If You Don’t Know What You’re Missing, You Don’t Miss It

Because of Thanksgiving, many are enjoying a long weekend. so, no politics today, rather an observation of mine you may find interesting.

The title of this post is an inherent truth, isn’t it? If one doesn’t know what they are missing, then they can not long for it envy those that have what they are missing. As result of living here in Venezuela, I have had the opportunity to observe this phenomena up close and personal. I am talking, of course, about the very poor.

The images that Americans often see of the most destitute of people, often shows them scavenging through huge garbage dumps, looking more likely for things they can use and most likely things they can sell, rather than what many assume, looking for food. These people are very real. They do exist. But, these poorest of the poor are a tiny fraction of the poor people in countries like Venezuela.

If you were to visit one of the major cities here, like Caracas, the capitol, and be given a tour of this city of over four million, you would see on the fringes of the city huge barrios (slums). You would also see smaller barrios nixed between the well to do neighborhoods.  The people who live in these barrios today are probably third, or fourth, or fifth generation residents. Originally these people came from what we call el campo. El campo can be translated as rural areas or farming county. But in the context that I am using it, a better translation might be that these people cane from the sticks. They came to the cities looking for a better life. They didn’t find it. It is a bit of a mystery why they never returned to el campo.

The poor who live in these barrios are very much aware of what they are missing. It is in their face every day of their lives. They do long for what they don’t have. They do envy those that have what they want. To an extent, this makes these people dangerous. I don’t mean to imply that all the poor in the barrios are criminals and dangerous. They are not. The majority are decent people who work hard for what little they have or, at least, they would work hard if they could find a decent job. But much like the inner-cities in America, these barrios are breeding grounds for gangs and other types of violent people. In the last ten years, the number of murders in this country over thirty million people has escalated geometrically. last year there were over 17,000 murders according to official government reports, which means there were many more murders. You do the math. That is a very high murder rate.

The poor who live in el campo, have limited contact with city life and with the central government. They have more contact with their local government. Mayors (Alcaldes) in Venezuela, have authority over areas much greater than their town or city. The area of their authority is more like an American county. Besides their authority over the people in el campo, the central governments places certain obligations on the mayors to provide minimum services to the people living in the sticks. The Mayors must provide, for example, potable water to them. Typically there are a couple of 55 gallon drums at the edge of the roads that pass by their homes and a water trucks comes by a couple of times a week to fill them with water. They are also provided schools in the area and bus service for the children,

Some of the poor who live in el campo do live in tiny villages. Many, however, literally live in the sticks. These people, at some point in time, occupied an area in the forests and if the Guardia Nacional didn’t come along a throw them off the land, they became defacto owners of the land. They don’t have titles to the land, of course, and can’t sell the land.  They can, however,  sell what they have constructed on the land and the new residents will be allowed to live there as if they owned the land as well.

If you were to visit one of these families, as my wife and I have done on several occasions, your immediate reaction would be one of pity for what you see as the miserable life style they have to live. But, if you observed them for more time, you would realize that they do not see themselves as being miserable. They certainly are aware that they are poor, but miserable, no. You would notice that their children running around half-naked appear very healthy and they are. What ever their diet is, it is healthy. You would come to realize that they can acquire their food needs without a lot of effort. They grow much of what they need but they don’t work very hard at it. In this tropical or semi-tropical climate things grow without a lot of attention. They have some chickens and they might have a few pigs. They earn the little bit of money they need in various ways. One old lady my wife I visited a few times, earned money by sending her children into the mountains to recover orchids in a condition that the orchid could survive and  they sold the orchids to passers-by on the road in front of where they live. These people are accustomed walking long distances. They have many family and friends that live just same. They get together, they talk, they smile and they laugh, they play their music and they sing and dance, and they drink cheap local rum or they make their own home-brew. They are content with their lives. They envy no body. They don’t know much about what they are missing. So, they don’t miss it. If you were to drive up and park in front of their homes and walk up to their houses, they would be delighted to see you and invite you to sit down and visit. They would probably would try to sell you something, but they won’t be up set if you don’t buy. If sociologist or anthropologists were to study them, they would probably say that they enjoy life more than most Americans. They know little of stress. When the financial crisis of 3008 occurred, Venezuela was affected. too. An oil exporting country, when oil prices fell and stayed low for several months, the impact was evident. The poor in the barrios were aware of it. The poor in el campo had no idea there was such a crisis. Their lives didn’t change one iota.

Those who have follow this blog for a while know that I belive very dark times are coming to America. If the worst occurs, there is a message and a lesson for you in what I have written today. That is what all the survival blogs are all about, right? So, maybe owning some land and knowing how to live off of it if necessary, might be a worthwhile insurance policy for some Americans. One can always hope they never have to collect on an insurance policy, right?

Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

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11 thoughts on “If You Don’t Know What You’re Missing, You Don’t Miss It

  1. You describe it well Jim, I have seen it as well. Not in Venezuela, but in other surrounding countries.

    Most of us here in the US no longer know how to life like that.

    For those interested, The Foxfire Books describe life in the Appalachians and contain advice on living off of the land and survival skills

  2. I enjoyed your story. It is so very true. Your insights are subtle and they make you think.
    I am familiar with the scene having lived and travel to many Latin American countries. I know their people well and what you describe is familiar and accurate.
    I like the people of Latin America.

  3. Those were some riveting observations, Jim. Indeed, you don’t know what you are missing if you are not aware.

    My Dad used to tell an old joke about the country boy from Mississippi arriving at the bus depot in Memphis, where he went into the depot’s diner to get a cup of coffee and something to eat.

    When the waitress asked him what he wanted, he replied, “I want a cup of coffee and a piece of pie”. The waitress followed up with, ” What kind of pie do you want?” The country boy looked puzzled, and then observed, ” I didn’t know there was any other kind of pie than sweet potato pie”. My Dad was from Mississippi and could tell the joke that way without fear of reprisal.

    In the American south many people lived in abject poverty well into the mid-20th century without running water, modern sanitary facilities, electric power, and decent educational opportunity. They lived as their grandparents, and didn’t understand what they were missing as the the south still suffered under reconstruction. The nation inflicted these things on an entire region of the country, and the people who happened to be born there. I guess that was the price of slavery.

    Robert Kennedy once said that the key to ending poverty was education, and I agreed. The problem is that many people in poverty seem satisfied with their situation, and Kennedy’s solution does not work. How can you educate people who don’t want to know how bad they have it?

    1. Well Bob, they understand their world. They know howw to survive in their world. They know that some of their family and friends went to other world and didn’t survive. Instead they became part of those murder stastistics I mention. Someone once said that the secret to life is learning how to be happy with what you have.

  4. To contrast these people with the US. If the USDA found a bunch of forest dweller selling their wares and living on the land in a healthful way, they’d SWAT their behinds, confiscate their kids for “unsafe living conditions”, and take the people off their land. This is one way Venezuela is more free than the US. I heard on the Christian radio station that in Appalachia, they’ll bust families up for not having enough bedrooms in their house for boys and girls over 12. At least in Venezuela, they’ll let you live in poverty the way you want to in peace.

    1. Interesting that you say that, rM. I could write a long article on some of the ways that we have more freedoms here in Venezuela than in the US. Not all of that is good. For example, you cab run red lights here and inless you cause an accident, no one will care, least of all the police.

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