Someone commented to me the other day that she didn't know how we--her friends and acquaintances here in Guatemala--live day to day with the extreme conditions around us. No one had ever said this to me. No one had ever made me think about this. And until that moment, I hadn't thought about it.
Growing up in my family, we basically did without things unless they were a necessity. Now, "necessity" had a very liberal definition. We had a television, but we did not have cable. I don't know of anyone who needs a television, but it sure helped us not get completely shunned by our classmates for being odd. And we took family vacations every (or almost every) year, but they were road trips to interesting and educational places around the United States. I didn't fly on a plane until I was around 15, and besides Canada (which, when you live 1 hour from the border crossing, doesn't count), I didn't leave the US until the day before my 18th birthday. My brother bought our first video game system (an N64. You do the math.). Our first family computer was an Apple IIe; our second family computer was a Gateway 2000. (We may have had a Tandy in the middle, but that might have been my brother's computer.) Basically, trips, electronics, clothes, whatever, never really happened. One of my last Stateside memories of not spending money on something that wasn't necessary was going to a Lansing Lugnuts game with my then-boyfriend and his mother. We got there a little bit early; so we went window shopping in the store. I was told that if I wanted anything, that I could just ask and they'd get me a present with it being my first game and all. I really don't know what it is to "want," and I'm still pretty clueless. So, I politely said I didn't need anything and was just looking, and then we went to take our seats. (There had been a hat I had been looking at and liked, but since I couldn't justify its purchase, I didn't ask for it.) Well, from the moment we sat down, I knew I was going to have a problem. The sun was in our eyes, I couldn't see the game, and, most important of all, it's dangerous to go to a baseball game and not be able to see...never know when a foul ball will take you out. So, we went back and got the hat...not because I wanted it but because I needed it.
So when I came to Guatemala, I never thought about what I had or didn't have. There is very little in the life that one actually needs. And when we're talking about the people who live below the poverty line, those were the people who my friend was referring to when she said "extreme conditions." People in extreme poverty live on less than $2/day. I personally live on $6.25/day. ($1 of mine goes to bus fare each day.) I don't know what people in regular poverty live on, but I know I earn less than the minimum wage; so I think I might be in regular poverty.
So, what am I trying to say with all of this and how did I reply to my friend? The secret to living in the midst of these "extreme conditions" is not living in the midst of them; it's becoming a part of them. I deal with the same things my neighbors deal with. We're all just here trying to survive one day at a time. I feel I am a better advocate for them because I not only have the passion I came with, but I also know what it is like--as much as possible, anyway--to be one of them. I don't only fight for a better life for each one of them, but for us as a community, as a whole. When you truly understand who or what you're fighting for, you're better equipped to fight for it.