Self | Culture
Witnessing Poverty Misaligned My Relationship With Money — And Happiness
How living in a developing country can teach you, and deceive you.
A huge roasted pig sprawled across the table with an apple in its smiling mouth, frozen in mockery at my naïveté.
I was 6-years-old at the time and it would be years before I ate pork again. Conceptually, I knew where meat came from. But I’d never stood so close to the source. I was the only white boy at this Filipino birthday party and it showed.
The pork (lechon) was a local luxury, and emblematic of a humble life where people had to make do with what they had.
We were stationed in the Philippines for my dad’s Navy career. A huge typhoon slammed into the country on our first night, as we sat huddled in our small new condo.
Hours prior, I stared at the odd fireflies dancing outside my window. They pulsed on and off like Christmas lights. I heard the loud hooting calls of monkeys echoing across the jungle. Eventually, the storm came and rain blew sideways all night. We took it like a champ. We had arrived from Florida, and were trained and acclimated to such events. Sadly, many locals lost their homes that night.
The country is like a tropical island, with towns and cities peppered across steep jungle mountains that seemed perpetually located on a beach.
We routinely drove to a local Philippine town, to see a friend, Marcos who was my age and a fellow classmate. I was wide eyed as we traveled “off base” and saw the stark contrast to the world I’d come from. Large families shared small huts, often without running water or temperature controls. For many kids, working in the blistering fields wasn’t an option, but an inevitability.
We entered a bustling and impoverished urban area. Marcos’s house was a two room home on a second floor, lifted up on thick wooden poles to help avoid flooding which routinely swept through the city. It contained only a kitchen and small bedroom he shared with his mother and two brothers. He owned only three toys. I was reminded of my own box that overflowed with a hundred action figures and the contrast wasn’t lost to me.