May 01, 2013

struggling for survival

today is May Day, a public holiday in 80 countries around the world.  i never knew about it growing up in America.  now that i have lived in South Africa and Ghana, i have become well acquainted with the conditions and complaints of workers who receive so little pay and have very few rights for the hard work they perform.

after reading about today's global protests, i reflected on how people here in Ghana are struggling to survive.  i don't hear anyone protesting, and i see a lot of workers still working hard even though it's supposed to be a public holiday.  i know that great economic disparities still exist and are being exacerbated every time there is an increase in the price of fuel, but people acquiesce and make adjustments in small and big ways.

the day following the latest hike in fuel prices resulted in an increase in every commodity that people purchase.  everything that is transported was affected -- from tomatoes to biscuits and toilet paper.   the common person in Ghana cannot afford most of what is being sold in the supermarkets so they depend on a reasonable rate at the local markets and roadside food stands which provide most of the meals eaten by those who are working outside of their home.  when they go to buy a meal now they receive a smaller portion for the price they were paying before.  some merchants who are trying to sell goods are selling less or are going out of business.  others raise their prices too much or are less flexible to bargain.  many workers choose to walk long distances to save money on transport; they are very aware of how little they make and how much it costs to travel to work or transport goods back to their shop.  overall, the working poor eat less, save nothing, borrow more and experience suffering in ways that are very difficult..

these are some examples of 'untold stories' amongst people i know who work hard each and every day:
  • sleeping outside (and being eaten by mosquitoes) when the electricity goes out because it's so hot inside without a fan to generate a cool breeze
  • living without electricity in a flat-board make-shift home where the ants crawl under the mosquito net and disturb sleeping (especially the babies)
  • husband working 6 days a week while the wife earns money cleaning, selling or styling hair -- they don't earn enough to pay for their youth's high school fees so they feel forced to borrow money which they will never be able to pay back
  • no extra money for a band-aid to cover an open wound, or a pencil when it breaks, or transport to attend a funeral
  • kids without shoes.. kids wearing flip flops that are worn out.. kids wearing flip flops that are too small.. kids wearing clothes that are too big or too small.. kids wearing the same clothes over and over again.. kids not knowing what shampoo is because they have only ever washed their head with a bar of soap.. kids not attending school because their parents can't afford the basic school fees, or notebooks, or uniform.. kids not being able to study after 6pm because it's dark and there is no electricity to light their home.. kids forced to sell goods on their heads instead of going to school.. kids being caned at school.. and beaten by their parents.. kids longing for unconditional love and attention.. kids smiling even though their daily life is full of extreme hardship
  • guards working 72 hours a week, earning about $50/month, while receiving no benefits and abusive supervisors -- most are underweight and experience hunger because the people and businesses they serve do not care enough to share anything they have with them (like a meal)
the 'midnight sighing of the poor', which Baha'u'llah admonishes us to hear, is a daily rhythm for my heart as i see and hear about so much hardship from the injustices of how society is built.  this guidance from Abdu'l-Baha is the key toward resolving all of these struggles:
"In the world of nature the dominant note is the struggle for existence -- the result of  which is the survival of the fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred and animosity, between human beings. In the world of nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance,
usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes which are defects of the animal world. Therefore, so long as the requirements of the natural world play
paramount part among the children of men, success and prosperity are impossible. Nature is warlike, nature is bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are natural to the animal world.
Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education
humanity may be released from the corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the dawning-place of merciful emotions...
A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice, unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.  This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles of divine civilization are completely abandoned, and the teachings of the prophets are forgotten."

    (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, p. 156)

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