The Kids in the Back
I miss feeling good in clothes.
I’ve had the same single pair of slightly-too-big jeans for two years. I wear the same pair of lace-up boots every day. They’re fake leather and they have an ugly faux Cartier leopard hot-glued to the sides, and they were only 90元. The soles have been glued and re-glued.
Cold weather in Western China means wearing your jacket indoors. It doesn’t really matter what I wear, because it’s all hidden beneath my jacket.
I’ve always loved clothes, fashion, blah blah blah. Being a volunteer, this has been one (small, trivial) sacrifice I’ve made.
Clothing is for practicality. Am I sufficiently covered? Warm enough? If so, good to go.
Buying clothing in China can be really expensive! I receive less than 800元 per month in living expenses, and shopping mall prices are usually well over 200元 for a shirt. New boots can be anywhere from 250 to over 1600元.
For me, it’s a slight annoyance. Two years of “roughing it” in the same tired treads. Two years of feeling slightly uncomfortable with clothing that has become stretched out or warped from the wash.
In my daily life here, I rarely come across poverty. My students and colleagues are as comfortable (if not more so) as I am. They have the newest iPhone. The girls get their nails or hair done at local salons. The homes I’ve been invited to are modern and everything always looks brand new.
I do have students who blend in, though. Students who wear the same thing every single day—they don’t stick out. I won’t see their home, or get invited to dinners with their families. Their English might be so low that they won’t ever even attempt to talk to me.
When I feel frustrated with my choices as I get into my same pair of pants, same old sweater and scuffed up boots, I try to let my achy feet remind me of the boys and girls in the back of the class. The ones who have had the same clothing all year. The ones who don’t come back from vacation with edgy haircuts and massive, flashy watches. The ones who are helpless to answer my question in class, but will pour their hearts into an at-home writing assignment.
Perhaps this is all sort of trite. Volunteer girl noticing income disparity. We should all keep noticing it, though. Make small and big sacrifices to help others. Enjoy life, yes, but always remember the kids at the back of the classroom.