Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Poor (10/25/04)
TITLE: Melting Pot
By Corinne Smelker
LEAVE COMMENT ON ARTICLE
SEND A PRIVATE COMMENT
SEND ARTICLE TO A FRIEND
Sighing, I laid a hand on her arm and whispered, “You have no choice, and to refuse it would be rude.”
“I don’t care. Look at it — do you know how many calories there are in that skin, let alone the fat!”
She made to stand, but I tightened my grip on her arm and through gritted teeth said, “Sit down NOW.”
We were in a compound in the middle of Lebowa, a small country within the borders of South Africa. With us was the rest of the mission team, and the host family – a mother with her six young children. This was Lacey’s first mission trip, in fact her first international trip. She had traveled from Illinois to be part of the team for a summer.
She came with stars in her eyes, a “Lawrence of Arabia” motif playing in her mind. The reality was closer to the advertisements played on late night TV for the starving children of the world. Her fantasy world came crashing down as reality rose to meet her.
“Where’s the bottled water?” She’d plaintively asked the first day. Solemnly I ladled the hand-drawn well water we kept in a drum into a coke bottle and handed it to her.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” She exclaimed. “Do you know where it’s been?”
“Yeah. In the ground.” I retorted. “Where all water comes from.”
“Well. I’m not drinking it.”
I sighed. “Suit yourself, but you’ll get thirsty soon, and there’s no shops to go and buy a coke. Or anything else for that matter.”
“What do you mean there’s no antibacterial soap?” was the next complaint.
Oh, I wanted to wring that pretty little neck! I couldn’t believe Tom, the leader, put me in charge of this whining bundle of blondeness. “What about germs?”
“Interesting you should ask.” I said. “People around here use regular soap every day, and yet they live! See that man over there? He’s 83, and he’s never worried a day in his life about calorie intake, about the quality of his water, or about the type of soap he uses. He is healthy and walks 4 miles a day to fetch water for his cattle.”
She fell silent as it all sunk in.
Now she was about to do the unforgivable and refuse the food that a hard working single mother had lovingly provided. Sarah was a Christian, and loved to have “her” missionaries stay with her. We gave her money, and brought non-perishable goods whenever we stayed, but she always slaughtered a chicken in our honour, despite our protestations. There was the inevitable huge celebration, with visitors from neighbouring huts, a huge fire, and dancing and music until late into the night.
Lacey glanced at me, tears forming. One escaped her eye and trickled down a porcelain-looking cheek. Compassion finally set in as I realized she was just a young, scared girl, thousands of miles from the comforts of home. I placed my arm around her shoulder, and pulled her to her feet, over to the mud hut that held our belongings.
“Lacey. I’m sorry. I’ve been really hard on you since you got here. Please forgive me.”
Tears flowed freely now. “No. I’m sorry. I came in with all my demands. I just didn’t realize that people were so…so poor. You know, I always thought I was ‘poor’ because I didn’t have the latest fashions, but all I am is spoilt!” Sobs shook her small frame.
“Not spoilt — but used to different standards.” I comforted.
“Whatever. All I know is I’m seeing another side to poor, and you know what I don’t like?”
“No? What?” I asked.
“How it makes me behave! Look at Sarah, she has next to nothing, and she is so gracious and kind. I’m so shallow, all I care about is myself.”
“Lacey…” I began.
“No. Let me finish. I thought I was coming in with all the answers. But I have nothing. These people already have everything they need. It just wasn’t what I thought they needed.”
I listened to her intently, I knew what was coming — the same questions had haunted me the first time I came to Lebowa. The answer was right in front of her — one that would change her forever.
In wonderment she asked, “Who’s the poor one?”