If you live in a First World Country, as a citizen and have a roof over your head with food, you’re privileged.
My mother was the poorest of the poor
I have never grown up in the kind of poverty my mother has experienced. She has gone days without food (her one single photo of herself at 8 years old is of someone who was so thin and starved, it is pitiful to see the hunger in her eyes).
She slept on wine crates with a small blanket, and there were always rats on the floor so you had to be careful to tuck yourself up into a tight ball so they wouldn’t bite you.
My mother had so many brothers and sisters, that you would think: Oh! A blessing to have a support system! … when in fact it was like Lord of the Flies, and the bigger children, hungry and growing, beat up the younger ones to steal their food.
Out of the 18 she had as siblings, she only talks to or has known 10. The other 8 (one died young), left the home never to ever come back again to the hovel they grew up in. Presumably they’re fine, perhaps they immigrated elsewhere, but they never wanted to contact their family again, their hatred ran so deep for their entire family.
She told me that they blamed her mother and father for making so many children, and to be fair to my grandparents — first of all, they were so poor they couldn’t afford any contraception even if they believed in it being devout Catholics, and secondly, if my grandmother was constantly pregnant, it meant she couldn’t get pregnant again for that interim period.
My grandfather was a wastrel. He had big dreams of becoming a lawyer abroad but his father, a businessman, refused to send his only son for some pipe dream (as he called it) and forced him to stay behind to help run the business… which he eventually ruined and squandered all the riches my great-grandfather saved up because he married a wife who took every penny he had.
She married him for the money, drained the accounts and left.
My grandmother was his second wife after the first one ran off with the money and her only daughter.
My mother said that annually, the first wife would come back with her daughter and give out “gifts” to all of the children, which.. I suppose is a pale offering in comparison to what she took as the bulk.
- 1 small bath towel
- 2 pairs of socks
- 1 face towel
- 1 pair of shoes
For each of the 18 children.
My grandfather also was lazy AF and didn’t bother getting a job or working hard for anything.
He grew up a rich man’s son, so he never understood the importance of hard work, sweat, and grit. He was a dreamer who wanted to be a scholar, an intellectual, and never came down to earth even with his children crying from hunger around him.
His whole family suffered as a result. He would go to the church to beg for food, and they all knew my mother’s entire (shameful as she called it), poor family, where the children were always hungry, running around in rags, and barefoot.
She used to climb fruit trees to get some food to eat.
She used to take garbage lying out on the street that people put out for cats and other animals, and steal their food because she was so hungry.
Most days, it was no food.
Some days, the lucky days.. there was a bit of flour or milk made from a powder.
These are all stories I have heard firsthand from my mother, and I have seen the poverty as well when I had gone back as a child to visit.
It is why I do not take any of what she and I have, for granted. She, by her stories, has instilled in me a great sense of privilege in just having food, proper shelter, and clothing.
Anything above rats and a wine crate bed? I am privileged.
She was lucky she took a chance and a risk to leave her country as a young woman to start elsewhere with her sister, coming from a tiny city, and to have made it to where she is today?
I look back in amazement at the levels of social status she has leaped in years going from being the poorest to now being in the 1% of this country and world. The jump is incredible.
It’s a joke when I type that… but also not a joke.
I think a lot of us complain in the moment (I certainly do), but these are truly #FirstWorldProblems because if they have taken the time to go to these impoverished countries, they would see firsthand the sheer gravity of the situation.
Blaming these people for their situation is not a fair statement; their government, the community, all of it plays a part in who becomes rich/stays poor, and you can try as hard as you can but get nowhere.
I suppose it is the reason why a lot of immigrants come to these countries and think: What do you have to complain about? This is a land FULL OF RICHES. People give you money, there are food banks, this is a DREAM.
And they aren’t wrong.
I will NEVER take for granted that I am a woman living in this day and age, not being been born in the past where women had no rights at all, treated no better than animals or a slave, dependent on a man… let alone being privileged for not having been born into poverty like my mother because she is the one who has lifted all of us out indirectly.
Sometimes it takes a shift in your perspective to realize just how lucky you are to be able to spend $4.69 on an app for your child when that will be a fortune in another country to buy a hot meal for someone who has been starving for days.
I will never take for granted how much I have because I am related to the history of poverty even though I have never experienced it. Even my siblings tell my mother not to tell their children about what she went through because they start having sad thoughts about what grandma went through.
I told her I wanted all of these stories because life isn’t pretty, and this is our history. I am not going to ‘protect’ my child from it – he is already protected just by being born as my son and he will likely not experience any of this hardship in his lifetime.
I don’t have any answers for any of this – even feeding a few hungry children when I visit isn’t enough to cure the systemic rot that is in their community/government that pushes them down to stay there as their ‘lot in life’.
I just want all of us to take a moment to sit back, and think of all the basic, grateful necessities we have and take for granted sometimes.
I absolutely, 100% feel like a privileged rich b*tch sometimes
Not only am I so far ahead financially than most people my age, and a lot of people older than me being in the 1% of the country and the world, I dare to yet complain about mundane things like not getting my bank bonus for a promotion on time, or the internet not working for a day.
These are not things to get upset over in the grand scheme of life.