From approximately 27 March – 4 April 2008, I was in Zambia, Africa. My experiences there are far too many to put into one blog post, that’s for sure, but I thought I’d try to write a little something about my time there today and see if I want to write more another time.
I guess what I want to say is that Americans really just don’t realize that it is possible to be happy without very much “stuff.” America is a country built on materialism — don’t you agree? — and that’s pretty easily observed by traveling to (parts of) Africa and recognizing the vast contrasts between the two places. Leaving a land where some families have more cars than people to arrive in one where families have no electric or running water (and are lucky if they have a well/hand pump to obtain clean water from), I saw the stark differences of Zambia and the USA. But who was happier?
I think we could all agree there are certain basic things a person should have and that as probably requirements for finding contentment: enough food and water; a safe and protected living environment; access to sufficient medical care; shoes and clothing. Maybe you’d add some more. The point is, though, that there is no requirement of iPods or Mercedes or even televisions and computers to be happy or content, and I was able to experience that very poignantly while in Zambia. One evening we were able to have dinner and fellowship with members of one of the “villages” on the farm where we stayed. Before dinner, some of us (visitors and hosts alike) played with a soccer ball and sang songs, and we shared in conversation before eating dinner (in the dark because one of the cooks had taken too long in making her food). We were smiling and enjoying one another’s company, and I think we were all pretty happy. Most of us only spoke one language, — English or Tonga — though, so I never really got to ask, but I enjoyed my evening.
If you know me, you know I tend to live a pretty simple life. I indulge in movies and pop culture, to be sure, but I seek to live pretty simply. When I told someone I survived living in DC for only about $650 a month (including rent!), she was pretty shocked. But just because I forego the pricy food or the 64″ TV (though it’s pretty tempting) doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I think I’ve said it before, but once you have those basics covered, I really believe it’s all about the relationships and people in your life that make things worth it.
It’s truly an injustice that there are people in Zambia (and America, to be sure) who live without running water; who live without readily available resources to deal with certain medical problems they might encounter; who live with only one or two pairs of clothing and maybe nothing to wear on their feet; who lack enough food to meet their bodily needs.
What isn’t an injustice is that some people don’t have televisions or 50 shirts or cars that gulp down 10 gallons of gas to drive 150 miles. Perhaps the injustice is not that some people don’t have these things but that so many people do.