Supporting sustainable economic development
and direct trade in Guatemala

Glorifying the Poor

There's a tendency among the wealthy to glorify the poor. This happens when leaving the ivory hotel to walk among the masses for an afternoon. The rich decree, "These Guatemalans, they're just so... just so happy and content, even though they have nothing." The intrinsic assumption is that those who want for everything don't want anything.

 

As it turns out, a band of six-year-olds running in the streets with their kites made out of string and a discarded plastic bag, or playing a rousing game of kick-the-avocado because they lack a can, are indeed having a good time. Most six-year-olds are happy. It's how six-year-olds are. They don't understand their muscles aren't growing because they have no protein in their diet. They don't understand that 20 years from now, their education will have failed them and they won't be gainfully employed. They don't understand that Horatio Alger's stories won't come true, no matter how hard they work. But for now, the score is 2-1, and there's an avocado waiting to be enthusiastically kicked down the street.

As it turns out, the new mother, 16-years-old, is happy. It's how new mothers are. She doesn't yet know that nursing her baby will rob her body of calcium, and soon her teeth will fall out. She doesn't fear losing her baby to chronic diarrhea nor fear the possibility that her baby will go deaf from untreated meningitis. She accepts them as a natural risk of starting a family. Having lost a sister or cousin under similar circumstances, she accepts them not as obscure theory like being hit by lightning, but as a genuine risk to her family. Having accepted that risk, she moves on with life and smiles at her baby.

 


As it turns out, the day laborer in the field is not happy. He is hundreds of miles from home, moving every few weeks, following the coffee harvest, the cardamom planting, or whatever he can find. He sleeps on the hard-packed ground with a wool blanket he carries with him. For shelter, he has what his employer provides, sometimes a tin roof, sometimes an actual building, sometimes nothing at all. He was in the fields, swinging his machete before the sun was over the horizon, and he'll make his dinner in the dark on a fire over a small aluminum plate that he also carries with him. He'll go to bed tired, cold, a little hungry, unhappy, and invisible.

There's a darker underbelly to poverty. It doesn't show up in the happy glossy aid magazines, it doesn't show up on the tour schedule, it doesn't make the news, you can't see it from the car, and it isn't glorious.

In some cases, families of low economic means are quite rich in terms of community, family values and work ethic. Poverty and struggle can be common enemies that unite a family. It's tough to stay angry with three of your siblings when you'll share a bed with them that night.

Given the opportunity, a poor Guatemalan would gladly give up their status as glorious poor for the chance to be glamorously rich. The glamorous rich that have given up their wealth to become gloriously poor are so rare their biographies are written and they are nominated for sainthood. To have started life at the bottom of the economic ladder and not become a malcontent is certainly commendable, but it is not glorious. Poverty, the invisible sort, will never be solved until we are willing to see it.