We have a regular trishaw driver. Fahim’s family has been hiring him for years. He’s honest, he does a great job, he’s reliable, despite me being white he charges us a fair price, and if he can’t make it, he sends us someone else. He’s a great guy. Plus Fahim gets all his gossip from our trishaw driver.
Trishaws are three-wheeled vehicles, one in the front, two in the back, kind of like tin cans on wheels with a motorcycle engine, and because of the one wheel in front, highly maneuverable, which is great for the very bad traffic here. They’re commonly used the same way people would use taxi-cabs. This red trishaw is driven by our old trishaw driver when we lived in Battaramulla.
Our trishaw driver doesn’t make a lot of money, but he earns a living. We don’t know how much he makes, exactly, but with conversations he and Fahim have had, it seems like he needs to earn at least Rs.1000 (around $10US) a day to make a living. Around Rs.600 ($6US) of that will go to pay for petrol. That’s not a lot of money we’re talking about here.
To give you some perspective, a 40 or 50 minute trishaw ride will cost around Rs.800 (around $8US). Our trip to the grocery store and back – a five to ten minute trishaw ride away plus a wait of around 45 minutes - costs us Rs.200 (around $2US).
Most people who hire trishaws do it for neighborhood trips like going to the grocery store or picking up the kids or going to work or whatever.
Recently, our trishaw driver was in an accident with another trishaw–the other driver’s fault–and insurance covered some but not all of the damage. The insurance company paid $90 less than the actually damage would cost. Our trishaw driver doesn’t have $90 to pay the rest. He just doesn’t. And until he pays, he can’t earn a living with his trishaw since the repair peoplpe won’t release his trishaw.
Rock, meet hard place.
Then the repair place upped the bill, because that’s what people do here, changing prices at the last minute, usually after whatever they’re charging for is done. The repair people have a stranglehold on him, after all.
So now he’s short $100. An amount of money that many people in developed nations throw away in nothing more than one cup of coffee a day for a month.
And he’s not entirely all that poor, relatively speaking. He has a house with electricity and running water and a vehicle, the trishaw.
ETA: What I didn’t make clear, and should have, is that this post is about trying to make it easier for those in the developed world to understand what third world poverty can look like. There are a lot of different ways that poverty here can look. This is just one picture.
And, for the record, I doubt our trishaw driver considers himself to be living in poverty.