Archive for the ‘poverty’ tag
On a sandy dirt road stuck somewhere between Chhong Kneas and the floating village at the top end of Tonle Sap Lake, this family ekes out some sort of existence. Their home is a temporary structure that needs to be easily taken down and moved when the rainy season comes. As I walked down this dirt road, most took very little note of my presence. The little children showed the only signs of energy in the late morning. Many of their parents lay within the doorways as though hiding from life and light. A bit further down the trail, a handful of adults were busy working on the building of new boats and a few were busy along the shore with their nets or with other undetermined tasks. It was a curious scene, depressing for the poverty amidst signs of focused industry. What was most depressing was the fact that most living in poverty were so young. Men and women barely out of childhood were parents by fact, but not parents by act.
There was little evidence of being “self” responsible in this setting. As I thought back to experiences as a youth growing up in a family that somehow had chosen a similar path of non-responsibility with the reward of poverty, as well as experiences as an education administrator in First Nations communities in Canada’s north in which I saw too many examples of families choosing beliefs of not being self or even family responsible, I can accept that I cannot change the lot in life that these people have fallen into. So much money was thrown at various groups I’ve worked with over the years, money that didn’t stick and enable real change. The change in attitude and belief has to come first. I saw the “help” and “rescue” money disappear down all sorts of drains, typically lining the pockets of those within these communities who were to shepherd the change. And even these shepherds soon found themselves again with almost nothing with the resources spent.
It has to begin with the self. I know that if I didn’t have the will to act, the will to be, I would have remained in the cycle of poverty in which I grew up. That will to act and to be allowed me to find a bit of self-respect. And this, was when and where my journey to become a more conscious person began.
During the time spent in Cambodia after three weeks of wandering around Vietnam and Laos, I got to see a serious side of poverty. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the face of poverty was there looking back at me, looking deep into my soul. It left me feeling overwhelmed and powerless for the most part. What could I do as an individual, a person within the lower middle class of the western world, to make a difference? The “money” I had would soon be exhausted with negligible effect on the lives in IndoChina.
It didn’t take me long to see that the poverty was deeper than the lack of money. If that was the only problem, throwing money at the problem would solve the problem. The time I have spent on reserves and in rural areas of western Canada where First Nations poverty is a real fact had proven to me that the infusion of money, more often than not, worsened the problems creating more dependency, adding more tension between the givers and the receivers of the money.
All I could think of was somehow opening doors to education, an education which would allow those hungry enough to claim the knowledge and tools to reforge their own lives. But even that is not enough. What about the little ones like this little girl who is trapped by geography, culture, family poverty, and by history? How does one change the mindset of a nation which is governed by the shadow of the masculine? Revolts against the shadow erupt all over the world, but those revolts are more instinctual than they are based on consciousness. The results of these revolts that promise change only end up with a different set of faces continuing to govern unconscious of the roots of the real problems of their communities.
So, I am left with hoping that what I am doing here as a teacher, as a guide through the dark sides of the human psyche, will make a difference.
I took this photo in Phnom Penh just before flying off to Nha Trang, Vietnam. This is a street family in their “home” just one block from the promenade along the river. Yes, you are seeing correctly, that is a baby sleeping in the trash pile. The family is on the bed, living room sofa and communal bed while the baby sleeps. Life on the streets is not all that inviting when one sees images such as this. You might wonder what is the point of posting a photo such as this. Am I changing the blog to become more of a critique of society and its ills? Well, I would have to say that the purpose isn’t to be critical of societies, cultures or politics in IndoChina. The purpose is to show how the “self” is not healthy. What happens to others is also happening to ourselves. One can’t seal oneself off from others by raising barriers and fences around our homes, by having security guards and police forces keep the “others” at a distance. All the money in the world doesn’t build a big enough wall to keep out the ripples that the existence of these others and what is happening to them.
The baby sleeping in the trash cart is symbolic for the self, a self that is denied as we buy into the persona we find ourselves in at birth and the personae we build as more luxurious prisons in order to escape the prisons in which we were born. We come to belief we are the masks we wear, that the shadows we flee from are “others” and not really our own shadows. We disown and disinherit the baby in the trash cart. This is how we end up working so hard to drown the denied baby self in all manner of substances and activities. Yet, the baby reappears at night in our dreams, pleading for us to remember self, to reinvest in self. The baby is a symbol of promise and hope, letting us know that all is not lost, that we are not lost.
This little boy was playing with a palm frond, home-made ball along the bank of the Tonle Sap River in downtown Phnom Penh as I took a morning walk. Like so many children of poverty, he is without clothes. More often than not, most of these children of poverty, both boys and girls wear only a short tee shirt or dress that doesn’t cover their signs of gender. I feel so helpless in terms of helping them.
The evening before, I watched a mother with at least seven children, manage these children from a discrete distance as the children worked the tourists in cafes. The youngest was no more than five of six years old. I knew that giving the children money would do almost nothing to help them. Just a half block further a father sat with two naked little children about one and two years old, leaning against a post beside a pile of garbage, sniffing from a paper bag. The two little ones stayed close playing with scraps of rags, not in the least sensing life out of the ordinary. Across the road, an expat bar was already open for business and busy with westerners drinking draft beer. On the street, Toyota and Lexus cars talk about others who are in a different world. And behind the wall is a golden Buddhist temple that comprises so many buildings, a symbol of people’s beliefs. A block further along, I came across a family of four children only half dressed with both parents present. All but one were on a stained blanket that served as a bed and as their kitchen. A fifth child, a baby, was sleeping on top of a pile of discards in a small dumpster.
It’s at moments like this that I despair for the lives of little children who live on the street with wasted parents, with hungry parents, or sometimes without parents. The only way to make any sense of any of this is to think that the concept of karma and rebirth. The thought that the soul chooses its next reincarnation, or the idea that the soul is assigned a new life (as in the Buddhist and Hindu religious beliefs) takes some of the weight off my own head and heart. If I gave all away, I would not made much of a difference other than finding myself also on the street. The money would quickly find its way into the hands of those who don’t need it, the wealthy.
The best that I can do is to be myself, to help as I can, where I can and to be open to learning and to teaching.
As I walked through a morning market in Luang Prabang, I saw this older man who was intently staring at nothing in the outer world. All that was left was either a focused concentration on the inner world or else a “vacancy” due to the hazards of living a hard life. From my observations, I would guess the latter. We don’t all have the grace of consciousness as we age. Wisdom and old age do go together, but the gift of wisdom isn’t given to all, likely even most humans.
Wandering through the villages and the countryside I see so much poverty that it breaks the heart. Though I am not even close to being a wealthy man in western world terms, rather I am a simple middle-class person who has earned a small pension after decades of working in education, I see that I am grotesquely wealthy in comparison.
Thankfully I don’t care to own much and find that I have too much stuff as it is so I am comfortable enough and feel almost rich regardless of what my peers and community define as rich. I live simply and don’t spend all the pension money I get when at home in Canada and so I am able to put away funds for trips that will feed my hunger for knowledge, for understanding. I want to learn so that one day I will have enough to say to put into a book that will be my memorial, a gift to whoever would find the book and read it. What I am doing now is my apprenticeship.
This is a very shy little boy who lives in a ramshackle dwelling along the banks of a dried-up river bed, a place where the dispossessed have thrown together bits and pieces of wood, cardboard and metal until they could be called their homes. I was at the scene in order to lend a hand with a shovel so that a retaining wall would provide a bit of security when the rainy season comes and the river once again flows with water.
I got to take a number of photos during the morning, not too many so that it would be intrusive, not so many as to interfere with the work that had to be done. I needed to do the work for this little micro-community as well as for my own soul. So much for altruism – yes, there was a selfish purpose – my need for purpose and meaning.
As I said, I took photos of the scene and of some of the people living there including this little boy. I wish that I was more proficient in Spanish as I would have loved to be able to speak to this little guy and some of the others I met. Regardless of the stories they could have told me, I knew that they would repeat stories told by others around the world. There is something universal in being human and being a child. With limited language skills, I did manage to have the little guy smile.
I am a grandfather and I know children and this makes the task easier. Also helping me is a knowledge of Developmental Psychology. I taught the subject for a fair number of years and learned that though a child might appear more mature than others of his or her age, that appearance is actually deceiving. Beneath the appearance is a child, a child limited by his or her developmental stage.
One of the things I sort of overlooked as I taught Developmental Psychology, was the topic of “psychic stages.” Jungian Psychology fills in the blank spots and lets me begin to understand the problems of adulthood and midlife that arise out of the psychic experiences of childhood. Note that I said “psychic” experiences rather than “life” experiences. There is a difference. For example, imagine going to visit extended family and being allowed to stay over with your cousins when the day visit comes to an end. Nothing traumatic is evident, in fact, all appears to be more positive than negative. Yet, for one child, this could be taken as abandonment rather than as a reward and opportunity. How does one know? One doesn’t. At some point in time if the event was taken as abandonment, the story will out.
Experiences with mother, father, siblings or the lack of such become encased and hidden in layers of life or forgotten because remembering them only causes pain. So, as I look at this little boy, I wonder how he will fare, how will he be different from the other little boys? Then I leave the scene to return to my villa. Still, I know that he saw and experienced me as I saw and experienced him. And that, has changed both of us forever – a psychic experience.
A mother and child in a small shanty community on the edges of the Costa Rican town where I am spending the winter, are getting ready to join others in this micro-community as they receive new teeshirts from a Christian missionary group. The mother isn’t much more than a child herself. In the poverty of this hastily thrown together community, childhood doesn’t last long at all. Girls soon find themselves in the beds of rich North Americans who have come for the easy access to drugs and women. And like this girl, female children become mothers before childhood years have passed.
This is quite different from what occurs in many modern communities where wealth and opportunity present themselves. It isn’t unusual to find that the children remain at home long past the age where adulthood should have started.
“It is not possible to live too long amid infantile surroundings, or in the bosom of the family, without endangering one’s psychic health. Life calls us forth to independence, and anyone who does not heed this call because of childish laziness or timidity is threatened with neurosis. And once this has broken out, it becomes an increasingly valid reason for running away from life and remaining forever in the morally poisonous atmosphere of infancy.” (Jung, CW 5, par 461)
This seems to be a growing problem in our society. We don’t want our children to have to suffer the way we did. We rationalise that it would be better for them to stay at home until they have finished all of their studies and have landed a job worthy of their talents, a well-paying job. As parents, we disable our children by holding onto them too long. As parents, we disable our children when we abandon them when they are children. Our job is to nurture, protect and encourage them toward being independent and them push them out the door with an invitation to come back to visit from time to time.
I see too many damaged men and women, people who never have grown up or else have had to grow up too fast. I fall into the latter group. There is a story there to be told someday, somewhere.
“The wounding and painful shafts do not come from outside,through gossip, which only pricks us on the surface, but from the ambush of our own unconscious. It is our own repressed desires that stick us like arrows in the flesh.” (Jung, CW 5, par 438)
This is a man I see almost everyday here in Costa Rica. He sits on the corner in the mornings after having rummaged around for left over food from a couple of local restaurants. He not only feeds himself, he feeds a trio of large golden-coloured dogs who have been abandoned. There is no question that this man is wounded, that he has suffered much in life and now is left broken on the sidelines. Yet, for all of that, he has not given up. He somehow has decided to keep on waking up each morning, finding a purpose in feeding the three stray dogs.
So how does a man get to this stage? What could have chased him from participation in the community? Psychologically would we say that he is individuated, that he has somehow gone within and discovered so much of “self” and has unmasked so much of his “shadow” that he somehow has no need of others? I ask a lot of questions, but for good reason.
In my opinion, there have arisen too many barriers for this man, barriers which have denied him opportunities for becoming more conscious. He is a lost man, lost in a persona, a superficial persona that has given up personal power. If I think of the heroic journey, he has abandoned the journey, perhaps a victim of one of the monsters that are faced on that journey. Rather than being engaged in a battle for deliverance from whatever it is that has kept him in thrall, he has accepted his fate and has been captured by the monster. C.G. Jung would say that he has lost the battle for deliverance from the Mother.
It was a cold January morning in ChangZhou, Jiangsu, P.R.C. As I walked down the streets of the city basically wasting time, killing time, as I had finished marking the final exams and doing all the paper trail administrivia for the city university. The air was pungent, almost acrid with industrial haze. As usual, I walked carrying my camera. Too often I had gone for walks only to miss capturing yet another image for my archives. It seemed as though every day was a special event as far as my camera was concerned.
ChangZhou was/is a modern city, a city that could challenge almost any North American city for shopping adventures, for wide boulevards and spacious parks filled with flowers no matter what the season. The streets buzzed with a mixture of Mercedes, Volkswagens and Toyotas. There were no old cars, no clunkers. No matter which day you would walk down a street you would see people dressed in the height of fashion. There was little evidence that I was in a developing country. Well, at least most of the time.
This woman showed a different face of China, one from a not so distant past. She tells her own story, her story of her home country.
I guess that we all put on a special face when we go out into the public sphere, we wear a mask and act a role that would tell all that we have our shit together, that we are okay. But underneath that mask and the persona, there lies a different story, one that isn’t so pretty. So much for being “civilized.” Truth is, we barely hold the shadows within at bay. The harder we try to deny the dark stuff, the more it seems to squeeze out to embarrass us.
This man seems happy with his life at the moment that I took his photo on the edges of the Great Thar Desert in Rajasthan. A shephard of sheep carrying a young one who likely is too tired to keep up with the flock. It looks almost idyllic, a scene from the biblical past. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. Life as a shephard is hard. Poverty eats away at one’s life and poisons relationships. In the quest for water, there are many violent quarrels with neighbours. In the quest for peace, there are many violent quarrels in the home – husbands and wives at each other’s hearts and souls; fathers and sons at each other’s throats. How does one find space, time and energy for honouring the self in this climate of poverty, sparseness and festering relationships?
I learned a lot in India. I asked questions and I listened. And I learned that for all of our differences, within we are all the same. And it is these similarities that are at the heart of the journey of self discovery, the focus of the text and photos of my second SoFoBoMo book.