I believe that I am rich. Actually, I know I am. Magda told me so. Even though I live off $180 a month, my house is made out of adobe, my living room floods every time it rains, and I don’t have indoor plumbing—I am rich. I laughed when Magda told me this. It was almost like an accusation.
I had just hiked up the mountain from Tutule to Granadillo huffing and puffing, wishing I had a Jeep. But no, that wouldn’t work. Part of being a successful Peace Corps Volunteer is living at the level of the people you work with. Nobody in any of the small communities outside Tutule had a motorized vehicle, so I didn’t either. I thought that people respected me for this. And I guess they did—to an extent. But that didn’t stop my friend Magda from singling me out. We were sitting on a log outside her two-room house made of mud and sticks that she shared with eight other people. “You are rich,” she said. I laughed. “What are you talking about?”
“You have beautiful shoes,” Magda stated matter of factly. I looked down at my bright red Nike sneakers. I had gotten them off the clearance rack at an outlet store back in Georgia. My mother had called them gaudy. Magda, who owned only flip-flops—and not very good ones at that—called them beautiful. I looked at her feet. Magda and I were roughly the same age—mid twenties. Like those of most of the rural Hondurans I worked with, Magda’s feet looked, um… “rugged.” She had probably never worn a pair shoes in her life. I knew for a fact that Magda’s family didn’t own a pair of nail clippers because Sarah Ruth, my Peace Corps site-mate, used to take nail clippers with her every time that we visited. She would just “go to town,” as my mamaw would say—kids lined up and nails flying everywhere. But Sarah Ruth was gone, and it was just me, and I was under fire.
“You wear glasses for the sun,” Magda continued. Again, guilty as charged. “I have sensitive eyes…” I started, but Magda just looked at me, almost daring me to say that her eyes weren’t sensitive too. So I mumbled something about blue eyes being weaker than brown ones, although I had no I idea if it was true. Probably not. And at that moment, I realized that Magda was right—that I was, or rather, I AM, rich.
I am rich because I grew-up with a myriad of opportunities that Magda could never imagine—a good public school education, two employed parents, hospitals, paved roads, libraries—and those are just the basics. I was raised to think for myself, to believe that I have the ability to create my own destiny, and in an environment conducive to helping me reach my potential. Compared to two-thirds of the world, I am rich with my sneakers and sunglasses. And compared to the other third, I am rich because I have had the opportunity to realize my wealth. This, I believe.
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