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At the moment I have 5 college-aged kids staying with me. They are Vacation Bible School camp counselors from Outlaw Ranch, South Dakota. The counselors lead camp for a whole week, in the City Park. We join forces with 5 other local churches to bring the counselors here each summer. I love having the counselors stay with me. I find young people invigorating and fascinating. I also love to cook them breakfast, my main job.

English: Malawi (orthographic projection) Port...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year is even more special than usual, as one of the counselors is a young man from Malawi, a country in the south-eastern part of Africa. Last night while they were meeting about today’s camp sessions, I looked up everything I could find about Malawi. On a happy note, the country is in a phase where it is improving, economically and otherwise. Perhaps their female president has something to do with that : )

On a sad note, Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world. The HIV/AIDS and infant mortality rates are high and adults live, on average, 55 years. About 80% of the people live in rural settings, without indoor plumbing or running water.

Barton lives in the capital city in Malawi yet luxuries are rare. You can imagine how amazed he is at the simple things we take for granted. At the city pool last night, Barton commented on how all the young people have cars. Our technologies are far more advanced, even in tiny Wheatland, WY where I live. He looks at absolutely everything  and I wonder what he is thinking, besides being in awe of all our possessions. When I told him that we are a rural community he had quite a disconnect, comparing our version of rural to his. He did not understand how we could say we could be rural and yet have all the amenities like people in the city.

I have written here about my efforts to simplify, which includes getting rid of stuff. Until Barton came to visit, I felt like my house was no longer full of excess junk  and looking quite Spartan. However, as I follow his eyes around the room, I see that I live like a queen by comparison. I have enough towels and bed linens to house 5 college kids. I have lovely dishes, nice cooking pans, an electric tea kettle to boil water for his morning tea (and a selection of dozens of different kinds of tea). Now I feel that there is simply no end to what we have and they don’t. A simple life to most people in the world is a thatched hut, a cooking circle, and a few clothes. My life, even after nearly 2 years of simplifying,  is opulent. I even have two vehicles, not to mention of nice folding bike. I won’t even try to count the pairs of shoes that I own.

The photographer describes this instrument as ...

The photographer describes this instrument as a “traditional ‘mangolongondo'”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question is, do we appreciate all that we have? I explained to Barton that most middle-class Americans do not feel rich. I told him we want more and more stuff and that no one ever seems happy with the money they have. We want more, bigger, better, all the time, and our economy is based on consumerism. He cannot believe we are not happy with all that we have.

A funny side story: I had to go into Barton’s room this morning after the counselors left for camp. My wireless printer is in there and I needed to get some pages that I printed out. Everything was neatly folded, his possessions ordered, and his bed made. The room was immaculate. Out of curiosity I peeked into the two bedrooms upstairs (each housing two young women) and they were disasters. The beds were unmade and their junk strewn everywhere. I personally don’t care since I live more like the young women in terms of tossing stuff around, but I found the contrast interesting, and perhaps a commentary about which ones appreciate and care for what they have.

So, a young man from sub-Saharan Africa has opened my eyes even more to American extravagance, and is leading me to reconsider my definition of simplifying.

Groundnut harvesting at an agricultural resear...

Groundnut harvesting at an agricultural research station in Malawi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 thoughts on “A Lesson in Simplicity

  1. Hi Jane:
    Excellent post! Truly living as Barton is and does parallels with my Peace Corps life. I am still struggling with materialism, America’s way of accumulation….even the daily ads in the mail are now too much for me. I have yet to make my way into a Walmart. This is all part of what the PC calls “adjusting back into America.” I am not sure I want to!

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