Thursday, July 30, 2009
Being here for six months now has made me more deeply love and simultaneously more frequently shy away from America. It's odd seeing the random bits that are filtered through here, living without TV but still able to read news online keeps me plugged in in a way that is probably both good and bad. Those Birthers for example. I mean, that's just embarrassing for everyone. And is tonight's Beer Summit a real thing? I kind of like that one actually. But I digress.
There are many things I've developed a deeper appreciation for since moving here. Health care, although we've been extremely lucky and in fact probably have a MD who is equally or more astute than any MD we've seen in the States, especially given his lack of equipment (he routinely uses a magnifying glass which makes me think of a mad scientist but yet he seems to use it well). Roads are another one. Damn, America, you have roads down to a science, generally pothole free and labeled so nicely with stoplights that work. Public services in general, the safety net of those three little numbers is something too easy to take for granted till they are gone.
There are some things that I enjoy but are obviously unnecessary, such as convenience. Being able to go to one store and get what you need instead of six stores and still coming up zeros, places to get a decent pedicure and of course, a variety of food choices.
But then there are some things that distance has allowed enlightenment, things that frustrated me when I lived there full time that I find even more annoying now, like the media. It's salaciousness, it's need to grip onto a subject and shake it like a dog with an iguana (oh, just trust me on this) until nothing is left and everything smells like shit. And one that has been particularly annoying is the boohooing over gas prices. Simply put, until you routinely pay the equivalent of $5 US per gallon (and that's on a good day) you can't realize how nice 2.87 or even 3.42 actually is. And imagine doing that while living on substantially less income. Perhaps that's why public transportation, as rickety as it is here, effectively makes the world go round. And the thing is, I never hear anyone complain. That's the thing that strikes me the loudest. There is markedly less complaining here.
And that can be both a good and bad thing. One of the reasons America became so great is because people DID complain. They stood up, they rallied, they cried out when things were unfair. This form of protest has brought a host of important changes to America, from the obvious civil and gender rights to all sorts of other issues. But sometimes, America me thinks you doth protest too much. Taxes are okay. Higher gas prices are okay. The former gives us the roads and the public services and many other things. The latter...well, the latter is a problem no matter how it's sliced. But keeping people and big business happy comes at great costs, doesn't it?
I write this with trepidation. The last thing I want to do is to sound critical or cavalier, I am sensitive to both and to be honest, feel more American now than I probably ever have in my life. I am proud of it and honored by the opportunities it has afforded me. Grateful that I've had the privilege of growing up well. But one can't see that without seeing the excess. Everything see, is a blessing and a curse.
Here, people live on very little. They eat the same foods every day, day in and day out. And when you ask them what their favorite food is they will tell you it's what they eat every day. Even the kids. Beans and rice. But what if you could have anything you want I ask them and they say without a hint of irony beans and rice. Here working hard and spending time with your family is a measure of your life. It's smaller and to those of us who've grown hungry it's often hard to fathom. That this could be your life in it's entirety, travelling very small distances and living as generations before you have lived with of course, small and large advances like electricity or running water or now, the internet. Being able to sit for hours in the evening simply being still.
Imagining our lives like this is easier for me now and harder still. I am aware of the separation, of what having some money and a passport can do. How lucky I am and yet also aware that if the shit really hits the fan these folks in all of these little outposts all over the world will probably survive a lot longer than most of us domesticated types. They know hand to mouth existence. They suck it up every single day. It's just how it is and yet there is a great joy entwined inside of it that has touched me more deeply and has made me think harder than I'd ever imagined. I thought I understood poverty before coming here and perhaps in in the States I still do but here, they've got nothing on folks here and these folks have nothing on folks in Africa. It's all relative I suppose. It's harder and easier. It's scarier and safer. It's just different.
I write this also because I am coming back for a bit. I've gotten a consulting gig in California, something very important to our family's ability to survive here and so in a week or so I'll be returning for a few weeks or maybe longer, back to the land of More after finally getting used to the world of Less and I'm a bit scared, scared that my soft white underbelly will show itself and I'll quickly forget all I've learned. That I'll wander the big grocery stores and buy more than I need. That I'll take luxury for granted. That I'll like the order of stoplights and exit signs and affordable gas prices more than I should. That I'll forget how to sit still.