The Strength Of Shithole Countries

We’re all in some shit now, aren’t we?

According to Donald Trump, I live in a shithole country. He was referring to TPS nations, places with civil unrest, violence, or natural disasters. Sri Lanka’s not TPS, but check, check, check, sounds like home.

I’ve lived through a tsunami, war, terrorism, floods, riots, and a running epidemic. And I’ve had it easy, old-timers consider me soft. I’ve only been hospitalized once and I haven’t buried anybody close. Even so, this isn’t my first curfew. It’s not even my first curfew in the last year.

We’ve been drilled like this for generations. Forever as far as I know. If it wasn’t the weather it was the British. If it wasn't the British, it was us. We get hit and we get back up, over and over again. Sometimes together, sometimes fighting each other, but we always get up.

I used to think this made us fucked up. Now I realize that it has made us strong.

The West Has Gone Soft

Svetlana, from The Sopranos

The west, in contrast, has gone weak. For months I’ve been honestly baffled by them. They’re supposed to be developed, to be smart, but they’ve been so dumb. Why are they talking so much? Why aren’t they acting?

Now it all makes sense. This is their first time.

Simply put, nothing this bad has happened to them for generations. That’s why they need some 100-year-old veteran to raise money for their NHS, only he even remembers what sacrifice is. Everybody else has gone soft. They’re used to stable governments, financial disasters, a little terrorism; child’s play, biblically speaking.

When I lived in America the worst thing I remember was a snow day. Disaster relief was eating cereal and watching TV. These people were not ready. So here they are.

Let me be clear. I’m talking about white people. Black people, minorities, the sick — life has been a running disaster for them even in the west. White people are a disaster all their own. We had that one too, three times. And no I don’t mean all white people, but enough of you, shut up.

For years their dumb cruelty was getting black people killed on the street, or children murdered in schools, or random weddings droned in Yemen. They just watched while black people drowned in Katrina, or Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. Now, a Malcolm X said, chickens have come to roost.

COVID-19, however, is no chicken. It’s a bear.

A Parable: The Dumbass And The Bear

Let me tell you a story. I just made it up.

A bunch of one-legged people and one able-bodied American are having a picnic. A bear shows up, and he looks pissed. The one-legged people know what a bear is, that’s how they lost the other leg. They run.

Some of them are on crutches, some in wheelchairs. Some of them are Special Olympians of this disaster shit, they’re running on blades. The American just stands there, on two good feet, talking to himself.

“What’s a bear? Don’t dogs kill more people? Won’t it eat grandma first?”

So the bear eats the American.

Even as the American is going down the bear’s gullet, however, he’s still talking, much to everyone’s confusion, including the bear.

“So… can we go back to our picnic now? My freeedommm….”

That’s America right now. They’re halfway down the gullet of disaster, talking about reopening. Even as a disaster is happening to them, they’re still not ready. They don’t even understand what ready is.

The Resiliency Of Shitholes

People don’t think like this in ‘shithole’ countries. We weeded these idiots out of the gene pool years ago. That’s why almost every country in the world besides the west at least reacted quickly to COVID-19. Literally no one is recommending drinking bleach, or saying this thing will just go away. We might be poor, but we’re not stupid. We have too much hard experience.

Nobody here was like,

“What is bear? I need a haircut.”

In fact, being poor has made us smart. All of our trials — the troubles that made people call us shitholes — they made us hard. All of the proud comforts of the west, they made you soft. It’s a bit of cognitive dissonance even to us. We migrate to the west on the assumption that you guys know what you’re doing. But you don’t.

Here’s a perspective of a Sri Lankan in Belgium, watching this unfold in horror.

I see denial everywhere, and within that denial, I see fear and the unwillingness to face the inevitable painful reality that we are going to see a lot of deaths. The youth in many of these countries tend to complain of being forced to stay at home and I see a clear lack of resilience. And adults, perhaps because they have not lived a crisis themselves, do not see this lack of resilience as a weakness. It is a revelation to me that I have, despite all my travels, understood what resilience is, because of my youth in the late eighties in Sri Lanka. (Sanjee Goonetilake)


I used to think all of our disasters made us a disaster, but I was wrong. Disasters are just what happened. Resilient is what we are.

We’re not a shithole, we’re just a place where shit happens. And we’ve fought back, every time.

When COVID-19 came we didn’t know what it was, but we knew what trouble was. We understood that we need to save every life, and we know what sacrifice is. We’ve fed each other, helped each other, and taken political action before. I’ve seen the same networks and the same people spring into place. We’ve given a lot up to save lives, and now we just had to do it again.

This is the same in ‘shithole’ countries across the world. This is true for countries that only recently came out of the shit, like much of East Asia. This is basically true everywhere except the indolent west. Are we all winning? Hell no, but at least we’re not actively killing ourselves.

And let me be clear. The moments you see on the news, that’s not our life. I’ve listed all the disasters I’ve lived through, but that’s not how I remember things. My life is in between those moments, and life is beautiful. We have a good life here. We fight for it and we get back to it, every time. Honestly, we’re pretty damn useful to have around for you countries that have gone soft.

You can call us shitholes, but we’re all in some shit now, aren’t we? It helps to have some experience.


On bears. Bears are cool and not to be viewed as a danger to us, an attitude that gets them killed. We’re a bigger danger to them. Any resemblance to bears living or dead is unintentional. Go Bears.

For further reading, I have, uh, gone on about this.

White Arrogance Is Getting People Killed
The problem isn’t China, it’s white people
In The NYTimes, Only White Leaders Stand Out
The Times spends exactly one sentence on Asia