Our host took us to a local open-air market that occurs every Tuesday. I thought I might have a sense of what this market would be like, having spent some time in the open air market in Chiang Mai. The market here was much smaller than the one in Chiang Mai, however, and less built up by far. Perhaps twenty to thirty vendors sat on the ground surrounded by their wares, which were typically produce, spices, and dyes.
Our host is usually hosting at least one foreigner every month, so locals have become used to seeing him with foreigners, but I don’t think they’re fully used to seeing foreigners in general.
Traveling through Asian countries, we’ve become accustomed to the stares, but here the stare is much more intense, mostly because we are the only foreigners in this village and perhaps the only foreigners for miles.
The intensity of the stare is also due in part to the feeling of opportunity that comes along with it. Foreigners have money and a sometimes naïve desire to feel like they’re helping, which makes them a great way to earn a few extra rupee.
This is in no way devious on the part of the locals. Poverty here isn’t just something you see on TV, it directly impacts you and everything you see. Walking into the market, I was acutely aware of the fact that my glasses cost more money than some here see in a year. It’s an uncomfortable situation because never have I seen such actual poverty, but I also see no immediate ways for locals to escape this vicious poverty.
Of course, none of this is really news. You don’t have to visit India to see pictures and videos of what it’s like here in a small village, but it’s one thing to watch and another to actually see first hand.
My American ingenuity sees this poverty and wonders how to fix it. I know, though, that I can’t fix this. Scores of people have already tried. You have seen them, or at least you have seen their campaigns being run at your local church or YMCA: “Donating just five dollars can feed a family for a week! Donate now and make a difference!”
A handful will donate, but the rest will remain indifferent. I can’t say what camp I will fall into when I return home after seeing the poverty first hand. I would have more justification for donating than most, but I also would have ample reason for refusing. “I’ve been there,” I would say, “and it’s going to take a lot more than donated dollars to fix the systemic problems.”
Dollars are a good place to start, people will say. Dollars for what though? Food and water are of course necessary but if the problem really is to be addressed money would have to be spent on education. Good education, for everyone.
Again, none of this is news. Spending on education is much harder than spending on food and water. I’m not trying to slag off people who donate to these kinds of campaigns, by the way. I’m just pointing out in my own terms the obvious truth, that things are complicated and aren’t resolved by clicking “Donate.”
The only thing I can say with certainty is this: if you are currently raising a child who is acting like a spoiled little shit bring him or her to the Tuesday market in Ravandur, India. Let your child see how people here get along with so little. Maybe you need to see it too.