Last night, we were driving home down the Columbia River Gorge at twilight. The light reflected off the silvery river, deepening the shadows of the rocks. We were quiet, tired after a long afternoon of exploring the region around Hood River, crossing the river into Washington and driving up into the hills, and visiting an old train depot. My brother is in town from Iowa (no, they don’t have flooding where they are but it was close; they could see it) and this is what he wanted to do; drive down the Gorge, visit some spots in the shadow of the mountain.
We are home from California and this will be another boring blog post because not much is up. I caught a bit of a stomach bug in California and it hasn’t entirely left me, leaving me just a bit sick-feeling but not actually sick.
In addition, our landlord is planning to sell this charming duplex on the edge of a tiny protected wetlands/forest, where we’ve lived so happily these past 9 months, so we had to do some deep cleaning to get it photo-ready. We like to pretend that we don’t accumulate junk, but it’s a lie. I took 5 huge bags of clothes to Goodwill, happily dumping my junk for someone else to deal with. I was ruthless–I got rid of perfectly cute and stylish clothes that fit just because the kids never wear them, and I’m not going to pack them for Morocco. Ilsa wanted to throw things away and I had to remind her–this isn’t Africa. No one will go through our garbage and salvage things with a bit of use in them, ingeniously finding ways to use things that we, in our comfort and wealth, would never have thought of.
There’s been a lot of emphasis in the media (a term that now includes blogs; why not?) lately on being frugal, saving money. I read with some bemusement a series in the Oregonian on how different local families were cutting their food budgets. It was all such basic stuff. Oh look, we can’t go eat out all the time…surprise! Oh look, we can’t buy brand name stuff for everything, and we need to comparison shop…surprise! Some people, and I know this will shock you, actually are eating leftovers for lunch, instead of buying out. Yes, these are desperate times.
I read a post recently by a woman who consciously lives frugally, who wrote about how people respond to her. She wrote of sharing a large Coke between her family, and how some others felt so sorry for them that they responded by giving them a toy from a children’s meal. Oookay. We never buy our kids the children’s meals. I think they are ridiculously overpriced and the last thing we need is more junky plastic toys to clutter up our home. But, thankfully, no one has reacted in horror to this form of child abuse by forcing toys on my children.
I heard a woman on NPR the other night, moaning about how much she misses eating lots of meat every day, the gentle, sympathetic voice of the interviewer murmuring supportively. I’m not being snide: the subject was treated as if this woman had lost her entire family in a catastrophic event, not that she missed going out for pizza and buying new clothes whenever she felt like it.
I understand. There are many people who would look at me, at the things I complain about not having or missing, and think, “Oh poor little rich girl. If she only knew my circumstances.” So I don’t mean to be as snotty-faced as I sound.
But I remember once, when Aicha commented on how rich I was. It surprised me. Aicha is well-off; her family is well-connected and she has travelled quite a bit for a Mauritanian woman, her mulaffas are new and stylish and her heels high and sparkly. Her gold earrings and bracelets show that she is a treasured wife. I was used to poorer Mauritanians commenting on my wealth as a way of benefiting from my middle-class guilt, but Aicha had never asked me for anything. So I asked what she meant.
She elaborated what it means to be rich. “You own your car,” she told me. “If you have a problem (such as needing to go to the doctor), you can solve it yourself without needing to go to anyone else for help. You eat meat every day.” That was a simple definition of what it meant, not to be comfortable, but to be rich.
So while I recognize that things are scary for Americans these days, I do think a little perspective could help us not panic.
And, on the plus side, at least if we have a worldwide famine, I don’t need to worry about my diet!

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