There's a shift that happens in one's way of thinking with travel. It's why we've been ok pulling our kids out of school, homeschooling, and traveling. It's the new perspectives and vantage points that offer such different views and opinions of the same topic. Rossland's Red mountain comes to mind for me. I remember just last winter before we came to Guatemala, I was driving around the backside of the hill with Simon. "Red looks so different from here, doesn't it?" I said. "That's not Red." -"Sure it is." The discussion continued until we circled to reveal the face he knew so well, the ski hill he had been riding the last three seasons. "It didn't look like Red at all!" He exclaimed, embarrassed. The profile of any mountain is entirely different from every angle.
So it is with poverty.
People on the top of the mountain, economically speaking, often can look down at those at the foothills. "They never seem to make it up." Having themselves moved to the top, they naively believe that it is only a matter of willpower necessary to make it. They think it is possible for anyone. I strongly believe in the power of positive thinking. However, I also have witnessed the intense power of ingrained economic and racial cast systems. These systems keep the cream on top for those that are already there to collect it. Money makes money. Let's explore why it is so hard for those at the bottom to get ahead. I want to talk about the cycles. Real stories offer us small entrance doors into facing topics as large as things like pollution and poverty: first story and example. "Buying power" The name says it all. "Buying power" makes things cheaper for those that can afford to buy more. It's a rule that makes sense. Retailers or producers will always appreciate the efficiency of selling to a single large buyer. They offer sizeable discounts for the time that offloading large quantities of goods saves. While it's an economic rule that makes sense, it's a mountain almost impossible to overcome for those that don't have it. It is why companies like Walmart are closing down Mainstreet's businesses. Here in Guatemala and other Central and South American places I have lived or visited, there are little corner stores on every block. (I've seen as many as five stores on the same block that offer the same everyday consumption items.)
They are garages and windows of homes that families open up in hopes of being able to earn a bit of a living by using their home space. In these shops, you can buy everything by unit. Diapers, eggs, cigarettes, shampoo packets, single toilet paper rolls are all sold in the smallest quantity possible. To me, it is bizarre, and I ask what reality makes this possible? In Canada, we talk about the concept of living paycheque to paycheque. Here in Guatemala, it's day to day. These shop owners buy one pack of diapers or eggs and open them to sell them by unit. I can walk down the road into a neighborhood shop and buy one diaper, two eggs, and one ketchup packet' of shampoo. While It's handy for those living day to day, it is also costly when compared to the price of buying "in bulk." (Yes, buying a pack of 60 diapers or an entire bottle of shampoo is considered "bulk" here). Result: extra wasted packaging and the inability of anyone in this situation to set any money aside.
Perspective: buying a single diaper costs double what it does to buy in the pack. I buy diapers for our youngest in packs of 50 for 45 Quetzales per pack. Compare to the cost of single diapers in the shops at 2 Quetzales each—more than double. "Time is money,"
When everyone is working all day to make enough to buy a couple of diapers, eggs,
beans, and tortillas, there is no extra time. There isn't even enough time to wish things were different. Much less to dream about what one could be doing to make them different. Much, much less to sort recycling or dump the garbage in a bin where it belongs. Unfortunately, due to the lack of education on the subject, it's perfectly normal and acceptable to throw trash in the river or road.
It's go-go-go with no time to stop to think. Again, for those with a different perspective, the solution may seem so simple. I want to show you all a video that Christina and I made the other night. Admission: We definitely see the irony that we are involved with an environmental project cleaning up garbage while still using single-use products like diapers. In an ideal world, the convenience of using single-use products would be matched with the satisfaction of knowing our choices aren't adding to the pollution problem. With some of our previous children, we could use cloth or more environmentally friendly brands like Seventh Generation. Here, with no washing machine of our own and no available decent green brands, we are faced with a hard choice. These (bad) choices stem directly from the never-ending, socially ingrained desires we are trying so hard to abandon: Seeking comfort no matter the cost. Low prices usually mean high environmental costs. Perhaps a communication campaign is needed to pressure manufacturers of diapers and other single-use products to start giving us all some better options. (And not just using it for advertising purposes. It's simply the right thing to do.)
We are becoming more and more passionate about this project, and we need your help. Please watch, share and consider what you would like to do to get involved. There are many ways to help. If this project speaks to you, please reach out! email@example.com
Owen is a Canadian 34-year-old father of 5, husband of one that likes to write about the things and stuff he is doing with his family in Guatemala.
They have gotten involved with an amazing group of local Tzu'tujil women from San Juan and have started picking up garbage every week with a group of kids. It's actually really exciting! Check out the previous post called "The Club" for more info.