The Cost of Living

Erica Anderson - Senegal


August 25, 2011

Five dollars a day is not enough to make a life, let alone a very lighthearted afternoon. This Monday, the Global Citizen Year fellows were shipped into the heart of San Francisco to try and better understand urban poverty in the United States. We were split up among two neighborhoods, the Tenderloin and the Mission. Each group of three fellows was given a five-dollar bill, a blurry map of the area, a list of charitable locations, and the task of meeting up at a local park at 3 pm. We were then left to our own devices to shape our afternoon experience.

Clearly out of place and out of my element, it was hard to know how to act. We passed by overflowing shopping carts, drug addicts, a couple fighting over a cigarette, a dirty Vietnamese deli where harsh stares told us we were unwelcome. On the other hand, within the first few minutes of stepping out of the bus and into the TL, I struck up an incredibly informative and meaningful conversation with a woman who was beginning to put her life back together piece by piece. I felt completely alienated but completely engrossed at the same time – when some tourists whipped out their video cameras and started filming the homeless people on the street, I felt just as offended as if I was the one on show.

 No matter how many five-dollar days I spend in San Francisco, or anywhere for that matter, I will never truly understand the situation of being destitute. I have choices. I have a comprehensive support system and a loving family. I live a life outside the circle of poverty. I do not depend on a $95 stipend from the government every month to pay for all my expenses. That does not mean, however, that I have to be completely isolated, or that I think it is okay for others to be completely ignorant of what goes on in the world. The whole day made me wonder what it will feel like to come back to the U.S. in a few short months. What will I think or do when I come back from a year living in Senegal, one of the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world? If I do a five-dollar day in a year from now, will I be able to walk up to the man in the wheelchair who sleeps in a church pew at night, look him in the eye, and talk to him as a fellow human being? What will it take to get that point? Hopefully it will be as simple as a Global Citizen Year…

Erica Anderson