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Re-defining Poverty

Poverty = Lack of Money.

Ok, so let's start with this. If poverty is the lack of money, and that is generally how we think of it, then who is in poverty?

A. A person with a lovely $300,000 house with a mortgage of $250,000 and a nice new car worth $20,000 with an $18,000 loan.

B. A person with a $30,000 simple house with no mortgage and a bicycle.

If you do the simple math you see that the guy with the debt is obviously the poor one. Now you can come up with all kinds of reasons why he really isn't in poverty. But let's look a little deeper.

In Central America there are no loans. Yes, you can get a gringo loan from a non-national bank like Scotia. But the rule for most people loans.

So that means that every house you see, every car you see, is paid for. In cash.

Now go take a look at the homes and the cars. Drive through San Jose, Costa Rica and see the brand new diesel SUVs that sell for $80,000 USD because they have to add heavy import taxes to the price and tell yourself. Paid for. In cash.

Go look at the sprawling homes on four hundred acre ranches that go for two million and up and remind yourself. Paid for. In Cash.

Now go into the tiny villages where small, simple houses sell for $50,000 or even a little as $20,000 and remind yourself that the people living there make about two dollars an hour. Paid for. In Cash.

The best part about paying for everything and not being in any kind of debt is that when you lose your job, you don't lose your house. The people in Central America do not live with the constant fear of needing to maintain the status quo. Many jobs are seasonal, especially in the tourism industry. And many jobs are a one-time deal. Contract jobs, only they don’t work for some big contracting company that keeps them employed and paid. They get a contract to put in a dock and when it’s done, it’s done. This leaves a lot of down time. It is hard when people don't work and they do run out of money. But they don't lose the roof over their head.

In fact, sometimes guys do a job and then they chill out at home until they have spent all their money and then they go look for another job.

Now we first world people think of that as incredibly irresponsible. But listen to a little story about a conversation I had with a lovely older Costa Rican woman. She was well educated and lived in San Jose, the only real city in Costa Rica and the place where most of the money is made. She was on vacation with her family in the little beach town of Puerto Viejo and I met her floating in the hotel pool. Her English was flawless and she was happy to share about her life, her family, and her culture with me.

"We think you Americans are very selfish," she said.

Keep in mind this was a lovely conversation and no offense was intended by her comment. I was genuinely trying to understand how she saw the world and I was thankful for her honesty.

"You work every day for long hours and you never see your family. You don't play with your children and you never see your grandparents or your cousins. You have all this money and instead of taking time off work to enjoy your life, you spend your money on big houses and cars and furniture. You have all this stuff, but you ignore your family."

In her mind, this was heart breaking. And when she expressed it the way she did, I felt the truth of what she was saying.

We are in debt up to our eye balls. And we run around trying to out-do our neighbors thinking that the guy who dies with the most stuff wins. And we lose out big time. We are on anti-depressants. We don't sleep well. We worry ourselves to the point of disease. According to the Happy Planet Index, as of 2016, Costa Rica is the number one happy place in the world. The US didn’t even rank in the top ten. In fact, Nic Marks, creator of The Happy Planet Index said, "The future might not be North America or Western Europe. It might be Latin America!"

Those guys who work for a few weeks and then relax and hang out with friends and family are actually pretty happy. They have simple, but functional homes. They often have cars. They eat well. And they have lots of time to enjoy doing the things they love to do—which usually means hanging out with friends and family, going fishing, hiking in the woods, or working on a project like a new dugout canoe. The sort of things we think we need to work our whole lives and save for. The sort of things we think we can't do until we retire.

What a trap we have fallen into!

So let’s go back to idea of poverty.

In my opinion the idea that {poverty = lack of money} no longer seems correct.

I want to break this thought line for a moment to acknowledge there is abject poverty in Latin America. There are conditions that are shocking. There are people who are hungry and literally have nothing. But for some weird reason, even these people seem happier than most Americans I know.

I do not pretend to have the answers. I am just an observer. And I have lived in poor neighborhoods and on Indian islands. I have washed my clothes by hand and gone without many modern conveniences. I felt I was up for the challenge and I wanted to get up close and personal. I wanted to get to KNOW the local people. And I have found I love them.

Back to the poverty thing.

Can we please re-define that word?

Can we please look at over-all quality of life? Can we please look past the rusted roofs of simple homes and go inside? Can we sit at the table and listen to the conversation? Can we play with the kids and go fishing with the old men? Can we help the mamas cook rice and beans and salad and chicken and get their secret recipes?

Life is beautiful.



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