Last night two of us were fortunate enough to attend a gathering of U.S. Embassy workers at the home of a U.S. Marine and his wife. The group also included several students who are interning for various agencies or NGOs this summer. While we have had one other opportunity to share a meal with Americans since we’ve been here, this “game night” was a breath of fresh air.
Because the three of us work primarily with Rwandans and live around Rwandans we rarely ever see Americans. Basically, Monday through Friday we clock in, clock out, head home to make dinner, watch some footie on the telly, or maybe some BBC and Al Jazeera if we’re feeling adventurous and then hit the hay. Because we fail to have much contact outside each other and the few Rwandans in our offices it is quite nice when granted an opportunity to mingle with expats. We enjoyed a great meal, followed by an opportunity to meet each other.
Instead of playing games I talked with a variety of middle-aged adults who have traveled all over Africa. Most spoke about how great Rwanda was compared to other countries we could have ended up in. Evidently Cape Town is great for tourists and has plenty to see. Mental note on that. And, apparently, Rwanda is cleaner than Kenya and way nicer than Madagascar, no matter how Dreamworks tries to dress it up.
My colleague played poker with part of the group while I conversed with several other people there. I learned about their past travels, future interests, and how they ended up in Rwanda. It was quite enjoyable, but I also found it interesting listening to how some workers were willing to give up some luxuries in America for the experience of being abroad. One person commented how some Americans, for example, couldn’t live without having Target around, so – and I paraphrase – living somewhere like Africa was a challenge not everyone could meet.
The funny part about listening to someone who works in a U.S. Embassy talk about others who couldn’t “make it” in Rwanda is knowing that they work in a secure compound with U.S. Marines, while living in a great home with a guard, gardener, maid, and probably a local who will shop for their groceries for them. If you actually live and work in modest conditions, or at least conditions somewhat similar to those in Rwanda, your tune might not sound the same. While I can’t complain too much about where we live, our transportation issues and working conditions are definitely on par with other Rwandans. Give me Target seven days a week and tell me I can’t hack it, but I prefer to drink my water from the tap if I please, and not take malaria pills for three years. God forbid I enjoy the comfort of air conditioning.
Target is convenient and clean and people wait in lines and help you if you require assistance. Additionally, you don’t have to haggle with them over a price, or fear getting ripped off. There’s a fine line between not being able to “make it” in a third world country and recognizing and enjoying the simple luxuries and advantages America provides.
After living overseas for several years it is easy for me to see how living in America is truly a blessing. Sure, the U.S. has its own problems, but it still has no equal. This trip to Africa has re-opened my eyes about how fortunate we are as Americans. While I understand that working abroad and living abroad for extended periods of time might provide some with a sense of excitement or adventure, or maybe even street cred in Berkeley, I still fail to grasp the trade-off. Don’t get me wrong, a temporary stint might be great, but there are things about America I would not trade. For clarity, I don’t mean to imply the person I had the conversation with was down on America at all, but they were more than willing to forgo American pleasures and advantages for an extended portion of their life. I simply question my desire to engage in the same life choice.
Listening to some of these comments came on the heels of a running conversation that started only two or three days ago between me and my two fellow students. We started naming things we missed about the U.S. If you are currently enjoying any of the things we’re missing be thankful.
Our growing list includes:
U.S. Department of Transportation, vehicle exhaust regulation, correct use of lines while waiting in a store and using common courtesy, doorstops, polite cell phone use, deodorant use, one common language, fast and reliable Internet, voice mail, proper use of email, drinking water from the tap, toilet paper at work, running water at work, paper towels at work, not allowing solicitors in your workplace, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, chicken (grilled and fried), Taco Bell, brownies, cold milk (2%), pancakes, bacon, peanut butter (non-0rganic), baby back ribs, bar-b-que, Chinese food, cheesecake, Oreos, Costco hot dogs, watermelon, orange juice, Quizno’s, X-Box, and Rock Band…