Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Statistics

When I was a teenager my father was a Naval officer in the Supply Corps, a PhD student in quantitative analysis, then a university professor in all things numbery and icky.   Horror of horrors, he would sit me down at the dining room table with his statistics textbook to share quality time with me.  I still hate statistics.  What do they really mean anyway?

Statistics still haunt me.  2012 seems to be the year of statistics.  All sorts of stats have been thrown about this year.  (Mercifully sans standard deviation...)  There has been the 1%, the 99%, the 47%, the "this percent" and the "that percent..". Almost none of them used in a positive context, almost always bashing "them" for how much money they do or do not have.    Even yesterday, as I joined the older girls at SBV for lunch statistics popped up.   It started with a discussion of banana soup.  It is very common in HN to put bananas in soup!  Twice this week I have had banana soup.  Once with "cola"  (beef tail - ew. seriously?  so gross.) and the second time with meatballs.  The soup also had plantanos, yucca, carrots, pataste, and green beans.  Except for the "cola," the soups were delicious, including the banana!  I told the girls that soup in the US doesn't include bananas.  Their jaws dropped.  I further shocked them by revealing we don't have tortillas with every meal! (One of them muttered, "then what do you eat???")  The conversation continued with the girls peppering me with questions about the US.  Then Dunia stated, "There are no poor people in the US."  "Oh yes there are," I replied.  They didn't believe me.  So (in Spanish!) I explained that statistically there are more poor people in Honduras (70% vs. 15%) but numerically there are more poor in the US (15% of 200M is a bigger number than 70% of 7M.)  They had to think about that for a moment. There was the math bit but, more amazing was the actual reality of poor people in the US.  "Well," one of them concluded, "they aren't poor like they are here."  Verdad.  Even our poorest have access to some medical care, food stamps, public education, clothes closets, food banks, student loans and more.  Of course, in Honduras there is none of that.

I have spent time with the poorest of the poor.  Even our children at SBV and the safe house have little they can call their own.  Most everything is shared.  I have visited hovels in La Cantera, hung out with Alonzo Movement teens, worshipped with local Episcopalians in Teguc and in Copan, gotten to know single mothers and elderly participants in our micro-credit program.  What they have to deal with on a daily basis is beyond comprehension.  Having just returned from 5 weeks in the US, believe me when I tell you, we take EVERYTHING for granted.  One of the things we seem to take for granted is the joy of being kind.  Everyone, even strangers in stores and parking lots, are kind.  My experience over and over again is if someone has two they will give you one.   The children at SBV make sure everyone gets a piece of candy being handed out by a volunteer.  I have often seen a child give one of their few prized possessions to a beloved team member.  I have received some myself.  There also seems to be an absence of greed.  I don't want to over generalize or view life here through rose colored glasses, but honestly, consistently I see people who are content with what they have and do not spent time agonizing over the silly materialistic things the way we do.  Mismatched, out of date clothes?    Love that outfit!  Old, battered car?  So grateful to have transportation.  Need a ride?  Banana soup again?  Yum!   Have some with me.  

I am aware that the wealthy class here, especially those in power, are exceedingly greedy.  Hence the 70% poverty rate.  But, I spend my time with the poor.  Some of the loveliest, joy filled people I have ever been blessed to know.  What do the poor Hondurans get what we don't?  In Honduras there is a saying: "Mejor frijoles con amor que gallinas con dolor."  Translation:  "Better to have (only) refried beans with love, than roasted chicken with sadness."   They live simple lives, lives simply filled with faith, hope, and love.   Yet, we spend so much time choosing gallinas con dolor.  An acquaintance once explained why not having an "important piece of jewelry" (importance = >$25K) was making her so miserable, "Amanda, you can never have enough."  So sad.  I wish for the Honduran spirit for her and us all.


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

2 comments:

  1. Lety and I were just talking about this! As a missionary like you, I am constantly challenged by the quality of life and character of those who have little to nothing. It makes me want very badly to "use our own money well." I was telling Lety that this is something I want to pass onto them, my children: that what we have is for sharing. It doesn't seem like a difficult concept, and as a concept,it isn't. As a lifestyle, however, it must be extremely difficult because there is so much reluctance to living it out. May the Lord fill all of us with His own heart of generosity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think people brought up to be addicted to material things (vs. treasures you-know-where) suffer as all addicts do, and that their suffering causes others to suffer. There is a trait common to all sentient beings that makes things worse: the tendency to define a context and to set up rules just for that context, like a bunch of board games being played at once. So, for example, $500 for a new TV seems to make sense within the context of my home furnishings, $1,000 seems to make sense for a business suit within the context of a professional setting, and so on. I think one lesson from Jesus is that there is only one real context, and we're all in it. ("In Christ there is no east or west...") A dollar is a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, regardless of context. The pretend-walls we use to divide things up so that $500 for a TV is somehow from a different pot than $500 for the poor are walls that trap us inside and cut us off from reality. What would we call it if all the money in the Western Hemisphere (for starters) were in a single pot, and then doled out in ways consonant with the "all of us are created equal" principle? Why, we would call it something bad that would excuse us from doing that and strengthen those pretend-prison-walls. What tears down those walls is truth with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for... Authenticity's witness bears that truth. It is the power needed to move the lever that changes the world.

    ReplyDelete