Two years ago, I spent a week in Uruguay as a ‘WWOOFER’ (The World Wide Organization of Organic Farming). That means I lived on an organic farm, did a bit of weeding, milking sheep and sheep herding, marketing support for the farmer’s business – whatever a woman 3x older than the other young folks working alongside of me did in their 7-hour-a-day work shifts.
My room was a mud hut – mud floor, roof, and walls. There was one of those old beds you see in movies in crackhouse scenes – you know, with the flaking iron bedstead, and wire mesh holding up a pitifully thin mattress, covered by one of those blankets you always see on homeless people – holey, thin, a bit burnt around the edges.
There was one dangling light bulb in the middle of the room, so I had a bit of light at night, although it was a bit guey if I forgot to put shoes on when I got up to turn it off after I had read for a while.
Over the one weekend I was there, we had half a chicken, one cabbage, and 3 onions to share amongst the 3 of us. Thankfully, one of the young women was truly creative and found some green stuff growing outside that she knew was edible, and made up a delicious soup that thankfully fed us for days.
The worst was the walls: in the early mornings, I would wake up and my walls were crawling with fascinating- looking insects and lizards. They were gorgeous: colorful, oddly shaped, and all with an amazing sort of glue on their bodies that gave them the ability to stick to walls and ceilings.
Each morning I would get up, watch the walls move for a while, and say a prayer. I was truly blessed. Before this, I hadn’t really come face-to-face with the living conditions of half of the world who didn’t even have a roof over their heads. Oh, I’d stayed in a hammock in Ecuador with the Shwar indians, but their climate was warm, and the walls were made of slatted wood….probably hiding the rich life that wriggled underneath. Or slept on a floor mat in a teepee or fire circle at religious ceremonies in various parts of the world. In Katmandhu about 10 years ago I stayed in a bunk bed in a room with several people from around the world (I do enough travel in 5 star hotels. Living in local places is an opportunity to ‘live’ in a country albiet briefly).
But this room in Uruguay (the richest country per capita in South America) was poverty.
So as I awoke, I felt blessed: the room kept me dry and unharmed by the jungle creatures nearby.
Since then, when I get to complaining about my work, or my broken dishwasher, or the political games my country is in the middle of, or a friend who is 40 minutes late, I remember that I have a roof over my head, a comfortable bed, food, and safety, every single night. I have clothes and shoes, books and electricity, Willie Nelson, Starbucks, and Martha Stuart. I have healthy teeth, the ability to write books and have them read, friends who live healthy lives well into their 90s, a son with a disability that is being treated by modern medicine that allows him to walk. I have a refrigerator and a blow dryer.
Normally I take these things for granted. Today, I’m thankful.
My family, friends, and I are alive, healthy, warm, and safe, and have the daily opportunity to make a difference in the world rather than be a victim of it.
I’m so fortunate.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. We have so much to be thankful for.
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