Thursday, October 16, 2008

Too Innocent To Wear The Poverty Badge

My life is a story of packing up and moving out. I was only ten the first time I left home. I could still recall the tears rolling down my mother’s cheeks as she packed my things in a nice little trunk. I and my sister Maria were to leave for the city the next morning. We should be thrilled. Every child in the village thought we were lucky. It was everybody’s dream to see the big city. That night before we left, we tried to talk our father out of his decision to let us study under the missionary nuns in the city. We told him we would rather study in the local school, having studied there for the past three years. We did not want to leave our friends. My father dismissed as silly our protestation. I saw my mom shake her head as father tried to convince us everything was for our own good. I knew she understood the torment we were going through. I guess because women invest much of their lives in caring and nurturing they understand the pain involved in uprooting yourself from what I call your world space. That evening, my sister and I cried ourselves to sleep.

My father was right about the big city. It was a beautiful place where lights danced at night and people never went to sleep. He was also right about big stores where we could find plenty of chocolates and toys. I smile as I remember that each time I pass those stores, I could not resist dipping my hands into my pockets trying to search for some pennies I know were not there. I wasn't alone longing for what I can not get. The picture of dirty-faced kids in tattered clothes just staring at the candies with their sunken eyes and protruding bellies being shoved out by the store's security guard is still etched in my mind. I remember writing to my parents about these children. I guess even as a child, I was already puzzled as to how a place can shimmer in such glitter and look so alive while its children roam the streets wearing empty looks in their unwashed faces.

There was something on those dirty faces that I found disturbing. Back in our village, as kids, we got dirty playing and having fun or helping our parents in the farm but always it was a nice excuse to go to the river for a long fun filled swim. Folks in our village encouraged children to play and enjoy themselves. We chose to be dirty and getting dirty was fun. It could not be true for those kids. Being dirty was no choice. Just like their protruding bellies thrusting out on their fragile frame, the thick dirt that lined their skin was a badge of poverty they were forced to wear on their innocent bodies.

My dad told me I was going to love watching the sunset in the city. I thought that was silly. Sunsets just come and go as sunsets did in my village. What was to love about it? No, it was not silly. Watching the sunset by the sea which fringed the city was an experience of a lifetime. The breathtaking show of the sun changing its hue as it was devoured by the sea still play on my mind. The sea by itself looked enchanting. It was hard to resist its calls for one to go naked and play with its waves. I remembered the children. They must have heard the call. Did they ever respond to the it? Did they ever savor the luxury of dipping into the sea's cool blue water? If they didn't, could it be that their empty bellies muffled the sweet calling sound so they could not respond to the sea's invitation? Or could it be that they tried but their bodies were just too emaciated to even try wrestling with the waves? Damn! Were those the questions I should be asking?

Note: This is a revised version of the original which first appeared on my main blog, Before The Sun Sets. I intended it to be a social commentary when I first wrote it but while it received lots of favorable comments, none of the readers saw it from that lens which I understand.


  1. That's a beautiful piece of writing.

    I was born and raised in a third world country. There was much poverty. But the children did not go hungry, nor were they overly dirty.

    You paint a bittersweet picture.

  2. I enjoyed your post very much.

    Also, I tried to use your search bar at the bottom of the page but it does not seem to be working. You might want to check it out.


  3. Again great writing. Watching the sun set and sun rise is one of the most amazing things that we can experience because there is something in the air that seems to put everything in perspective. Thanks for visiting my blog and I will be checking back on yours from time to time to read your stories....Isnt it amazing how life seems to tell its own story? Everyones is different, and with each sunset there is a new story to be told.

  4. HI,
    it just have happened: while browsing the web, I have met you and felt myself the fellow. I don't know the meaning of the above, but one is for sure - that's fine indeed and I thank you heartily for so unexpectedly discovered warmth inside.
    I love your blog, Hope you too will enjoy my pictures.
    Till meeting one day dear friend

  5. i love your post, it is just so beautifully written. both the words and the picture are great. the picture is so touching, kids, jumping into the water, silhoutted by the sunset, what a perfect complement to your beautiful words.

    it usually painful to see a child suffering from poverty. i grew up in 3rd world, and tried to help as much as i could in my little way, had been frustrated several times when the kids i chose to fund to school would be taken out by their parents from school to go to work to help earn for the family, cried about it, but never lost hope to still continue to help in my own little way.

  6. poverty? Its hard to explain with word. But i hope i can help someone who really have suffer a lots..

  7. wow- this is indeed a great piece of writing. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Oh yeah- thanks for the comment. About your question what widget? email me I would be happy to help you out.

  8. I loved this a true story?

    I feel it is incomplete. I dont know why? Maybe because you have not given any answers and have asked a lot of questions. Or maybe because I want the story to have some sort of a happy ending.

    very thought provoking and yes I can relate to it a little bit.

  9. Hi Julehya..

    I have grown in a third world country where poverty is rampant, even in the cities. In fact, poverty in the cities is worse, because the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" has only been widening over the years.

    I have similar memories about observing people ridden with poverty back in my city, when I was a student. I remember having observed and made notes in my personal diary about small children going to school on cold winter mornings. With a couple of books stuffed into a tattered bag, and walking with their palms thrust tightly into the pockets of their shorts, the kids used to shiver and tremble as they walked down the cold dusty streets without any footwear or extra layers of clothing. It made a very pitiable sight, and that image has remained etched in my mind ever since. As you rightly said, the kids were too innocent to understand the very essence of their existence, and the circumstances had forced them to "wear the poverty badge"..

    I came across your blog as I randomly flipped through blogs on entrecard, and dropping my own card. If by chance you have been disillusioned by the way entrecard works in getting you "quality" traffic, let me tell you that it works. You'll get one in thousand readers (like me) who will stop by and subscribe to your blog..

    Keep writing. I'll keep coming back for more..!

  10. Your story is beautiful, Julehya.

  11. Kids know. Even when they are very young they know. We imagine that they are innocent, but they know nonetheless.
    I sent you a lemonaid award, it may not be something that you want to post, but at least it will link to your blog and help with traffic.
    Very insightful, though melancholy post.

  12. beautifully written. love your story. i am imagining what it's like when i was reading your post :)

  13. What a well written post! I usually don't stop to read long posts, but yours kept my interest and even after I was interrupted, I came back to finish reading it.

    I feel so fortunate to be an American and can't imagine the poverty people in other parts of the world have to live in. I sponsor to children through Children International and contribute to The Jesus Film Project as well which takes the Jesus Film to remote areas around the world.

    I also am disturbed by the many homeless people even here in the United States so also contribute to Boys Town, The Covenant House, and The City Mission on a regular basis.

    I am so thankful for all God has given to me and feel very fortunate!