Working Poor or Modern day Slave?
I was recently reminded that as we go through life, we forget about others who are barely getting by in terms of food, lodging, money, water and other necessities of life. I have lived in the united states for 8 years now, always been in the middle class.
During my recent travels back home to Africa – Nigeria specifically, I have been forced to come face to face with people who struggle just to survive. Today, I had an interesting conversation with a team member in Lagos as we were driving to various appointments. Sylvester is Nigerian, hardworking and dynamic. He made a point to me which caught my attention and had me thinking for the rest of the day. He said, in the western world, most people work hard in order to enjoy the luxuries of life like bigger homes, nicer cars, more money in the bank, vacations, etc; but in most third world countries, people work very hard just to survive; they work hard, yet are barely able to afford basic the necessities of life like water, electricity and food. In most poor communities, basic food items like salt and cooking oil are hard enough to come by, while rice, milk, chicken, fish are reserved for Christmas, Sundays and other big days.
This got me thinking. These are conditions most of us grew up in, hardships we faced, but which have molded us into who we are today. As we drove through the streets of Lagos, I looked into the faces of the people we drove past – the petty traders pitching their products to car occupants stuck in traffic. Products like magazines, newspapers, sodas, plantain chips, handkerchiefs, gum, boiled groundnuts, bootlegged DVDs and CDs, etc. It dawned on me that this is all they do in order to put food on their tables. Instead of brushing them away as they fought to catch our attention as we drove by, I suddenly developed a great deal of respect for these resilient folks.
I also had an encounter with The African Maid – the one who helps look after the household. She takes care of the children, preparing them for school, prepares and serves breakfast, makes sure there is lunch and dinner for everyone, cleans the house, sometimes picks the children up from school. She is there for her Madame, her job is to perform any chores or errands that are desired. She is generally respectful and seldom utters any words unless when spoken to. For compensation, she might get a room at the boys’ quarters or back house and a 20,000Niara salary at the end of the month ($140/month). In some instances, instead of earning a salary, she is compensated by being enrolled into a trade school where she learns some kind of skill, like sewing.
The African Maid, is only one example of countless who are overworked and underpaid. The chauffeur, gate-man, groundskeeper, etc are other examples. This is the story of millions of Africans, working tirelessly for little or nothing.
Some will argue that The African Maid is better off working for this family where she is fed, clothed and housed. Otherwise, she would be languishing in the village, dreams of a better life considerably lowered.
Then I remembered a speaker at my church in Atlanta who one Sunday talked about The Working Poor of the American Society. The ones who might be sitting next you on the bus, in the train, in church … but who have no place to call home. Those who work low paying jobs – like the young single mother flipping burgers at a fast food store, the clerk at the local cafeteria with a family he can barely feed who survive on food stamps; the waiter whose family turns to the Salvation Army for winter clothes and jackets when the seasons turn cold. These working poor are those who live below the poverty line with average annual earnings of about 13.000dollars a year (about $1,100/month). We all know them, we just can't comprehend their struggles most of the time.
So I ask myself … and now you: is the African Maid a Working Poor … or a modern day slave?