Friday, September 23, 2011

Lords and Surfs

This a nice house but not the nicest...
Today we had a visitor in Okinawa, Melia.  To show here this divide, we took her on a tour of Okinawa.  Within Okinawa we have many different Barrios (or district) and each has its own flavor.  In the Japonese Barrio there are two story houses with electric gates, buzzers, satellites, boats on trailers, one or more cars, solar panels, trimmed gardens, etc.  These are houses built of brick, covered with stucko so the bricks don’t show, and painted.  There is a fence around the property and space between yards.

On the other side of Okinawa we have the barrio where I went to pray the rosary.  This barrio has a very different feel.  Nice houses are made of exposed bricks, then there are houses made of wood with thatch roofs, the cheapest houses are mud huts with thatch roofs.  Sometimes there are multiple families living in each house. 

This is a shack, but not the worst...
Our discussion today surrounded the injustice of poverty.  We talked about poverty here as compared to the states.  The Japanese here didn’t always have wealth; many of them fled Japan after WW2 because they didn’t have any land (due to radiation or other factors.)  They started here with nothing and their wealth comes from their crops.  They flaunt their wealth in their houses because they are proud of their success. 

Conversely we have Bolivians who have lived on the same land for generations and have not been able to get a leg up.  They are living similar to how they lived for generations without the motivation to build up.  Some of these shanty shacks will be built right next to the Japanese houses.  It's very much like the lords and the surfs of old.  The money "trickles down" from the rich to the poor.  Although it may be more of a drip than a trickle.

Yet, how do we address this gap when asked?  What do we do when a child comes up to us and looks for inspiration or support?  I think Melia nailed this on the head, there is dignity in poverty.  We can be proud of the privileges that we do have, not taking them for granted, yet not wishing for others to the detriment of our personal sanity.

This is the mentality that will help volunteers get from working in a field filled with poverty to living amongst our family again, as privileges become common place again.

Why is this all important to a volunteer?  Well as I’m sure you all know volunteering means giving up a certain amount of privelage.  It’s always there even though the people who are hosting you try their hardest to minimize this.  I still have running water (and sometimes it is hot!).  I have a bed a toilet that flushes.  I can afford to get my clothes washed.  I have books and a computer.  Yet even with all of this, to a volunteer poverty is very IN YOUR FACE. 

I’d draw the comparison to a phantom limb lost somewhere in life, you may get used to missing a hand but it never feels quite right.  That is the life of a volunteer; we are always halfway between cultures.  My phantom limb consists of potable water, air conditioning, my truck, a flat screen TV, Playstation 3, Laundry Machines, etc. and it itches constantly. 

No matter what I do I sense the feeling of loss.  As I lay awake at night I feel the heat beating down on me.  My one sheet is too much tonight so I toss it aside.  The few mosquitoes that have made it into my room awaken me once or twice with their infamous eardrum flybys.  I’ve developed a cough over the past few days, I don’t know what it is but I pray its just a cold and that it isn’t a symptom of something deeper. 

Angry I complain to myself.  I think of how nice my house is in the states, the fact that I can sleep with a BLANKET in the summer.  The thought of ice water from the faucet makes the luke warm water from my reused 2 liter bottle taste bitter.  Tonight I’m bitter, I missed mass because of the pounding in my head.  The sound of others praying seems to set me on edge, even though it should bring me peace. 

My heart seems to be in a black mood tonight as I think of a place where I have a fianc√©, a loyal dog, my car, my TV, my language, my, my, my…

I wish I could tell you that this was some sort of fabricated story, but this is how I felt last night.  Bitter and sweaty I laid in my bed wishing to be somewhere else; to enjoy the privilege that I deserve.  I hate to admit these thoughts, and the only thing that got me to stop my whining was when I thought of the children here. 

I thought of children who are sleeping on a shared family bed, huddling close to their parents in the winter to fight the cold and seeking space in the summer to fight the heat.  Children who don’t have mosquito nets, so rather than the 1 or 2 flybys they become a tasty little pincushion for mosquitoes as they rest.

I think of the Television that they don’t have.  The deflated soccer balls they feel PRIVELAGED to play with.  I think of the dirty water that these kids drink which carries amoebas, bacterial infections, or some other stomach bug they can’t afford to get rid of.  I think of the houses that I walk by down here: the rich, the working class, and the poor.  Even the nicest of the houses here in Okinawa Numero Uno is not as nice as my parent’s house in the states…

These are the thoughts and experiences that allow me to get through my time here.  They remind me that I don’t deserve my lot in life.  Life down here has taught me that my phantom limb wasn’t a right I had but a privilege and I pray when it is returned to me that I never take it for granted again. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Indeed, we don't deserve what we have: life is not fair. Fortunately God is merciful.

    Here's to not getting what we deserve!! God bless!!