Sunday, June 12, 2011

When your Low, how low can you go?

What will people find when they hit rock bottom? It is not entirely relevant if everybody hits rock bottom, or if it is just you personally: the results are stark.

This story starts off with a school teacher, Amadou Jallow; age 21, from the West African of Gambia.  He was making 50 Euros a month (around $2.34 per day) as a science teacher and could barely afford the necessities. He set off, with dreams of a better life, in Europe.

Marta Ramoneda, The New York Times, 27 May 2011

He lives in a patch of woods here in southern Spain, just outside the village of Palos de la Frontera, with hundreds of other immigrants. They have built their homes out of plastic sheeting and cardboard, unsure if the water they drink from an open pipe is safe. After six years on the continent, Mr. Jallow is rail thin, and his eyes have a yellow tinge.

"We are not bush people," he said recently as he gathered twigs to start a fire. "You think you are civilized. But this is how we live here. We suffer here."

These days Mr. Jallow survives on two meals a day, mostly a leaden paste made from flour and oil, which he stirs with a branch. "It keeps the hunger away," he said

From the road, their encampments look like igloos tucked among the trees. Up close, the squalor is clear. Piles of garbage and flies are everywhere. Old clothes, stiff from dirt and rain, hang from branches.

"There is everything in there," said Diego CaƱamero, the leader of the farm workers' union in Andalusia, which tries to advocate for the men. "You have rats and snakes and mice and fleas."

On a warm spring night, some of the men play cards sitting on the plastic pesticide containers and broken furniture they have collected from the trash. Some drift into town to socialize and buy supplies, if they have money.

Note, that this not a completely cashless existence.  They do make occasional money as farm workers- even if most of it is sent home.  What is unfortunate is that the men are too embarrassed to tell people back home how they are doing, so many in Africa think that post-boom Europe is still the land of milk and honey: so they still keep coming.

To balance with a little bit different experience, we are travel to the West Coast of the U.S.A.  A young lady becomes disowned by her Jehova's Witness Family (for not being a JW believer), losses her job and winds up homeless.  She is fortunate in that she is able to keep a roof of sorts over her head.  In her case she was living in a trailer parked at a Wal-mart, and now a small shack.

While homeless she started a blog, and wrote a book.  She was recently interviewed.

Rick Newman, U.S. News, 24 May 2011

You go into survival mode. Becoming homeless is not the kind of thing people foresee happening to them. I didn't think I'd stay homeless for that long. I'd go to Starbucks with my laptop and send out hundreds of emails and job applications. I really crave stability. A lot of people are nomads, but I don't like moving. It gets depressing very fast when you're homeless.

I miss stability. Electricity -- clicking on a light switch and staying up late at night cooking or reading. I'm sick of eating crappy food. Your health takes a beating. I miss having my bed. I've been sleeping on a couch or on the floor for a really long time.

[T]he fastest growing subset of the homeless population are mobile homeless like me, those affected by the recession and living out of vehicles and just trying to blend in and bootstrap their way out of it. I met a doctor. He and his wife were living in a car together, thinking of moving to another country and teaching English. I met a guy who speaks four languages and another guy who used to own three houses. There are a lot of people who lost their jobs and thought they'd be okay but were unable to find work. A lot of people who took unemployment as long as it would last. And a lot of others have been foreclosed on. That's pretty common. This recession has been completely indiscriminate. It's affecting everybody.

When asked how she was able to get internet access:
I found a $5-per-month Starbucks card, and used that so I could access the wireless. They were fantastic. There are a lot of people running small businesses out of Starbucks. They're great with homeless people as long as you're respectful.

She notes in her blog, that in the United States it is very difficult for the homeless to eat a healthy diet.  The food that they can afford is not healthy, and they have no way to prepare groceries.  So if they are not otherwise afflicted with other health, or mental issues they often can gain weight.  In her case she was a size 6, before she was homeless: which I think is a pretty normal size for a woman.

No comments: