I never thought that I was a high maintenance person. I thought that I had a pretty good grasp on what life was like in “less fortunate” areas of the world. I have been to other impoverished countries. I have seen the ways that people in third world countries live firsthand. I know, to a certain extent, what that is like…but since being in Africa, and particularly Cameroon, my eyes have been opened in a new way to things that we take for granted as Americans. Here are a few examples.
1) Water. Coming from Fond du Lac, WI, we had water. We had good water. Water to drink that was delicious! We would just turn on our faucet, stick a glass (or your face) under the stream of water, and knock it back by the glass. We would wash our vegetables in it and they would be ready to eat! No filter required! In Cameroon, not so much. Water in Meiganga is unreliable at best. I don’t think we have had water for 24 hours in a row yet since living there. That means that not only is there not water to drink or bathe in, there is not water to flush the toilet or wash your hands with. No water to rinse your vegetables with or wash your clothes in. Water is a precious resource that, as an American, and particularly a midwesterner, we take for granted all too easily. Especially clean water. We waste far too much of it far too frequently. So, I’m going to try to make a concerted effort to value my water when we return.
2) Good Sanitation. This ties in partially with the water shortage point. If there is not readily available water, there is nothing to wash the filth of our bodies (and in our bodies) away. Many places here do not have flush toilets. So, there are sometimes designated shacks/outhouses that people use. But even those can be a precious commodity, so people “drop trou” wherever they are to relieve themselves…up to and including the yard of the church or right next to the hospital. In fact, a friend of ours told us about a time when the pastor gave a 30 minute lesson about why we shouldn’t poop on the church lawn. But without toilets, when you gotta go, you gotta go. I am grateful for public toilets in the States. Even if they are not the best smelling or the cleanest, at least they are functional. When there are water problems at the schools in some of the townships we went to, the toilets overflow with human refuse, which is a huge sanitation issue and contributes largely to the spread of disease.
Along the same lines, in the States, we have garbage and recycling services that are kind enough to come to our doors every week and carry away our waste to a designated area away from civilization and dump it all there. Though I believe that we still throw away far more than we need to, it’s nice that it all goes to another place. Here, and many other places, that is not a reality. There may be a deep hole in your backyard where you can dump things, but not always. So, there is garbage thrown all over the ground, in the streets, and in the fronts of the shops. There may be someone who sweeps it up and puts it somewhere, but usually it just remains on the ground and gets stepped on and pushed around. It is not aesthetically pleasing and it is not sanitary. They are beginning to have recycling of paper and other things in certain areas, but that is by no means a given anywhere. It is where I’m from. Though I think that we don’t recycle enough in the States because it isn’t convenient enough. I will try to be more conscious of how wasteful I am and more grateful for the good sanitation services in the USA.
3) Electricity. I probably don’t need to say much about this here, since we’ve talked about it in other posts. But really, we waste so much electricity in the States because there is such a low likelihood of us running out. Renewable and sustainable energy is something that I am becoming more and more interested in as I have seen how solar energy in particular has made such a huge difference in Africa. In America, we walk into rooms and assume that the lights will work…or the fridge, or the oven, or the…and if not, they will in an hour or so. And we waste it.
6) Education. This is a really large topic in the States. We are always complaining about something that is going wrong with the education system and striving to make it better, but by the standards of most places in Africa (or much of the world, for that matter) we are so spoiled!!!! There are so many people that cannot find good education here or sometimes any schools past primary at all…for their whole lives. And we scoff at our education system that has curriculum and standards and even that it is a requirement. That’s amazing and we do not know how lucky we are to have that privilege.
5) The final one for today. Choices. This is the easiest one to take for granted, I think, because we have SO many choices that we don’t know even notice when some are missing. Some seasons things are more expensive, but you can almost always get almost anything you want or need from the store. If they are out of one brand, you get the other one. There is such a luxury in the number of choices that we have. I remember someone once telling me that the richness of a country can be determined by the number of choices there are. I really believe that to be true. We cannot even find most spices in the market in Meiganga-whereas in America, there is a wall of 57 spices that you can put on your rice. We are spoiled and most of us don’t even know it. Be grateful that you can have a choice of 90 cereals for breakfast. Most of the world isn’t that fortunate.
These are just a few of the many ways that Will and I have found that we have taken being Americans for granted. We are blessed beyond belief and forget that so easily. So, as you are eating your cereal today, drinking your coffee from Caribou, or flushing your toilet, I encourage you to take a moment and remember how lucky you are to have those simple things that in much of the rest of the world are merely luxuries that they dream about. As for me, I’m going to thank God that we are blessed with internet today and check my email.
Much love from Ngaoundere, Cameroon