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!