It is a well-known fact that nobody can pick their background. We are all born into a certain history of time, in a certain cultural wave, in a certain generation, with certain characteristics, the list is endless. Point is, we are all unique folks existing within the current of modern and ancient histories combining in such a way that creates what we specifically know in our own lives. My life, in what I can best describe as a white middle-class Midwestern female from the United States, is exactly my experience that I bring to the Costa Rican table. This is the way that I have always viewed things because it is my perspective that I have developed over my short 24 years of life (if you count birth, you have to start somewhere). This was a crucial piece of what I experienced today when our group visited La Carpio today in Costa Rica.
La Carpio is only about half an hour outside of San Jose, which is the hub of Costa Rica. To sum it up, it’s a neighborhood of severe poverty, and its citizens are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Nicaragua. They only have electricity around the main road into the neighborhood, and that stops basically as soon as you enter La Carpio. The streets are narrow, and the houses are more like lean-to’s made with steel, wood, or other things that they have found. Our group arrived at a Montessori school, where we learned about how successful the students have been and what kind of education they provide for the children. Then we took a walk around the school, and this is where things began to sink in for me.
At some point, we stopped to admire an adorable little baby, and I, being naturally curious, snuck peeks inside the house where the family lived. There were dirt floors, everything seemed dirty, there was music blaring (which was a great Spanish station and I wish I knew what song was played because it was pretty awesome), and the walls were made of dirty steel. There was also another little boy playing with a top, and he was adorable as well. The whole place seemed dirty because there was trash everywhere as well as seemingly stray malnourished dogs. The roads were not paved, the streets narrow and bumpy, and yet this is where many people lived and called home.
What is important is that this is everything that I thought of and saw while visiting La Carpio. This is a perspective of a white middle-class Midwestern female from the United States describing what she saw and comparing it to here exact experience. Of course, I have read about extreme poverty and have seen it on TV, but to walk through the streets of it is one thing, and actually living it is another. I joke around quite a bit and claim that I’m poor because I’m a student and live paycheck to paycheck, but now I see that I literally have no idea what I’m talking about.
Moving along: even though I was having thoughts like “There is no way I could ever live like this” I attempted to step outside of myself and analyze my own feelings. Interestingly, after much personal reflection, I realized that what I felt was nowhere near pity (which is quite honestly what I expected to feel) but respect. I felt respect for the people of La Carpio because they are able to live a life that I am nowhere near equipped to live. To quote the Eagles, “we are all just dust in the wind”; we are mere glips in the sands of time, and La Carpio and the people that reside within were born into the life that they know now, just like I was. And yet, how humbling is it to know that you were born into a privileged life with wood floors, a house, and a refrigerator full of food?
However, what is important now is what I will do after experiencing all of this. The man who said it best actually had one of his characters say it in the classic “A Christmas Carol”. If you’re not familiar with the story, the part that I am referring to takes place in the house of Ebeneezer Scrouge, an old and grumpy English man that owns a counting house (Remember “bah humbug”?). His dead partner in business, Jacob Marley, comes and visits him as a ghost to warn him that he is a terrible human being and that he will go to Hell if he doesn’t change his ways. At one point in the conversation Scrouge tries to placate the ghost by saying “Well, you were always very good at business” to which the ghost replies “Business?!? MANKIND was my business!”. To this day, that quote still stays with me; and our visit to La Carpio just reinforced the idea that mankind is our business, and that we should become aware of our own privilege and attempt to better the world with it.