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Life’s Sometimes Invisible Luxuries

I’m thinking about luxury today. I think about this differently since I came back from Africa. I’d been to Mexico before, but never longer than 10 days, and never more then 3 days in someone’s home… the rest of the time in Mexico I was a tourist in hotels, etc. But I was in Africa 38 days, and about 3-4 weeks of that was in homes. Very nice homes, even by standards here in my city, but they do live a different lifestyle in some ways.

For example, the kitchen in an African home might only have a refrigerator and sink and some workspace, but no stove. Instead, there might be a cooking room outside behind the house in a different building. This does make fire less of a hazard, and if you have hired someone to cook for you, they are not in your house as much.

Both in Africa and in Mexico, they are very conservative in use of water. The source is not abundant and they treat their supply with respect. Folks in the city, at least those with means, will have running water in the home. However, in outlying areas they carry jugs of water from a central well/water supply area, usually on their back but if they are lucky on the back of a donkey. In Africa and in Mexico, you need to drink bottled water or boil the water for 20 minutes before drinking it. We saw in Mexico that there are guys on 3-wheeled delivery bicycles, delivering large jugs of water to homes each morning, like a milkman did in the 1960s in the US.

In Africa and in Mexico, you have a supply of bottled water in your hotel room, or sometimes a pitcher in your room and a water cooler out in the hall from which you can fill the pitcher. In most places the water is included as part of the price of the room, but at the Marriott in Cairo it cost about $7 USD for one 1.5 liter bottle of Evian water. Fortunately, our driver found us a case of bottled water the next day, for a total cost of $3 USD for the case (the brand was Nestle, like the chocolates… I found that interesting), so we only had to pay for the expensive bottled water one day in the room.

In Lansing, Michigan, we have an abundant and clean water supply (it will run out eventually I suppose) which is well water from very deep wells under the city. We have a city-owned water utility company which processes the water to a purity level that is rarely found anywhere in the world.

I really learned to appreciate not just the safety but the quality of the water here, when we went to Indianapolis, Indiana last October for Midwest Ukefest. I could not get a good cup of tea the whole time I was there, and finally I realized that the problem was that the water was so hard it could not make good tea.

But here, last Monday, I had a day off work. And I was a bit chilled so I went to the wonderful dial on the wall, turned it, the heat came on, and I felt warm again. I decided to take a nice, long, hot bath. Then I ran a load of dishes in the dishwasher. Then the laundry chores began.

Now, I could call that a day of labor, of doing chores rather than playing. But there really was very little work to do those chores, and they took almost no time if you add them all up. In Africa we saw many people who climbed up the mountain to harvest wood for fires, and they were carrying HUGE loads of firewood on their backs to bring back to the populated areas. Some of the wood they would use themselves (more likely for cooking than heat, actually), and some they might also sell for an income. I don’t have to climb a mountain or carry a load on my back. I get to turn a dial on the wall. I’m spoiled, and now I know it!

So what did I do Monday with the time I saved with all these wonderful machines? I emailed people, some of whom don’t live in the US. I met a woman on Socknitters who is living in Turkey so we chatted about Turkish socks, a big interest of mine. I corresponded with three of my yarn shops. I used the phone (another luxury in many parts of the world) to call another yarn shop and two of my community centers where I work.

If my CD player was working well, I would have also been playing CDs (just got one, I think it’s called Women of Africa, that I can’t play yet because of technical difficulties… the CD stereo component I got in my divorce in 1991 has stopped opening its drawer… good thing there was no CD in it when it quit). Truth be known, I have a little portable CD player and if I could take the time to figure out how to connect it to my speakers indoors, I’d have music again. However, sometimes even silence can be a luxury.

Oh, and just for the record it was so dark outside (total cloudcover as is common for days on end here in the wintertime) I turned on the overhead lights in the house. And the power never wavered. We expect constant electricity here, but it’s not a given in Africa. In fact, I noticed in at least the three homes I was in for any length of time, they had floor-standing candelabras in case the power went out for lengthy periods. Most times the lights went out it was only for a few seconds, and I think the longest time was about 10 minutes, but in my bedroom that meant I could not see a thing until the lights went back on.

I say I live a simple life, and I think I do. It’s simpler to push a button to wash dishes than it is to spend time washing them in a sink. I have complex machines and systems supporting this lovely simple life.

Here is just part of my gratitude list today:

Safe, clean water that makes good tea.
Abundant hot water.
Good machines to do my home labors for me.
Central heat.
Fluffy towels.
Laundry machines and dishwasher.
Good ethnic restaurants in this town.
Modest neighborhood so safe I can nap on my front porch.
Good, affordable yarn from all over the world, available for purchase in my town.
Folks who actually read this weblog time and again.
Good relationships with my family of origin.
Loving and creative friends, my “family of choice.”
A wonderful husband who loves me.

Life is good, isn’t it?

Photos (first 4 in Ethiopia): 1)Mini-stores where you can buy jugs for carrying water. 2) Donkeys outside the city, carrying waterjugs to or from a public water source. 3 & 4)Women carrying firewood on their backs, going down the mountain in Addis Ababa… blurry because they were taken from a moving vehicle.

5)Lock on gate to 2nd floor (where bedrooms are) in very fancy home in Nairobi, Kenya. Our hosts in Kenya told us that Nairobi could be paradise to live in, if only security were better. However, they deal with crime of different types, far too regularly. To get to their house you have to get in through a guard station into the “subdivision,” and then when you get to their house you honk and the private guard runs to let you in. Then to get into the house, the maid/cook lets you in, and at night you climb the stairs and lock this padlock on the gate to the 2nd floor. All closets have locks, all bathrooms and bedrooms have locks with keys. The house was incredibly gorgeous, but I prefer my little, safe home in Lansing.

5)My House! Safe, little (for Lansing, anyway… the lot is less than 40 ft wide but that might be luxury in Chicago), cute, solidly built, and small enough to maintain… just right, as Goldilocks would say. 6)My view, in my hammock, on my lovely purple-floored porch. Straight ahead you see the trees, with the color of the leaves I am trying to reproduce in my spring green wrap I started a few days ago.

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