Luxury

June 5th, 2012

I’m back in Sentani.  Good ol’ civilization.  Even if it’s third world civilization.  Even if it’s “wild west” civilization. 

Dave, who picked us up at the airport, told about how he got stuck in the middle of a local demonstration yesterday in Sentani, including having a guy in front of his vehicle wave a pistol around and shoot a few rounds off over his car roof!  Wow, pretty intense.  After dodging down a side street to safety, he holed up for awhile where he could hear military and demonstrators duking it out – he estimated a couple hundred rounds were fired.  With all that shooting, fortunately only two people were killed. 

Demonstrations like that don’t happen real often, and since one just happened it should be awhile before another happens.  At least, that’s my theory. I think what the ruckus is over is Papua wanting its independence.

So let’s see, besides all that excitement, which I missed, I’ve spent the afternoon and evening of today enjoying the finer points of luxurious civilization.  Such as…

A hot shower.  That is, for a good two minutes, before the heat gave up the ghost and the water turned cold again. 

Unlimited electricity, it even stayed on all day! they tell me it’s been spotty here of late (and since it’s always spotty, that must mean it’s been really spotty).

For supper I had a “western meal” of a chicken burger with avocado juice.  Delectable, even if the avocado juice wasn’t “western.”

Drove in a car again, now that I’m back in the land of such novelties as “streets” and “stores.”  Though not in the land of “traffic rules.”  That is, the only rule is: “There are no rules.” 

For expediency, my driver drove on the wrong side of the road for about a hundred yards, into oncoming traffic.  We survived.

Such luxury am I now enjoying that, unbelievably, I even have air conditioning in my bedroom!  And my room is even rat-free, I think (though definitely not ant-free). 

Being chilled again is such a delicious feeling.  Until I had to go back outside and was shocked by the heat and skeeters, which, hitherto, (before ten blessed minutes of air conditioning) I had been used to.

Drank deep from a can of Coca-Cola.  Ahh, wonderful Coca-Cola!  Used to never like the stuff, but since weaned off Dr. Pepper (it’s been like 6 months since I’ve had a DP – may its carbonated soul rest in peace) I’ve turned to Coke to fill the void.  But, I’ll say, it’s like the replacing of a favorite dog which has died with a new dog: though there is now a soft spot in my heart for the new dog (Coke), there will always be a deeper soft spot in my heart for the old dog (Dr. Pepper). But I don’t like dogs, and have never owned one, so am not qualified to make such crass comparisons.

As you can see, I’m drinking deep of luxury.  Even having the time to write this silly blog post is a luxury.

The conveniences we take for granted back in the States are, for most people in the world, over-the-top luxuries.  Even the air conditioning I’m enjoying right now would be pretty rare for the average person here in Sentani, but I’m in a missions guesthouse, which has its perks (and this is a mission known, rightly so, for it’s frugality).

Being with the Moi reminded me how dispensable the veneer of civilization really is.  I didn’t know it was possible to live without a supermarket down the street until I spent time in cultures with open air markets instead of supermarkets.  But the Moi take this to an entirely new level by eating only fruit and vegetables picked from the jungle or out of their gardens, supplemented by the odd rat, snake, or frog (and occasional chicken or pig).  Nary a plastic wrapper or rusty tin can to be seen.

That such disparity in living habits could exist on the same globe boggles my imagination.

For two off-beat examples, nowhere in my travelling have I seen the equivalent of a “drive-through” restaurant, or an automatic garage door opener. Those are distinctly American novelties. 

In Bali, I saw a few gated beach resorts, but even those gates were not automatic, but manual.  A bored guard holding a long rope operated them by hand.

And to think of all the things I consider a “need” (like a digital camera, a laptop, the internet, a car, several pairs of clothes, etc) … when in fact it’s quite possible for me to survive without even a shred of it!

Observing other cultures invariably leads to making fun of other cultures: “The way they do this or that is dumb!”  But, after awhile, you start evaluating your own culture a little more objectively too, and say, “Ya know, the way we do this or that back home is kinda strange as well.”

For example, “Why does everyone live so spread out and alone, by themselves, in the States?”  Good or bad, it’s not how most people in the world do it.  Even in the Moi, I saw a one-room hut that was a “bachelor pad” housing some five guys.  All in about the size of the living room of my old apartment, which by American standards was considered too small for even two people (I mean the entire apartment, not just the living room!).

The other day I heard someone say, “People think it’s expensive to live in America, but that’s not true.  What IS true is that it’s expensive to live like an American.”  I would agree.  As a case in point, I often see Westerners overseas living at standards below what would be considered average by American standards, but still far higher than nearly any local could ever afford.

The gap between what is required to keep a human being alive and the way many people live (particularly in the West) is a gulf so wide it defies my cognitive abilities to grasp.

And I’m not trying to be accusing of others here, I myself own two vehicles, two boats, a storage unit filled with boxed stuff, furniture loaned out to relatives, and a backpack full of products that alone probably holds more value than what nearly any single person in Ethiopia has to their name.

This morning on the flight out of Moi-land I read through 1 Timothy and was struck by where Paul said,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Physically, when it comes down to it, all we need is food and clothing.  Everything else is extra.  And if you ask a Moi, they’ll say you don’t need much clothing, just a gourd and piece of string will do. Or for the women, a grass skirt.

I think for us in the West there is often a temptation to chase after extra, non-essential physical things in life to the detriment of working on other legitimate human needs, like those on the emotional or spiritual fronts.

In closing, I ask myself, “Am I sad to have left the Moi tribe?” The answer is: yes. But I think who I’ll miss the most are the Brown family. Especially the three young kids (8, 10, and 12 years old) – we had a lot of fun together over the last six weeks! Just this morning, before I left, we fit in a few last games of “modified-UNO” and a “crazy trampoline photo-shoot.”

As I was getting on the plane in the sticky heat, I stopped to pause and take one last look around, and would you know it? a bumble-bee bit my leg!! I kid you not it did, and it stung like crazy. Luckily, Steve Crockett was there, and since he’s a descendant relation to Davy Crockett, I let him dig the stinger out. Then I got in the plane before another bee could bite me.

Leave a Reply