Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Boma Reflection: Conveniences Have Costs

This will be my last installment of reflections and lessons from my trip to South Sudan. Although this post is last, it was one of the first things to hit me when I returned home to the States.

SEA Partners has done a fantastic job of understanding the need for some comforts of home and have made these available for guests that visit Boma. Although they are limited and do not compare to the luxuries we have in America, they certainly make the transition to the primitive Sudanese culture much smoother. The comfort that impacted me the most was around water.

As a guest, we were able to rinse our hands from this huge 50 gallon jug of water and use soap to wash with. There were also outhouses for, well, going to the bathroom. In one of the outhouses there was a larger jug of water for showering. It was actually quite a nice and unexpected amenity there. However, you don't realize what it takes to maintain these amenities when you're an American because of the technologies and conveniences we have. Someone else works to provide this or a machine runs 24/7 to provide that or a computer calculates information to provide something else.

In Boma, it's all manual labor and water was no different. To take advantage of these luxuries, water has to first be pumped from a well into a container. We tracked it: it took around 75 as-fast-as-you-can-pump pumps to fill up one container of water, which was exhausting after doing it only once. Next, that container is emptied into another larger one with a tube connected to it. The tube runs out of the container into what looks like a simplified stair stepping machine, and from that up to the huge jug for showers. To get the water from the container to the showers, you have to pedal on the stair stepping machine for several minutes - it sucks water from the container and then pumps it to the shower jug. Not only does the shower jug get filled, though, but all the 50 gallon jugs for hand washing also get refilled (there are 5-6 of them in the compound)! On the one day I helped with this process, it probably took about 90 minutes for three adult men to work together, each of us taking one task (and rotating around). It was hard work! What's more, I found out that one man (Sonya) typically does this every single day for when guest visit Boma... all to make us more comfortable when we stay. I'm sure there's some relief when guests leave, but there is still much work to be done daily for the staff who stay throughout the year.

You can imagine how this impacts daily water use. I began using as little water as necessary because I had become aware of how much work went into refilling it. My showers were mostly dry with a little bit of rinse, and hand washing was the same. I was very sensitive to the impact my water usage had on Sylvia's daily work.

This was magnified once I got into Kenya, and even more so back home in America. I remember washing my hands and taking a shower for the first time at home. I barely turned the water on and still turned it off while I was washing myself. That's when it struck me - we have the convenience and luxury of access to abundant water that comes to us without ever having to do any work, and when we want some of it all we have to do is turn a little knob. Amazing. The people in Boma wouldn't even be able to imagine such a thing, yet it's normal for Americans. Another thing hit me right after this: in order to have this ability, we have to pay for it! I didn't like this part. I wished somehow we could setup warehouses (or fitness clubs) of stair stepping machines where people could come exercise and pump water for the community at the same time, or at least be able to stair step for my own water. Instead, I must work more to pay for this convenience. Then I thought about other conveniences: garbage services, sewer, electricity, natural gas, food in grocery stores, clothes, household supplies, and on and on. We have so much, and yet in order to utilize it all we sacrifice our time, energy, relationships, health, and so much more.

Is it worth it?

Here's where my lesson ends, because the answer is personal: it depends on you. I realized how important hard work, relationships, and valuing what I've been given are and that conveniences are nice but often remove me from the process so that I end up taking them for granted. Instead of being thankful, I'm greedy and envious. Instead of investing in people, I serve my own interests. Instead of serving and sacrificing, I seek entertainment. This is most certainly backwards to God's Kingdom and definitely not what He intended for His people and His world.

I realize that conveniences make some things in life easier so I can spend my time in other ways that can have eternal value, and I do appreciate that. But it's a fine line between being a slave to these conveniences and being willing to live without them. In fact, the line is so narrow that most of the time I think we're content to be chained to them. After all, at least it's a comfortable prison cell.


Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,
for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
1 Timothy 6:6-8

From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.
Proverbs 12:14

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Luke 6:20-21

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