Poverty without Options

Poverty has been defined by some as a lack of options or alternatives. That is to say, a poor person must decide between less than optimal choices. “Should I send my children to school and lose valuable help on the farm, or keep them here so they can chase away the birds from the newly planted seeds?” These are the kind of decisions faced by most of the rural poor in Kenya. However, for many others, their poverty is worse than that. For them, there are no options.

There are no choices. There is no gambling with the odds. There is no bargaining. There is nothing to use to barter. There are no choices, no options, and no alternatives. There is just patient pessimism.

Patient pessimism means woeful waiting. Woefully waiting for the inevitable. Waiting for the drought to claim what is left of the emaciated cattle and scrawny chickens. As the dead carcasses dry out in the sun, birds devour the portions of the carcass that you are too weak to carve and carry away.

A man thinks to himself, “We will have to take a chance and eat this meat, even though it smells bad after three days and is covered with flies”. One mother thinks; “My two year old baby girl was thirsty, so she drank water from the muddy puddle at the back of the hut where the dogs were playing. I have no options. I will patiently wait for the diarrhea to stop… or steel my heart to her dehydration and death. I will just wait in woe”.

Woefully waiting and watching the hot, dusty wind dry out the few withering, stunted corn stalks. Waiting for death to take another child. At least death will silence the cry. Patient pessimism is the face of poverty. That is what describes the poverty of Kenya and much of Africa. It is not a matter of whether a mother should feed her child grain or oats.

The beans are gone. The cabbage is gone. There is only dust and dry grass. The real question is can she feed her children at all and if so, which one? Should she bother to hope? Hope has proven futile. Hope has cheated her of the reality of life. Hope is not an option. It is too painful to hope. Pessimism does not disappoint as hope does.

Should she choose politics? She has heard that the politicians are coming with food. Food would be available for anyone who is willing to vote for the big man of the area. But what is voting? Is voting an option for her?

Should she choose faith? Faith has failed her. She has prayed and prayed. She knows of the gods of her ancestors. She knows of the faith of the elders. She has even heard about a person some people call the Savior of the world. But, should she choose faith? Is it an option?

Maybe she should stick to what she knows best. That is, patient pessimism. She can depend on this. It has never failed her. It is predictable. It is reliable. She can wait. The thing she no longer fears is coming. She expects death. Woeful waiting is how she meets it. Besides, she has no other options, unless someone like you decides to help. By the way, what are you waiting for? What options are you willing to offer? Are you patiently pessimistic? Can you share what God has given you to relieve this woeful waiting?