Wednesday, January 14, 2009

am i a rich american?

most of the issues that i deal with that are problematic for me revolve around the fact that i am an american living in a developing country.

see, eventhough it's not always a fair judgement, being american means being rich. the idea that the country is rich leads to the idea that everyone who lives in the us is also rich. and, really, comparatively, we are.

but once one relinquishes a salary in dollars and begins to live on the same currency as the locals, on a similar payscale, it should follow that the idea of one being rich is extinguished.

but it's not.

and it has taken me a long time to realize that being a "rich american" has nothing to do with how much money we have in our wallets but rather the passport that we have in our pockets. i mentioned when i blogged about medical care that if anything serious were to ever happen to me or my children, i'd leave. i'd pack up and go home and get medical care in the us.

and that's just it. i have that security that if things get really bad here, i can go home, get a job paying me dollars and have the benefit of governmental help - whether or not those types of social assistance programs fit in my political beliefs. it's easy to criticize something from afar, when its not needed.

the point is is that it's there if i need it. and those types of programs don't exist here. people die everyday because they couldn't afford their medicine, children stay home from school because they couldn't afford their supplies or uniforms or even shoes on their feet.

now, i'm not blind to the injustices that happen in the states - the children who don't get fed on a regular basis because mom and dad can't find jobs: but as long as they're in school they get lunch and usually breakfast. i know there are people dying because of the medical situation, but there is help. and hope. you just have to know where to look.

here? there is nowhere to look.

so, the answer to the question? are we rich? monetarily, no. we are comfortable, we have food on the table (and in the cupboard), we have electricity and running water (not a given in this country), we have a car and the money to put gas in it, and the liberty for me to dabble in work that offers no real, steady paycheck everymonth (though, i will admit, i'm doing quite well and continue to grow everyday... but there are months that i don't make even 100 US dollars...) and we have money in the bank to fall back on (and some livestock: some cows, i think there's a pig in the game now and some chickens, but that's another blog for another day).

so no, monetarily, we're not wealthy. but what my citizenship of one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world gives me and my family is a different kind of rich. one that doesn't go away because the economy is bad and (for now) provides a security that citizens of developing nations just don't have.

it's kind of a stigma for me - something i have to deal with when i meet new people, recruit new students (who sometimes think i'm trying to rip them off, until they talk to other private tutors and realize i'm the cheapest...) and live my life. but i know that it's not conscious. people don't hate me because i'm american nor have i encountered (too many) people who want to be my friend because they think i can give them the world (or a visa), but it's a struggle sometimes to know that i have something that can't be counted and can't be bought.


Oh, The Joys said...

My husband and I did a 16 month backpacking trip around the world - mostly in developing countries - and got this rich american thing all the time.

Interestingly, now that we're home, settled down with kids, we see it. We really get it. We remember it often. We are rich americans. We're so fortunate. Access to healthcare, housing, hell -- even simple things like produce.

Erin said...

It might sound kinda dumb, but I feel like this is similar to white people having to accept the fact that they are privileged. I had a hard time with that because I didn't want to admit it existed (because I never felt I was better than anyone because of my skin color). People cannot control their genders, races, nationalities, etc., but people need to recognize their privileges that come with their lables. It's not always an acceptance that comes easily, but I think it's an imoportant step.