Power in Poverty


“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” ~Mother Teresa

Floating Village on the Mekong River

Floating Village on the Mekong River

The blog I authored yesterday about the real nature of possessions got me thinking last night, during a very late night of sorting my own possessions in the midst of our three different moves, of a fling I took to the Far East back in 2007.  It involved a trip into Cambodia, one of my most memorable trips, and although the main thrust of that foray was to see and experience Angkor Wat, I also took a river trip along the Mekong to a “Floating Village,” made up of primarily Vietnamese (see above).

The fascinating issue here centers not primarily on possession, but more on the nature of poverty.  And not poverty with a Western flare (so to speak), but poverty seen through a completely different cultural filter, one that may be hard for many if not most Westerners to understand, let alone appreciate.

There is no question that most people in this rural part of Cambodia along the border with Vietnam live in what we would consider severe poverty.  That alone is hard for any of us reading this – with a computer, an internet connection, besides the discretionary time to spend reading….  Oh, and just consider that fact that if you are reading this, you CAN read (and think a teacher, mind you). 

People are the Ultimate Power

People are the Ultimate Power

The question is, if you lived in such conditions, what would you do with a very limited amount of power.  Not like power over the weather or our destiny.  But simply electrical power.

As you can see from my photos of the trip, the nature of this lifestyle is quite unique.  The homes are all located in a flood plain of a major Asian river, and most are not placed on pilings, but rather they float.  Most people live a typical 3rd world rural existence, working primarily agriculture.  And like most other similar areas, without the idea of birth control (not even considering access), there are large families, and kids are both independent and put to work very quickly.

Homestead Dichotomy

The Dichotomy of Homesteads in Rural Cambodia

There are also floating shops, stores and services for all the typical needs of life.  But not too many wants….

So, back to the central question about power.  There is a sense of wordplay here between power and electricity.  What we all take as background, as something that is simply “there” when we need it, in quantities and qualities required, is also there when  we want it.  And needing and wanting are two quite different things.  In a very basic analysis of the modern first world, electricity does indeed equal power. 

The Most Reliable Form of Washing Machine

The Most Reliable Form of Washing Machine

Look at it this way.  The first world has moved from agriculture, through manufacturing, trailing off in technology, but fully enveloped in information.  Decades ago without access to the snail-mail service, and then landline-based phone service, people were at a severe disadvantage.  Today that still holds partially true; however, real and substantial disadvantage now portends from lack of internet access.  Which requires computers.  Which require electricity.  Steady, constant, quality power.

So, in this floating village, as you might guess, there is extremely limited electricity.  There are no power lines, very few generators (which are mainly reserved for tourist shops and restaurants), where most fuel goes to a few boat engines…. 

But there are batteries.

Like large car or marine batteries.

Which are used daily, picked up by boat service and recharged at a charging station, and redelivered prior to dark.

Battery Recharging Shop

Battery Recharging Shop

And these most people have, and consider prize possessions.  So, back to the central question:  what we YOU use such a limited amount of power for?

So, maybe this battery power would be used for lighting.  Lighting allows an expansion of productivity, which may be important to people who probably measure their potential incomes and livelihood by the arc of the sun in through the skies. 

Nope – there’s candles and oil for lights at night.

How’bout refrigeration?  Being able to store and preserve food over time certainly would lend a dramatic improvement in quality of anyone’s life.

Floating Dry-Goods Grocery Store Delivery

Floating Dry-Goods Grocery Store Delivery

Nope – there’s a daily delivery of dry goods and foodstuffs from a floating grocery store, as well as fresh dairy (and adult beverages) available from a floating drink vendor.

Floating Drink Sales

Floating Drink Sales

Maybe you would use if for a small combination washer/dryer, commonplace throughout Asian where space and economy are so very important.  Oh, and the top brands of these appliances are made by the Asian car manufactures!

Nope.  There’s laundry service as well.  And of course the river is used for manual washing, and solar wind energy provides all the drying most all day long.

Floating Laundry Service

Floating Laundry Service

No, all these ideas are sound and completely plausible.  And there are all taken for granted in our lives and lifestyle.

No, what really matters to the people of this floating village is…

…what for it…

Television.

Look at the photos closely.  The photos provide all the clue necessary to deduce the use of power in this village….  Look at all the arerials, tall antenni needed to drawn in a signal transmitted by the city of Siem Reap many, many miles away!

TV Antenna and Traditional Wedding Dress

TV Antenna and Traditional Wedding Dress

It seems almost inexplicably that these people would turn to TV above all the other necessities of life.  Television is a want, not a need.  And there could be wholly rational, sound, logical arguments for using such a limited power supply for most anything else.

Floating Junk & Color TV

Floating Junk & Color TV

But in their world, perhaps, power is not as important as escape.  If you think about it, television for many is a way of dreaming made concrete.  A way to breakout of the drudgery of daily life and live an existence that is simply beyond reach and physical attainment.  It is, without doubt, every bit as important to these peoples as the substance sustainance of life itself.

There is indeed power in poverty, even in the most rural and remote corners of the earth.  Next time your thrown a light-switch, turn a computer on, or run any appliance in your house, think about how rich and gorged our lives our with such abundant power.  Give thanks, be thankful, and acknowledge the richness of life where, for us, the grass is certainly greener.

Floating Dreamers

Floating Dreamers

And please, never stop dreaming….

3 thoughts on “Power in Poverty

  1. Pingback: Tomb-Raiding Angkor | Far East Fling

Whatta'ya Think?!?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s