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11 Jan 2017

8 Things I Learned Living In A Poor Country

There's an infamous saying that "the more we see, the less we know." In travelling, I have found this to be true in countless occasions. Most people think they know what it's like in a developing or non-developed country. You've heard the news, seen the commercials, or maybe even visited one (like in our case). PSA: visiting any place and living there? Two completely different things, situations, experiences. Both my husband and I had visited African countries prior to our latest venture in South America. But that really wasn't enough when he accepted a contract last winter that would have him and eventually our family of 3, moving to the much misunderstood country of Colombia. This wasn't a vacation. Not a perfectly scheduled volunteer trip. No credits or hours were being collected. Nobody was waiting on the other side to greet us and show us around. This was real life. And not the life we were used to. 

This would also be one of the best, most refreshing experience we had had in some time. The stories, people, and experiences we had could fill endless conversations, but today I'm sharing just 8 of the things I personally learned from living in a poor country.

Stop watching the news. I admit, I had my hesitations on moving our family to, well, anywhere in Central or South America. But the more people spoke ignorance and fear into our decision to go, the more I knew I could not share this mindset. The news we watch in America has an extremely successful way of exaggerating and selectively eliminating information. I've seen the news. I've now been to the country. I've spoke with the people, explored the places, and tried the things. That news we were watching? Distorted. Moral of it all? Seek more than just what is curated to show on your television or newspaper.

Health care is a privilege. Yes, it really is. I know. Sometimes the waits, the service, the staff are sh*tty. But that beats too expensive or entirely non-existent  You don't know how sad it is to not have the accessibility to these things until you see people suffering seriously, and hearing that they have absolutely no options.

Your pressing issue, isn't a pressing issue. Seriously! I can't even. We came back in the middle of summer, from an always hot country where our maid would run up and down the stairs while fanning herself with a towel, doing endless chores and errands, to people complaining that their air conditioning wasn't working on a 26° day. Did I mention her husband was nearly on his death bed while she was still at work? Because that's what you do when every minute of work means surviving or not. Majority of your problems are not problems at all. (Other not pressing issues: your satellite not working, a crack in your iPhone, the bus running late, having a less than perfect day).

If you have family, you have enough. The stories people would share on their family, how much they love them, the sacrifices they make to spend more time with them - were heart touching. People rarely talked about what material things they didn't have or how life wasn't going their way, rather on a bad day would say that at least they're going home to see their family. Perspective change: richness is having relationships.

The value of our items. Items that most of us own; over priced phones, the best headphones, that watch everyone online is coveting - items we were told to hide away while out in busy, public places. Why? Because in comparison, these people have nothing. Theft is high. Why? Because with the value of our prized American possessions and the cost of living in these countries, an iPhone could feed a family for a couple months. Isn't it absurd that the phone you toss in your bag carelessly could feed an entire household and we don't even take care of it after a couple months?

How to minimize in the kitchen. First let me say this, our maid did all the cooking and as much as we were grateful for her presence, there was some learning for everyone. The scraps on your plate? If you didn't scrape them when she wasn't looking, they ended up in your next meal. To us, this was disgusting. There are some things you really just aren't exposed to. However, I did learn a few meals that could make use of the leftover or halved vegetables in the fridge (you know, the ones that get forgotten about until garbage day?) Now, we make soups and chilis and I round up the vegetables that aren't "needed" and toss them in. Less waste and usually extra nutrition added. She also showed us how they use fresh vegetables and dried legumes. Things such as beans, can be bought in heaps for less if you buy them dry and soak them versus the cost of them soaked and canned (also cue added chemicals). Similar thing with making juice from real fruits and ingredients.

Everybody is a person. I know what you're thinking. Duh. I already know this. Rude. But knowing and acting on are two different things. We know what's "right" but how often do you really live that out? For the first time in my entire life, I saw people incorporate, appreciate, and interact with the homeless. I'm talking, bring them out a plate of dinner on a holiday or if you have left overs (no waste, remember?) The homeless man on our street, we called him by name (a friendly nickname but nonethless). We brought him dessert when we'd gone to the bakery, or a coffee from the cafe. He would ask my husband how they played when returning from game night and offer to help me with grocery bags or the stroller when they were on the road. I was skeptical at first but in seeing others do it, I learned by example that he was just like everyone else just with different circumstances. We've all felt bad seeing someone less fortunate, but I had never considered anything more than that until then.

If you want to overcome something bad enough, you will. Much on the same note as my other points, we were in awe and surprise by how you can have so little and still do so much. Maybe not all the things we are doing back home, but students are going to school for engineering, if it means busking in the intersections during stop lights. People are keeping their family afloat doing jobs they probably don't like, in a manner as if it was their dream job. If you want it, you can do it. Especially when you live where resources and support are in abundance.

My husband and I often find ourselves cuddled up at night, going "I miss..." someone who we never thought we'd know or associate with in a thousand yeas. Or pulling up pictures and memories of places we were nervous to go to.These countries not only hold lessons that will change your ideas forever, but also some very beautiful people and places. If we can get out of our habit of feeling entitled, better or scared of the world - there is so much waiting for us out there. I hope this proves some insight or inspiration to a few you. And if you're still reading along - thank you for bearing with me (long post, I know!)

XO, Olivia Murray.
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