We are middle class citizens. When we lived in the States we made so much money that we didn't qualify for welfare*...by $2 a month. Now that we're living out here we'd definitely qualify for welfare since our net income is between zero and a hundred dollars per month. We work for food.
I'm not even kidding. We. Work. For. Food.
Andrew tutors people's children in exchange for milk, sour cream, cheese and tortillas. And a nominal amount of money, 100% of which is applied to rent.
But that's what's fun about being a young, married couple. We'll have stuff eventually. Maybe.
Sadly, we are so well off compared to so many people here. We have Andrew's fellowship and our savings (as a rapidly deflating cushion). Andrew's fellowship money alone is many times more than what 95% of the population in Egypt sees in a month.
The rich-poor gap here is rather wide. There are the filthy rich and there are the desperately poor; not a lot of inbetweeners exist at all.
95% of the population earns 15 LE or less per day. That's like $3! A value meal at McDonald's costs 15 LE. 95% of the population doesn't have the means to eat at McDonald's.**
Truthfully, we really wouldn't care if we never ate at McDonald's but we do enjoy going out to eat every once in a while. That's a luxury most Egyptians don't have. In fact, it's a luxury that less than 5% of the population can afford.
Andrew and I were talking about this last night.
I think that a strong middle class is very important key to having a healthy society. The middle class is what drives a country to progress. The upper class have basically everything money can buy and are therefore in need of nothing. Ideally they'd be showing altruistic tendencies, but from what I see of the wealthy here, they don't. Instead they are prone to snobbery.
The wealth here is "old money," so being rich is akin to being royal. Farida Mokhtar finds it "ironic that the elite people of AUC are standing in a food queue." She doesn't seem to care if other people stand in line but feels that she, a member of the 5% upper class, shouldn't have to.
On the other hand, a big chunk of the population is worried only about basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. They aren't getting enough to eat, they don't have enough to wear, and they live in unfinished houses. I don't think they are concerned about changing the government or saving the environment; they only want to have enough rice at the end of the day to feed their children.
And that is the dichotomy we see here. Maadi gives way from villas and grand guarded apartments to rural, farmland just that quick. There are cars driving along side donkey-drawn carts.
The middle class is almost completely non-existent, which is rather unfortunate for everyone since I think that most new ideas originate in the middle class--those aspiring to better themselves. Do you think little Miss "I Shouldn't Have To Wait In Line" is going to come up with a more fair economic policy or the solution to world hunger? Do you think the starving farmers have the time to worry about such things?
It's unfortunate for us, too, because we can't find anything middle-classy. When we went out to Nile Mall the other day everything was terribly expensive. The stores here either have posh brand-name apparel or cheap junk. It's almost impossible to find anything of decent quality for a decent price.
Instead of wasting their time and money on projects that only provide more benifits and variety to the wealthy, international aid groups need to see what they can do to decrease the rich-poor gap. AUC got a ton of money from USAID, which is just ridiculous. That only helped a handful of the needy who were lucky enough to get jobs as janitors and parking lot monitors. Mostly, though, it just helped the "elite" more. Most foreign aid projects seem to only help the elite more.
The task of solving the poverty issue here is too great for me. It breaks my heart to see houses sided with cardboard boxes.*** At the same time, though, I find it quite telling. One particular house that I am thinking of is no bigger than the smallest of our bedrooms. A whole family, with multiple generations, lives there. I've never seen any of them out begging. They all just work hard.
I appreciate that. They take what they're blessed with and make the most of it. I like to think that they would appreciate any extra help they get.
Unlike the beggar woman who berated me for offering her bread instead of money. Or the tissue vendors who con people into buying a packet of tissue for upwards of 1LE! Just think--they sell 10 packets of tissue a day and they are as well off as a school teacher!
Knowing how little so many people has makes me appreciate what I have so much more. It also makes me more willing to share with others. By American standards we don't have a lot but we still have plenty. Until we finish with grad school though, I have a feeling we'll continue to work for food.
*We once looked into doing WIC after I quit work to have Rachel but...it didn't work out since I was still working and we just never bothered to apply again after our income was cut in half.
**Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002): 285-286.
***Picture forthcoming if I get brave enough to snap one.