Meeting Poverty Face to Face
The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved ~ Mother Teresa
Many years ago I worked with a colleague born in St. Lucia. She described her island as beautiful but very poor. I visited St. Lucia recently and decided to venture inland away from the coast. I wanted to visit a silk screen business and traveled on an air conditioned bus through town, up and down the mountains and past extensive banana plantations.
The capital, Castries, is a town of contrasts. Some parts of it seemed fairly modern but for the most part people lived in wooden shacks with corrugated steel roofs. We saw two beautiful schoolgirls emerge from one such hut, dressed in neat uniforms, contrasting sharply with the condition of their homes. Just outside town we encountered the Governor General House, the grandest estate we happened upon all day. We visited another estate and the Silk Screen studio. The bus stopped to overlook Marigot Bay from the hills and ventured into Anse La Raye, a fishing village on the west coast.
In between the points of interest were more wood and stone hovels. Most of the people along the way appeared quite poor. Many residences had one or two banana plants and occasional pigs and chickens. Groups of people gathered every so often to wait for a bus. I wondered how far they had to walk to the bus stop. We remained insulated from the inhabitants until the bus let us out in Anse La Raye to shop for souvenirs..
I ventured behind the vendor tents to the beach where weathered wooden boats waited for the next trip to haul in fish. I met one very friendly and peaceful man who told me a little about the boats, the fishing economy and the spirituality of the people in the village. I noticed spiritual sayings on the bow of each boat. I didn’t think until later to ask him about his family and what it was like to live in his village. I wish it had occurred to me before we were packed back onto the bus.
That evening I thought about how I had stepped off a cruise ship and traveled on an air conditioned bus to his village for our brief encounter. I wondered whether he felt poor and if so what that meant to him. The contrast between the lush beauty of his island and what appeared to me to be abject poverty stunned me. I found myself unable to think about the extremes much less to talk about them with anyone.
I have learned over the years that a feeling of prosperity has nothing to do with how much money is in your pocket. It is a state of mind in which you accept whatever good you have in your life and celebrate it. Very poor people can feel prosperous and very rich people can feel needy.
Life Lab Lessons
- Take time to count your blessings despite your challenges.
- Don’t judge others by their appearance.
- Share your blessings with others.
- Let others share their joy with you.
- Travel in peace with those you meet along the way.