December 2, 2022

The upside of poverty

The upside of poverty

By Donu Kogbara

I have an impecunious young friend. He’s married with two children and doesn’t earn much because he works in a supermarket. His wife also has a low-income job and I help them from time to time because they really struggle to pay rent, school fees and other bills.  

A couple of days ago, he told me that things are particularly bad for him at the moment and that thanks to the high price of food items, his family can now only afford to eat meat or fish twice a week.

At the risk of sounding unsympathetic and patronizing, let me say that it suddenly struck me that while lacking money can be bad for your mental health, it can also be very good for your physical health.

After all, do doctors not constantly urge us to minimize consumption of animal protein or embrace full-time plant-based eating?

And do famous nutritionists like Dr Michael Greger – the American author of a bestselling book titled “HOW NOT TO DIE” – not keep telling anyone who cares to listen that embracing a vegetarian diet is the best way to avoid diseases like cancer and increase longevity?

If you are broke, you also can’t afford many or any unhealthy

self-indulgences like sugary cakes, alcohol and cigarettes.

Then there’s the fact that if you have a white collar desk job or don’t need to work at all and own a car that ferries you from door to door – or have sufficient funds to take taxis everywhere – you are far less likely to get enough exercise (the medical recommendation is at least 150 minutes of cardio exertions a week). And it’s common knowledge that sedentary lifestyles are potentially fatal.

Sure, some affluent folks do go out of their way to exercise in gyms or by walking or cycling or whatever. But exercise, for the affluent, is voluntary and (human nature being what it is) laziness frequently triumphs over discipline.

Long story short, many folks who don’t have to worry about grocery bills – this writer included – are obese, hypertensive couch potatoes who are inexorably heading towards strokes, heart attacks, etc. 

Whereas, if you HAVE to do manual work and have no choice but to get off your backside and do some hardcore trekking every day, you are massively strengthening your internal organs and entire body.

Bitter home truths

Louis Farrakahn, a Black American leader and convert to Islam, is not always my cup of tea because he is a bigot: homophobic, anti-Semitic and convinced that every white person on the planet is evil.

However, the old man (he’s nearly 90 now) sometimes talks sense and his biting criticisms of Africans – expressed during a speech he made while visiting Malawi in 1998 – is spot on:

“None of you [Africans] can deny that what I’m saying is the truth. you know it’s the truth but either you won’t write it, or you’re too cowardly to speak it, because you want some favour here or favour there. So because you can’t talk, you are muzzled, I am not…

I am a free black man, and I didn’t come here looking for a handout and I really don’t think you need one. Your problem is that you think you need handouts…

Everything you need is right under your foot, but you’re looking everywhere else for help instead of looking to yourself and what you can produce for yourself. This is Africa’s dilemma…

You are parading yourself before the world as international beggars when you gave civilization to the world. Your problem is not America, your problem is not Israel, your problem is not Britain. Your problem is your disunity and your dependence on others to do for you what you could do for yourself…

So I don’t have to come back here anymore to help you, the help is already here, the knowledge is already here, the land is here, the sun is here, the water is here, the minerals are here. You have some of the finest minds in the world, but they are in Europe and they’re in America making money while Africa suffers…

Why don’t we create a politically stable environment and call the children of Africa back home to help build Africa? We are your children and we will come and help but don’t expect us to come with billions of dollars when we don’t have it…

We are struggling in America, but you got it all right here under your foot and you should be ashamed not to look to yourself instead of begging white folks to give you what you could give to yourself…

…You got it right here, but your disunity won’t allow you to pull it. It’s your fault and you’ve got to accept that responsibility…We’ve got to stop blaming everything on somebody else and see what is our responsibility here.”

I keep saying that we are the architects of most of the misfortunes we endure today…and that we should stop banging on about historical misfortunes caused by colonialism, slavery, etc, and concentrate on becoming first-class citizens of the world.

When Nigerian youths throw themselves at the mercy of dangerous human traffickers and jump into leaking boats in Libya, in desperate bids to smuggle themselves into Europe via perilous Mediterranean voyages, you know that something is very wrong with our home turf.

The good news is that we definitely have what it takes to solve this problem. The bad news is that you can have it but refuse to use it and we may, at this rate, never get around to solving the problem because of pathological complacency, masochism and self delusion.

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