Through our eyes

In the last ‘Through Our Eyes’ section, we asked the question: Why is it that people from poorer cultures look at the Western countries and focus on the wealth that they have while people from the West look at poorer cultures and focus on the poverty?

Here is a response submitted to our email account by one of our readers.

“We as humans tend to focus on extremes, especially extreme disparities. I think this applies especially differences in socioeconomic status. In my life, I have been more or less accustomed to a middle-class standard of living, where I’ve had access to most things needed to live a comfortable life. I feel that sometimes, we think that most people here in the US have similar socioeconomic access that we do. We think that poverty is elsewhere, like in other states, countries, not possibly in the same city; that it’s far enough removed that it must be is in places like Africa and it is hard to understand. I can’t speak for those in Africa, but if the majority of the people you come into contact with in Moshi do experience an extremely different standard of living than you have, they will naturally be curious about what they haven’t experienced.”

We completely agree with this idea. It seems that people may enjoy learning about parts of life that they have not fully experienced. It is true that many people in the West do not fully experience true poverty until they go abroad. It is also true that many people in poverty do not understand some of life’s luxuries until seeing a very nicely dressed foreigner or reading about it in a magazine. It may be human nature to ask questions and be interested in a way of life that we have not seen or experienced firsthand.

Here is a glimpse of housing along the highway in Moshi, Tanzania.

Sometimes, with the intensity of conversations about this subject, we tend to wonder if all of that isn’t just part of the truth. The other part may be that there is some kind of stigma or preconceived notion from people from Western nations. Something along the lines of “how come they can’t raise themselves out of poverty” or “how can they live their lives this way.” We also think there may be some kind of sense of awe from people from more impoverished nations. This could possibly be the same sense that many Westerners get when walking into Sachs Fifth Avenue or while watching MTV’s Cribs.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that different people from different places focus on different things. That is only natural. It may not be a matter of judgment, but more of an innate quality that is created by having an imagination. We imagine what far off places may be like, probably before we learn to speak. The land of the dinosaurs, past kingdoms, and heaven are places and ideas that we imagine as children and as adults. It also may be possible that the innate quality and imagination become an absolute or an expectation, and that is when it becomes judgment and may be a problem.

There are negatives and positives about how countries, cultures, and people are viewed. Stigmas are often developed before we even know a person from the area. People in general probably have more questions about an existence, opinion, or way of life that they have not experienced themselves. Truthfully, the fact that these conversations happen are probably an innocent outcome of wanting to understand other people’s way of life. The problem, then, may not be the conversations themselves. The problem may occur when the conversation does not happen at all.

We hope to continue this conversation throughout our journey here and welcome feedback at any time. Please check out our “Inspirational Tidbits” section this Thursday to ponder some of the reasons poverty persists in places such as Moshi, Tanzania.


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