In April we traveled to Africa with some good friends to serve and explore for a few weeks (which you can read about here). That trip was life-altering for us for a number of reasons. Most surprising was the change in perspective we have experienced since coming home. In an effort to express this change, here is a list of 3 lessons we learned in Africa!
1. We are not poor.
Together we make more than $10,000 per year. Chances are that if you’re reading this, then you do too. That makes us wealthier than 84% of the world. Since going to Africa for two weeks in April, we’ve realized that we need to stop using the words “broke” and “poor” to describe our current situation. We’ve seen what true poverty looks like and it’s nothing like the season we’re in. To us, poverty means not being able to eat out at restaurants more than once every few weeks. In many parts of Africa (and the rest of the world), poverty means not being able to eat at all unless you make enough money that day. To us, poverty means not being able to buy those trendy clothes we saw online. In Africa, poverty means having no other clothing than what’s on your back. Feelings of entitlement lead us to get caught up in the mindset that if we can’t buy everything we want, then we’re poor. That’s just not true. Instead, we’ve been trying harder to focus on gratitude for all that we do have, while also brainstorming how we can share our blessings with others.
2. We waste a lot.
We live in a culture obsessed with consumption. The American Dream has slowly evolved to mean something like “buy everything you want, even if you can’t afford it.” And if something is out-dated, slightly worn, or not up to society’s standards, we throw it out and buy a new one. In Africa, there’s a much different mentality. If something breaks, they fix it or repurpose it rather than throw it out. There were examples of this everywhere. We saw street vendors selling sandals made from old flat tires. We saw jewelry made from trash. Poverty necessitates this, but I also think it’s a result of a deeper cultural value. That they, unlike us, know that things are just things. That things are created for the sole purpose to be used – NOT treasured. This is so contradictory from the American Dream, and you know what? We found it refreshing. It reminded us of Jesus and the way he lived – unattached to things and money. We want our lives to look more like that.
3. We take clean water for granted.
One thing I can promise you about traveling to a developing country: You will return home appreciating clean water more than anything else. Our showers in Africa were freezing cold and we had to keep our mouths tightly closed to prevent getting the contaminated water in our systems. After each meal, we’d wash our dishes in dirty water. We’d wash our hands in dirty water. And of course we had to buy bottled water for drinking and brushing our teeth. It’s no surprise that all four of us came home extremely sick. The biggest comfort was getting home and taking hot showers, brushing our teeth with tap water, and getting a glass of water right from the faucet. Regular access to clean drinking water is something we had always taken for granted until going to Africa. And now that we’re aware of this disparity, the question is what will we do about it? Stay tuned for another blog post about that!
What lessons have you learned from travel? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!