Jan 9, 2008 – I often feel rich in comparison with many of the Mexicans I know here in the Lake Chapala region. It’s not just a feeling… it’s a fact. Believe me, my fellow Americans would not consider me rich by US standards! But here it is different, and I am grateful that I never think twice about affording propane, electricity, two cellphones, or food…even the relatively expensive imports we buy at times. (No reason to give up tamari!)
While there is great poverty in some of the rural areas and in the slums around the big cities, Mexico does have a middle class (much smaller than up north) and of course a wealthy class.
Here by Lake Chapala, many Mexicans are better off than in other parts of the country because of all the work provided by the thousands of foreigners who live in the area: construction workers, maids, gardeners, pool caretakers, restaurant owners, shopkeepers catering to foreign tastes, Spanish teachers, and others benefit financially from our being here. Recently a taxi driver I talked with here said that this area is in a bubble economically, sheltered from the travails of the rest of the country by the presence of expats. He figured that this would also be true of Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, and a few other parts of Mexico.
And while I’m aware that Mexico is far from being one of the poorest nations in the world, I don’t think much about it…
When Marie McC posted a thoughtful comment to my blog post about learning Spanish, I got curious and found my way to a blog she had written about being in the Peace Corps in Togo ten years ago.
It’s called A Handful of Memories: A Returned Peace Corp Volunteer’s tales of Togo, West Africa (1996-98). She writes of the extreme poverty there, families too poor to afford the cement to build a latrine, tires so bald that she vowed to stop looking at tires on vehicles she was riding in, and more. It brought back the summer I spent on a work camp in West Africa when I was 20, and how amazed I was at the joyousness of the people there, considering the tremendous challenges they face in their lives.
We Americans are so rich, and I am so grateful for the freedom and flexiblity this has given me. At the same time, we are far from the richest country if you measure by joy.