She wears a fringed-out tank top and shorts just short enough to make the most of her legs, just long enough to cover her…well. Walking through the medina, past scores of leather sandals and hammered tin lanterns, she is laughing as if she does not see the skeleton-like frame of a man carrying three times his weight up the hill.
Her wealth, though I surely cannot calculate, is likely four, five, maybe six times that of the woman sitting on the ground beneath her. Oblivious to that other person’s reality, she sits down at the corner restaurant and proceeds to eat 1/4 of her tagine, succumbing the rest to the flies and the dogs that raid the trash out back.
It’s not that she doesn’t care. She volunteers back home. She’s helped build houses for the poor, she donates blood. Her friends call her honest, smart, funny. She has always dreamed of traveling abroad, the sights and smells, the experience of places unfamiliar, the tangible excitement of tasting foreign foods.
It’s a gaping hole, the space between where she is right now and that uncomfortable spot where she comes to grips with the fact that there is only so much to go around, and she has pretty much all of it. I mean, how do you have a good time on spring break when you are bummed out by other people’s realities?
I’d like to think that I am a little more aware, a little more sensitive than the woman I just described, but truth be told I am not. I walked into that same medina a white Western woman. I bought things, ate half my food (granted I was 6wks pregnant and sick as a dog), and did precisely nothing to help the man up the hill.
In three years and thirty countries no country left me as sick of my wealth, as guilty of using my advantage, as wrought with the tension of injustice as Morocco did. We say that travel is one of the greatest teachers, and this lesson was rough.
I am often caught in the broken record song and dance of realizing the great suffering of the world, attempting to own my piece of that and doing what I can to help or alleviate my guilt, at least until I can wake up without noticing it so much and go on living just as I had before. This is privilege at its very shiniest.
I wake up every day holding that privilege. On good days I attempt to peel away at it, to give those pieces to people who need it. On bad days I keep it all, having convinced myself I need every bit in order to survive.
I know that this won’t change until I commit to waking up every day holding what I hold and still choose, keep choosing, to see you. Not only that but to offer you the best I have: My attention when you are telling your story, my openness when you voice your concerns, my apologies when I’ve done you wrong, my work to make things better for you, my stuff, my help.
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
― Gwendolyn Brooks