Don’t worry, be happy (because you’re going nowhere)

(That claim form for my insurance was put in on Saturday, so hopefully it’ll be less than two weeks before I can start taking half-way clear pictures again. Although it could be a lot longer. I don’t know. Insurance companies are a notorious bunch of shysters.)


In George Orwell’s book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ he has a lot of interesting things to say on what it means to be impoverished.

The book is the author’s real-life account of living on and beneath the poverty line in the two major European capitals back in the 1930s.

In its conclusion, the book gives a summation of how poverty is viewed in wider society, with the author saying that he sees it as being a ‘taboo’ – and I always thought that was pretty insightful.

It’s a pretty modern thought, isn’t it? Poverty being unseemly in the same way a sex act involving excreta or becoming a neo-Nazi might be considered unseemly.

I think, and I’m including myself in this, reacting to the unseemly nature of poverty can snap response for a lot of people back in the UK and Ireland when confronted with someone in serious dire straits.

In the developing world (at least the part of it that I’m in), that concept has sort of been flipped on its head, and poverty in certain forms has been reimagined as entertainment.

George Orwell

George Orwell

And that’s a good thing for the people living in the communities.

In the favelas in Brazil you’re able to pay a local to bring you out and show you around, putting money into the pockets of people who will benefit the most from it.

Here in Colombia the poorer neighbourhoods are called comunas, and by paying a guide, tourists can experience them in a similar way.

While it is jarring that there is a tourism industry built around the poverty that people live in and what they have to do to get by, putting the narrative in the hands of a local person helps creates understanding – and that can surely be no bad thing.

Comuna 13, once one of the worst areas of the city, it has been rejuvenated into a prominent tourist attraction

Comuna 13, once one of the worst areas of the city, it has been rejuvenated into a prominent tourist attraction

Here is what annoys me:

It’s a well-worn cliché, but plenty of tourists and travellers still come away with the message that the people in these parts are ‘poor but happy’.

‘Poor but happy’.

What a complete fucking joke.

My mother is a big fan of celebrity life coach Tony Robbins – who much like George Orwell – has things to say about where people are at in their financial lives.

According to one of Tony’s well-delivered but ultimately predictable pieces of guidance, people are happy when they are making progress.

The minimum wage here works out at €265 a month, meaning that if a person was to save 25% of their wages to put towards a new average-priced small car, it would take them four years to save up.

Happiness doesn’t buy you a car.

And as I’ve mentioned before, plenty of people here earn below the minimum wage in the unofficial economy, so Christ knows how long it would take them to buy a car.

And what if you’re an Afro-Colombian, Indigenous or rural person – those most likely to be exposed to the worst of the country’s inequality – and one day discover you’re serious unwell.

The only option on the table would to be to roll the dice with Colombia’s public health system, which is described in this report from the Organisation of American States as the ‘Death Carousel’.

Well, at least, you know – you’d still be happy.

By stating that people are somehow happy in their poverty, it puts them apart from society in a way that says they don’t have the same desires, and don’t deserve the same opportunities.

Rather they have hit a perfect equilibrium in their roles of enriching the spirit of the travelling white man, and show our waterlogged 9-to-5 brains the beauty of not having running water or electricity – but pulling together all the same.

As I’ve said on a few occasions, I’m not an expert on Colombia’s social situation – but everyone deserves a chance to get ahead.

[Sorry, this is all a bit heavy – I swear there is going to be some fucking jokes in this next week. The only one I can see there is a sort of half joke about Tony Robbins being similar to George Orwell. That just seems pretentious and doesn’t really land. Must try harder.]


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