There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first is excellent, the second good, and the third useless.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Nepal - Day 7 Dealing with Poverty.

We are now in the outland area of Kathmandu and I can only agree with what the FCO suggested, be very careful travelling outside of the main city, it’s pretty damned scary. The Maoists have taken to asking travellers for ‘donations’ in the presence of armed men and as a result not many foreigners travel out this far. Still I feel relatively safe with Sharma, he knows his stuff. His daughter is gorgeous and I do mean gorgeous. Yet I look at her and I look outside and I can understand Sharma’s point, he doesn’t’ want this life for his child.

So here we are, face to face with poverty. You’ve been exposed to it your whole life, it’s rammed down your throats on the news, it’s plastered all over the collection tins at supermarket kiosks, but just how much do you care? Me personally? Not at all, not until I see it.
I dealt with the poverty in India very well, but for some reason this hit me harder. From the moment I got out the truck I was accosted by an old lady carrying her emaciated granddaughter. She spoke in broken English, he accent thick and heavy. All the time she kept telling me that her family had no money, that her son was a sherpa and forced to work away, that her children were starving. Usually you’ll get someone holding out their hand and just asking for food, or trying to sell you something completely useless like a rock (happened in Tibet a lot) but this was hard. This was a complete assault on my senses as the little girl was small and dirty, her haunted eyes reverted, as if looking at something only she could see. There was no joy in her face.
What would you do? Would you empty your pockets or would you walk away? It’s difficult because when you see people starving on the television they aren’t human, they are a league away from you in distance and culture and you can’t relate to them. When you meet someone who is genuinely poor and starving that distance isn’t there, everything is real and the detail is sickening. You make eye contact with them and you cease to see the exterior, you only see the very real and very human pain of suffering and it kills something in you, it robs you of the bliss that comes with ignorance. To think I’m going to go home and forget about this woman and her plight, I’m going to go back to my life of luxury and indulgence. I’m a bitch. That’s how it made me feel.
In a way I feel worse because I’ve used these people. I feel like a celebrity who has come here to take back a story and make a point for the masses. I’ve only witnessed such poverty in an attempt to deepen the understanding that I have of myself and that’s wrong. I did no good, I changed nothing in the long term, so why did I need to se it? I feel like I’ve made them dirty, like I’ve taken something personal from them and twisted it to fit my western thoughts and needs. This isn’t about, politics internal conflict and the distribution of wealth, it’s about me.
I end up buying something stupid off her for a stupid amount of money that the stupid item isn’t worth and then she leaves. For a while I just sit on the road side and watch the filthy children play in the dust. Did I do the right thing? Should I have bought something or not? Did me doing that actually help her? Eventually the old woman appears again, this time carrying a bowl of dhal which she lays in front of me. It’s old that much is obvious as a thick coarse skin has formed on the top and a few fly’s scrawl around the edges. It’s a thank you I suppose but for what I’m not sure, for listening? For buying something off her when so many pass her by? Either way the simple generosity hit me right in the fucking chest.
I spend the next half an hour sharing the hard bread and dhal with two kids, all things considered, it tasted surprisingly good, but then my taste buds might have been over ruled by my brain.


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