with glittering eyes

A journey through Peace Corps: Cambodia

Plight of the Middle Class

This week, something dawned on me, something that I should have known for a long time: my family is not exactly middle class.

A fellow PCV, who has been editing my essays, has repeatedly pointed out instances where I talk about things in my past that don’t make me seem quite so middle class at all. For example, my parents being able to foot my tuition bill during all four years of college. Yes, I went to public school in my home state, and it was just tuition and not living expenses, but even being able to pay that all the way through is quite an accomplishment. Not all families have $9000 just lying around per year to be able to contribute to their offspring’s education.

And of course, there are other things, like my parents owning their house, and that I can’t remember the last time we had to make a “car payment”; they’ve always fronted the entire cost of the car or else we weren’t driving away with it.

My entire life, I thought I was squarely middle class, because we lived in such a modest home and drove modest cars in a modest neighborhood. My friends all seemed to have more than me in terms of material possessions, and I remember being extremely angry when these friends would get all kinds of need based aid for college and I’d get shafted with nothing but loans. I was even convinced that some of them were cheating on their taxes, but now I realize that it’s probably cause they’re spenders, not savers.

The reason I bring this up is because as the days go by, I am more and more convinced that Peace Corps could not have possibly picked a better fitting host family for me. Like my family back in the States, my family here appears quite modest from the outside. Peace Corps has certain standards when they choose homestays for us, and within the homestays they’ve picked for fellow PCVs, my home is very, very middle-of-the-line. Yes, I do have enough electricity to power my laptop, but it’s only for 3 hours a night (and I don’t have a fan). I don’t have running water, but I do have a Western toilet. My house is tiled, but only the bottom floor, and it’s very small. We do own a car, but that’s because my dad is a taxi driver, and he uses it to work every day.

But I’ve also had lobster two nights in a row for dinner. Lobster? Is this America? Clearly not, because not even in America do I eat like this. And fresh, free-range lobster! (My ma even said that the lobsters that live in the farms and get fed aren’t delicious, because they don’t “dau laing”–walk around–enough.)

This, and that I’m never hungry here. In fact, there are days where there are so many delicious things on the table I have to ration my stomach space in order to sample some of everything and not shaft anything. I know I’m extremely lucky; most PCVs are happy if their meals are even edible.

Also, my parents have enough money to support my host sister who’s studying midwifery in Phnom Penh. We might look like your average family, but I have to concede that we do have money.

It’s not a bad thing, though. Like my family in the States, I’d say that my host family is just smart with their money. Why spend money on an overly extravagant house when the one we’re living in now is perfectly comfortable? What’s wrong with using that money for more valuable, applicable things, like education and a nice dinner once in awhile?

Nothing’s wrong with it. I’m just extremely blessed to be in the presence and influence of such people who know what to value and what not to.

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March 17, 2011 - Posted by | Real PCV Life

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