Incomes And Shocks On A Two Dollar Budget

What fun is a challenge without a twist to keep it interesting? As time goes on in the Month of TDC the constant trips to the market have allowed me to familiarize myself with exactly how much food two dollars can buy. The two-dollar budget hasn’t necessarily gotten any easier, but I suppose I am impatient when thinking past the routine to the feast on May 1st. I sometimes feel like a middle school boy again, who waits impatiently, tapping his foot, and listening for the bell. As a result I decided to inject yet another dose of reality into the last two weeks of the challenge:

Just south of Cuzco, in the last town beneath the mountains, there is a tiny community of identical houses built in six parallel strips. A few years ago the river that cuts through the area swelled in a rainstorm and flooded the whole valley floor. Everything below the water level was inundated and destroyed. The mirror image housing and the scores of reconstruction projects you see there today are put on by the government to repopulate the basin. Passing this on the way to my volunteer made me wonder how a poor community would weather such an event, since a torrent of river water would not have differentiated between low and high income neighborhoods as it drowned the small community. Tragedy doesn’t discriminate, even from those living on two-dollars a day.

At the TDC event held at my university (eloquently captured in this video) they have a way of including such variants in the weeklong challenge. Every morning you pull from a hat to decide your income for the day, since budgeting exactly two dollars per twenty-four hours isn’t entirely realistic, and also to determine a ‘shock’. These are strokes of fortune and misfortune that either add money or take away from your day’s spending money. They were based on taxes, natural disasters, and other features of the Honduran environment where La Ceiba Microfinance operates. Using this model I decided to employ the same method to complicate my Month of TDC in the Peruvian setting.

April 17th I was afforded two dollars to spend, but was taxed twenty cents because of an unexpected frost on the western region’s mango fields. On April 18th I got zero dollars to spend and similarly had no up or down shocks. Luckily I had left over lentils and pasta from the week prior, which I quickly used up. April 19th I pulled from the hat a one-dollar budget, but then lost a third of it when a landslide took the life of one of my sheep. Today I got lucky and was awarded two dollars of income again with the added bonus of the Semana Santa festival – providing free food – and boosting my total to three dollars.

This has, of course, spiced things up a bit and I am thankful for the break in standard scheduling, but again I get a bit queasy when I treat poverty as a game. A natural disaster such as flooding may infuse a little more excitement into my day, however the corporeal loses felt by the real Cusqueñan peoples in that valley were no doubt devastating. I have to check myself and realize the horror from their perspective, when from my white-bread tourist life the only real difficulty in the last month has been the drop in exchange rate by five cents. The volatility of a poor life deserves careful consideration and mindful attention, especially for those working in sectors of foreign aid.

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