I've witnessed poverty that I didn't even know existed so now what???
When I was a little girl I had no idea that there was no other place than Toronto, the city I lived in. Actually, come to think of it I had no idea that Toronto was the name of my city. I don’t even recall having the understanding that I lived in Canada. I knew who my mom and dad were. I knew that I had two brothers, and a large extended family. I knew who my friends were, and that their parents weren’t from where my parents were from. But I had no idea how far apart Newfoundland was from where we lived. I also had no idea where Germany, or Romania, which is where my grandparents were from, was in conjunction to Toronto. I literally had zero clue.
It’s not that I wasn’t a smart child, although I have shared with you all more than once how geography was never my strong suit. The point of what I’m saying is that forty years ago (holy shit!! Where does time go??!!) when I was a little kid growing up where I grew up, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk happening about the world as a whole. Or how vast the world was. Or that there were people in the world who had little to nothing in the way of means. I didn’t know about poverty. I had no idea that some people lived in places where they couldn’t have a bath, or had to go to the bathroom outside. This never entered my young mind. As a little girl I was way more concerned about being able to get on the swing tire at recess, and counting down the minutes to when the pool of my apartment complex opened during the summer months, which for the record was 1pm. I didn’t have a social awareness of what was happening around me. However I did know if my dad came home drunk or not, but what other kids were dealing with in the world as a whole was never on my radar. I didn’t even fully understand how large the world was.
Even though we as a family unit were financially strapped, I had no idea that we were as hard done by as we were. My mother had an eye for decor and our apartment always sported the latest trends in home decor, and our turntable played current popular music that lifted my spirit. Our small three bedroom apartment was definitely the nicest of any of my friends in the same complex. I thought life was this way for everybody. I had no idea that some kids lived with dads who were not alcoholics. I also had no idea that not every little girl didn’t have to deal with a relative who spoke to them and touched them inappropriately, in the same way that I didn’t know that some kids lived in mansions and flew to exotic locations. In fact, I had zero clue that there was such a thing as an exotic location. I knew what I knew, and didn’t know what I didn’t know.
No harm, no foul.
Ignorance is bliss.
And many other sayings come to mind.
Today I stood in the center of Cite Soleil. I witnessed children running around naked, among the filth, smiling, laughing, playing, fist pumping me and Yannick. Trash piled all around them. I watched them toss themselves into the ocean with wild abandon. And pure, unadulterated joy.
And it struck me. It hit me, and made me think; do these kids feel the way I did when I was their age? The way I waited in eager anticipation for the pool to open each and every hot, humid day in Toronto at 1pm, do these kids, like I did, have no idea how vast the world actually is? Do they not know that somewhere, in fact only 90 minutes away from where they are, that kids are literally living in “golden castles” with nannies, maids, cooks and drivers in Miami? Are their lives exactly perfect for them just the way they are?
I don’t say this disrespectfully, like any child should live without electricity, plumbing, fresh water, medical or sanitation. I wonder this purely, in the same way I lived as a child, is it quite possible that the only reason any of these kids would even begin to think or know that their lives are “not normal” is because we come to them and open their eyes to their hardships? I mean I had absolutely no idea that my life was not the norm when I was growing up. The only reason I have any understanding that what I was subjected to isn’t how every other person was raised is because of knowledge.
This makes me go “hmmm.” I can’t help but ask the question; are we helping these kids by showing up on their doorsteps with our western ideals. Our western expectations. And our western standards. Or, are we possibly creating the same thing we’ve done a really awesome job of creating in our own backyards which is the attitude of entitlement. The feeling of “not having enough.” The belief that my life should be as good as your life, and if for some reason my life isn’t as good as yours then perhaps you’re a piece of shit, or worse than that, I’m a failure.
Don’t get me wrong. My heart was broken to see children swimming in a harbor that I wouldn’t step foot in due to all the fecal matter, both human and animal running into it from the slums, that are literally on the shoreline. Believe me, talking with a twenty six year old girl (the same age as our middle girl)sitting on the dirt floor of her two room hut in Cite Soleil, as she shared that she had had a baby who died at twenty two days old has changed me FOREVER. I won’t ever be the same. I won’t. I just can’t help but wonder if all the religious groups out there with their white people, in their matching t-shirts handing out crosses and messages of “Jesus loves you” spreading what exactly, might just be lost. Because then we all board our planes back to our indoor plumbing, in ground swimming pools and luxury can ever fully understand if our deeds are making a positive impact or if we’re just expanding our reach of inequality and dissatisfaction to people who otherwise would never even know what is happening in a world they might not even know exists.
Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm…