Thursday, November 26, 2009

The worth of the water (A Thanksgiving post)

Lately in my village we've been having water issues. Either the well gets dirty (don't ask me how), or the pulley breaks, or someone loses the rope-bucket combination down the well. If none of these things happen, you're me and have had 6 guests in the past two weeks, and thus have had to pull a lot more water lately. Whatever the one of various reasons is, I've recently come to a much deeper understanding of value. I value being able to drink water when I'm thirsty with a part of me that never had to think about the water before. I value each splash of water when I bathe with a part of me much deeper than the simple muscular appreciation that goes along with pulling it and carrying it every uphill step of the way to my hut. I always thought that, child of the high Colorado desert and baking California drought that I am, I understood how very valuable water is, and I'm sure I did, before I got here. But now I understand it more.

It's always easy to think that before the now moment comprehension of any given thing was incomplete. Thus, young children will speak of “when they were little” and 24-year-olds will talk about what it was like “when they were growing up”...the nature of time is such that we have one direction of perspective, one that constantly revises our previous concept of 'complete' and places it as inferior to the current one. With the exception of things like mathematics and quantum mechanics, we never look back and say, “Boy, I sure understood before, but I'm a royal idiot now.” It just doesn't work that way.

Before I came to Senegal, started living in a village by myself, alone in a way I'd never been alone before, I'd always considered myself independent of other people. I didn't have many friends until the last few semesters of college, and having gone far from home to attend university, I entertained a vaugely mystical idea that I was emotionally independent beyond what “everyone else” was. This is utterly untrue.

The idea I had that I was totally independent of my family turns out to be predicated on a very close degree of contact with them, whether through the Internet, or phone wires, or letters. So although I could look with gentle—but uncomprehending—perplexity at the people who let their families rule their lives, or who wouldn't go far from home to do research for a summer / go to college / etc, I never realized that I was equally depending on mine, just in a less-obvious way. Families here stay, for the most part, in a giant block. Maybe it's this that has flicked the switch in my brain, that duh, I miss my family in a very basic sense: they are missing from me.

I miss my family in a way I did not realize I could miss them, and I appreciate in retrospect all the time I spent with them before leaving the country. I value the letters and e-mails they send me, and I actively think about them—my extended family (and by this I also mean all my really close friends—my definition of family is a wide one), too, not just my parents and brother—more frequently than I expected.

I wonder whether realizing this simply catches me up to the rest of the people I've always wondered about, or whether I've gone through another cycle of development. This is irrelevant; what's important is that I feel blessed beyond measure to be able to understand how lucky I am to have the family I have while they're still here, contactable and breathing. I feel like I've been given the most precious and beautiful gift possible—to understand (although I still can't possibly fully comprehend it and am sure that some day I will look back on this moment and consider myself ignorant) how valuable what I have is—before it's gone.

The well has not gone dry, and while I understand that once it does my perspective may become more complete, for now, I truly believe that I understand the worth of the water. Thank you all for everything you do and have done. Thank you for being who and how you are. I love you.

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