Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reflecting and happily giving thanks

One of the many blessings that I have experienced living in Rwanda is the emergence of a new spirit of thanksgiving and some insights into “rich” and “poor”. Indeed, to a great extent, “rich” and “poor” are relative terms. A poor man in America is a rich man in Rwanda. That makes me fabulously wealthy,… or at least one of the reasons.

I am intrigued by the power of our perception of our wealth or poverty. It is no use to tell a poor man in America that he is rich in Rwanda. Some may feel plagued by miserable poverty because a new car, or a vacation, or breast augmentation is beyond their financial means. Others feel ecstatically wealthy and secure because the entire family has eaten today, food has already been secured for tomorrow, and school fees have been paid for the present term. It may seem as though I am mocking the first group, but I am not. I am genuinely fascinated by the power and ramifications of perspective, and by the question of whether we are free and responsible in choosing a perspective.

I am also “fabulously wealthy” because my life is so full here in Rwanda. (Pinch me!) I am quite certain that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. It is a “sweet spot” to be.

I insist that it is “part of my job” to orient incoming Team Members by “getting out and seeing the Rwanda that tourists do not see”. So yesterday, committed as I am to my work ;-), I hired a dugout canoe and took Mark (and William) out to hunt crocodiles, that we might feast on crocodile for Thanksgiving. To avoid disappointment, I shall tell you now that we will be eating beef fillet, as we found no crocodiles,... although we were told that last month two people were eaten in seperate incidents.

However, we were giddy with joy throughout the adventure.
Don't rock the boat!

We set Mark out as crocodile bait. No takers, but we almost lost him to quicksand.

Lunch was chomping on sugarcane, the usual fare. Superman even dropped in.

AND EVEN MORE FUN, I worked the fields for awhile with the local farmers, which they thought was hysterically amusing.

We met some VERY interesting people along the way.

And I again reflect upon the power and ramifications of perspective, and the question of whether we are free and responsible in choosing a perspective. Mark and I were ecstatic, and reveled in this life adventure. Someone else, whose perspective I must accept as equally valid, might have repeatedly questioned: “Are we done yet? When are we going home? I don't even like crocodile meat.”

But I am “fabulously wealthy”… remember? That was the subject, I think,… “fabulously wealthy” most of all because of family and friends, for whom my affection, admiration, and appreciation have greatly multiplied as I endure painful separation from them (especially on holidays like today). I have come to realize that the pain of separation is actually a very sweet thing, because it compels acknowledgment of and reflection upon great treasures towards which I might otherwise grow indifferent.

I have already noted that “poverty” is somewhat relative. “Somewhat”,… but there are also some rather objective, absolute criteria that I observe and reflect upon as I walk among the poor in Rwanda:

Has the person eaten today? How likely is it that he will eat tomorrow? (In an earlier blog post, I quoted my friend who pointed out that Rwandans know they must trust God for food; Americans generally do not realize this.)

Does she have anything on her feet? I have learned that the source of worms and parasites is often larvae that enter the body through small lesions on the feet.

One shoe is certainly better than none. Perhaps sharing with an older sister.

What is the house made of? Does it have a dirt floor (most common) or a concrete floor (which is an indicator of uncommon wealth)? What kind of roof does the house have, and what is its condition? Does the family huddle in the only dry corner during a heavy rain, as I have observed?

Does the house have a door or any window glass to keep out mosquitoes? What does a person do when they get sick or injured? Is any medical care accessible?

Are the children in school, and is the quality of instruction and educational resources sufficient to provide any hope of studying and working their way out of poverty?

These are some of the questions that are constantly before me,.. questions easily answered by simple observation. The difficult, uncomfortable questions all pertain to my response, or lack thereof, to these simple observations. My first response must be a resounding “THANKS” for all that has been lavished upon me. My second response must be “GIVING”, for if I believe that “Faith without works is dead”,… what is “Thanks without giving”?