Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dichotomy of Wealth

The stark differences in the perceptions and viewpoints of those who "have" and those who "have not" never cease to surprise, nor amaze me. While most people in the world are aware of the saying that 'money cannot buy happiness', rarely do people really get a chance to truly test the theory. Either they already have it, in which case they are now in the midst of a lifestyle that requires the perpetual addition of more money - or - they don't, in which case they will probably never have enough and in most situations have given up trying to hold on to the illusion that they ever will.

Our daily morning procession to the Eco Escuela De EspaƱol, San Andres

In either case, my travels across the globe have enabled me to see firsthand the differences in peoples lives in relation to their wealth. Surely enough, there is no correlation between one's bank account and their capacity to live happily or to be kind and generous.

My spanish language teacher in San Andres, Guatemala is Elga, a single mother of two kids in her late thirties. A daughter of mostly Mayan decent and a black Belizian english speaking grandmother. To begin with I must state that I am extremely lucky to have a teacher with her abilities and intelligence. Elga is a very smart woman, very joyous and caring - but most of all with respect to me, she is a great spanish teacher.

Just a stones-throw from the school there is this shop where we bought our pens and notebooks, the Flat Iron of San Andres

The classes are fluid enough for us to have many conversations about all kinds of things, and most recently I took some time to explain to her the idea of the "Bucket List" and its position in relation to "kicking the bucket". Most of our conversations are quite amusing, partly due to the language barrier, partly due to the cultural differences in perspective of the ideas we are discussing, and most of the time because we have fun talking about things in our lives. This conversation wasn't any different in this respect, except that "kicking the bucket" just took a while to make sense to Elga. Understandably, why would one kick a bucket and then be considered dead?

"Patear la cubeta!" [Kick the bucket.] Excited at the prospect of learning "kick" and "bucket" in spanish, and that after this fifteen minute conversation and numerous hand gestures (and drawings) we have arrived at the correct phrase in spanish.

Strange, confused look on her face.

"Si yo comprendo, pero por que?" [Yes I understand, but why?]

I then proceed to explain to Elga that patear la cubeta in English is a way of saying to end one's life, to pass away. [Drawing of stick-man on top of a bucket with a noose around his neck, and a phantom foot attached to a short ankle flying at the bucket suggesting a kick.]

Right, to end one's life. Muy bien.

"Todas personas deben tener una lista de la cubeta," I state. [Every person needs a bucket list.]

More confused looks on her face.

"Por que una lista de la cubeta?!" [Why a bucket list?!]

"Well,..." I proceed to explain, " is a list of things you wish to achieve before you kick the bucket (die), a list of dreams or hopes perhaps."

"Claro!" [Clear (meaning I understand)!]

Elga left class that day having given me homework for the night, and some homework of her own in hand. Yes, I did in fact give my teacher some homework - but it is more like soul searching and hardly tedious to have to dream up ten things to put on one's bucket list. She was to return her list the next day in class. Claro.

We all took our teachers for a special class to Ni´tun one day and had a wicked lunch there too! (Julia is on the left and was Colette´s teacher)

The next day Elga returned to class and shortly after the usual morning salutations and gratuities, I ask her about the list. She reaches out for my pen, and begins to write her list on the back of a piece of A4 paper - genuine smile on her face and a happy glint in her eye, similar to a child feeling proud following their first public musical recital having gone well.

After she is finished writing the ten items, I read them aloud in front of her with a few helping hints on a few words here and there, to make all things understood. Her list is beautiful, its actually amazing, it makes me want to cry but I don't because I would be ashamed to show that it is somehow unusual, or that I hadn't seen one like it before, in particular my own.

The whole gang at the Eco Escuela during our final week, teachers and students

Now to make things stand side by side in perspective, I shared my lista de la cubeta the day before and here is some of it now for references.

"Hike New Caledonia. Ride really, really far. Kayak around the islands in Fiji. Get shot out of a canon. Jump out of a plane over the Whitsunday's. Cartwheel on the moon." [Keep your judgments to your selves!]

Of the things on her list, half relate to studying to enable her to help people, looking after orphaned children, volunteer in her community, contribute to peace locally and elsewhere, convince people not to litter and to recycle.

We have an innocent laugh about the differences in our approach, me being all about conquering and me, me, me. And hers being, well just damned Mother Theresa. I blush a little, embarassed at my selfishness and ignorance, ashamed that this moment has taken me by surprise. But what could a woman like Elga, who feels fortunate and is quite educated among her own community in some no-name town in rural Guatemala, want to do before she dies? What else would she dream about apart from helping others?

I will be revisiting my bucket list. Thank you Elga.

My spanish teacher Elga and I


  1. Vinkichooo,
    i am happy to know that getting shot out of a canon is still on your bucket list.

    you remain, eternally, awesome.

    give love to my bestest.


  2. Thanks Beebs, at least someone appreciates my kind of strange!


  3. wow Vinko,

    Thanks for sharing this story, It's given me a thing or two to think about. As your post always do. (I read them all!)

    Sounds and looks like you both are having fun and learning lots.

    Take Care, lots of love from Marko and myself.

  4. Thanks Tracey, egualmente! (likewise)

    Thanks for reading, love to you guys

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