Africa — wow!

Monday 7 April 2008

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.

mismatched socks

Wednesday 27 February 2008

As I continue to think about simplicity (see here) and continue less and less to care about what others think of my looks (see here), more and more things doors seem to open for me to try, especially when you’re up for using some creativity.  I’m big on practicality, so I try to do things that are practical even if they might be seen by others as odd or “weird.”

One of those things lately has been socks.  Living out of a suitcase, I had room for only so many things, one of them being socks.  Last year someone got me wearing short white socks instead of longer “tube” socks, so for the winter here I decided to bring a mix of both.  For the “style,” I suppose, I’m supposed to wear the super short socks, but when I’m biking, I like to wear a longer pair so I can tuck the bottom of my right pant leg into my sock (in itself a defiance of style) so they don’t get caught up in the greasy chain.  However, sometime last month after about a week or so after doing laundry, I realized I had run out of pairs of long songs.

So I did what every thinker of common sense would do: I decided to make the long socks last longer by wearing a long white sock on my right foot and a short white sock on my left foot each day.  In effect, I doubled the amount of days I could successfully tuck my pants into my sock before I ran out of socks and needed to do laundry!  And that got me to thinking more about sock in general — why do we match socks?

I’m a pretty particular person when it comes to sock matching, and just because they’re long and white doesn’t mean they’re a match in my book.  But why must we even match socks?  Why not just have them in a nice drawer (or pile) where you can pick out two to wear, and that’s that?  We talk about socks disappearing in the dryer or wherever they go, but if we never matched them, it wouldn’t really matter (if we noticed at all).  Why not wear a long green and white striped sock and a short blue one?  Does it really matter?

Like so many things, we’ve been cultured to think in a certain way under a certain framework, but why not examine that framework, even to the minutest scale?  If we don’t ask questions, then what’s the point?  As Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  True that.

on dental hygene

Monday 25 February 2008

a question: can floss be reused?

We use one piece to go through our entire set of teeth, so who’s to say it’s not good for (at least) one more go round?

turning off the computer

Monday 18 February 2008

It’s been very hard to adjust to living again with a computer in my bedroom. There are definitely aspects of it I find nice, but I’m not really sure I could say that, as a whole, I “like” it. Until I moved in to my most recent room, it had been about 18 months since I had regular access to the Internet from my home. In many ways, I liked it like that. When I was in LVC, I had access to the Internet while I was at work and when I went to the library, but that was about it. This fall it was the same set up, and the summer of 2006 I was at camp, where I only got to check my e-mail on weekends (or while doing day camp/Bible school).

Being in a place this weekend that had dial up Internet that I couldn’t be on all the time — and which I didn’t want to — was refreshing. Being here with access to my blog before I go to bed is nice, but I’d enjoy it just as well if I just wrote the blog now and posted it in the morning. Have Internet access helps me waste time, something I very much dislike doing, on things like checking e-mail or facebook or random websites I don’t need to check out, instead of reading or writing or even watching a movie.

How many of us spend much more time on the Internet than we’d like? I think my life would be more full if I just kept the Internet cord out of my computer at night, or limited myself to maybe 15 minutes to check e-mail once before I head to bed or a similar limit, allowing myself to really feel like I’ve accomplished something instead of heading to bed with little to show from the evening than a new status on my facebook profile.

I’m far from addicted, to be sure, but it’s just to easy for me to sign on and roam around with nothing to do as the hours pass me by. I need a little more self discipline and maybe even some encouragement to leave the Internet behind when I want to but just can’t. It’s that societal idea of instant gratification — the ability to find the answer of wikipedia in seconds and not having to wait for hours or days to find out. I was just talking about self discipline and self gratification last week in relation to receiving a letter in the mail: wait until the following day to open it, and you’ll challenge your self discipline, to be sure.

But for now, maybe I’m not ready for the 15 minute time limit — I think I just need to unplug the Ethernet cord, pick up my book, light a candle, and try to forget which century I’m living in for a few hours.