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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Year in Questions

One year later.
Today is our anniversary; one year ago we landed on African soil. One year! Wow. We’ve not only survived driving through Africa (as many of you feared we wouldn’t) - living out of a car - but we’ve actually thrived. We’ve had plenty of fuel for our journey: your encouragement, the generosity of everyone we’ve met and the laughs we’ve shared along the way.  

Just starting out.
Over the course of this year I have frequently been asked different versions of more or less the same question: How has Africa changed you? It is hard to say how the people of a nation have impacted your life while you are still on the ground amongst them. When you’re in a situation you cannot realistically forecast into the future (or accurately assess yourself), you’re more or less trapped in your own perspective. Of course there are plenty of trivial changes, like my uncanny ability to suss out a fruit vendor down a ramshackle back alleyway constructed solely of scrap metal and plastic tarps, but I don’t think that is the point of the question. I’ll have to write a post return update and let you know how it is going.

People also inquire about the poverty in Africa, asking how we deal. My answer is a based on my own definition of poverty and it is a question of perspective, not of accumulation. I see poverty as not having enough of something; Americans with more than enough - yet never satisfied - always seeking more, chasing, chasing, chasing that elusive [fill in the blank] are just as impoverished as the African who deals with food scarcity. Yes, you can argue Maslow by saying that the accumulation of wealth cannot possibly compare with inadequate basic needs, but poverty is a question of perspective: abundance vs. scarcity. Hunger, filthy water and a lack of basic medical facilities are byproducts of poverty, but separate issues altogether. For those of you who have spent time in poor countries, you know that poor is a relative term.

 If you live in rural Africa and you have more of something than someone else does, you share with them. That is how African’s operate. It is a different way of being in the world. No, most Africans don’t have ipods, drive expensive cars and live in fancy houses like we do. They certainly laugh, sing and joke more than we do. They dance and have time for conversation. They stop what they’re doing to help you whether you need it or not. There is a spirit of community that our world has lost. So are they poor?

By my definition, America is the more impoverished of the two nations. Try crying into your cashmere sweater and tell me how comforting it is.

I’ve grown accustomed to the wealth of spirit that surrounds us every day here in Africa so I don’t really see the poverty as such. The real question is how I’ll deal with the poverty of spirit back home where the acquisition of: money, youth, power, etc. takes precedent over the development of self and soul.

I went into a gallery in Addis Ababa the other day looking for Ethiopian folk art. It was like walking into Barneys in the middle of NYC during a holiday buying frenzy. I was surrounded with rich white American women demanding price lists and grabbing up treasures faster than the staff could swipe their Visa cards. I think I stood there gaping in awe, but I am not quite sure, it was a bit of a blur. I handed over my price list to a woman shrieking across the gallery with an east coast accent to her rhinestone spectacled friend and slipped out the front door. That was a culture shock and a half, but a world so, very, very familiar. I am pretty sure the shock of returning to the western world will be more glaring than any I’ve experienced thus far. The real question should have been: Am I ready for this?

And one I’ve gotten a lot lately is: Are you ready to come home? The answer is yes. By my definition you are all rich beyond measure and Glenn and I have been so blessed by your wealth of spirit, love and vitality. I can’t wait to be home and kiss your faces, hold those babies and soak up your wealth. You will share with me won’t you?

My love,

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