I often find myself in awe of the tremendous number of ingrates who inhabit our nation’s universities, and even more troubled when I can count myself among their ranks. There are large, looming auras of anger palpable on campuses nationwide, where it seems collegiate existence is predicated on activism against shadowy, Orwellian enemies like “unconscious bias” or “hate speech.” Readers of this column, particularly those who find my musings preachy and paternalistic, would certainly implicate me in the same agitation, if only mirrored in focus. A panacea to defaulting to malcontention, at least as I’ve found, is to think about the developing world more often, even as a dishearteningly fruitful spiritual exercise.

One Friday, when I was a freshman in high school, our football team had just lost to a rival school a couple of nights before. It was an ugly performance, and after a week’s worth of watching films and reviewing game plans, the lethargic effort in the game was enough to set the coaches off. That Friday afternoon, we ran “Big Cats,” which were wind sprints up a steep hill on school grounds that lead to the practice field, which segued immediately into a hundred-yard dash across said field, capped by a final sprint up a steep hill at the field’s end. The sticky heat seemed to penetrate the skin, and the insufficient allotment of a “rest” period in between “Big Cats” exacerbated the misery of the exercise. What stuck with me more than anything from experiences like that in my athletic career was the tremendous physical thirst I felt after pushing myself far beyond where my body felt it could go, under the visage of an angry coach. After such conditioning, the piercing sensation of my lips meeting a cup from a jug of half melted ice and hose water was enough to make me never take for granted something as simple as my access to water.

Each day, thousands of children live in a heat that no one in the northern hemisphere could ever conceive of. The dry, arid warmth surrounds them at every turn; as they try to sleep at night, there is no fan or A/C unit by which the stifling heat might be mitigated. Each morning’s pasty warmth seems a mere extension of the previous day’s, as a thirst that transcends all understanding ties the tiny stomachs of these children in knots of agony. Their respite from this natural cruelty is a cup brought to the local water trough, as it were, where animals and diseased people alike bathe, and the pale brownness of the water suggests a partial cross-contamination with the town’s septic system. The sensual apogee of cool, crisp water parching the dried lips of fragile children is hardly actualized; the muddied water’s disgusting warmth and thick viscosity provides only the most elemental satiation to the pangs of their young chests. These same stomachs that retch with thirst simultaneously ache with diarrheal pain, and their throats throb from the bacterial infections caused by the filthy water they drink. They then go back to sleep, and, God willing, will wake up the next day to do it all over again.

Do we really have a grasp of what it means to starve? Can we fathom the slow, painful blight of emaciation, or the hopelessness of a life void of comfort?

How amazing it is, then, that we have running water. That at a moment’s thirst, we can open the faucet to quench ourselves. We live in a country where we are surrounded by food, where a six-pack of instant oatmeal runs you $3, and a loaf of bread costs a mere $1.25.

When I hear some middle-class kid with a smartphone, meal plan and a two-parent family at a university in the Midwest lecturing his classmates about their privilege, or the pious sermonizing of campus demigod Peggy McIntosh, I often turn my thoughts back to the fantastic irony of these exercises as children shrivel, wither and die in the developing world. Just how committed are we to eradicating injustice? Are we willing to drop out of school right now, divest our bank account and donate all of it to the developing world, where $5 can provide enough rice for a child for a month? We don’t really need our Starbucks coffee, right? And we don’t need our smartphones — a flip phone will serve the purpose just as well. What type of choice do we make when we buy that new pair of shoes when the fiduciary means we use could save five families from emaciation? If all of us are honest, we’re not going to do any of these things. There are economic arguments aplenty about the lack of a zero-sum world and the like, but fundamentally, many of us realize that we’re going to keep buying from Whole Foods and paying for Spotify while still reaping the benefits of feeling virtuous by criticizing the “privilege” of others. The bellowing cries of the developing world ought to remind us that we are all privileged beyond our wildest dreams, and remember our apathy to the developing world’s ruinous plight if we choose to criticize the good fortune of others.

One Response

  1. Hugh Mungus

    Hey Johnny Boi! Great article! You’ve opened my eyes to plight of developing nations! I went on a Carnival Cruise to South Africa 2 years ago, and actually saw quite a few nice cities and even the villages that had their stuff together, but I guess that was all a fabrication. That must’ve been a stage show that they put on, because apparently they ALL live in mud huts and drink feces from the lake like you so aptly described!

    I had no idea that you drinking clean running water out of hose gives you the authority to equate your plight to the struggling children of Africa. I thought their days consisted of more than having dysentery and going to bed, I also assumed that they ran from cheetahs and voodoo witches! I really feel this article man, just like I felt the diarrhea after eating TexMex at Barone (I can really empathize with the African children after that one!)

    I also had no idea of your extensive medical background! I took anatomy in high school, and I was always taught that the stomach is in the abdomen not the chest, I guess my teacher and the entire medical community is wrong!

    I’m so glad that we live in America, where everyone has that apogee of cool, crisp water that these can cool their throbbing throats with whenever they wish. I’m just proud that Donald Trump is doing such a great job at giving everyone the means to live a happy life in America, free of diarrheal screams (unless you eat TexMex at Barone of course!) I guess all that hub-bub coming out of Flint and other impoverished cities is all just some FAKE NEWS cooked up by the liberals over at CNN, the Communist News Network!

    And by the way, I wanted to really highlight this excerpt you wrote. “When I hear some middle-class kid with a smartphone, meal plan and a two-parent family at a university in the Midwest…” I really side with there Hirschy Kiss, that totally doesn’t describe you, you don’t go to the school in the Midwest (because that was the important part of the sentence) I’m glad that you decided to write this article with quill and ink and hand submit it to the Mirror! Unless you typed it on a computer, or smartphone, that would make you a total hypocrite!

    By the way, I wasn’t able to enter into the housing lottery, because of your advise about giving my technology and all my money away to the third world, so can I sleep on your couch next year at the HirschHouse? I gave my laptop to a little boy in Tanzania, who sold it for slightly less brown water and a surgery to move his stomach from his abdomen to his chest (also like you suggested)

    As always, great insight with this article. I gained a HUGH MUNGUS (get it? you can look forward to these kind of puns on your couch next year) amount of knowledge about my privilege.

    Reply

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