Poverty: A First World Tale
I tried one of the best desserts in New York city yesterday. An amazing green tea chocolate lava cake at the Spot Café in East village. With my sweet tooth throbbing inside my jaw, and eyes fixated on that beautiful door opening to the intimate café, I almost walked into a man sleeping on the sidewalk.
It was truly an amazing dessert. I am definitely going again.
I come from Pakistan, a ‘third world country’, or a ‘developing nation’, whatever the preferred term is these days. To those who are reading this, you must have some mental image of my country. The media, YouTube, history book, and literature, at some point in your life would’ve helped you paint a picture of what is Pakistan.
These agents painted a picture for me too, of the developed world, in particular, the United States of America; the Land of the Free, home of the brave. The country that is booming, the liberated economies, liberated people, liberated ideas, liberated women, kind of makes you doubt the word ‘liberated’ doesn’t it?
So liberated, they don’t even need to live in homes. No, I don’t think that’s why that guy slept outside the café. But what else could it be. The U.S is a proclaimed superpower, they have passed historic legislations, influenced policies across the world, provided aid to so many, surely, if they can do all that, they must have taken care of their own first.
Have you taken care of your own first?
I come from Lahore, a city of a third world country, yet the poverty I see here in the U.S is far worse than what I have seen plague my own. The remarks I hear about the homeless, that accuses the poor of manipulating the system, makes me doubt not the homeless, but the system itself. The institutions have created a framework that is weak, and when it is exploited by those weaker than it, the latter are blame for it. We talk about economic growth as some kind of achievement, we portray New York city as the greatest city in the world, and yet when I come here, the condition of these people makes me want to turn around and ask everyone, ‘what is so great about this? How are you even okay with focusing on your global image when people in your home are living in conditions uglier than those of rats?’
I ask these questions not out of spite, but out of a longing to understand what goes in the minds of those who call New York their home. I am but a stranger to this city, and will leave as a one, but those who belong here, I cannot begin to understand why they do not feel the pain embedded in the streets of their city. I am not romanticizing poverty, I am simply feeling it. It is draining, exhausting, depressing even, to pass by an array of men and women dancing, singing, begging for money, outside the subway stations, inside the trains, under the empire state building. These men and women seem to have become such a permanent part of the city, that people are no longer alarmed by their predicament. The skyscrapers willfully ignore their existence, the passing yellow cabs render them invisible, people turn to their iPhone the minute the hand of a homeless slips through that veil between the rich and the poor.
The poverty in my country is glaringly obvious, in the broken footpaths that house its peddlers, in the run-down rikshaws that feed families of twelve, but here, in New York, poverty lives underground, in the cracks beneath its sidewalks, in the gaps between its subways. So, is New York the world’s best city because it succeeds in creating a good experience for its dwellers, or because it succeeds in hiding its flaws? Is it necessary to hush the helplessness of the homeless to appease the luxuries of the privileged?
I do not know. The world has often looked at the United States for answers, their own president, Harry Truman in his infamous speech gave them the power to influence, but if this is what is happening inside their own country, then the world, and they, need to step aside and reevaluate what it means to be a superpower, what it means to be a developed country, what it means to be a homeless outside Spot Café in East Village.
By Mishele Ijaz (USA)