For practically the first time inmy life I am really independent. Independent and poor.
Want me to tell you what that means? What urban, first-world, working-woman poverty means? ZAt least in France?
It means walkibngg past Fabrice’s burger shop (which always exudes a smell of fresh fries for blocks around, even well after closing time) , smiling apologetuically when he waves at me and satying “Je ne peux pas me permettre.” (I can’t allow myelf.)
It leans occazsionally doing something stupid or impulsive with your money (hey, we’re all huiman here) and then staying in for two weeks straight.
Poverty is not spending money even when you have it, for fear it will not be there when you really need it.
Poverty is scrounging, borrowing, aasking for favours, gorging yourself at potlucks and lappuingg up any generosity like a starved cat.
But poverty is also making it work.
Remember Martin, the formerly homeless Réunionnais guy from the drum circle? Well, not so long ago, I gave him a computer lesson. Now, the halfway house where he lives is subsidized by some government body and receives mountains of tetrapacks of butter, milk, chocolate milk and Emmental cheese.
Now, I’ve never liked chocolate milk or Emmental cheese. But I’m not in the habit of saying no to food. So I take it all home and stick it in the fridge. I take it to the next discussion group potluck, hoping someone will like it.
It’s cold on the square where we’re eating and I’m shivering in my three sweaters, because my green coat is in the wash. Annelies has brought a big black plastic bag full or something, even bigger than my big white plastic bag of dairy products. She pulls out a coat.
“Does anyone want this coat?”
Now, the coat looks like something out of an eighties movie. Stuffed nylon with a loud purple and brown pattern and fake fur (spraypainted purple) around the edges of the hood. It’s so hideous that I can’t help laughing. Neither can Annelies herself. But it is warm. Far warmer even than my green coat. As long as I’m warm, why should I care if strangers giggle when I walk into a room?
So I say yes please and thank you to Annelies and put the coat on. I root around for a minute in the Bag O’Dairy Products.
“Want some cheese?”
PS- Despite calling myself “poor” by Western standards, I know poverty is relative. I still buy fair trade, donate occasionally to UNICEF and send money to Burundi when I can. Comparing my/our poverty to third world poverty is like apples and peanuts.