Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I had a good (and hot, but sadly now married) friend from undergrad who had the habit of romping off to random countries and sending me exotic presents in the mail accompanied with long letters written on rapidly torn-off and often beer-stained pieces of paper. He had spidery handwriting. I never knew such a thing really existed until I would get his letters.

Despite our longstanding friendship, prolific exchanges, and the exciting receipt of a ceramic yak from Central Asia, he still occasionally made statements in his letters that mystified me. (And it's probably rather revealing of my true feelings for him that I still remember these lines years later. Why is he married?)

In consecutive order:

From Cuba in 1999: "It's so sad to me that this place is not more communist. It just seems like everyone is out for themselves."

From Nepal in 2001: "I'm so tired of poor people always hassling me. Buy, buy, buy. It's like all they want is my money. It takes away from the scenery."

From Guatamala in 2003: "I'm just so sick of all these dirty people."

So then my wonderfully sensitive friend decided to go to business school and become a broker. And got married. But I might've mentioned that last bit before.

Why this change? What happened to change my darling blonde save-the-world angel into a ruthless capitalist maverick with so much disdain for the very people he had hopped airplanes across the world to see and support?

Answer: Poverty can be fucking annoying. Especially for people who actually have money.

Should I elaborate on this statement? Do I have to?

Luckily I have no money, so the poverty situation in Southeast Asia was only "mildly" as opposed to "fucking" annoying. "Mildly" because I really didn't have much of an issue buying cheap bracelets from cute little children for the price of a cup of coffee (Sally Struthers comes to mind).

But after awhile the constant solicitation does get a little old. Especially if you're like me and have a hard time saying "no" with the type of finality needed to put your followers off the scent. Result: lots of little children hanging out by your beach cot trying to get you to buy a pedicure (the thought of those dirty tools makes me wince), a necklace, or in the worst scenario a bikini line threading.

And then, the mud, the dust, the flies, the sad stares and the shacks. The gasoline poured into plastic bottles and watered down because it's all the people who cruise the pitted and unpaved highway can afford. A tugging awareness that I'm never going to get it. A nagging reproach that this is no new age poverty chosen for devotion but a strange and unfair fate that is swallowed. With bitterness or sweetness, it's impossible to discern. But fully incomprehensible and that's the hard part.

I finally understand my friend's frustrated lines. I also understand now when he talked about how much having diarrhea for 20 straight days sucks.

But I guess the poverty epiphany is more profound.

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