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Poolside in Poverty

 Woman in Granada 

Margot Page wants her family to learn Spanish. She’d like her children to understand, really understand, what a privileged life they lead in the U.S. She takes them to Nicaragua. Her kids aren’t the only ones to realize that our world is unfair, complicated, and confusing on the norm.

On the first day's field trip, we watched a twelve-year-old girl make a basket out of dried palm fronds in twenty-two minutes. She sat on a stool in the family's living room, an area bound by corrugated roofing lashed between trees to form walls. I hated to think how long it had taken to gather the fronds—the surrounding area was largely denuded, most trees having been sacrificed to cooking fires. I watched Hannah watching; our eldest was exactly this girl's age. If the girl noticed Hannah at all, I couldn't see it. She finished her basket, set it aside, and picked up more fronds. Her brother was toddler sized, but he didn't toddle; he sat quietly at her feet, scratching in the dirt with his hand. A fellow student snapped his picture. The boy seemed used to it. Ivy, who never met a small child she didn't want to play with and generally treat like a doll, moved behind me.  

That afternoon in the mercado, we saw we could buy a palm-frond basket for less than a dollar.  

By the time they reach Granada, the entire family is thoroughly overwhelmed.

As we got off the bus, Hannah said, "It's like the rest of Nicaragua, but not."  

By the time we got there, the kids were so overheated, so exhausted, and their minds were so blown [by the surrounding poverty], we couldn't bring ourselves to keep exploring. So instead of hauling them—or ourselves—through the Sandinistas' network of underground tunnels, or learning about Francisco Cordoba, the Spanish conqueror who founded Granada and then later got his name on the currency, Anthony and I surrendered.  

We gave up on history and architecture. We led no thoughtful, age-appropriate discussions about privilege and power and how we could justify our lives in the face of all we'd seen. Instead, we hung out at our hostel, a converted Colonial beauty with fountains and courtyards and air conditioning, and played in the pool.  

Page’s self-conscious, apologetically honest observations in Brain, Child serve as a reminder to everyone that Americans (and the rest of the West) are entitled. For all our self-loathing, though, the only hope for decreasing global disparity is to confront it head-on.

Source: Brain, Child 

Image:Woman in Granada by Tabea Huth, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.