When I was volunteering at Maya Pedal in Guatemala there was a sign on the wall that said “Que Caro Es Ser Pobre”. It means “How expensive it is to be poor.” As I travel through many of the world’s “poor” countries, I am writing a series of articles about how expensive it is to be poor. I don’t think many people in “rich” countries understand how difficult it is to climb out of poverty. I am all about positivity and I am having the time of my life right now. But I would be doing a disservice to the amazing people I’ve met if I didn’t share their story of what life is like dealing with poverty.
I made a shocking discovery while in Colombia. I went to a book store to see if they had a book that had English on one side and Spanish on the other. Something like this. It would aid me in my learning of Spanish.
I didn’t have much luck, but there were some children’s books available. They were usually too basic or way too big for me to be interested. Oh, and they were FREAKING EXPENSIVE.
The picture below was taken at a grocery store in Colombia. You could compare it to the books sold in grocery stores in the U.S., for example, selling mass paperbacks at a deep discount to the suggested retail price. But look at the prices. They range from 32,000-42,000 Colombian Pesos, or $17.80-$23.33.
Colombian GDP per capita is $10,155, compared to the U.S.’s of $48,147. I don’t think GDP per capita is the best measure of a country’s wealth since most countries unequally distribute their wealth. Still, you get the idea. The U.S.’s GDP per capita is 4.75 times higher than Colombia’s, yet books are so much cheaper. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Many people in Latin America have told me that “we don’t have a culture of reading.” It’s kind of easy to see why when books are so expensive. And what a shame since there are so many amazing writers in Spanish.
It is possible to find used books. Most cities have old men with a table selling old, used books. I don’t know if the variety is good or not. But still, for many here the cost of books is prohibitive.
Some cities have libraries. Again, it’s impossible for me to know if they are good or adequate, but they do exist in some places and I’m sure that helps. But still.
In the end, it’s impossible to ignore the effect the inaccessibility of books has on propagating this poverty cycle. Books are a primary method for obtaining knowledge. When books are out of reach, that knowledge is also, more or less, out of reach.
I have seen people speak of books with a heavy heart, as they are too poor to afford them and know the ignorance that has manifested as a result. It affects their self-esteem and both their real and perceived ignorance creates a self-defeating attitude – a “can’t do” attitude if you will.
I’m not sure what the solution is, but the problem is obvious. In Peru I will volunteer at a rural library and hopefully it’ll help shed some light on some solutions to this sad situation.