This is an essay about poverty, about thoughts of the importance of money, and about some of the people who live with an income of less than 1 US dollar a day, but still live a happy life.
The first time I heard about the Millennium Development Goals was last year, in the spring of 2007. Sometime during the last couple of months of tenth grade, my social studies class had a project about the goals, and I remember writing page after page, analysing dozens of indicators on how the goals had been reached so far. It’s been a year and a half, and here we go again. I’m not going to tell you about all of the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs, I’m going to focus on part A of the very first one of them.
The MD goal number 1.A tells us to halve the proportion of our earth’s population whose income is less than one US dollar a day. We shouldn’t halve this part of the population by eliminating all poor people by, say, just making them go away, but by helping them make more money. I question “helping them make more money”. Because the thing is, I don’t really see why they need to make more money at all if they’re not unhappy with their current life. Most of them aren’t happy, but some of them must be, too. So maybe poor people shouldn’t be defined as people “who make less than 1 US dollar a day”, maybe money should, in the big picture, be kept out of the whole definition of “people who suffer from poverty”?
I’m going to tell you about this guy I know in Jordan. His name is Abdullah, but I call him Abu. He used to live in Amman, Jordan’s capital and largest city, but one day in April, his father found himself facing his midlife crisis, and was convinced he’d live a much better life as a nomad in the Dana Nature Reserve. I’d never heard of the Dana Nature Reserve before, but Wikipedia told me that “It is composed of a chain of valleys and mountains which extend from the top of the Jordan Rift Valley down to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba.”
I thought “Okay, so now Abu’s family can move from valley to valley whenever they want to, and when they should grow tired of valleys, they’d just settle in the lowlands for a while. That doesn’t sound too bad”. Two weeks later Abu’s father sold their house, their car, their everything; he bought twelve camels, a huge tent and other supplies. They were ready to start a new life in the Dana Nature Reserve. Abu’s family had money, they got more money from selling their house, they bought camping equipment, and now they have no money whatsoever.
Neither Abu’s father nor his mother have an income anymore; but they live a happy life. They have been living a happy life for a good six months now, and not once have they returned to Amman or any other city where one needs money to survive. I only know this because Abu’s friend goes to try and find Abu every now and then. When he succeeds in finding Abu, and after they’ve talked, Abu’s friend sends news back to me.
I don’t know any other nomad families except Abu’s, but from what little I’ve heard, most of them didn’t go from living in Amman to becoming nomads. Other nomad families have been nomads since… well, since forever. They’ve never had money, they’ve just had a lot of camels and tents and food to trade. That makes them poor according to the MDGs. They have no income; they make less than 1 US dollar a day because they don’t make any money at all, and they seem perfectly fine with it.
There are other people, too, who live without making any money. You know monks and nuns? They are men and women leading contemplative lives where their most important vows are of poverty, chastity and obedience. They live under an abbot where they can own nothing personal, they eat no more than necessary; their belief is what keeps them happy, the rest just keeps them alive enough to believe.
On the other side, there are non-religious groups of people who have separated themselves from the rest of the society because they want to live a different life with a different set of rules. Maybe they are religious or just have very strong political opinions; either way such groups often choose to live a so-called penny-less life on, say, a farm. Does that make monks, nuns and what can be called as “sect members” – poor? Are they part of the people that the MD goal number 1.A is referring to? If they’re not – shouldn’t they be?
The MD goal number 1.A shows no connection between poverty and hunger or misery, but it still tells us that we have to get rid of half the population suffering from absolute poverty, to put it in a bit of a harsh way. All of this can therefore boil down to one simple attempt on a conclusion which is really nothing but another thesis statement: We try to help each other living as happy lives as possible, but we have no such thing as an exact idea of how to live a happy life.
28. november 2008