A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend from home for the first time since November. After a few funny (and, admittedly, probably sometimes whiny) stories about the day to day in Uganda, my friend said something that I haven’t been able to get off my mind since. She said, “I don’t feel like you went to Africa, I feel like you went back in time.” I don’t remember how I responded at the moment, but I do know that as I laid in bed that night, staring at the ceiling and waiting for sleep, that sentence played over and over again in my head.
Because, of course, I didn’t go back in time. This is my life. Now. In 2013. No running water, 10 hours of electricity on a good day, Sundays spent scrubbing my 4 shirts and 3 skirts by hand, a choice of 6 foods at the market every day, the occasional indulgent trip to the 2 aisle “supermarket” in the closest town…
In fact, not only is this my life and the life of everyone around me, this is how the majority of people in the world live today. If you have a refrigerator, a closet, a bed, and a roof, you are richer than 75% of the entire world population. 53% of people live on less than US $2 per day and 93% are not educated at a secondary school (high school) level. Over 3 billion people live without basic sanitation and 1.5 billion are hungry or malnourished. 6% of the world owns 60% of the wealth.
I’m not trying to take credit for doing this full throttle. I’m on the internet most days. I have a modest but reliable and sufficient source of income. There’s a scented candle on my coffee table. Oh, and I’m choosing to be here. It’s for a defined period of time, and I can technically “get out” at any point, for medical or security reasons, or even if I’ve simply had enough.
But, for most people in the world, this is it. This is their only reality, all they have ever known and in all likelihood, all they ever will know. Escape via time machine, or flight to Albany, NY, not an option.
To me this isn’t a we-have, they-don’t-have kind of thing. These are struggles happening on the planet that we all inhabit together, and that means that each of us should share an equal interest in the solutions. I’m just grateful for the opportunity, however buffered, to see what it’s like to be part of the majority.
There can be no peace without understanding.
[African Proverb – Senegal]