Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Change of Gratitude

A year ago I was struggling with the upcoming holidays. My husband had recently lost his job and we had put the brakes on all unnecessary spending. Like many Americans who have gone through a similar situation, suddenly my focus was not on what I had, but what I didn’t have – extra money.

Also during this time the Lord was continually nudging me to go to Africa. As I’ve shared in previous columns, I did not immediately embrace that nudge. Why go to a land of poverty and willingly give up the comforts of home? But now that I’m officially part of that “been there, seen that” club, I can’t go back to my previous attitude of “going without”. When you live among people who don’t have many of the basics that we take for granted, it can’t help but change your perspective.

One afternoon, while in a village outside of Nyasoti on their market day, we visited what I referred to as an “outdoor Wal-Mart”. There was everything that the locals needed in one open area with shack-type stores connected all along the perimeter. I discovered how extremely frugal Kenyans were – nothing went to waste.

Actually, I was indoctrinated into that lifestyle the first evening we arrived in Kenya. We ate dinner at a nice restaurant and most of us ordered tilapia. (Little did I realize then that tilapia would be our dinner for the next 9 days.) I sat beside a local who spoke fluent English and shared fascinating stories about their way of life. I couldn’t help but notice how he skillfully dissected with his fingers, and consumed, an entire tilapia, eyes and all. To be honest, I found it to be both fascinating and nauseating.

Another female missionary witnessed it, too, and questioned him, “You eat the eyes, too?”

He broke up laughing, and said, “Yes. We waste nothing.” And then, (I knew it was coming) he encouraged us to do likewise. There were about seven of us at this table, and one by one (I was last) we became indoctrinated into the Kenyan way of life.

That was my first “taste” of being frugal in Africa. Another was at the outdoor Wal-Mart when I saw two vendors who sat by a fire, surrounded by plastic bowls and metal pans. When plastic bowls (the several gallon size that women carried on their head) got a hole in them, they were taken to one of these men and patched. It was the same for their metal pots and pans. Items were repaired or patched, but seldom thrown away.

Another time I learned of their extreme frugality was while walking through a village. Along the way there were huge aloe plants, taller than me. Americans sometimes use aloe plants to treat minor burns, but there they cut the plants down and let the huge stalks dry. Then, they painstakingly pull the thin strands apart, and entwine them together to create strong, thick ropes to tie up their oxen and donkeys. Amazing.

While thinking about Thanksgiving the other day, I couldn’t help but see an analogy between the Kenya lifestyle (for most of the people), and that of the New England Pilgrims (minus the cold). If you pause to think about it, our country has come a long way in a relatively short time. God’s hand has obviously been on it. Remember to give Him thanks, for He has richly blessed us.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).

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