehydrated, and Naked, Or Not made me think about ways I try to mask my abundance and the subsequent lie I am tempted to believe that this somehow makes the economic difference between myself and many Djiboutians less true.

I’m not the only one to struggle with fully feeling my wealth in the form of running shoes and iPhones and water bottles while running past homeless people and children begging for coins. There are feelings of guilt, moments of coldhearted turning away, kilometers of only feeling sweaty and strong. There’s always the burning of excess calories while some around never have excess calories.

But the options I think of: don’t run, workout inside, join a club, they don’t solve the problem. In fact, they blind me to it, they help me pretend the disparity doesn’t exist. (Nothing wrong with working out inside – I do it often. Weights, yoga, the desire for a little a/c or a movie while sweating, napping children…are totally legitimate.)

Not running does nothing for the people in my neighborhood who don’t have enough to eat or quality housing or access to education. Joining a club doesn’t help them either, though it contributes to the local economy and introduces me to new relationships with guards and staff and other women who exercise. On the other hand, maybe that money could be better used. On the other hand, maybe the money I spend on coffee could be better used. On the other hand and the other hand and the other hand…Exercising inside doesn’t help them either, but it helps me pretend they aren’t there, it helps me avoid their eyes and their names and their realities.

running1

I’m not going to say that when I run, I run for Djibouti. Running for a cause is a post for another day (and I have a friend who brings running for a cause to a whole new level, you need to hear about her – that’s you Emily…). I don’t run for Djiboutians. I run for me. I run for the freedom and the strength and the outdoor wind in my face, even the sand in my teeth. I run because it takes me away from the daily grind. I run to get time by myself, to get lost in music or an audiobook or my breathing.

I don’t run for Djibouti. Even when I pinned Djibouti to my back in the Fargo Marathon, I wasn’t running for Djibouti. I love Djibouti and thought it would be fun to hear people try to pronounce it when I ran by.

But, when I run in Djibouti, I’m engaged in Djibouti. I’m entering the dust and heat and sunrises of it. I’m passing the donkey carts with loads of grass and sticks, jumping over cat carcasses. Smelling rotisserie chickens and fresh baguettes. I’m waving at women weaving baskets and humming along with the call to prayer. I pound my fist on taxis when they drive too close and explore side streets that lead to the ocean in the middle of town. I’m greeting shopkeepers and promising fruit stand guys that I’ll come by later for their delish-looking mangoes. I know when construction starts a few blocks over and when a new family set up a shack in the empty lot on the corner.

So I don’t run for Djibouti, I run in Djibouti. Instead of hiding my abundance from Djiboutians (though I do that sometimes), when I run, I am learning to engage with them.

running2

And I don’t feel the disparity in those moments. I don’t know, maybe they do, but I have had men selling bananas tell me the only reason they went out to watch the half marathon was because they thought I would be running in it, felt they knew me, and wanted to cheer. In the space of that brief exchange, there wasn’t room for economic differences. There was smiling and words and a person-connection.

This idea of ‘relationship’ doesn’t solve issues of poverty, I’m not pretending that. But at least running in the streets makes me aware and forces me to think, relate, respond. I’m still working on how to live with my plenty with integrity, how to be generous without feeling pressured, how to live with gratitude without guilt, how to live with my eyes wide open and my heart tenderly malleable.

This issue is a marathon issue, probably even an ultra. I have a long ways to go.

In what ways do you feel compelled to mask your abundance? Do you find it helpful or harmful?

Ice Cream and Poverty, A Life Overseas

I think poverty must have been on my mind lately. This is the third post in the last two weeks addressing issues of wealth and justice, and the third post that asks a question because I am so far from having all the answers. Today’s is at A Life Overseas. I had a hard time coming up with a photo for you on this post. You’ll have to click over to see what I finally settled on. Unless you want to see those Magnum Bars.

magnum

Here’s a taste, to wet your appetite…

My 7-year old went to Somali/Arab/Afar dance class Saturday afternoon. The guard outside informed us that there was no longer dance on Saturday afternoon, no matter that we had signed up, no matter that we had paid just last week.

Discouraged, we ran errands instead and ended up at a store which sells Magnum Bars. Be thankful drool doesn’t come through the internet. Mmmm….Magnum Bars….mmmm…My husband was a country away, my twins were at boarding school two countries away, dance class was canceled…We decided to buy two ice cream bars and eat them while taking a stroll through the neighborhood together.

I left the store with three little white plastic bags of items like canned corn and tomato paste and toilet paper. As I reached the car I heard my Somali name.

“Luula! Luula!”

I knew immediately which woman it was, or rather, which type of woman it was, as awful as that sounds. And my heart sank.

Read more here.

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