We have been having power and water on at the same time for several days in a row! I mean, WOW! Can life get better than that??? Yeah, of course the majority of my readers are thinking, “Well, yes Kristen…it’s called living in America.” The land of endless power and water.
Even when we go for long stretches without water (e.g.: the first 3 months of my trip) I still don’t necessarily miss that part about home. Not having water puts things into perspective for me. It makes me feel like I’m no different than my Ugandan neighbors. I too must survive the same way as anybody else; using candles/lanterns at night and rationing my biked in water by day.
The longer I spend here, the more I believe that there is a thin invisible wall between the good life and the hard life. It only takes a small life event for that wall to crack and come crashing down-- forcing a person to make the unfortunate transition from good n' easy to hard. In America, that wall cracks from job lay-offs, debilitating accidents, cancer, death of the family breadwinner, natural disasters, etc. …Here in Uganda, many people start life on the “other side” of that wall, without ever getting the opportunity to know what easy even looks like.
Despite how close some of us live to this invisible wall in America, we easily forget how good we have it. Not too long ago, I was living as a poor college student. I look back at those “hard times” and laugh at myself. I wish I hadn’t complained so much. I wish I had appreciated that even though the dead of winter meant we were cheap and refused to turn on the heat, at least my roommates and I had a clean and safe place to call home. I wish I had appreciated the fact that my constant stress was caused by the pressure of balancing college with a job and volunteer work; going to college was an opportunity not a right; having a job, as a woman at my age is not a universal right (or even possibility). I wish I had appreciated the stability of my family; my parents are still married and alive. Even when times were hard, I ate three meals a day—however often it was Top Ramon, coffee, or bagels.
I am not a wealthy person in America, but I do have a lot of wealth. Living here in the village is a constant reminder to that. The other day, I spoke with a Ugandan friend of mine about the difficulty she encounters as a single mother in Lukaya when trying to budget for her family. She makes a little less than $100 USD a month. Our organization helps pay for housing and covers a fair amount of health costs, but even with that in mind, it is not a lot of money. It is more than fair for Uganda—but there are still many things that cost about the same in the US which seem cheap to me and outrageous to locals.
For example, soda costs 2500 shillings, or roughly $1.00—about the same as at home. Whenever I am out running errands in the village with coworkers, I offer to buy us sodas; they usually respond with, “Aye, Kristen! It is expensive, you don’t have to!” At first my knee-jerk response was, “Are you kidding!? That’s nothing!” Then I finally realized one day that to a person who makes 200,000 a month, 2500 on one lousy non-nutrient rich beverage is an irresponsible way to throw away money. Before the water came back, everyone in the village was paying 500 shillings for the “water-men” to bicycle in a jerry can of water to their doorstep (myself included). My next-door neighbor heads a household of six people, they use about 4-5 jerry cans a day for cooking, cleaning, washing, and drinking…that is 2000-2500 shillings a day. Why on earth would he waste the same amount on a Coke?
Sometimes these “real life” things take a little while to hit me fully. As I said, not having water or electricity on a regular basis helps remind me of where I am and of the permanent conditions of living for the people around me. Most importantly, these things remind me to appreciate my ability to go home to the land of endless power and water. I get to flash my passport and walk back through that invisible wall in August, leaving my Ugandan friends and neighbors to continue with their lives in the land that requires a lot of sweat, blood, and (occasionally) tears just to carry on towards tomorrow.
Sacrificing Dan-time, ice cream, high-speed internet, delivery pizza, reliable water and power, Girl Scout Cookies, drinkable pre-treated water, fudge, friend-time, my favorite TV shows, eating out, air conditioning, chocolate cake, Target, Thai food, driving my car, Netflix, and spending holidays/special occasions with family for six months seems downright trivial. Lest I ever forget what this side of the wall feels like.