Among the Smoggies - My Family Travels
Grandpa and I enjoying a photo

The smoggies is what they were called. Or at least that’s what my grandparents, who on a humanitarian trip with a local church, had told me they were called. Made up largely of third and fourth generation Irish immigrants, though not by any means limited to a single demographic (the area seemed to be a melting pot of races from every corner of the globe), the inhabitants got their nickname from the thick layers of smog that you can see floating in the lower atmosphere like the dirty haze a truck stirs up on a gravel road. It’s  particularly visible from the top of Roseberry Topping, the third largest mountain in England towering over Yorkshire at a whopping one thousand feet.

This smog is a result of the British chemical industry, who made a home for their factories on the once luscious, green plains that span most of North Yorkshire. When visiting football teams would come for a match, they’d see the immense wall of smog given off by the factories and mock the working class. Thus, the term “smoggie” was coined.

I wasn’t there to complain though. I saved thousands of dollars, and traveled thousands of miles not to show animosity towards the citizens, but compassion. This was, after all, one of the poorest local economies in all of the United Kingdom. I was here to gain perspective, to witness what life was like outside my own personal sphere of privilege, and to meet people with unknown lifestyles.

Devin was the name of the first person I encountered. He was a second generation African immigrant with a soft heart and a hardened demeanor, as if his character was kind and empathetic, but a rough life had made him extra wary. We spoke about transportation for some reason, particularly the contrast between his transportation and mine. At one point, Devin asked if I’d ever driven a car. As I responded that yes, I had driven a car, in fact I owned a car, he was baffled. His family, because of economic hardship, made efficient use of secondhand bicycles and, when absolutely necessary, public transportation. He wasn’t the only one either, only the outrageously wealthy could afford such luxuries as automobiles. I had the pleasure to meet one of the “outrageously wealthy” myself, just a few days later. 

Her name was Florence, I met her at church and got to know her at her house for dinner. She lived in a stone row house that looked exactly like every other little brick house on the street. The yard was basically a cement slab, about fifty square feet in area with a smattering of shrubs and thistle in the dirt to the side, and the structure was at least a hundred years old. As we talked inside, she told me that she operated a small factory on the outskirts of town, for which she made close to sixty thousand pounds per year, placing her in the uppermost economic caste of Middlesbrough. She was born in the city, and never left, marrying her high school sweetheart, and then divorcing before she had the opportunity to start a family. We’re still friends to this day.

You don’t expect to see poverty in countries that have been deemed “developed.” In fact after my visit the term “developed” holds no meaning to me anymore. It’s an excruciatingly broad generalization that ignores the actuality of a country, and its people. My visit showed me that even though most humanitarian trips venture to South America, or Asia, there are people in need of help all over the globe. 

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