When poverty is a game, one where you’re trapped in an endless maze of beginnings and descent into an abyss of delusion, you wonder if anything will ever change, and stop wondering when it never does. Instead you struggle to survive, and try not to notice your shoes are worn, your clothes could use some patching (indeed they’ve seen far too much patching as it is), and your daily trek becomes a way of life. You get used to doing without and that becomes your shadow, dogging you wherever you go.
Does it hurt to see others who though close to you, aren’t going through the same things as you? People who have plenty while you have plenty of lack. Some roll in abundance while you wallow in poverty. Sure, it bites but somehow the bite gets mellow as you learn to do without. You’re far too busy walking in your worn out shoes with your feet literally kissing the ground at every step. No time to wallow in self pity or wonder why me. No time to unravel the mystery of if things could and should be different. Somehow you find escape in other stuff- namely things that are essential and you become an expert at ignoring the minors and noticing only what you consider important. Are people sniggering at your shoes? You notice them as if they’re doing so from another planet. Or not at all. The sting has long gone though perhaps a little occasional embarrassment remains. Do you skip meals at lunchtime because you don’t have any money for food? Yet others eat to their heart’s content. Ok, problem solved- bring a little garri and sugar from home. All you need is water and presto! You’ve got your own lunch. Does it matter that constant garri is the poor man’s meal and can lead to malnourishment? Not at this point. You’re too relieved you no longer have to constantly watch others eat while you cant afford to buy any food for yourself.
Fast forward to when the warrior is no longer a child. Your shoes arent as patchy and worn like they used to be. Now they’re only moderately worn out, and at least your toes and heels don’t peep out anymore, and there’s a real, actual barrier between your foot and the ground you walk on. Count your clothes- no longer patchy and you can boast of possibly five “professional” outfits. Notice the quotes. Food is still a challenge but you’re not alone in your poverty now. You’ve discovered you’re not on an island and there are others in that cosmos. So why do you still stand out? What makes others keep heading straight for you with a smile on their faces only to pull back when they realize you’re not what they assumed you’d be? Why is your appearance so misleading? Rich people look at you and see themselves minus the poverty. Poor people look at you and see themselves minus your social standing. Isn’t this confusing, you ask. And retreat into your comfort zone- the zone of need. Because lets face it- you cant fake being higher than what you are unless you’re a pro. Yet others do it all the time- hang out with rich people they say, and you’ll eventually have wealth rub off on you. Now, the paradox is: it rubs off on them, but not you.
So, what makes this poverty so bearable during those critical years? More often than not, its people. You’ll find people who laugh at you, make fun of you and crack jokes at your expense (remember those worn-out shoes? Put those right up there with too tight clothes you’ve outgrown but have to keep wearing because let’s face it- that’s all you’ve got and all you’re going to get). But also, you’ll find people who will attempt to cushion the damage they see has been done. The damage of poverty. Some will be afraid to, while others will simply not care. But the ones who do, while always a minority, make a world of difference. Not anything major, earth shattering and rocket propelling like the end of world poverty, but just the little things that some didn’t even know they did. It could be a teacher’s dry humor (contrasted with another teacher’s biting remark). You cant afford to buy your textbooks but your grades don’t reflect that. ” Isn’t this ironic” the teacher says, amused. You’ve been telling her you’ll get your text by the end of the week, and this is the fifth or sixth week you’ve repeated your promise. Flashback to school fees. You’re regularly called out of class for non-payment. You get back next day with a promissory note or a post dated check which you shamefacedly present to the school cashier. “Why cant I ever pay in cash and/or on time like all the other kids” you wonder. Its nobody’s fault, so you let it pass. The other kids from your neighborhood never have this problem. But then, they’re not you.
Where were we? Right- what makes this poverty bearable. People. Even the ones who laugh and mock your poverty, because after a while you no longer feel the sting. Yes, it takes time but the chip mellows. You learn not to mind because well, you do look comical and you do lack some basic things which no person is supposed to be without. You’d probably be laughing yourself if you were in their shoes and saw someone like you. Wouldn’t you?
So the people make it bearable. The people who surround you, and don’t let you know you’re different. You and they don’t know you’re different because you simply don’t notice you are. You’re too caught up in the many complexities of the simple life to understand you act different, talk different, think different. It could also be your poverty is too great for anyone to worry about other things which now pale in comparison.
This has been a story of poverty. Now you know poverty isn’t just a lack of material things and/or the absence of money. Poverty is as much a state of mind as it is any of those. Some poverty is physical while other types of poverty are not. What, when and why are the three questions which if solved, would unravel the secrets of the universe.
Ok, I’m just kidding but it could actually be true. And this is not just one story- it is many stories: too many to count.