amanda rowe


When Ugandans visit your home
October 2, 2008, 5:22 pm
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I would say we have a pretty simple, minimalist lifestyle. We never buy things we don’t need. We make do with old, ugly, stained, even broken stuff for as long as possible. Our diet includes lots of cheap protein (dry legumes) and homemade baked goods. And we live within 600 square feet of dusty, mildew-prone space.

Last week I hosted a visit from three Ugandans to our home – a child named Innocent that recently underwent heart surgery in the U.S., her mother Antonia, and an interpreter, Jean. Knowing that guests from a developing country were visiting made me realize the frivolity and waste all around us, and that our simplicity is relative, not absolute.

I once read in a Mennonite cookbook something to the effect of: “you no more need a different meal for dinner every night than you need a different dress for every day.” Either half of that equation is a bit shocking to read – the same meal every night? My kitchen is stocked with a wide variety of grains, legumes, produce, etc. You could argue that the variety of foods is important for nutrition . . . sure. But I have to admit that my primary motivation is entertainment – pure hedonistic pleasure in the act of eating different textures and flavors night after night (even bite after bite within a given meal), and impressing others through my meals – not nutrition.

The same dress every day? Despite my nonexistant fashion sense, we have two closets, three underbed storage containers, a dresser, a cabinet, and three storage cubes full of clothing. Again, excuses can be made – different seasons and occassions necessitate appropriate clothing. But honestly, most of the variety in our wardrobe is decorative, not functional. We like having choices and dressing to suit our mood, rather than being forced to wear the only warm sweater, or only pair of jeans, or only dark jacket available.

Trent became more aware too. On the morning of the visit, he suggested that we hide some of our shoes in the closet (we keep about 8 different pairs lined up by the front door).

Is all this stuff bad? Is it so wrong to own things with purposes that are primarily decorative, entertainment, or convenience? I don’t think so. As with so many things, I think those things are just an external symptom of our inner life. Is our lifestyle becoming too crowded for contentment, contemplation, true hospitality, and the spiritual life? Are the things we consume so ravenously actually consuming us? What can we learn from our Ugandan visitors, who possess far less, but whose level of generosity and family/community closeness many of us would envy?

Our friends Matt and Sandra kept a blog of their time in Uganda last summer that has some interesting reflections on similar ideas.

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