Tuesday, December 15, 2009
They Are like THAT because We Are like THIS
When I’m in a bad mood (often a result of some jerk whistling at me or frustration in general with my Paraguayan colleagues for seemingly being unable to get work done without me), I tend to become bitter. I rant, I rave, I curse the Paraguayan people (all in my head of course). As I grow ever more delirious every step that I take in the blazing Paraguayan sun, I’m seething on the inside as well. I fume about Paraguayans lack of education, their dumb questions, their poor manners, their misconceptions of the U.S., their poverty, everything I can think of at the moment. I look down upon them all the while feeling superior because of my university education, my knowledge of computers, my proficiency in several languages, my productivity, my class.
And then this morning I read a parable by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He tells the story of a 14-year-old prostitute in Manila.
It is true that in the city you can make money more easily than in the countryside, so we can imagine how a young girl may have been tempted to go there to help her family. But after only a few weeks there, she was persuaded by a clever person to work for her and to earn perhaps one hundred times more money. Because she was so young and did not know much about life, she accepted, and became a prostitute. Since that time, she has carried the feeling of being impure, defiled, and this causes her great suffering. When she looks at other young girls, dressed beautifully, belong to good families, a wretched feeling wells up in her, and this feeling of defilement has become her hell.
But if she could look deeply at herself and at the whole situation, she would see that she is like this because other people are like that. ‘This is like this, because that is like that.’ So how can a so-called good girl, belonging to a good family, be proud. Because their way of life is like this, the other girl has to be like that. No one among us has clean hands. No one of us can claim it is not our responsibility. The girl in Manila is that way because of the way we are. Looking into the life of that young prostitute, we see the non-prostitute people. And looking at the non-prostitute people and the way that we live our lives, we see the prostitute. This helps to create that, and that helps to create this.
I realized that if Paraguayans are the prostitutes, we are the pimps. Who are we to condemn the way they live their lives, they way they act, the way they are? They are that way because we are this way. They are that way because we are this way. They live in poverty because the American consumer refuses to pay more than 50¢ for a bunch of bananas. Those bananas contain a delicious fruit, nourishing, full of potassium, delicious. In those same bananas are the sweat and tears of the Paraguayan farmer, the days, the weeks, the months spent in the hot sun planting, hoeing and weeding the land. The American consumer demands big, yellow, spotless fruit. We don’t see the fertilizers that double the size of the fruit, the pesticides that ensure that the fruit has no black spots; the vast expense the family must bear to pay to spray fruit ever-more resistant to chemicals. We don’t see the yellow puddles after the rain, chemical runoff from the fields that seeps into the ground and the wells and the water; the miscarriages caused by the women’s exposure to the toxic chemicals on their husbands’ clothes. Looking at their poverty, we see our non-poverty. And looking at our non-poverty, we see their poverty. Paraguayans are that way because Americans are this way.