A couple of weeks ago my digital camera broke. It was an accident, someone was holding it to take a picture and it got dropped. Accidents happen and I just bought a new one, so all is right in the world, right?
Well, not exactly. You see part of being a YAGM is living simply, and on a stipend. We receive an amount that allows us to live in a similar manner to many in our community. My stipend averages out to about $7.75 a day. My rent is paid separately, but my stipend has to cover everything else: food, bus tickets, cell phone minutes, personal items, entertainment. And you would probably be surprised by the prices of many items here, many food items have similar prices to the US.
It is tight, but livable. That is until something happens. Getting sick and needing antibiotics and (expensive) food that sounds good to a sick body. Getting lice and having to buy combs and special shampoo. An invitation to an event that you really can’t turn down and then you are expected to bring food or drink. A camera breaking.
At this point I have a couple of choices. Option 1: Buy what I need and then not eat much the rest of the week, or maybe eat pasta every day. Option 2: Buy what I need by “stealing” money from the next week’s stipend or from my health deductible and then figure out a way later to save money and repay it. Option 3: Buy what I need using money from my personal savings account.
That is the strange tension with living like this. I am living simply and on a stipend. But there is always that thought in the back of my mind that if something really bad were to happen to me I do have money in the bank that I can use. I “cheated” on my stipend to buy a camera and while traveling during some vacation days. But for many here, in the US, and all around the world that option 3 doesn’t exist. They have to make hard choices everyday about what is more important. And it is hard to really understand the difficulty in that choice until you are living there everyday.
My shampoo, soap, and toothpaste are all going to run out at about the same time. I don’t think I will have the money to buy all of them in the same week. I will have to prioritize and buy one at a time and wait on the others. If you only had the money for one, what would you pick?