Poolside in Poverty

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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.

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.

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