The end is near…
My perception of “the poor” has changed.
Coming into this trip I had something of a picture of an imaginary line. I, a wealthy westerner, would cross this line from my world of income, education and comfort, and step into the world of “the poor” which is called “a slum” and where people live desperate lives “in poverty”.
Thing is, it’s not quite as black and white as this. I mean it is (obviously) in a general sense. If you compare a typical house and resident of Baseco to one in Balgowlah, sure, the gap is extreme.
But within the microcosm of Baseco itself, there is a lot more nuance and subtlety; generalisations about poverty don’t hold much ground. There is a variety of existence here.
Some people do actually live in woeful conditions, in collapsed tents made out of garbage.
There are emaciated kids left to wander all day while their parents are out, and hopeless adults sitting in the dirt gambling the few pesos they have or buying locally produced crystal meth, which is cheaper than rice. Prostitution and crime is rife and within two days last week, three people were shot and killed, two of them young teenagers.
We met one little girl who had been “given” to a woman because the birth mother couldn’t look after her. Check out her photo below… and then the photo, beneath, of her shoes… the coolest boots in Baseco!
But there are lots of families who work hard, some making do with anything that comes in front of them. Dump trucks turn up all the time to dump their rubble, and kids, women, grandmothers, men all start scrambling through the mud and rock looking for reo bars or plastic or bits of wood or anything else to sell. Others run stalls or carts in the colourful markets on the outskirts of the settlement.
Others collect driftwood from the bay and burn in it in giant firepits to make charcoal to sell.
Other families spend dawn to dusk peeling garlic for a few pesos. They send their children to school, dressed in impossibly immaculate and pristine uniforms. School runs from 6am to 11am. In classes of around 80-100, you have to pay (bribe?) the teacher extra to get your work marked, or get a report, or to sit by the coveted fan. Most of them want to go on to college.
The young women of the church we visited were funny. Fashionable.
Some of them live in places with tiled floors and besa block walls, a tv and “western” toilet (even if it does just drain and seep into the ground. There is no sewerage system in Baseco for 100 000 people.)
Curiously, lots of people in the slum seem to own massive sound systems and an endless supply of 80s rock hits and crooning anthems. I cannot describe how bizarre it is wading through septic swamp, claustrophobiad on every side by rotting wood and plastic sheet dwellings, with a deafening Bon Jovi soundtrack rattling your teeth with ever slippery stinky step.
The youth of the church are like any bunch of young Christians I’ve come across. Earnest, enthusiastic, loving community, engaged in running kids’ programs.
Their clothes are cool, the girls have pierced ears and make-up and there is nothing they love more than striking a pose for their next Facebook profile pic. One young woman came to church (in the middle of a septic swamp) wearing an immaculate nurse’s uniform. She is a student, and would not be out of place in the halls of a university in Sydney. Another guy I saw walked out of the slum wearing a black suit. This is probably one of the most surprising things. People live here who have jobs where you wouldn’t think for a minute they live with eight others in a one bedroom shack with a muddy floor and a roof made out of packing crates.
They are people who work in brand shops in the big malls, or in the supermarket checkout, or waiting tables in a nice local restaurant, or as a check-in attendant at the airport. They have make-up, clean hair, immaculate uniforms, articulate conversational English. But they live in… “a slum”.
The grand conclusion? The world isn’t as black and white as i thought it was.
Friends… thanks for reading along over the past month or so. Have appreciated your prayers, support, best wishes, emails and comments while on our little sojourn. This part of our trip is soon to be over. And so is this blog.
For us it has been at times and in turn eye opening, bizarre, exciting, challenging, hilarious, scary, inspiring, sad… In particular I look at people (missionaries / NGOs) etc who aren’t just doing the little few weeks visit thing, but are committing to people and communities, outside their comfort zone, for years. I look at them in a new light. Kudos.
There’s one or two blogs left in this old laptop (and my brain) and after that we’ll be grabbing some R&R.
So as Frankie said, “and now, the end is near…”