Guest columnist The Rev. Ellen Petersen: The unblemished truth: Poverty is ugly

Published: 8/1/2022 3:54:56 PM
Modified: 8/1/2022 3:51:47 PM

While trying to pass the time on my 27-hour journey to a country that called me to visit, I became intrigued by a passenger who was one aisle away from me.

I was fascinated by her because she looked so refreshed, so un-jet lagged, so unlike how I felt.

I kept looking at her, wondering how much time and effort she must put into maintaining her external appearance. Then I went deeper, meditating on why she did this, was it for herself or for the world?

I did a perusal of her appearance. She had long pink nails, I mean really long. They matched her toenails. I wondered how she could get anything done with such long nails. She kept looking at them during the flight.

She wore high heels, I mean really high. Her clothing was clearly designer label. She wore make up, I mean a lot of make up. Lip stick, eye liner, mascara, blush. When we got close to landing, she took out her mirror and applied even more make up. Then she splashed perfume on her wrists.

When she stood up to prepare for disembarking the plane, she reached for her carry-on luggage. It was a Christian Dior bag. It was at that moment that I thought to myself: “This woman is the polar opposite of me.”

I was wearing purple hiking boots, zip off travel pants and a T-shirt. I looked and felt completely disheveled.

When I stood up to prepare for disembarking the plane, I reached for my carry-on luggage — my LL Bean backpack.

Why am I reflecting on this? Because I need to make sense of why Gambia seemed to call me for three years, because after being there for 10 days, it was a complete mystery to me.

That’s where the polar opposite passenger comes into play.

Gambia is the polar opposite of what I expected. I expected a country that was beautiful yet in reality, Gambia is far from being beautiful. It is a country that does not wear make up. Its complexion of poverty is evident. Its stench of pollution is sickening.

We humans prefer seeing people and countries with make up on because it is much more appealing. It’s prettier. It looks and smells nicer. We want to see people and countries that look refreshed, who put on their “best face” for the world to see.

But the reality of our world is that most people do not live that way. It is not pretty.

I need to stop spending so much energy on the “why” I felt called to go there and instead raise awareness of the reality that 9.2% of our world’s population — 689 million — people live in poverty. That is the ugly truth.

The Rev. Ellen Petersen, of Easthampton, is pastor of the Riverton Congregational Church, Riverton, Connecticut.
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