07 November 2007

of sleeping positions and kellogg's corn flakes: vulnerabilties

I sleep on my left side. Always. I can try to sleep on my back or my stomach, but I always end up falling asleep on my left side.

I sleep with my left arm extended up past my head. Sort of like the lady in the middle there, only with my left arm extended under my pillow and my right arm curled under my pillow in a cuddling sort of thing.

Now, the manner in which I sleep is only significant when paired with another tidbit of information. I happen to have a 7-inch scar on the left side of my torso, under where my arm would hang at my side.

This scar is conveniently pressed against the bed as I sleep.

Now why, for the love of Moses, did we just go through that?

I think the way I sleep is a reflection of some innate animalistic defense mechanism that would protect my most vulnerable areas from sneak attack in the middle of the night. Stupid, right? But I am convinced.

Vulnerabilities can be easy to hide at night, especially when the odds of a sneak attack are probably pretty small. (Anyone with relevant midnight-sneak-attack stories can email me. I, for one, do not anticipate waking in the middle of the night to a band of wild Indians or blood-thirsty cannibals, although that may have been a childhood fear thanks to realistic bedtime stories from my father that may or may not have featured lifelike tales of hungry lions escaping from the zoo and bands of Indians sweeping across northern San Antonio…)

Getting to the point, our life here in South Africa has left us quite vulnerable at times, in places where vulnerabilities are not so easily hidden. Twice in the last week, and a half dozen times since we got here, we have been in the checkout line at the grocery store with a slight problem.

We have limited amounts of cash that we can carry, since we only walk with an amount that we are comfortable being mugged for. Sounds pleasant enough… That often presents a problem when we load up our little basket at the grocery store. Twice this week, we stopped for about $25 in groceries and twice we ended up about $1 short when the total was revealed. The checker then presses a button that sets off this shrieking alarm that brings the manager to void out one of our transactions, which would be slightly humiliating if we weren’t so used to it and if it didn’t happen to every third customer. On Monday, I had to put back my Kellogg’s Corn Flakes that looked so wholesome and wondrous. Tuesday, $0.25 short, the checker just waved us through and ignored the fact that we couldn’t pay for everything.

Now, I’ve never been poor. I thought I was poor growing up, but that’s just because my Dad was not a wasteful man, a quality I now treasure and mimic whenever possible. For example, I thought that surely “rich people must throw out milk that smells that way”. (The smell in question is that strange acidic smell coming from the milk carton that has formed the yellowing crust around the cap…) Well, some families might have thrown it out. Not my family. My Dad would drink it down. Therefore, we must have been poor. I assumed that our four-bedroom, two-story house was simply a product of the size of our family. Doesn’t every family get a house with enough rooms to let each child have their own? I was a boy-prodigy, obviously. Sound logic has always been my forte.

Let’s move on.

I am still not poor by any means. But Stef and I are learning what it might feel like if we were. And, really, it’s not that bad. We eat a lot oatmeal and cereal for breakfast and a lot of peanut butter and jelly for lunch and dinner.

We do eat out. We get decent meals. Women in the church cook for us. We’re OK.

But, in this experience, we are gaining a new insight into the vulnerabilities of people who are truly poor. I can always grab a little extra cash and return to the store to rescue my Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Most of the people around us would not have such a luxury. They would wait until next month for the vitamin-packed delight featuring “Pro-Start-K”, a supplement that Kelloggs created to trick Africans even though it is actually contained in everything with the styled, red “K” on the front of the box. I think Coco Puffs features “Pro-Start-K”. But I digress.

This is part of the beauty of our journey. We are learning to be more vulnerable, at least when we’re awake. We’re learning that there is no shame in having to hold up the line because you can’t afford that extra Twix bar (it’s the only candy with the cookie crunch!).

There is no shame in poverty. And there is a real beauty in humility, which above all things is a virtue that is drilled into us throughout our time here.

For your enjoyment, some truth in advertising:

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Wait, does that mean there's "humility" in the lifestyle that Grandpa and Grandma (Sugar and Virg) live? For example, I just found out about 5 minutes ago that she puts HEB brand coffee into a Folgers container that everyone can see, tricking us into thinking we're drinking the "good stuff", when in reality it's just the cheaper HEB product. Folgers, really?! Nevermind, I digress also! Thanks for the constant blog entries. They do more good than you can possibly imagine. Another world is possible!