Third World Cultures Have a Richness Too Often Lacking in First World
Poor people in the Third World don’t need us. We need them. Millions immigrate to our model country to start a better life, to experience freedom of choice and to live the North American Dream. Yet, in some ways, living in our culture can be more difficult than living in a third world country.
My eyes were open to this when I was in Ethiopia, to build a well, garden and teach English to the villagers. My experience was not in the city, but in the rural area of the Gumuz. The villagers were living in extreme poverty and were shunned by their own community because of their dark colored skin. They were completely different than those living in the capital, Addis Abeba. Not once did they beg for money, food or clothing. Instead, they offered us their best food and hospitality.
The food they offered was all they had for the week. It was in one small bowl, about the size of a child’s hand, and shared among ten people. I was in shock, how can strangers with the bare necessities be compassionate and selfless? I was in the mindset that I was being a hero by teaching them how to garden, providing a source of clean water and an education. However, they taught me the most important lessons in life.
Surprisingly, I learned the most from the children I was teaching. I saw kids who were no older than 8 years old, carry their 2 year old sibling on their back, and hike for an hour to learn English. When it was time for a snack, the older siblings would always make sure their younger sibling had eaten first. Even though they did not have enough, I witnessed children sharing their food when another child was still hungry. In less than one week I learned what love, selflessness, sacrifice and compassion really means. I benefited more from them, than they could have ever benefited from my help. How can they, of all people be selfless if they do not have anything we view as valuable?
The difference between our city and the Gumuz is quality of life versus survival. We live in a culture of consumption, vanity, and selfishness and I am guilty of contributing to this cycle. Living in a society that believes retail therapy is the key to happiness is reflective of how purposeless my life has become. I am still searching for my purpose in life and I do not have that clear goal. I know I am not the only one because this self-searching unsatisfied feeling is constantly fed by our culture. There are self-help books, talk shows and magazines that tell us who to be like and what to do with our life. My life has revolved around myself, what I can do, buy and learn to make myself happy. Yet, if I truly examine my life, I am always unsatisfied.
The Third World is not immune to our culture of consumerism, but when you enter a remote rural area like the Gumuz, they know nothing of our culture. In the Gumuz, they did not have clean water or fresh food to eat everyday. They were barely getting by on the necessities they did have. Yet, they had that clear purpose in life because their living was based on surviving. The villagers never needed my help. Yes, they could benefit from clean water and food from a garden, but they were truly happy and had sense of direction with life.
So when I really think about it, do the people in Gumuz really need me? I learned more from them than they learned from me. They taught me the invaluable lessons of life. They are rich in life yet poor on earth. It is unfortunate that everyone in our country is exposed to this dream of consumerism, but that does not mean we cannot learn lessons from the poorest of us. We should invite the people of Gumuz to be our heroes, to come here and teach us about the meaning of life.