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12 Personal Essay example: Everybody’s Gotta Jump, Sam Abbott When I met poverty I wasn’t prepared. I was 19 and hadn’t left home more than a handful of times. And now, more than two years later, my mind still won’t let go of that word or of the meaning I saw behind it. It seems to press on me, pushing me, prodding me. The seven letters that spell poverty bring me the same guilt a boy who’s just peed in his pants feels. The word evokes a duty or responsibility that can’t be shirked once it’s heard. Meeting poverty is like jumping off a winter cliff into a frigid lake in Utah. The rush of the fall is exhilarating . The impact as you hit the water is shocking and painful. It’s nothing you can imagine before you are in it. Everything around you is different and threatening. You learn and experience things for the first time that are frightening and cold, and you have no other options because once you leave the cliff you can’t get back onto the dry ground. I experienced this jump. Here’s how I met poverty in Visak, a small coastal city in Southeast India. Personal Essay     83 The first time I visited the Dola family—Prasad the father, Lakshmi the mother, and their teenage children Ganesh, Ramakrishna, and Dwarka—I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked over. All five of the family members worked overtime, 7 days a week. Ganesh and his father delivered steel rebar to construction sites, Dwarka ironed clothing at a shop across town, Lakshmi cleaned and cooked for a middle class family, and Ramakrishna sold vegetables in the local market. They each walked 45 minutes or more across their dark, crowded, sweaty city to get home every night. I met Lakshmi often as she traveled home and even though she looked worn and damp, she answered my “How are you?” with a simple “Happy, very happy.” She was short and round. She was personable and outgoing. She smiled easily and often. She was totally contagious. The Dolas lived in a cold cement shack smaller than most janitorial closets . When it rained the tin roof rattled like loose change down a stainless steel staircase. Nights without rain were spent sleeping on the dirt outside . Ramakrishna always said with an ivory grin, “It’s nicer sleeping outside . . . less hot and more stars.” He didn’t speak much English. He was the older of the two brothers and worked hard to earn his father’s respect. I never saw Ramakrishna with a shirt on except at church. His bare feet were flat and cracked from walking for years without shoes. He laughed at everything. Dwarka was the youngest. She turned fourteen the fall I was in Visak. She had an optimistic attitude that didn’t match her dilapidated, dirty clothing . I played an unnamed game with her, where we would try to spot each other first as I approached her home. She won every time. After she saw me, I would run up to her and shout a cheesy “Hello Family!!!” or a badly pronounced Telugu greeting, “Bangunnava!” Dwarka would always attract street dogs and give them celebrity names. She never touched them or fed them, but would tease them with her dress or a stick, or if she was lucky enough to find a ball she’d throw it for them to chase. She smiled like her mom. It was impossible , however, to ignore the brown color of her stained teeth. She chewed on a stick each day to clean her teeth - toothbrushes were not an option for the family. Whenever I left she would shout out the same thing. “Ok, Tata, Byebye , See-you!!!” And I’d yell it right back as loud as I could. Ganesh was always rowdy. He got scolded often by his worrying mother and nagging sister. His favorite words were “Abbott, you’re looking ugly. Why so ugly ra?” He snuck into movie theaters to watch Bollywood films he couldn’t understand, and always commented on how pretty the actresses were. He didn’t eat very much. He had a desire to protect his family, and eating less rice meant more for his mom and sister. I never told him I knew he was hungry. The day I first greeted Ganesh and felt how hard and calloused his hands were was the day I...


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