Friday, February 15, 2013

More Unlimited

I just found this post in my draft folder.  Not sure why I didn't post it when I wrote it in 2009, about a month after our trip to Ethiopia to pick up the kids. Makes me want to go back to Addis.

My friend, Liz, writes a great blog about her quest for fitness. She loves the theater. She has taken her frustration about her body and made her quest for healthy self-love and self-care into a performance. I love her writing. This entry is about living within our means.

I have been thinking about and pursuing this "living within my means" thing for the last five years, but especially since I brought my kids here from Ethiopia. Four weeks IN Ethiopia (NOT at the Hilton or the Sheraton) actually shifted my focus more to thinking of it in terms of time rather than money or food. No electricity every third day? No problem. Read a book. No way to do any work from here? No problem. Play with the kids. No chores to do because I am not at home? No problem, go for a walk. Or heck, just sit here in the sunshine.

Sometimes when I am in the car, beating myself up for not getting enough done, I take a deep breath and remember the feeling of just being that I had so often in Ethiopia. One day we went to the Ethiopian Immigration building. There were hundreds of people there, mostly Ethiopian. Everyone had to wait for long periods to get their piece of paper signed, or their photo taken, or to pay their fee, or to do all of it. I brought books for my kids to read while they waited. But almost no-one else had brought anything to do while they were waiting. They all sat, and waited, some talked a bit, but mostly, people just waited. Can you imagine people here choosing not to multi-task? American waiting rooms have TVs, toys, magazines galore. It's a rare thing for people in these rooms to greet each other, and actually look into each others eyes. In Ethiopia, almost everyone looked into my eyes.

Enjoying coffee after dinner on the porch with new friends in Addis Ababa

So much of what I do with food, and money, has to do with not being able to just be. I'm bored, so I eat. I'm scared, so I spend money. I'm grumpy, so I cheer myself up by spending money and eating.

I have been a little mystified by my boys' behavior around food and activities and stuff. Here are kids who owned nothing, and really have no concept of money-value of things. They were surprised when I told them that I pay for the electricity, and our car, and our house. They are overwhelmed by all the stuff, all the toys, all the clothes (and we kept ourselves from doing the usual buy buy buy that most parents do). Yet, when I say no to buying a new pair of soccer shoes, they sulk. When I tell them that what they just ate for dinner was plenty (because it was twice as much as I could ever eat in one sitting), they sulk because they cannot have another banana. They have never had the opportunity to have more, more, more, so now MORE is what they want all the time. And they live in the land of MORE. They have been told all their lives about America... that there is MORE in America. Mostly, it is the dream of going to America to be educated, then coming back to Ethiopia and helping build the country into something more. To help. To be of service. This is what so many Ethiopians want from going to America.

So, can they learn here? Can people actually learn what they need to learn to be of service here in a place where More More More is the silent ohm chanted by almost every American? How can the experience of MORE UNLIMITED not get under one's skin?

And how is it not disgusting to people who have grown up in a culture of "enough is too much" and "no problem?"  (Note from the future, 2013: it is not disgusting to kids because they are kids. Based on my reading, I am pretty sure it is disgusting to adults who come here from other cultures where More is not valued over Enough.)

By the way, I am going tomorrow to trade in my perfectly good Subaru wagon for a mini-van so I can have more. More space, more seat belts for my bigger family. It makes sense, but it still feels so American. So ridiculously lavish. So comfortable in a world full of people who accept so much discomfort saying "no problem."

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