Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I’m so glad for the ants and the flies…sort of…

Recently, and unfortunately at the same time, our home was overrun by both flies and ants. The flies came because all the doors and windows were open when Kanke lifted the compost cover to toss more food in for the worms. She told me that millions, “millones!” of flies came rushing out…and apparently found solace in our home.

As for the ants, I had seen the occasional ant, lonely and wandering, but nothing more. Then that lonely ant found my newly purchased homemade honey and brought “millones” of its ant-friends into our kitchen.

What does a vegetarian household do with a plague of ants and flies? Well this vegetarian house was not very animal-friendly. Several spritzes of window cleaner later, the tide of ants had been wiped out. With many, many “lo siento’s,” and the smack of her hands, Kanke significantly reduced the fly population.

So why am I so glad? Lucky for me, all these ants and flies have helped me provide an example of a concept I’ve been interested in lately, basically that it’s the ants and flies in your honey that help you better appreciate the pest-free times.

In the U.S., I had everything I wanted (well, not everything, but lots of things). Month after month, I got in my car to go the huge local supermarket where, every time, I found everything on my list. I loaded up my car with a month’s worth of food. I hate shopping so I purchased a lot to avoid having to go every week.

If I wanted Zachary’s Pizza, I went. DVDs: rented or purchased. Music downloaded from iTunes or enjoyed on If I needed clothes (god forbid) I drove to Kohl’s and purchased them. If I got sick, I went to the doctor’s. When I wanted to learn design, I went to community college. I wanted straight teeth, so I got braces. I wanted, wanted, wanted, and I got, got, got. And each time I got something, I just wanted something new. I was so lucky to have been so rich. Though perhaps not rich by U.S. standards, when I see some poorer areas of Santiago, I know that I am privileged. I am a gringa. I am rich. Being here has helped me realize just how lucky I am.

1. After three weeks of hostel living, which consisted of praying that the calefon was lit so I could take a hot shower (and also praying that it would stay hot), praying that the power wouldn’t short out again on the first floor (which I approached pragmatically, learning where the box was so I could flip the lights back on again all by myself), praying that I wouldn’t be freezing at night, that I would be able to learn how to use the new can opener, that the party that started at midnight wouldn’t move to the common area next to my room, where they had smoked cigarettes outside my window until 5am the night before, I practically got down on my knees and thanked the Lord (well, actually, yep, I pretty much did that) when I got to a house of my very own (wow, what a sentence). A very tranquil, cozy, homey house where the showers were hot, the power only tripped once, the blankets were plenty, the parties were held with fair warning, and no one smoked. No wonder I felt a deeper sense of gratitude than I ever had when I moved here. It had been a long time since I had been deprived.

2. I go food shopping at Santa Isabel, a supermercado about twenty minutes away (by walking). It’s where I go after church. Instead of stock piling, I shop every week because I can’t carry anymore than a week’s worth of groceries in my backpack. I remember being horrified back in Pleasanton when I realized that I wouldn’t have my car in Santiago, and I would have to carry whatever I purchased. But I discovered that I like walking to the supermarket every week. It reminds me of my neighbor Agnes who used to walk to the grocery store almost every day. And I’m getting used to not getting what I want every time I go. Sometimes they’re out of onions, spinach or apples. Or they’ll be out of the beans in a box (like beans in a can, only in a box). Or they won’t have soymilk. I’ve had to adapt. I’ve had to drink milk. Buy the kind of beans you have to soak overnight. I’ve had to improvise. New culinary inventions have become a part of my diet from having to adapt.

3. When I first got to Santiago, I used to ask anyone I started conversation, “Hablas Ingles?” I prayed that they would, and they did, but not enough to understand my quick English. Deprived of my native language, every simple transaction has become an accomplishment. When I successfully asked to split a bill between a credit card and cash two weeks ago, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride I never would have felt in America.

This has put an interesting new spin on the question of why we travel. Sure, we travel to learn something new. But maybe more importantly, we travel to be deprived of our normal environments so that when we return, our most valuable possessions and loved ones are valuable again, with a luster and sheen they didn’t have before.

But sometimes, despite how many times you see something, it still is amazing. This is how I feel about the sunset. Here’s the latest one from Chile, taken from my backyard.

And here's what I'll be deprived of when I get home, the amazing murals all over Santiago!

So may you enjoy your possessions and accomplishments with a newfound sense of excitement--as if tomorrow you'll have to live in a hostel for three weeks. Good luck!

Que te vaya bien,
C in C

1 comment:

TAD said...

That was a good one - got me thinking, thanks Cath!!