Being Poor is Expensive Felix Wong

One of the first things that caught my eye at Maya Pedal was this poem prominently posted on the second floor at the back of the showroom. Below was the caption, “Qué caro es ser pobre,” or “How expensive it is to be poor.” So true—and unfortunately, the vast majority of Guatemalans would know.

All impoverished societies I’ve visited seem to have terrible air, water, and land (e.g., litter and trash) pollution, due to having to use smoke-belching cars and buses from decades past in pitiful states of disrepair, and not having the resources to implement trash cleanup and recycling measures. This in turn leads to worse health, which is expensive not just in terms of medical treatment, but quality of life.

But the greatest cost of poverty is time. Being poor means having to spend more hours in the day just to meet basic needs (like food) and being unable to outsource tasks you are inefficient at or having to make goods that are readily mass-produced because you don’t have enough currency for them. Or having to resort to manual labor for tasks machines could do, like washing clothes or pumping water. Or having to fix those said machines all the time, because he could not afford something newer and more reliable.

Of course, many high-income folks have some of the above issues too (particularly lack of time for leisure or friends and family), but that is usually the result of overconsumption of luxury objects and services and/or having skewed priorities.

Below is the origin poem in Spanish. Scroll down for the English translation.

Pobrezas
por Eduardo Galeano

Pobres,
Lo que se dice pobres,
son los que no tienen tiempo para perder el tiempo.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que no tiene silencio ni pueden comprarlo.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que tienen piernas que se han olvidado de caminar,
como las alas de las gallinas se han olvidado de volar.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que comen basura y pagan por ella como si fuese comida.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que tiene el derecho de respirar mierda,
como si fuera aire, sin pagar nada por ella.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres
son los que no tiene más libertad de elegir entre uno y otro canal de televisión.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que viven dramas pasionales con las máquinas.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que son siempre muchos y están siempre solos.

Pobres,
lo que se dice pobres,
son los que no saben que son pobres.

English Translation

Poor Folks
By Eduardo Galeano

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who have no time to lose.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who do not have silence or can be able to buy it.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who have legs that have forgotten how to walk
like chicken wings that have forgotten how to fly.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who eat garbage and pay for it as if it was food.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who have the right to breathe crap,
as if it were air, without paying anything for it.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who do not have liberty to choose between one TV channel and another.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who live with dramas with machines.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who are always many and always alone.

Poor folks,
what is really poor,
are those who do no know they are poor.

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