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Monday, May 28, 2007

Poverty: Whose Mistakes?

Some months ago a workmate of mine told me about her being upset to her in-laws that, in her opinion, are lazy to work, to struggle to alleviate their own poverty.

Background: This female workmate of mine married a nine-year younger guy three years ago despite their contradictory family background. My friend comes from a middle-class society, has a bachelor’s degree and has quite a good job and enough income. Her husband is from a low-class society, only graduated from senior high school, and (un)luckily doesn’t have a job that can be considered as “prestigious” in Indonesia—only as a mechanic, in a small garage. I did not mean to underestimate that kind of job, though; I just use public opinion.

(Indonesian people childishly love categorizing professions, don’t they? For example: they underestimate housemaid, janitor, etc.)

This contradictory background between my workmate and her husband once made me suspect that she married him only to change the most annoying tag “old maid” to be “married woman” because she no longer could handle when nosy people besieged her with questions, “When will you get married?”

Answering her question about her in-laws, I told her that it was unfair of her to say that they were just lazy to work so that they kept being poor. I asked her to find whether they had any connections or facilities or access so that they could work hard.

Her in-laws live in a small town. They don’t have any rice fields to cultivate. To make their ends meet, her parents-in-law work as sellers in one traditional market. Their educational background? They only graduated from elementary school. I conclude that their horizon is also limited so that they don’t have any idea how to expand their business. Besides, of course they don’t have enough capital to do that. The only financial help they got was only from the first son who worked as a mechanic. After this first son married my workmate, of course he would spend more money to his own family. It means that he could not give much financial help to his parents.

In that situation, I asked my workmate whether it was fair for her to say that her in-laws were just lazy.
“At 10 or 11am they already go home from the traditional market. It shows that they are lazy. Why don’t they stay longer? And in the afternoon they don’t do anything. Why don’t they produce something and sell it?” My friend commented.

Living in a big city of course will give people more various things to do to earn money. Let’s say by selling some gorengan (kind of snack in Indonesia, or especially in Java island). However, living in a small town probably will not really help. People—with low income—will not spend their money just to buy gorengan. Maybe they would prefer make it by themselves and eat it together with their family.

I do agree that sometimes laziness can be the cause of someone to be poor. However, there are many other aspects too to be analyzed why poverty exists, such as not having connection, access, until patriarchal culture.

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