Countries: They're Just Like Us
They're not but it seems that some people think this.
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I was in a poor part of a poor country last week and I was walking through a poor neighborhood. There were huts in the mud, skinny dogs, not much for sale other than little packets of candy, bananas, and rice. I was talking to someone who like me who lives in a fairly wealthy state in this wealthy country.
As we walked my companion asked aloud why the country we were in was so poor. For a moment I thought they were joking, like pretending to be a silly person who could ask that and I kind of laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. Then I realized they were serious and I was going to have to answer.
I didn’t want to sound condescending or sanctimonious. I hate both of those things and they’re very easy to fall into, they often seem justified, but really, I am thinking more and more that many people don’t deserve either, though some deserve worse. Still, I was wondering how I could possibly keep these things out of my tone; it seemed impossible. What if you were walking through a lamp store with someone and they asked hey, why are there so many lamps in here? Still, I began, “Well I suppose you already know this, so I guess… but I’ll give you the only answer I can think of and if this isn’t what you meant, then I’m sorry but I think that colonization, in addition to all the death directly caused, pretty much sucked all the money and resources out of this place and…”
The person interrupted me, not unkindly. They said they knew that.
I was relieved but mostly confused. If they knew why this country was so poor why did they ask? I didn’t say this. I just waited. Then they said what they meant was why was this country still so poor?
How do you answer a question like this? So this person understood that this country, which has roughtly the same GDP as the state of Connecticut, was very poor because its inhabitants had been brutalized and financially sucked dry as well. But they also believed that effort applied generally yields some kind of results over time, even in a place like this one, where there is almost nothing to start with and every force on earth is making sure this remains true, and where what started many years ago is still going on.
I don’t remember exactly what I said. I think it was something like I don’t think that what happened to this country is the sort of thing that it can recover from in the world we live in at this time and have lived in for a while.
I don’t think the person said much back to me. But the air was not charged between us, I had not gotten preachy, I pick my battles.
So hours later, we talked again, and this time the conversation was personal rather than global. This time what I said to them was along the lines of “No, no, you are so young, you have time for another life, leave your spouse, who does not sound like the best person for you, leave them, I know you hardly know me, but really, I beg you to get rid of them.”
They thought about it and said that maybe they could, that ten years ago or even five they would not have been able but now it might be possible. I wondered if they thought this poor country we were in was like them, capable of becoming strong, capable of waking up one day and saying enough, capable of deciding.
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