Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trash or Treasure

Like many Americans (and others), I've been blessed to always have more than I need.  Not more than I want necessarily, but more than I need.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't born with the proverbial silver spoon.  As an adult I've had times when I've contemplated an empty cupboard and a day or two of "popcorn diet".

But I've never experienced real need.  I've always had a buffer.  I knew that if push comes to shove I have family and friends who would come through for me.

Living in Samoa and now Malawi, my eyes have been opened wider  about what it's like to live with very little.  I told a friend in the USA about a Malawian friend who lives on about $10 week.  My USA friend responded with shock and dismay, indicating that he is hard pressed to live on $1,000 a week.

Part of the difference is in pricing.  Prices in Malawi, relative to US prices are very low.  I am not going to be happy being back to paying full freight after my time here.  I'll also be very conscious about how I spend money.  My dad, who some would call frugal and others cheap, would approve.

Part of the difference is also in expectations and "needs".  Electricity - is it a need or a want?  Same with running water.  Food is about eating to live, not living to eat.  Do you really need to spend a quarter for the minibus?  Walking may take longer, but it is free.

For most of my life I have been guilty of wasting food.  Buying too many fruits and vegetables for example, and having to discard them as they start to go bad.  I quickly learned here that things I was ready to trash were of value to others.  Glass bottles (not deposit) could be sold or reused.  Fruit and vegetables that I deemed too far gone, were still good when other's looked at them.

I've been dividing my trash.  The "real" trash (egg shells, potato skins, etc.) goes in the trash bag.  Plastic and glass bottles are placed next to the trash.  Any food that might be deemed still usable is placed in a bag separately.  A quarter loaf of bread, for example, that is 2 days old, but since I was leaving for a couple of days and wouldn't be eating it,  went into the "have at it" bag.  Sometimes I just leave a note "Help yourself to the XYZ in the refrigerator."

Today, I put 3 oranges in the "have at it" bag.  I knew that I wouldn't be eating them before I left and rather than letting them go to waste, I put them in "the bag".

Today was a holiday.  I was working anyway, so not in my apartment.  I wasn't surprised when I got home to discover that my apartment hadn't been serviced.  Everybody deserves a holiday.

I had to laugh, though, when I realized the oranges I'd put out in "the bag" this morning were gone.  I'm glad they've gone on to a good home.

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