I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.
And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.
They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.
Relationships need time. Take it.
I love the time Africans take to simply shoot the breeze with each other. They might be sorting beans or rice, or washing clothes by hand, or cooking or farming—but they’re talking. They’re relating, spiraling out cords of connection between them. People are so much more than 140 characters, and the person across from me shouldn’t be superseded by the phone in my hand. You may remember this post, In Praise of a Culture that Walks (or, Why I Waited to Get an iPhone); far more than activities, I want my life to make a priority of time for people.
You don’t really need that: the gift of simplicity.
Jesus said it best: A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. In fact, sometimes I think it’s subtly stolen. My husband and I were shaking our heads at our changed perspective when we walk in a “big box” store now (Target, Best Buy, Home Depot…). It used to be so easy to find little, cheap things that we could use. But the spare nature and simple happiness of Africa have unveiled the ways those things were actually weighing us down. I don’t need twenty scarves; it’s great to have a few versatile ones I really like. My kids don’t need more stuff from the dollar aisle. (My kids need their imagination and a cardboard box.) I don’t need more cute stuff for hosting; I need a few tasty dishes and a home where everyone can kick off their shoes and let down their hair, because I’m not trying to impress them. Check out more thoughts on simplicity for families here.
Respect for elders.
- Africa’s rich tradition of respecting those who go before us—and all they do for us—helps me whittle away at my entitlement. A friend recently told me that at a Ugandan friend’s college graduation reception, her friend placed her graduation cap on her mother’s head. See, her single mom was the one who worked her fingers down to the knuckles to put her daughter through school. A mzee–a wise elder–receives a special greeting and special privileges here. I remember being surprised to understand how disputes are still brought to the elders of a village for resolution here. Personally, even now, some of my most prized friendships are with my parents a few key women who are old enough to be my mom. In a culture where typically we seek advice from people who are going through the exact same season of life (um, like bloggers)—I find their experienced wisdom a motherlode of genius. My mentors bring such richness to my life!
My family’s in better health, and I’m a better cook, because of the crazy amounts of fresh produce we feast on every week here. The freezer section can feel like a real letdown after that! Because everything takes soooo loooong here anyway, I’ve now realized it’s worth it for health and enjoyment to take a little more time for fresh, less processed meals. Yumm-o.
Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Less comforts, less family, and more stress means community is more vital here. (Honestly, it was just as vital before. But I was better at finding substitutes.) Think of a herd on the savannah: The ones who are alone and sick get picked off first! In moving back, my husband and I specifically chose a smaller community outside of the big city so our kids could go to school with the same people they go to church and Boy Scouts and Wal-Mart with. We want friendships to be critical and constant.
Well, not howdy—but greeting is a critical part of East African social customs. Even if you’re just looking for the “American” ketchup at the grocery store, you say hello; you ask how someone’s day is going. Though occasionally my wristwatch is breathing down my neck—greeting continues to help me treat people, and think of them, not just as I would an ATM or vending machine, but as people who need to be value even in the smallest moments. So watch out, America. I’m going to ask about your day.
What we take for granted.
I found it odd that I’d get so many “Happy New Year!” greetings and very few holiday greetings. But my Ugandan friends have explained that with the tenuous nature of survival here, making it through another year isn’t something you take for granted. So many researchers have found direct correlations between gratitude and a person’s happiness! Which is perhaps why my African friends who hover at the poverty line are some of the most joyful on the planet. This place reminds me to comb through my day for little reminders of God’s kindness and respite: water pouring from my tap, a safe night’s sleep, drugs (which I can afford!) that alleviate in 20 minutes ailments that have plagued people for millennia. God’s kindness is everywhere—and sometimes it takes poverty to remind me. See more about this here.
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