I know that everyone has talked a lot about the fact that the people in Africa have nothing, but are willing to give everything. My favorite example of this was when we were leaving Lira for Murchison Falls. As our bus pulled out of the Farm View Hotel the children from the village nearby (that we had played soccer with) had collected on the road to watch us drive off. We stuck our hands out the window in an attempt to say goodbye I think. In our heads we thought that they would give us high-fives or touch our hands like we were movie stars at a rock concert. Or at least, I think that was the general idea. Maybe it was more about making contact with them for the last time. Maybe we were trying desperately to touch them in the same way that they had touched us, or at least give some of the impact back. What I do know is that they completely misunderstood even the general ballpark of our intentions. The little children tried to give us their fruit. If I remember right they had mangoes in their hands. Maybe, just as we didn’t know what else to give, they were trying to give what little they had.
I think it is easy to say that I would like to come back to the United States and live in a cheaper apartment, drive a smart car and not spend as much as I do on looking nice or going out in the Old Market. I think that even now that I am back it is still easy to say that the simple life, from the perspective of someone who has everything they need, is better. When I came back to the United States I must say that for a few days I was completely tempted to trash everything that I own (the furnishings of a normal bedroom) except for a suitcase full of clothes, my car and my work uniform. Perhaps it was because of Africa, because I just wanted to start over or more likely, because of the appeal of simplicity. But when I thought about the village kids with the mangoes I remember: having something means that I have something to give. And having everything I need means that I have everything to give.
So the sign I saw in Africa had it right. It isn’t that the simple life is better. Rather it’s that better simply is life. And life, for me now, is about simply giving. Ironically, I think that step begins with fighting for others and not myself. My stuff is safely in a storage unit on 72nd street and I have been more emotionally and mentally available to give to those around me than I could have ever been without it.