Grit and seediness at arm's length?


Nov 3, 2009
I have refrained from making comment in this thread because I can see so well both points of view. But I figured I might put in two cents' worth of comments after seeing some harsh words some are receiving related to this.

How can you justify "taking risks" to go look at people living in poverty? And why should you? Does it demean the poor as if they were zoo exhibits? Are they embarrassed to have "rich" people drive by them or does it piss them off? Is it merely a perverse thrill ride for the one looking on, and therefore valueless with everything weighed, or is there an innate feeling of sadness and a desire to understand a side of life with which many do not normally have interactions and maybe even backed up by a desire to help in some way?

The more I look at that, the more I see a couple of different issues, not just one, which all have their different moral aspects and maybe cloud the overall issue a bit.

I have traveled over many parts of the globe over the last twenty years, mostly on business for a company that drilled oil wells for oil companies that had leases in foreign (to me) countries. I've seen some pretty gritty, shit-poor places in that time. I've been to places in Africa where they put a Kevlar blanket at the foot of the bed where you stay and tell you to hit the floor and pull it over you if you hear shelling in the night. Places that are so poor and war torn that when you ride around town, you are in a Range Rover so you can get around/over the craters and debris all over some parts of town, with two guards inside with you at all times, armed with Uzis, for personal protection.

I have seen poverty in Argentina and Paraguay with some of the same living conditions but without the background of war and constant danger.

You can look at all the videos you want, but at least for me, it was never the same. You can see something on the tube and you never quite get the impact of what you're seeing. People are too used to seeing fiction and far-removed events on TV.

When you are in the reality, it's a lot different. You smell it. You feel it. You can literally reach out and touch it - and it can touch you. You can't do that in comfort at home watching a video feed from the web or a documentary on cable.

But why do that anyway? For me, the answer would be to make more people sensitive (in a real way, not from a distance) to what real poverty is and see people in these conditions as fellow human beings, to reach out and talk to them and understand them face-to-face. When that happens, most decent people who are not just concerned for themselves think differently about the world around them and actually might want to do something to make a difference.

I do think it's a little tacky to just go "take a tour" (worse if you're just doing it to get a thrill). But you know what? Someone who is showing some actual interest beyond personal gratification of the bizarre kind is a potential person who may end up making a difference in one or more persons' lives. I personally can't say it's such a bad thing.

Yes, it can be a little embarassing to poor people, I think, to have people just driving by and checking them out. It probably pisses some (many? most?) off to see some smug face behind glass in a vehicle they can only dream about driving, much less owning passing by.

My wife's family is very poor. They are some of the finest people I've ever known in my life. Some of their beliefs and the way of thinking about life reminds me of what my grandmother used to tell me about growing up poor in Arkansas with twelve brothers and sisters, mostly before World War II, and to a lesser extent stories from my mother growing up poor in Maryland after World War II.

My wife's family lives in Paraguay, close to Concepcion, about 450 klicks from Asuncion. Untill recently the only water they had came from a hand-dug well that provided water about 2/3 of the year, pulled up by hand. When there was no water, they had to walk about a klick to the nearest stream to get water for drinking, bathing, cooking, etc.

The first time I went to visit my future in-laws, my wife's folks were terribly embarrassed. I didn't know that at the time. I didn't find out until later (when they had realized that I wasn't some mythical being from another world, but a regular guy who loved their daughter and didn't think any worse of them for being poor) that they had pulled out all the stops and served meat at every meal the five days I was there, which was very unusal for them, and very difficult.

Their normal meals consisted of porotos (beans), maní (peanuts) and mandioca (a tuber from the mandioca tree roots, similar to a potato for those who don't know). Cow and goat milk for the kids, some cheese made from the goat milk sometimes. Not much of that. An occasional egg.

They had meat three or four times a month, normally. I had no idea. But they didn't want the "rich American" to know that they couldn't afford meat and the animals that were running around the property were for milk and eggs only usually.

So yeah, there can be some embarassment involved, at least on a personal level. I would imagine anger can play a part too, depending on where you are.

I think fedecc had great idea for someone who has curiosity and a possible desire to help as a better way to see these things and get involved in something at the same time, without being tacky and causing undue embarrassment. Do some volunteer work. Pick something that seems interesting and gets you involved at a personal level. You will probably find yourself branching out after awhile and doing other things and making a real difference.

As far as the "danger" involved in either going to see a poor part of town or even be involved in volunteer work - I think the danger can be overrated, at least to an extent.

It pays to be careful, and true if one never ventures in an unsafe place to begin with, one lessens the chances of having issues in such an unsafe place. However, sometimes identifying an "unsafe" place isn't all that easy, all the time.

Is one more likely to be robbed in a poor neighborhood than a rich neighborhood? Well, that probably depends on what time of day, the exact location, and other circumstances. A dark, isolated place in a rich neighborhood at night can be dangerous, it's just that an equally dark, isolated spot in a poor neighborhood at night might have a greater chance for a problem to occur.

I think we've all seen and heard of many of the worst things that can happen, can happen in a "decent" neighborhood, often in broad daylight. Are you any more likely to be robbed walking down an open street in a poor neighborhood in the middle of the day than you are in more affluent neighborhood? I'm not so sure that the answer is an automatic "yes" because that immediately presupposes that poor people are not as moral as rich people and don't see robbery as a crime. Would-be robbers would fear anyone who would report them or even cause them a problem, I think. I don't know the answer to this really.

When driving through a poor neighborhood, even in a new car, are you any more likely to be stripped of your car than when in an affluent neighborhood stopped at a light? Your car might be in a bigger problem if it breaks down or gets stuck and you have to abandon it - but that's not a life or death choice and if you can get car jacked at an intersection in a non-poor part of town, as happens everyday, that's much more of a life and death situation that can happen anywhere.

The fact is, many rich Argentines have a true phobia of being robbed by poor Argentines. There is good reason for it because it happens, but notice it happens in affluent neighborhoods as well as poor neighborhoods because most thieves probably prefer to steal stuff that's worth something and poor people don't have a lot to steal (although often when poor people get something of value, they find it stolen as well).

I think taking a little risk at times can be good for one's life. You don't have to take crazy risks, but to get out and see things that can boggle your mind and make a difference in how you think about life, maybe it's worth it.


Nov 5, 2009
Nice post above. And to the person who's mother said 'don't go looking for trouble and then complain when you find it' I agree 100 %. This is what my mother todl me too! But I said it was a great experience and I would recommend it to the original poster.]

As for the 'lord of Buenos Aires' Syngirl who controls which barrios people can visit, and calls me stupid for visiting barrios outside of Palermro - Go to hell.

Where do you draw the line ? I am friends with an old Argentino couple, who are very poor, but they invite me to their house for what passes for dinner to them every few weeks. To get there I have to take the train to tigre (A lot of people told me this is dangerous alone) Then walk 20 minutes through a very bad looking area.

Is this permiited Syngirl? Please, tell me. Guide me. Should I stay locked at home in Palmera because you think it's 'STUPID" to venture out of the city?

Really I would like to know your opinion on where I can and can't go, give me a list of barrios and I will follow it to the law, oh barrio police.