Sunday, April 24, 2011

Living without.

I wanted to spend some more time thinking about what it is to live without. I’m sure some of you just went through Lent and gave something up (as many people do). Did you give up chocolate? Or Soda? Or a grouping of “bad” things? Or instead did you add something to your life, like saying “than you” more or spending more time with your grandma? What did you do? 

 One of the lessons that you are supposed to learn by making these choices is how to appreciate your life more and the things and privileges you have.  Moving across the world has done something similar for us. Our situation is weird because we do have things; we live in a fully-furnished rental house (no television or radio) and someone has kindly lent us their car for the last month and a half. And yet, we came here with just a large suitcase and a carry-on each. My husband wears the same five shirts to work every day; we’ve bought him one since he’s been here. We have one five-pack of hangers for his shirts, I don’t hang anything right now. I have tennis shoes (called tekkies here) and two pairs of flip flops (a casual and a “dressy” pair- if flip flops can be dressy); I do not own a blow-dryer (but that may change this week as it has gotten cold). Living with such few articles of clothing has made me realize that I do not really need too much. I’d love a pair of loafers, but until I have a job, I don’t really need some.  I do laundry more frequently, which is fine, since I have a lot of time on my hands. But then I worry about all the water we’re using… I have started to live more frugally (and greener)- I wash out Ziploc baggies to re-use then for his sandwiches, I use small boxes lined with a grocery bag instead of buying a trash bin, I use every last bit of dish soap before starting the new bottle, I put old pizza boxes underneath the dog’s eating area instead of buying a mat, and I wash out used containers of pasta sauce to use for storage. Why did I ever need so many mis-matched plastic containers? I even saved a piece of tape to re-use in the future. How many of you have done these things? Why did you do it?

We have very few personal, sentimental things here. When we packed all of our belongings, everything seemed personal. I had to learn how to give up things that were too small, broken, aged, out of style, or useless. We still packed some of those kinds of things with our stuff. And so we still have a lot of stuff. We literally packed all of our belongings, minus furniture, in less than five hours with four people. It surprised me how quickly it all disappeared into boxes. But it’s not here with us; and I wonder if we really need it. And then I think about how it would be nice to have personal things, things with memories attached here with us. And then I think maybe that is because we do not have any personal relationships here, I’m to the point that I am missing having a personal relationship with anything. 

Note left in our mail box (I blurred out the phone numbers).
Then, I think about the poverty that I have seen in Tucson and here in Cape Town. In Tucson, we have a large homeless population because it is warm and a friendly community. I saw them often because we had a “hospitality house” for homeless people in our neighborhood. I often put out on the curb things that we no longer needed and might have been useful to the homeless. In Tucson, you see people sleeping on the sidewalk or on a bench. They hold up signs asking for money, saying they are a “disabled vet” or “will work for food.” Here, in Cape Town, poverty looks different. I have not seen anybody sleeping on the streets, I have not seen signs. They beg for money at street lights and corners, saying “sorry, sorry.” I have seen more women begging for money, and they are often holding their children as they do it. My cynical outlook on life thought that they were trying to manipulate me so that I would be more likely to give money; then I realized that they probably did not have family to look after their child. Here, I would not ever think of leaving stuff in front of my house because it might be an invitation for soliciting in the future. Here, people ring your bell to beg for food or money; and they put slips of paper in your mail box advertising their skills of house and yard work. 

Khayelitsha. Image source.
Here, there are neighborhoods called “Townships”, the most well-known is Khayelitsha, however there are many throughout the area. The townships, created under Apartheid, are made up of small shacks, crammed together in spaces of unused land. I heard that when they first settled in 1985, they had tents for shelter; as time wore on, they added more permanent walls in the piece of land as their tent used to be on. Here is the Wikipedia page about Khayelitsha, it is very informative. I imagine that the people who live there really have almost nothing in their homes; how can they when they have to sleep so many people, feed them, and clothe them. 

Houses in Khayelitsha. Image source.
I am lucky. I am lucky with the “nothing” that I have. I think that when we finally get our things, I really am going to have to go through it all again, and give away what I can.  It will be hard, but I do not NEED most of it. 

I want to be aware and present in the moment. 

I want to be kinder and gentler to myself and others.

This is what I have learned so far. 

Happy Easter.

 P.S. Look at my husband's blog- he has a new post up!

Song of the day: Simple Life by The Weepies. They don't have a video for the song, but someone put up a YouTube video with nice images to go along with the song.


Anonymous said...

Say, I think you are getting much better at this blogging, and I like the soul you are putting into it. Thanks for all the pictures. As I read the above, I think you are learning something very valuable for the rest of your the end, it de-stresses, and I think, grounds you a bit better for life.
Love you, Da

eugeneb said...

Thanks, Lovely Light. Your 'Living without' sentiments resonate with me, a South African living in South Korea. Like your husband, I have a shirt for each of the five working days (this routine was in danger of interruption last week when I discovered that an upper chest button was missing and had to quickly stitch one on that I tore from an 'off-duty' shirt). As for winter, I can comfortably make it through the week with only two longsleevers - thanks to the covering up possibilities.

Over the last year, or so, I have deliberately led a more 'spartan' lifestyle here because of the limited luggage allowance that applies. I get along just fine. However, my heart sank just before I boarded the plane from Johannesburg in February. I discovered that I had left my iPod behind. How was I going to make it without my music on the go? Never mind that, I had gotten so used to using the iPod as a teaching tool in the classroom and what now? I was temporarily depressed on the plane. Needless to say-one semester later- I have coped and am 'living without',albeit tortuously at times.

I hope you are re-united with your boxes soon enough. My summer trip back home can't come soon enough. Guess why!