Monday, March 8, 2010

What is Poverty?

[As Bob is traveling to Jos, Nigeria, I (Mrs. Yers Trooly) have been assigned to write the blog for the week. While in the past, it would leave me feeling inadequate, I have now realized that the role I play in the blog is to help you look forward to his return:-). Please pray for the situation in Jos, as the massacre yesterday has left tensions very high. Please pray for peace.]

One thing I love about the work that I am involved in is that it continues to challenge me by offering more questions than answers. I am realizing that I am not the type of person that could work in a job with much routine or predictability. I just completed 20 days with seven North American guests, taking them through Ghana, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire. It was great to travel and converse with them as we spent many miles on the road together.

One of the conversations in particular has stayed with me. On the way to Gbarnga, in Liberia, James Nowell asked the question, “How do we know when there has been enough intervention for poverty reduction?” This started a long conversation/debate that continued on and off for the rest of the trip. Here is an example of what James was referring to: as we drove by a village, we saw a young boy playing with two rusty cans and a piece of string. My heart immediately went out to him as I thought about all the nice Fisher-Price toys that my children played with…but then I also immediately realized that he was probably happy playing with that toy. So how do we know where to intervene and when… when is enough, enough…and when are we beginning to impose our (Fisher-Price) culture on someone else’s who may understand contentment better than us?

We concluded that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes into play – every human being should have food, water and shelter…but then we struggled with what those words mean. Should every human being have meat in their diet every day or is some form of protein enough? What does “access to clean water” mean – does it mean it should pass every water test, or is a closed well that kills most things good enough? Is a mile from a home too far for a well? And regarding shelter, is a mud house with a thatch roof the standard? Or should everyone at least have a zinc roof?

And what about health care? Education?

Just as I came to a conclusion about a toy, the same could be said about food. For example, in Cote d’Ivoire, Rick Slager and I were walking with Dea and Pastor Dah through a market when we saw something strange being sold. When asked, Dea said, “Oh, that is our manna.” When asked further, he explained that those are termites – there is a time of year when the rains fall and the huge termite mounds begin to cave in and the termites all fly out. Somehow people know this and at four in the morning they will gather and by flashing a light, they are able to collect millions of these and then fry them, dry them, and salt them for a tasty snack. Should we pity the family feeding termites to their children?

We then debated that all these things could be up to individuals to decide should they all have meaningful labor and access to work. Then their individual initiative and work ethic would decide what type of food, shelter and water to have access to. But then we ran into debates about meaningful labor…..

You get the picture. Lots of driving…lots of talking…lots of questions…not a lot of answers. The fun thing about this trip was that it was not all North Americans doing the talking because everywhere we went we had Liberians, Ghanaians, or Ivoirians with us.

One thing we are convinced of is that the goal is not to create mini-Americas.

Upon our return to Monrovia, we picked up a newspaper and found the following piece, which again left us with more questions than answers:

Letter to God with Festus Poquie

(published in The New Democrat, Friday, February 26, 2010)

I’m Poor, Waiting to Enter Your Kingdom

Dear Father,

So many things are happening in this Your Creation that I am no longer in the position to understand. Frustration is not the word. Try despair and anger. And if I cannot understand them, then why should I bother You, Almighty, with endless complaints?

I am very much aware of the many burdens on your shoulders such as caring for the people of Haiti suffering from the after-effects of some of Your curses – the earthquake, for I know that only You are capable of throwing such calamities on man or ending them.

Perhaps it is due to that country’s every-backward slide into the past, as the first black republic, that Your anger has erupted on its poor creatures as a warning. It is listed as one of the most corrupt and violent black-man run states on the face of Your Creation. Is this the punishment for that, Father? But why didn’t You send the wrath for the rulers alone, since they are the main pillars of its problems? Why the poor, the children and the old?

If it is the price for corruption, then it is left to be seen what You have in store for this other black republic, the first in Africa. Did You not say in your laws that “Thou shalt not steal”? Yes, You said it. And since You said and decreed it, what do You do to those who steal? I know You have decreed punishment for them, but in this Your Creation, I have seen none. The more they steal, the more they get. Is this the meaning of him or she that has more shall be added? They are really added more from the loot of the war years. Times are so good for them, Father, that You must believe on this one.

You said it is harder for a rich man (or woman since the women are getting richer here now that they are in power) to enter Your Kingdom than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. That makes me feel good, because I live in Doe Community in one zinc shack. I eat once a day, if I get it. I have no possessions except my miserable clothes, just a few of them. So the rich should envy me, right? But this is not the case, Father. Do You know what they do even in Your houses of worship? They buy seats, special places for them to sit so that simple and lesser beings in their eyes cannot mix with them. Are they not already in Heaven, Father? But they think so. When they get headache, they fly out of the country to the best hospitals while people like me, waiting to enter Your Kingdom, cannot get simple tablets. The schools here are amongst the worst. But do You think they care? Their children and grandchildren are elsewhere in school, some of the best ones.

But I feel good. My time is coming. When I enter Your Kingdom and see them at Hell’s flaming door, smiles will not do.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Manna? Or pest? (Termites in Cote d’Ivoire, sold as a snack food – tastes like sesame seeds)

Cooking hut on a farm outside of Ganta, Nimba County, Liberia. Kitchen doubles as a place to dry rice, which is hung up after harvesting and is slowly smoked and dried as the daily food is cooked. Adequate kitchen?

Cassava Farm in Aden-Krebi, Ghana. Machete as a tool – 19th century tool or appropriate technology?