Insights into Another World

As part of my university project, I had to go have conversations with people in what we called “subsistence marketplaces.” This means basically “go and talk to poor people.” Conversations were supposed to be about how they buy and sell products, as well as how they go through life.

I found myself talking mostly with poor women who sell things, typically produce. I talked mostly with women because they are the ones who go out and do things they need during the day. The men, on the other hand, have to leave very early for work and come back late at night, so they’re absent most of the day. The men I saw were usually too busy to talk to. For example, I saw many of them carrying a dolly with heavy boxes, unable to stop and answer questions.

Here is an example of a woman I spoke with. Her name is Rosa. She sells avocados, onions, lettuce and other vegetable at the market. She is very proud of her stand, and she should be because, as she says, it has put three kids through college. It reminds me of the words of the teacher of the course “people in subsistence are experts at surviving.” If putting three kids through college with the income of a vegetable stand isn’t proof of expertise and resourcefulness, I don’t know what is.

This informal stand supported a single mother with three children and put them through college. What is your excuse?

As a result of talking with Rosa and many other women, I learned some insights about the life of women in these circumstances. Of course, these do not apply to every single women in subsistence. They are generalizations for the sake of simplicity.

1.- They work the full week without a day off. They don’t get a day to rest. When asked why, they answer because they and their families have to eat everyday.

2.- They avoid working with institutions if possible. Most importantly, they avoid having a bank account if they can. They consider banks as institutions that want to take their money AND make them pay for taking their money. They keep their savings in their own homes.

3.- They work long hours and have very little time for themselves. The average working hours per day is 10 to 12 hours. The average waking time is 5 or 6 AM. After working, they still have to do house chores, laundry, and prepare meals, since they don’t have a free day to do these chores. At best, they watch a bit of TV with their family before going to bed.

4.- They get their happiness and their enjoyment from the practice of their jobs. They develop relationships, they tell jokes, they have funny ads in their stands, they amuse themselves with their customers, etc. They have to make their jobs as fun as they can, since they have no time to amuse themselves.

5.- They rarely get sick. By far, the most common answer to the question “what do you do when you get sick?” is “I don’t.” When I ask why, they say “You can’t get sick here.” Since getting sick means a day they can’t work, and they need to get some income everyday, they decide they won’t get sick. If they do, they just though it out or take some simple remedy but continue working.

6.- They try their best to send their children to school. They see education as a means to get a better job and a better income, and they think it will make their children escape poverty and have a better life.

7.- They don’t complain about their situation in life. They complain about money and other issues, but they don’t feel that life has been unfair to them.

8.- They don’t believe they are discriminated against because they’re women. When asked if women in their milieu are discriminated, their response was very adamant. “Not at all! We don’t take no shit from no man. We can support ourselves and our families, and sometimes even some lazy husbands, but when it comes to that we get rid of them.”

9.- They often have to raise children on their own, since many men tend to go to the United States in order to try to get money to support their families. Many times, they don’t come back because they die on the trip.

I knew that people in subsistence had it hard. I didn’t know they had it this hard. These conversations were an eye opener and made me realize how lucky I am and what a great life I have.

When not busy mixing his whites with colors, Flippy works as a writer, translator, and language teacher. In his free time, he plays video games, takes photos, and writes funny stuff. You can find his humor book, Flippy’s Life Lessons Stuff Every Single Man Should Know, published by Relentlessly Creative Books on

Copyright 2017, Flippy. Published with the permission of the author.