Lying in the hospital, I am reading a book my friends who came to visit me left, it is the winner of all kinds of awards. Yet it is blah blah blah if you ask me and I bet you would agree. And although the book is disappointing, for I had high hopes that this book would shed light on the shadow that covers the faces of my loved ones, I do not blame the authors for the problem may not be one that can be understood in the manner in which it is being conceived.
First, the book never actually defines what it means to be 'poor'. In Africa, being considered 'poor' can mean living off the land, not using monetary currency, depending on God for rain to irrigate crops and on the knowledge of medicinal uses of plants and even animals. Knowing how to survive without the use of machines. Only using enough of the world to live, but not so much as to become fat, lazy, or bored. But, don't get me wrong, I am not trying to romanticize the difficulties of the village life.
Poverty in places like America means practically the opposite, yet the book does not even mention poor people who live in any 'developed' country. As you know all too well, poor people in America depend on cheap food which makes them sick and fat, which then leads to insurmountable medical costs and either the inability or the ignorance to exercise or eat properly in order to detangle themselves from the cycle.
I think that one problem is that the problem may not be a lack of money that is hindering the poor from prosperity. The book mainly focuses on poor people in semi-rural areas, as indicated by the fact that they say things like even the poorest village in Africa relies on power-generated grain grinders and no one pounds or hand grinds grain anymore. As you know from my pictures, writings, experiences, this is very far from the truth in two ways. One, many, many villages still cultivate endless hectares of grain fields by hand, harvest each individual gain spike by hand, and then women pound and grind the grains into powder, all by hand. Two, many villagers perform these tasks by hand by choice. They trust themselves more than they trust technology, and rightfully so in many cases as they see injuries, incorrectly fertilized or cultivated crops, and fields depleted of nutrients from overuse of chemicals. Many wise villagers understand that life is not meant to be sped up in the ways that others often recommend.
The book also discussed the 'odd' behaviors of the poor. Why on earth would someone with not enough money to feed his family go out and buy a satellite dish and a TV with his year's earnings? Were the authors never college students who could not afford rent yet went out on beer drinking binges? Did they never see any of their friends eating Ramen noodles every night while paying out the nose for a new computer they never even used? Instant gratification is not just a symptom of being poor.
However, a point the book does make is that poor people have a difficult time imagining the future. One's mind is so preoccupied with the present condition, whether it be pain, hunger, exhaustion, or imminent danger, that it is literally impossible to concentrate on anything but the present moment. This is also not merely a circumstance of being poor, but of living life in the world as it really is, sometimes in solitude, unplugged from distracting buffers such as media, music, pain-dulling medications, machines and substances to control the level of comfort in the atmosphere, or even mind-absorbing work that is not physically taxing. One of my Malian informants arrived here about a week ago yet he still cannot sleep on a mattress as it 'hurts his body all over'. It is as if a villager's feeling for 'soft' or 'comfortable' are reversed from our own.
Which leads me wonder if it is possible for a person in this type of circumstance to fall in love. What is the possible scope of emotions for a person in desperation? Is it any coincidence that most languages in this area have only one word for like, want, and love? Or, if it is possible for a person in these circumstances to separate their love for another person from the things they provide, provided that the person in question is in a position of ownership as we are. My chief left his village without telling his best friend that he was leaving for fear that his friend would be envious. Upon his return, he found that his friend had fallen extremely ill and almost died due to loneliness and hurt. From the time the two of them were born they have not been apart more than a few hours at a time. Nothing has ever separated them before and since money is not a currency of the remote village, and their lives were completely in parallel, their friendship was pure.
And even if one has money here, as in comparison, we do, what can one buy? In a country with more pain than probably anywhere on earth, morpheme is not available as it is considered a drug. So, I am left here with an IV drip of a cocktail consisting of muscle relaxers, steroids, Tylenol, and vitamin B. This is the same treatment for a slipped disc, malaria, or diarrhea. If money will not help the poor, then maybe the poor are not actually in poverty, although they are deprived. But of what? The rich have all the material wealth they need yet are deprived of happiness. The poor are lacking in objects but are often full of pure joy. Imagine, the rich even make themselves richer by writing books about poor people and then giving them money which solves none of their problems and thus more rich people come to study them and create wealth and careers on their backs. How can we, as researchers ourselves, extract ourselves from the pattern or is this merely another cycle of life?