Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Money is SO Complicated..........

Every day, it feels like, I will have someone ask me for money. Children on the streets try and ask (but we avoid them since giving them money can actually be child exploitation-they're often used to beg). Families will ask for sponsorship or for a school uniform for one of their kids (even though public primary education is free, it's up to the family to provide the uniform). Others will ask for tuition, visas, and other things. Because I'm white and foreign, it's assumed I have millions of Kenyan shillings waiting to be spent. It's difficult, because most people are not malicious. Many of them are merely desperate, trying to provide for families on less than a dollar a day. They know Americans and Europeans make more money, so why shouldn't they try when they have the chance?

The thing is, it really is complicated because I know that giving someone money won't solve anything. First, it's not sustainable, the money will be gone and I don't believe people should depend on handouts from me to survive. Second, if I give money to one person, everyone will hear about it and try and get some. If you don't give an equal amount to everyone, a fight could start (for real, there was an issue with stipends at work the past two days). Third, if I give all my money away, I am of no use to anyone. Fourth, I'd be fostering the ideal of "The White Man's Burden", of proving that it's our duty to save people. No, people need to be taught to save themselves, though they may need access to resources in order to do that.

Another reason why it's so complicated is because people here have no comprehension of what life is like in the U.S. How could they? All they see are the magazines and movies that show fabulous white people wearing designer clothes, drinking champagne, and hanging out with beautiful people. They see Barack Obama, a man they consider their own, become President simply because he had the good fortune of being born in America. They hear that Americans make tons of money, much more than they'll ever see. Naturally, when they see an mzungu, they think, "Oh, she's loaded! Maybe she can help me!"

As a result, I've ended up in so many conversations about how, actually, I am a student and only have enough money this semester to eat and do some things I may want to do (travel, bring things back for family, all of which they encourage me to do). They become very shocked to hear how much things in the U.S. actually cost, how a teacher's salary in Kenya is my rent for a month. Or how, due to the economic crisis, it's now difficult to get jobs and there are those in the U.S. who live in poverty. How university education is now so expensive, families go in debt to put a child through and students themselves spend years paying it off. How I myself have to work as a waitress during the academic year to pay for things like my rent and my groceries. They don't believe it because they've never experienced.

Americans can't really comprehend the level of poverty here until they see it. One dollar a day is just words on a paper until you see people living in their own filth. Likewise, when faced with so much poverty and knowing that Americans will make more money (in numbers), it's hard for quite a few Kenyans I've met to understand the situations Americans face. The problem is, it's difficult to fix economic disparities simply because we have these misunderstandings.

Why money is complicated........

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