What comes to mind when you see the word “poverty” ? What kind of things do you associate it with? How do you even define it?
The dictionary definition of it is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” But does this actually describe what “poverty” means? While I do think that this definition is very agreeable, I believe that poverty is a lot more complex than this. It is not just about a monetary value or some material possessions, but I think it is closer related to a person’s capacity to meet the requirements of survival. This however can be interpreted and redefined in many ways.
The novel Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, talks about its own version and makes commentary on the nature of it. Poverty is showcased through its world building and specifically its main setting, Tram 83, along with its residents. The story takes place in a dystopian version of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the conditions of the city-state in novel are paralleling conditions of the country post colonization. The government is not really working for all its people but rather for the needs of the few in charge. This is resulting in a very impoverished population and a constant struggle for survival throughout the city-state. One of the most prominent display of this is evident through the numerous prostitutes in the novel.
Generally speaking and reserving judgement, people do not willingly choose to become prostitutes. It is often as a result of poverty. It is often because they have no other means of survival. The book showcases this really well by having the prostitutes or “baby-chicks” in the novel ask for tips constantly. Mujla adds more depth to this though. The main character Lucian, once stated about the baby-chicks that, “They vitriolically demand their rights and obligations, these girls, but beyond their wrath, you feel they don’t care about the future, that they live a life of luxury…” (169).
He goes on to explain how interesting it is that they are able to wear branded clothing, go drinking, singing, wearing breast implants and overall just seemingly have an entertaining time despite all their complaints about their current condition and issues.
This passage brings us back to how do we define poverty? Is there a certain point or threshold where people are not considered poor anymore? Is it hypocritical of people to call themselves impoverished but are actually able to live luxuriously. Does having a profession that is associated with poverty (like prostitution) place you in the impoverish group regardless of how much that job may make you?
The context of the situation can really matter but for the baby-chicks, I believe that they are very much still in poverty regardless of the points that Lucien made. The specific reasonings that Lucien mentioned were not that strong because most of them were just a consequent of the profession. Activities like partying and working on your looks are part of occupation. It is also not like they are doing it purely for fun. It is to make more money.
“Does a more dressed-up poverty exist, or is poverty a supreme joy in disguise” (169)?
I believe that Lucien is being too cynical. Poverty is complex enough to allow a luxurious side to it.