I didn’t want to do it.
Didn’t want to be “that person.”
You know, the one who comes home from the mission trip and gets on her little social media platform to tell everyone how privileged we all are here in America, and how we have so much that we take for granted here, etc.
The one who is overwhelmed by how people with so few earthly possessions could just be so joyful all the time, etc.
The one inspired to tell herself and everyone around her to be grateful for what they had, etc, etc, etc.
I’ve watched people come back from their short term trips over and over again and say these same things over and over again. And since it was cliche, and I hate being cliche, I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to be “that person.”
Prideful, arrogant, self-righteous me, trying to pretend I was anything different, trying to pretend that I could evade all these same rhetorics so reflective of the privilege I’ve grown up in.
For three months now (I’ve been three. months. stateside. which feels crazy to say), I’ve struggled to separate the realities in my mind. Kenya and America are two different worlds, and no ranting on my part was ever going to shift the one into becoming the other. I wasn’t going to go there, wasn’t going to do this.
Who was I kidding?
It took a stupid Facebook video this week to show me what was really under the surface, all the tension that’s been building as my mind struggles to take it all in—everything overstimulating, overwhelming, and frustrating about reverse culture-shock.
It was a video about fruit.
In the video, a girl who complains to her mother of being “hungry” is told that she can go and find a piece of fruit to eat in the kitchen. The girl rolls her eyes and makes a big dramatic deal over her disgust. She wants more than just a piece of fruit, obviously.
And I’ll honestly say that I had those moments myself, as a kid. Maybe not with quite all of the drama in this video, but still, I’ve been the privileged kid who said with my actions and my attitude that clearly fruit, or insert other nutritious food choice that I was offered, just wasn’t enough.
And now I see that video, and the faces of my precious Hope family flash through my mind.
On a really good week at Hope Beyond, we could afford to get one piece of fruit per kid, and that would be their snack (and that was the one day a week that we gave out any snacks). I would have to lock the treat away in the pantry until the appointed time to eat it came, because otherwise someone might “sneak” a piece before it was time, and then we wouldn’t have enough for everyone. When the time for fruit came, everyone accepted their two orange slices, or their one small banana, with so much excitement. They were getting fruit! Not a single one rolled their eyes at me.
We’re not talking expensive fruit here. Bananas, avocados, oranges and watermelon are readily available in the market, and eating healthy and organic has never been more affordable, anywhere. But when you only have enough money to afford the basics, and barely that, even 20 cent avocados are a stretch.
Every time I walk into my kitchen now, or the grocery store, and it’s full of so many, many different varieties of treats (that we hardly see as being treats), I feel this familiar feeling, knotted in the pit of my stomach.
It’s a feeling I’ve come to label as anger.
I’m not a very easily-angered person, but right now, it’s here. Sitting in the pit of my stomach.
A couple days after the video, I found myself out and waiting for an appointment, with a few minutes of time to spare (another luxury). I decided to just jot down a few notes, of things, privileges, that I had noticed in my own life and in the lives of those around me. Discrepancies that I had found between this life and the one that I lived on the other side of the ocean. The list quickly grew, longer and longer as I poured out everything and anything that came to mind.
When we complain about not having food to eat, and yet our cupboards are full
When we complain about not having enough money in our bank accounts, and yet we can afford to live so extravagantly compared to most of the world
When we take education for granted, and even complain about the work we have to do for our classes
When there are resources available for kids struggling with learning
When there are resources available for those struggling with mental health
When I see the police on the side of the road and don’t have to worry about being pulled aside because of the color of my skin
When I use my debit card and don’t have to worry about having enough money to get gas for my car, buy food and other basics, etc.
When I drive myself in my car, anywhere I want to go, rather than walking or using public transport
When I can eat pasta and call it a “cheap” meal option
When we “need” more stuff, things, and possessions
When I go to bed warm and safe at night
When I see my family whole and complete
When I can surf the internet for endless time (theoretically) and never worry about my credit running out
When I can access the convenience of a laptop or computer instead of just using my phone
When I never have to question the ready availability of a hot shower
When I can choose between more than a dozen pair of good shoes to wear
When I can eat a piece of fruit and not have it considered a luxury
When I have enough money to have ready access to sanitary items
When I can text or call anyone and not worry about running out of credit on my phone
When I can drink water from my faucet, and even *gasp* brush my teeth with that water, and not worry about diseases
When I think about who I will marry, where I will live, where I will go to college, what job I will work, and I know that I have so many open doors that I could walk through, so many choices
When I wash my clothes in a machine
When I read, anything
When I don’t have to question the supply of tissue and toilet paper in my house
When medical care is accessible and sick people can afford to go to the doctor because of insurance and other options
When I can listen to any music I want, anytime
Oh it’s hard, friends. Hard to wrap my mind around it all.
So I am being “that person” right now and I am getting on here to say that we take so, so much for granted here in America. And I’m angry that the world can be so blatantly unfair and unjust.
I’m angry because these precious kids at Hope and at Lenkai, the ones that I spent my days with, are considered lucky for having the very things that I’ve taken for granted as basic rights my entire life—namely, education, food, clothing, and shelter. They’re lucky because they are the ones who at least have something, who aren’t slowly starving to death or picking through trash heaps for their food, who weren’t sold into a life of trafficking and slavery, who are still alive today.
What kind of world do we live in, where the lucky ones are the ones that just barely get by with the basic things, and yet I never even thought twice about whether or not I would go to school, or eat another meal, or have a roof over my head?
What kind of world is this, where the Western world is getting geared up to go into holiday season with cozy sweaters and Christmas music and warm drinks in their hands, and in another part of the world, rescue workers are getting geared up to go into their busiest time of the year for rescuing girls from childhood marriage and FGM, because tis’ the season?
What kind of world, where parents have to pick and choose which of their children even get to have an education, knowing that they can’t afford for all of them to go to school?
What kind of world, where we’re so concerned about our shopping lists and gifts and getting more stuff, where America alone will spend billions of dollars on material things, unable to fathom celebrating the holidays together without all the influx of new stuff in our lives?
What kind of world where we live our day-to-day lives so caught up in our momentary struggles, that most of us here can go to the grocery store and come out with a cartload of foods that the rest of the world would call “luxuries” and yet we complain about our bank accounts?
But do you know what’s the hardest part about it all? I know, all this heavy ranting, and it gets harder still. Hang on tight.
It’s moderately easy, after seeing all of this, to point fingers. To get angry at other people for their insensitive comments and their complaining and the way that they take things for granted. I’ve had some moments where I’ve actually wanted to lash out at people, tell them to their faces exactly how privileged they are, tell them just how much other people would love to have their college GPA be the biggest concern in their adult lives, and how many people I could feed with their freakin’ fruit. (that’s my current mood level right now. I never say “freakin.” But I’m at current mood level freakin)
The hardest part, though, isn’t the people around me.
The hardest part is taking my accusing, angry, shaking finger and pointing it back at myself.
Living on the other side of the ocean, and living out even just a few of the realities on my “rant” list above, for a couple of months, doesn’t give me any kind of pass to escape these hard questions.
If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’m one of the most privileged people I’ve ever met.
I have grown up with the world at my fingertips. And I hate talking about this concept of privilege and I’ve always wanted to deny its truth in my life. After all, I didn’t just get anything I wanted, as a kid, whenever I asked for it. I wasn’t spoiled. I’ve gone through some hard things. I still have to figure out how to pay for college. Just because my skin is white, something I was born with—I couldn’t help it—does that make me automatically so-called “privileged” in how I was treated, and in what doors were open for me in my life? (the answer is yes, by the way) Etc, etc, etc. Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line is, there’s no escaping it. Privileged will always be a word associated with the way I’ve grown up.
In this honest, hard look at my life, I find that I’m part of the problem. A big part of the reason why this world is so blatantly unfair and unjust.
I can stand on my soap box and preach it to the world all I want to, about privilege and how much we take for granted, but until I point the finger back at myself, real change isn’t possible.
Why is this so scary? Why is letting go so scary? Why is the thought of living simply, with less, so scary? Why is it so terrifying to look in the mirror and acknowledge the truth that’s been there all along?
Why do things and possessions and stuff matter so much? Why do I feel the need to guard and protect and “steward” my resources, afraid I won’t have enough, when I already have so much more than I could possibly need?
Why are the lies so much easier to hear than the truth?
I wanted to keep my realities as separate as I could, Kenya and America. I don’t know how I couldn’t see my own selfishness in this at first, the way I tried to shut out all the uncomfortable questions and just enjoy what I had, while I had it.
And maybe this is why I didn’t want to be “that person.” Because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was that person, I am that person.
Pointing fingers at other people, while refusing to point one at yourself, is called hypocrisy.
I hate the label of hypocrisy more than I hate the label of “privileged” but I know that it’s been true of me, in my life.
The solution to hypocrisy is to first be honest with yourself, and then vulnerable and transparent to the world.
So this is me, being transparent. I don’t have it all together. I take my life here for granted, and I have for all 21 of my years on this earth. I think that I “need” more things that will never end up bringing me joy. So much of my day-to-day reality is lived in willing oblivion to the hardship of other people around the world. So many times I forget to be grateful. So many times I’m afraid to do something, use my privilege, for others instead of for myself. And this isn’t just the before-Kenya version of me. Post-Kenya me has made mistakes too, and continues to do so. That’s maybe what breaks my heart the most to admit, all the ways that I haven’t lived conscious and purposefully since coming back in August.
So what happens next?
My anger starts to subside. I’m left standing here feeling far too vulnerable myself to accuse anyone else.
I don’t know the answers. I feel like I say that a lot here, in this space, but it’s true every time. The next thing isn’t clear and certain. It’s going to take more time and constant learning, to sort out all the jumbled things in my life and in my heart. The process is still hard and still unfolding, and my steps down this path are stumbling at best, though hopefully in the right direction.
There are some incredible world-changers already out there who have pointed their fingers at themselves and walked brave into the face of all the hard questions, and they’re out there doing something about it.
What if we recognized them, came alongside them, and asked what we could do, too?
What if I recognized them, came alongside them, and asked what I could do, too?
Some ideas for thought.
- Thanksgiving is coming (my personal favorite holiday). Leave an empty seat or two around your table and invite in those who are lonely this holiday, those on the outside, those without family. International students (I can get you connected), refugee families, or just the lonely neighbor down the street. You pick.
- Christmas is coming. What if you bought less, but what you did buy, you bought from fair trade stores? There are so many awesome companies and non-for-profits out there that empower people by giving them employment and allowing them to generate an income for themselves. I’ve got lists of places that I could recommend.
- Take in a child by sponsorship. Giving a child an education will not only protect them and keep them less vulnerable in their childhood, but also give them a better shot at employment as adults, and help them provide for their own families someday. Sustainability is what it’s all about, people. Again, I’ve got connections to multiple sponsorship connections, including sponsorship of some of the kids that I spent this year with at Lenkai, so if you’re interested just ask.
- Look around—there are so many organizations fighting human trafficking, employing and empowering women, combatting world hunger, and so many other social injustices. Get involved, maybe make giving to one of these organizations a substitution for buying actual gifts this season.
- Listen to people’s stories. I doubt you have to look far, especially in today’s world, to find someone who has not been super privileged. Just listen to where they’ve come from. Let yourself really hear what they’re saying, and reflect on what it means for you.
- Reflect. Ask yourself what those hard questions are in your life that maybe you’re turning away from. The ones that hurt the most are your problem areas, the ones that need the most work. Press into that. I know you might be afraid. I am too, and it’s ok. You being brave could just change the world for someone, and so it’s always, always worth it.
- Let’s give each other grace. This is me, promising that I won’t lash out or yell in anyone’s face about privilege; I don’t have the ground to stand on for that. In reality I don’t think there’s a single one of us here who could afford to throw the stones; who could claim that they’ve never taken something for granted, never forgotten to be thankful, never pointed fingers at others instead of themselves. God sees that in us and yet still, He loves us. If He can give us grace, we can give each other grace.
- And finally, let’s hold each other accountable. Let’s do this together.
Rant, over. Anger, over. Mood level, somewhat less than freakin.
[For more food for thought, you could look up 1st John, in the Bible. All of it, the whole book, because it’s just that good (and only 4 chapters long).]