Four Ways We Are Rich Without Even Knowing It

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The following four snippets are the result of my slow and ongoing realization of how fortunate I am to have been born into the time and place I was. From an early age we are taught that we are lucky: “You’re not going to finish your peas? There are kids dying in Africa because they don’t have peas! Why do you want to kids in Africa to starve? I don’t care if peas make you gag. I don’t care if you think they taste like moldy dog food. You will eat them for the starving kids in Africa!”

Though we hear about the starving kids in Africa from an early age, it never really sinks in until you see it played out on the game field of life. It’s hard, for instance, to feel sorry for yourself at the loss of an iPod when that very same day you are working to try to find a home for a nine-year-old child who has just lost both her parents.

Rich in Debt

Few people will ever be lucky enough to be $40,000  in debt. I remember once making a joke to a friend, Jordan, when I was living in Chile. We were walking along the boardwalk of Viña del Mar’s beach when a particularly persistent beggar demanded we give him a few coins. Both in our bathing suites, neither of us had a cent on us and had to tell the overly eager man that we were sorry and that we had nothing to give him but our awkward smiles. We then quickened our pace as we left him on his knees to wring the empty hat in his hands.

As we walked away, I joked to Jordan that since I was $40,000 in student loan debt, this beggar was actually far better off financially than I was. And that’s the point. When I was 18 years old, some faceless bankers, who I had never met, had so much faith in my 18-year-old self, that they were willing to front four stacks of high society to me in the good faith that I would one day pay it off. I had the option of exchanging debt for an education because our system believes that this is a good bet.

Rich in Options

A month ago, when my motorcycle was stolen in front of the house I rent in Guatemala, it was a sucky day. At the time it seemed like the suckiest thing to ever happen in all of Suckville. I live far enough away from the hub of Antigua, Guatemala, that without the moto, getting around became an annoying challenge, and when relying on taxis, a bit expensive.

But the loss of the motorcycle coincided with the assessment options I had. I’m still weighing them, deciding if I should continue to pay for public transportation, buy a bicycle, splurge for another motorcycle, or buy a donkey. I have the luxury of options. If I get a donkey, I will name him Donkeyzilla.

Rich in Safety Nets

On a recent trip back to my beloved US of A, I got into a conversation with my friend Paul (read all about how he can eat glass) regarding “reckless travel,” something Paul recently considered doing with China as a destination. To us, “reckless travel” is quitting your day job, buying a one-way ticket to a foreign country with only a big enough budget to get by a few months and hoping to stumble upon employment in that country.

Our back-and-forth banter led us to the following conclusion: Because of where we are from, reckless travel isn’t so reckless. The stakes aren’t as high as they seem. In a worst-case scenario, if we became penniless and homeless, we have a safety net in our home countries. Between family, friends, and the fine people at Visa and American Express, if we ever faced spending our last cent in a foreign land with no prospects for the future, we could always charge our situation to a credit card and find ourselves comfortably eating shitty airline food, headed to our home country.

Though neither Paul nor I come from wealthy background, and though both of us have been financially independent since 18, we both admit to being guilty of overlooking the privileges we have that most of the world can only dream about.

Rich in Wisdom

Before my motorcycle took an extended leave of absence from my life, I started the habit of exploring the Guatemalan countryside every Sunday. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, I would drive as far off the beaten path as a day’s journey would stretch, into villages where many had never seen a gringo before. (I hope they called me Gringozilla behind my back). Along the way, I’d make a point to stop and talk with people. Many of the people spoke Mayan dialects and our communal Spanish had to be translated by someone from the younger Spanish-speaking generation.

I started asking them about their sayings and proverbs and compiling a list I planned to publish on The Expeditioner. Though the project was put to a halt before the list made it past the first page, I still think they are worth sharing. Regardless of how poor some of the people uttering these proverbs were, all of them seemed rich in the sort of wisdom that can’t be charged to a Visa card.

  • Entre mas podoroso, mas debil. The more powerful you are, the weaker you are.
  • A la cosecha, los nubes deciden. The clouds decide if it will be a good harvest.
  • Siempre se da el deseo de un hombre moriendo. A dying man’s wish is always granted.
  • Cuando el deseo de un hombre y Dios coinciden, la petición está dada. When the wish of God and man coincide, a prayer is answered.
  • Las mas caras tiene, lo menos confiable es. The more faces the man, the less you can trust him.

By Luke Armstrong


About the Author

LukeArmstrongLuke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus)

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