“What is it that you think about before going to sleep at night?” This was a question from a friend who I recently skyped with. Luckily for me, I don’t think about much, I drift off easily with images of an elongated neck, slowly dropping into the mattress as my body twitches.
She rephrased it. “Has being in Guatemala offered you any openings for deeper thoughts about anything in particular?”
After some (deep) thought, I spoke about the line I walk between the joy of personal abundance and (relative) prosperity living in a country that offers so much beauty, and the reality of how many others live here on the edge, mostly without hope of moving beyond (or out of) it.
An American family I met here employs a cook six days a week, 4 hours a day. The cook shops for food, makes a main meal, helps them learn Spanish by conversing with them, and is paid 50Q per day, which right now is worth about $6.50. I watch my own thinking as I look forward to hiring her myself. Better yet, hire a friend, spread the wealth. If I want a housecleaner, I pay 70Q, or a little over $9 for the day. But I’m too caught up in my own sense of propriety to do so. After all, I’m a worker among workers.
Lately, I’ve signed a number of online petitions from the U.S. supporting a higher minimum wage. How is someone in New York able to live on $8/hour? How does someone live on $6.50/day?
But these questions don’t keep me awake at night. I learned long ago that I could never be a social worker (even though I’m a passionate advocate of social issues), a political activist (despite the fact that I want to lay my life on the line for certain issues), a journalist (embedded in revolutionary change?), or any profession that puts me on the front lines. I once did camerawork for a roaming news crew. After three weeks I quit, but it took me another 4 months to crawl out of bed with self-dignity.
That said, I like to travel to developing countries, which is as close as I get to those fantasies. I see people walking barefoot, like me, the intrepid bohemian.
But I struggle with my entitlements (and I’m not talking about social security or Medicare, people!). My whiteness. My privilege. I grew up in a poor family, but my parents acted like they weren’t. My mother never went to college and my father didn’t earn a degree, but I was taught that we were an educated class, a condition that I was born into as sure as I was born a WASP. Perhaps it was the fact that we were a creative class, and that trumps economics. To be creative is to be intelligent, regardless of formal education. Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time making art down here.