Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Family members loaned me money to buy my first car when I was fifteen years old. Mercifully, I was not to know that I would live in debt for the next twenty something years--most of my adult life. I had department store credit cards at eighteen with MasterCard and Visa accounts soon to follow. Later, I would cripple myself with student loans.

In 2006, for the first time in my adult life, I became debt-free. And how glorious it was! I could rest easily at night and not obsess about how I could borrow from Peter to pay Paul; I no longer dreaded the mailbox or the phone; I learned to plan my spending for the month and live within my means. In short, I learned that I can’t always have what I want when I want it, but if I want something badly enough, I can plan for it and save. I learned delayed gratification--I learned to be a grown up!

Except in 2008 I became very willful and HAD TO HAVE a new clothes washer. I was renting an apartment and felt sorry for myself for hauling my laundry to a Laundromat and decided a new washing machine was a MUST HAVE. I did not have a chunk of money to purchase a washer out-right so I financed a washer. In other words, I became very, very willful, I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, and I re-entered the world of debt to have my clothes washer.

Now, I was blessed and lucky to have the blasted thing paid off within months, but it was still a valuable lesson at how I can turn so willful on a dime. (Pun intended.)

I smile to myself now, living in Africa, as I hand-wash all of my laundry. While some rural South Africans own clothes washers and dryers, most rural South Africans hand-wash their clothes. Whenever I load up my bathtub for a days worth of washing, I smile to myself and think of my HAVING TO HAVE A CLOTHES WASHER back in the States. I don’t mind the hand-washing and delight in the fact that my bathtub stays sparkling clean in the process. Now, I feel silly at once needing a machine to do such a simple task!

Living in South Africa has also helped me learn new ways of seeing things.

For example, in the States, I HAD TO HAVE a full set of dishes. Since living on my own in South Africa, I’ve lived just fine with one plate, a couple of bowls and cups. I use styro-foam trays for plates and just smile big when I have company. Likewise, I would HAVE TO HAVE a set of canisters to store my dry-good grains. Here, I’ve learned that a washed and rinsed plastic 2-liter bottle works just as well. Similarly, a pop bottle cut in half serves as a funnel and a one-cup measure—two for the price of one!

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE 30 different kinds of cleaners for my household. Here, I’ve learned that a dash of Omo (our hand-washing soap powder) and a splash of bleach cleans everything from the toilet to the floors.

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE specially made trash bins; here I’ve learned that discarded boxes, crate-size, work just as well.

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE a microwave oven; at 47 years old, I’ve learned that I can steam my food warm by placing a dish within a pan of boiling water.

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE to shower every single day; here in South Africa, I’ve learned that bathing twice a week is an option, and my hair seems to lay better without so being so frequently washed.

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE paper products for every occasion; here in South Africa, I’ve learned that a roll of toilet tissue covers the spectrum: paper towels, napkins, and tissue—and anything you can possibly imagine in between!

In the States, it would HAVE NEVER OCCURRED TO ME that a cold drink could be a special treat. In fact, I didn’t care much for cold drinks when I lived in the States. Living here in rural South Africa, I find myself hoarding them and delighting in the “only one a day” I allow myself. (I don’t ration them due to lack of money, I ration them because they aren’t good for me and they are heavy to carry home. In fact, I’ve learned that all liquid food items are heavy to carry home: canned goods, beverages, etc.)

In the States, I would never have gone to the trouble of sprouting seeds or making home-made yogurt. Living here in South Africa, I find great pleasure in these simple tasks.

In the States, I would HAVE TO HAVE the most expensive bird feed available and keep my feeders full throughout the day. Living here in South Africa, I’ve learned that the birds appreciate a bit of crumb in the morning and are happy to be refilled with water throughout the day.

Am I finding myself still willful living in South Africa? You bet I am! But Mother Africa is helping to tame my willfulness by teaching me how to do laundry!




  1. Your posts are always inspiring to me. Thank you for sharing such intimate revelations :-)

  2. This post is especially insightful for me and cause for self reflection!