Monday, April 15, 2013

Truth is, I don't live in Africa

I'm writing this more for myself than anyone else, to be honest. I know it's news to you (and me), but I don't live (and have never lived) in Africa. My village lives in single family homes, scattered in a 30 mile radius (but also includes a few close friends in other states), and communicates more by computer/FB/text than by meeting down by the river to do our laundry (can you even imagine that? With a new baby, no way!).

My love of music is less about animal skin drums and handmade string instruments, and more about iPods, cellphones, and iTunes.

Despite my travels to many a culture where village life is a reality, it has taken me a LONG time to realize, I actually don't live in the type of villages I have visited. It's a "duh" for all of you, but a "huh" for me. "Huh, I guess sleeping when it's dark and waking when it's light is really not how my life goes here." "Huh, carrying my baby to work in the office is not the same as carrying my baby to work in the fields." "Eating the food I grow limits my diet to potatoes, apples and kale for 9 months a year." And so on.

I'm not being stereotypical, I am actually recounting the awesome sight of a Senegalese village I visited, in all its glory and how I longed to live like that. At 19, I was able to wear a small baby on my back, while pounding millet, and feeling not only large and awkward (an 8 year old was better able to do this than I was, including wearing the 3 week old baby on HER back), but insanely uncoordinated. Everyone sat around shelling peanuts (an export crop in Senegal) from 5 year old to 85 year old. Entertainment was a nightly (weekly?) drum and dance circle of about 75-100 people (seriously, this was an amazing experience). Food was made in one big bowl, eaten with hands (no high chairs, no separate meals, no separate eating times). The reverse culture shock of coming home to our house boxes and glass cars and mediated communication of email, phone calls, television, movies, etc., was intense. I hated being here for about 3 months. Every time I left the country to go to another developing country, I lamented my return. I wanted no electricity, wooden spoons, three outfits total, 75 people in a drum and dance circle, and to sit around shelling peanuts everyday before I did my laundry down by the river with my family and close friends. I know, I know. You can smell the privilege coming off of me...

 I always say I was born into the wrong culture, and definitely the wrong country. I love me some community. Not the contrived US versions (I have tried, Lord, I have tried!), but the kinds where it's no big deal to share cars, live with your parents, and raise each other's kids (complete with discipline and lessons). But I live here. And try as I may, US culture, in many respects, cannot jive with village life I've witnessed. I know people do it, they give up a lot, move away from family and friends, etc., but I cannot live away from my family for long, and when I say I have roots in Seattle, I mean blackberry or bamboo roots...the kind you can't get out even with maximum effort.

And in living in the US, we're used to US-style culture. I wanted to pick and choose what parts of African and Latin American culture would work for me. I wanted to leave the gender craziness behind (men do this and women do that), but adopt the whole "village raising a child" concept (which is really about other women helping me raise my kids). I wanted to work 4 hour days, but didn't need the 12 mile walk to the well (and the insane hunger, poverty, extortion, rolling blackouts, and poor health care). Sigh. There's that privilege of mine...picking and choosing..."Well isn't this whole baby carrying thing too cute?") I know that technically, I CAN choose...well, sort of. Baby carrying is totally possible. Instead of the 12 mile well walk, I can go to the zoo. Instead of doing laundry by the river, I can set up playdates. I have to adapt to a completely different context, but I could attempt some village ideas.

But I had to look myself in the mirror and start owning that I like living here now. I'm not 19 anymore and yes, I really do enjoy a nice hot bath and a good book (two things I totally take for granted). What I love about community is changing...what I know of my family now kinda limits the type of village we can live in. We bought a house outside of Seattle so we could have a big garden. Which is now just a big, unmanageable lot of land, to my embarrassing dismay. We drive one car to cut down on emissions, but we've increased my loneliness, captivity, and poor social skills. My family feels far apart (only a 20 minute drive to each household), but we all have different values about where and how we we are not really intent on living closer to each other. Reality has set in.

And for a while I was sad. Really sad. I wanted to be a hippy mama, with an abundant garden, a diaperless kid, several passive income businesses that paid for our private schools and charitable donations to the villages I visited in Africa.

But it's time to own our ACTUAL life and to respect that we created this life to be this way and until we create it otherwise, this is how we live. We own a B&B to increase our community, without traveling as much. We eat out sometimes because we'd rather eat better and look into each other's eyes, than throw canned soup on and fall asleep while going over our calendars. We don't socialize as much because we are overstimulated more often and need more downtime. It just is. It might change one day, but for now, we're working on it and trying to keep what we like and let go of the rest.

It's not Africa, but this is where and how we live. K doesn't know what it's like in Africa. He only knows what it's like with us. So I'm starting to focus on creating a village that works for us, and being okay that our life, while nothing like that of a village family, is still full of values, intention, vision, and love. And it's pretty awesome, considering.


  1. Just dipping my toes back into reading blogs and so forth, and trying to catch up a little. :) I totally understand what you're saying here about community, and how important it is, and how hard it can be in our society to make the kind of community we really want. If I could, I would plant all of my family members in houses on our block. I would know all of my neighbors by name (this I actually do for the most part), and we would be in and out of each other's houses every day. We would cook together, play together, raise our kids together, garden together... And while I'm dreaming, the kids would be able to play together out in the yards and street because no cars would be allowed. :) I have wonderful friends in Seattle, but it's definitely hard when they're all spread out!

    I know you and I both have one-car families, and it's hard finding time with babies (as I'm now learning), but I loved our organization sharing, and would love to do that again or even to share garden/yardwork days, because our yard is getting crazy too, and I would also love to make a better garden at some point! But it would be more fun with friends. :)

  2. Agreed! I would love to share garden days...usually my "gardening" involves about 15-20 minutes of "weeding" or "pruning" which I put in quotes because in about 2 days you can't tell I did anything. :S

  3. I have been losing the battle against our yard since we moved in, but maybe this summer with a baby it will be easier to do yardwork than last summer being pregnant and exhausted and queasy? :)



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