A couple of weeks ago, Clara came to me, friend in tow, all in a dither. “Mom!” she insisted, “Tell Kendelle that we don’t live in a mansion.” Kendelle saw my shocked face and elaborated. “Mrs. Taggart, I was telling Clara that my old house was a mansion and that her house is one, too.”

“But Mom!” Clara pleaded again, “We don’t live in a mansion.” Deep breath, Mama.

“Well, Clara, it is true that we don’t live in the largest of houses in this area. Compared to some of the houses in this area, ours doesn’t ‘feel’ like a mansion. However, compared to the rest of the world, where people live in small apartments, huts, shacks, bungalows… if they even have a house, we live in a mansion.” That seemed to tame the beast, and I hope it raised her awareness, if only for a moment, of the privilege in which her world orbits.

Talk about privilege. A friend of mine just posted a “notable and quotable” on her Facebook page. It reads:
“If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation, you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering. If you can read this message, you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read it at all.” I have seen statistics like this before. It always shocks me. Understatement.

Our good friend Dawn Faith Leppan at 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa recently posted on Facebook the following:
“If you think you are feeling the cold dear friends, snuggled in your warm home, think of those who have a stone floor to sleep on with a thread bare blanket. Lousy, I would say. What do you say?”

This week, our church held their annual missions conference. Missionary, after speaker, after business leader brought to our attention the plight of people in far away places, places where women are sold into heinous slavery and prostitution, where people are desperate for dignified employment, clean water, medicines, where a home is a mud covered hut on stilts or a mat on the street, where children play in sewage, where the same water hole serves as laundromat, bathtub, and drinking fountain. I was particularly moved by this video: Sany makes a comment in the middle of the video, “but the important thing is when I was young, I was sold.” Can you see the pain in her face? Can you hear the pain in her voice? Another video shown over the weekend showed another woman in Cambodia. Her comment was that she lives her life feeling like someone is constantly watching her. Paranoia like that isn’t without warrant; it is a form of survival. And it has haunted me all day today.

Yes, we are privileged here in the US. I’m watching my kids swimming in the pool as I write this. 50,000 gallons of clean water, just for the kids to splash around in. They are cannon-balling into the water, their cries of joy echoing. The dog is barking on the edge, weighing his desire to get his floating chew toys versus having to swim to get them. Privilege.

One of the weekend’s speakers, Nathan George, founder of a company called Trade As One, talked about this privilege. He suggested that God doesn’t just care about the tithes we give in the church offering plate once a week or once a month. God cares about the other 90 or so % of our wealth. What do we do with that privilege? How do we spend our wealth? George suggested that if we use our purchasing power with taking care of others in mind, we can do amazing things. His company sells fair trade products… high quality products produced in places where a dignified job can mean the difference between poverty, slavery, and disease and a life of hope. Similarly, we at Compassion Tea believe that by selling high quality tea we can provide amazing hope and health to people in parts of Africa where hope and health are rarely felt. We believe our purchasing practices can provide compassion NOW. And quite frankly, I think it a privilege to do so.

The Choices We Make…

I have a couple of friends in the fitness business. It stands to reason then that I have little excuse for the shape I’m in. In fact, my shape bears little reflection on their attempts to encourage me to exercise. My excuse is always and for everything TIME. But I don’t want to talk about time today. I don’t have the time, to be exact.
Yesterday, my good friend and local fitness guru, Jen, and I were talking about our fast food nation and the choices we make regarding food. The word “gluttony” got tossed around a bit. In a previous blog, I spoke about how we’re food millionaires. The food is there, ripe for the picking, if you will. You may choose healthy, organic, all-natural, or you may choose deep-fried, breaded, full of sugar. But whatever you fancy, it is available, 24 hours in some cases. Our conversation focused mainly on the choices people make about their food. Will it be fresh, home-cooked, prepared with little salt and sugar? Or will it come in a paper wrapper? Our consensus was that, as a nation, we are making very poor decisions about our food. We want it “our way, right away,” and boy, don’t sugar, fat, grease, and animal by-products taste good! Interestingly enough, when I logged on to Facebook this morning I read a post from a sorority sister who was aghast that her son, attending a Chinese New Year party, was served Mountain Dew… in school. Wondering if she was overreacting in her horror, she asked other moms to weigh in. We agreed… soda has no place in school. We may choose to sugar our kids up at home, but really? In school? That poor teacher!
This got me thinking about something Ed and Wendy wrote in their journals after their trip to Africa in November. During their short visit to Chalabessa Mission Clinic in Zambia, they noticed an unusual sight. A couple of the benches in the makeshift waiting room were empty, a rarity in a place where people wait hours and hours for medical care because it is the only place to get medical help for miles around. The answer to this unusual sight is equally unusual. “…this is caterpillar season in this part of Zambia,” Ed writes. “This is right after the early, or short, rains. Caterpillars are abundant in the forest and they are an important source of protein for the local people. They virtually abandon their homes for a week to a month in search of caterpillars, living in the open and catching as many caterpillars as they can. They keep many to eat and sell sacks of the little guys at roadside stations where there is a very brisk trade in caterpillars. After squeezing the guts out of the little critters, they can be boiled or stewed fresh for immediate consumption as well as fried or dried for preservation and sale.”
Apart from the “fear factor” element of this for our tender tummies, there are a number of negatives to this practice. Because the caterpillar hunters are sleeping out in the open during the hunt, they often contract malaria. The season is short and the food supply so desperately needed that hunters can’t afford to take the time to get medical care when they do contract malaria or anything else out in the forest. Likely, both parents will leave the children in the family home alone while they hunt this important sustenance. This could be for days. Small children… alone.
Balancing these extremes is difficult. On the one hand, we’ve got a nation so richly blessed with the land and resources to produce food that in our abundance we jeopardize our very health. On the other hand, we’ve got a continent living on the brink of starvation, where caterpillar season is so crucial to existence that all else must be put aside. As I said to Uncle Lee a few weekends ago when he was visiting, “My puppy eats better than a large percentage of the world’s people.” I can’t begin to reconcile this. And I, quite frankly, don’t know what to do with it.
While I was typing this up, Matt came in with a mug of Earl Grey Compassion Tea for me. I am grateful for that cup of tea; how kind of him to brew enough for me too! But in the larger picture, I’m grateful for the work Compassion Tea, through the CareNow Foundation, is doing in Africa. I’m grateful that the monies earned by the sale of tea are going to stock the shelves of the Chalabessa clinic with malaria meds so when the hunters return at the end of caterpillar season something can be done to help them survive another day. And I’m grateful that I will stand up from the computer this morning and go to the cupboard and find the fixings for a healthy breakfast for me and my children.