Symptoms of Poverty

Gabe Jackman - Ecuador


January 17, 2013

In my last blog post, I talked about how my host community, Pedro Vicente Maldonado, is not really poor. Although this is true, there are still some telltale signs of a relatively underdeveloped community. While reading Voices of the Poor, there were a few parts that really stuck out to me. To start out, I teach at a school with 800+ kids, so every day I can survey the crowd and get a general idea of the physical health of the kids. I do not really see many kids that are skin-and-bone, but I do see a few kids that are thick skinned and big boned. Overweight kids are usually a result of a few things. One is being given as many sweets and fried foods as they want, not exercising, and malnutrition. They are not malnourished in the sense that they do not have enough food, but that they are not given a balanced meal. They eat rice, meat and beans. Sometimes no meat, just a large plate of beans and rice. Then they wash it down with juice or soda. My 21 year old host brother, almost 22, refuses to eat green things. My mom just stopped putting vegetables on his plate because he doesn’t eat them. Another reason why kids are overweight is because they eat too much, obviously not a sign of poverty.

In Chapter 1 of Voices of the Poor, unequal gender relations were mentioned. Women are more empowered here than in other communities, and many show up to school meetings to talk with the director. They are treated unequally in the manner that shows itself in Ecuador: when they walk down the street they are greeted with a “ts ts ts” and a cat call. But the more troubling inequality is what happens in the home. My neighbor shouts at his wife frequently, whether it my midday or two in the morning. In my time here, I have made friends young and old. Some seem to have more modern morals, yet time and time again I hear them talking about their girlfriend when I know they have a wife or I hear them talking about their three girlfriends. Women are more objectified here than in the States. The final example presents itself in my school. Always when the kids go out to play at recess or when I take them out to play the boys insist on having the bigger better court because “they are better at soccer” or “the girls don’t even really play”.

Voices of the Poor brought up wellbeing and illbeing. My cousins almost exemplify wellbeing in Pedro Vicente Maldonado. They have a nice TV, a computer with internet, nice beds for everyone, plenty of food, and a good-sized house. They have good family relationships, and I have not heard of a fight between the parents. The kids have good bodies, whereas some people in town can be as tall as they are wide. The only fault is in the security aspect, which was brought up in Voices of the Poor. They are slightly racist, as is the my two other aunts and uncles on the street and my own host mother. A few times when a “negrito” has passed by, suddenly the topic of thievery comes up or they go to the window and tell me about how people patrol the neighborhoods looking for houses to rob. They don’t feel safe because of their racist preconceived notions. This creates a lack of unity.

In Voices of the Poor, there was an excerpt from a Sri Lankan man who said “We should all live in unity. It is then that the village can be developed. If we have good relationships with our neighbors and the relatives will help us in times of need, and help in the activities of the village.” Unfortunately my family exemplifies the bad relationships within the town. There are four mothers of my family on my street, and they get together every now and then to gossip on my front porch. When I have talked with them or heard them talking, they have gossiped about Afro-Ecuadorians, gays, and other minorities, saying how the “negrito” down the street is a thief and that gay marriage is ugly. I have tried to say something, but it is hard for a 17 year old boy to change the minds of four 40+ women who know exactly how life is. This lack of unity stops the community from being a close-knit town.

All of these symptoms of poverty present themselves in my community even if many others do not. Still, life here is pretty good and people should be happy they are not living in houses where the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and living room is all one room. There is running water here, electricity, a thriving town, but it just lacks unity, some physical health, and equality. It is with these things that towns such as Pedro Vicente Maldonado can start to truly develop a lot. In my experience here, I try to help these problems at the roots while still being culturally sensitive and not seeming like and imperialist American trying to change more things globally.

Gabe Jackman