I recently had my first experience in a ‘third world’ country. While having traveled in more than a dozen countries, this recent visit stood in sharp contrast. Prior to leaving home we had been coached as to what goods and resources would be helpful to bring for the local people.
We had arranged accommodations at an all inclusive resort. We noticed that the people in the nearest village did benefit from the ‘gifts’ that people had given them during their holiday at the resort. So we decided to visit a distant village to share the goods we had taken along.
Cabby for Hire
We hired a cabby for two and a half hours at the cost of the Canadian equivalent of $40 to take us to a distant village, about an hour away. The first thing that struck me was the cab which was older than me. Imagine riding in a car from the early 1950’s still considered reliable enough transportation. What made the durability of the cab even more amazing was the condition of the roads. We spent a third of the time driving on the left side of the road to avoid pot holes and washouts. We spent another third of the time driving on the shoulder where it was smoother than the road. The hour’s drive got us about 40 km (25 miles) from the resort.
When we arrived at the village we were well received despite arriving without advance notice. The subsistence lifestyle meant there were plenty of people out and about in the village. Once the local people realized we had t-shirts, baseballs, caps and shoes to give away word spread very quickly. They were eager to receive gifts from us and responded with deep appreciation. It was interesting to see some of the young people coaching others, making sure they thanked us in English.
One woman who walked up to me did not reach out her hand when I offered a t-shirt. I wasn’t sure what to do till her neighbour signaled to me that she was blind. It didn’t take long before we ran out of gifts. I had a twelve year old lad who asked if I had a t-shirt in my knapsack for him. I told him I had run out. The look of disappointment was clearly evident. Still very polite. The only thing I had left was a can of pop. Not what I had in mind. At best a minor consolation. I’ll have to look him up next year.
As we drove away from the village that look of disappointment stayed with me. We had come too far for me to retrieve something from my room. I was in tears the first ten minutes as we headed back. Even now as I write this I am in tears.
On the way back the cabby asked us if we would like to stop for a coffee. We welcomed the offer even though we hadn’t seen a restaurant or coffee shop on the way down. About twenty minutes into our return trip the cabby pulled over at a farmstead. On the way out he had stopped briefly and called out in Spanish. I guess that was our drive-by coffee order.
We were welcomed into the sparsely furnish concrete house and given a chair in the living room. The living room had a colourful porcelain tile floor. While we waited I was pleased to see that they had some basic appliances. The house had a fridge, a tv and a radio. On the wall hung a framed medical diploma of an older son who did not live there. The kitchen was in a separate shelter to keep the wood heat used for cooking out of the house. They made sure no goats or chickens wandered into the house while we visited.
The grandmother served the coffee to the four of us in identical navy blue miniature cups. I thought it was excellent coffee – and that from a non-coffee drinker. When we were ready to leave I wanted to leave her a small tip. She absolutely refused it. When I offered her a Canadian flag pin, she felt honoured to receive a gift.
Before leaving I took a picture of the family, grandmother, mother, father and daughter. The grandfather had decided to not hang around while we were there.
Visiting a third world country is so different from reading about it. The resource- fulness of the people is amazing. They improvise, they manage without, they do double duty with what resources are available. Everywhere we looked there were goats or chickens. There were no lawnmowers in sight. Between the free ranging goats and chickens and the tethered cows and horses and the penned up pigs, the job got done. No annoying lawnmower motors, not even at the resort. Fences were made of barbed wire and reinforced with a hedge of cacti that were regularly trimmed, probably so they would spread and keep the goats in. Even so, goats would be grazing along every road we traveled, often scurrying to get out of the way of the occasional car or truck that drove by.
The ‘gifts’ that I gave away came completely from my own dresser of plenty. Having collected t-shirts which are liberally handed out at special events, Race Against Drugs, Anti-Bullying, Sea to Sea, SumoBot etc, end up lying unused because the event is over. Had I simply donated them to a local charity I would never have realized how appreciative over 2 dozen people could be with one person’s surplus clothing.
This experience has increased my commitment to raise funds for the Sea to Sea cycling tour crossing Canada this summer. Sea to Sea is an agency that has set a goal of raising 5 million to fund projects in Canada and overseas to help end poverty, one person at a time.
The next time I hear someone around me say, “But I have nothing to wear,” I might be tempted to step up on a soapbox and shout out a rant.