In 2004 I was fortunate to visit a little kingdom in South Africa called Swaziland. Swaziland is a third world country.
I packed my passport and flew 22 hours over the Atlantic Ocean. I left the comforts of my country and spent two whole weeks soaking in the fresh aroma of blooming fruit trees and body odor in the smallest monarchy country in South Africa. Our mission was to help dig wells so that the people would have drinkable water, rather than walking the few miles to a polluted river.
Those were the days when I was on a mission to becoming a Saint and spreading the Gospel to the four corners of the world. Yeah, that didn’t last very long. The life of hypocrisy and sin seems to fit me better. I sometimes joke that I am a born again Pagan- except on Sundays, then I am Christian again.
Needless to say, the experience has stuck with me, and I will never forget the little Kingdom of Swaziland and the people who touched my soul so deeply.
Yes, their lives, customs and culture are very different than ours. For starters they have no public education– I cannot even fathom! And the one I CANNOT EVEN is that women are considered property. Daughters are sold for live stock!
Some of the people had to do their best to survive and built their homes from left over bricks and sticks, or move into abandoned buildings.
On average, 7000 people die from AIDS every year, and malnutrition is widespread to the families living in abject poverty.
On a good note- the land is breathtakingly beautiful- surrounded by the Mountains of Malolotja, the oldest in the world at 3.6 billion years. Due to the location of the Southern Hemisphere, Spring time is in the month of October, which is when I was able to visit. The purple trees in bloom over took the entire backdrop.
I even got to spend three whole days on a Safari at Kruger Park. As exciting as that sounds, the majority of the Safari is driving around in a four wheel vehicle with no air conditioning, trying to find wild animals. I seriously thought it would be the most exciting adventure of my life- but when you are sitting in that vehicle and you notice the shot gun underneath the driver’s seat, with hours passing between seeing the animals, who are doing anything but hunting, playing or mating, you realize there is a reason why National Geographic Documentaries in the comfort of your home seems more appealing! The night Safari seemed even more intriguing- all that happened was us getting soaking wet, thanks to the pouring rain. These vehicles have no doors, which means no windows, which explains the shot gun, and why we were soaking wet!
Yes, it was exciting to see the Elephants, Giraffes, Impala, Water Buffaloes, Hippos, Alligators, Laughing Hyenas, Ostriches, Cranes, Rhinos and lots and lots of Monkeys! Okay, I just convinced myself that seeing it Live is much better than National Geographic, it’s just that I really, really wanted to see a Lion and I really, really, really wanted to see one hunt down an Impala. You know you would want to see that too! Enjoy some of these shots!
Although it was 15 years ago, I still often think about that place, especially when I am going through some tough times. You know, first world problems. It isn’t that I think about their problems to make mine feel better, or less significant, because I just think that is dumb, it just doubles negative thinking…and well, that sucks! NO. I think about the people who start singing a song in the middle of lesson being taught. Despite their own circumstances, they can still sing. They can still smile. They enjoy their life.
The classroom is no bigger than my own classroom. There’s nothing more than a few desks and a chalkboard, making the acoustics astounding. A sound of a deep bass voice starts singing the words “Never Give Up” The entire song is “Never Give Up” Over and over again you hear the harmony of their voices and it echoes from the walls. An a cappella concert that made my soul want to dance! Yes, they did that too.
The spirit of some of these people were far from lackadaisical. It really gave me perspective– that joy–serenity–and attitude– truly is in the mind of the beholder.
Whether it’s third or first world problems– problems are problems, and it isn’t the problems that are problems, it is our negative response to those problems that make them problems. Whew!
Yeah, I think I have lost my mind as well.
It’s true that we cannot compare cancer to hangnails, it’s just sometimes we act as though hangnails are the end of the world. I’m not saying we shouldn’t complain about it. We should, because sometimes hangnails hurt, and we want the world to know, “hey, it hurts.” I think that’s okay, as long as we keep it in perspective, that our hangnail will eventually heal and we’ll forget all about it until the next one. But we have every right to complain and be sad, or angry, or confused, or scared, or whatever it is, because life is hard, and we all have struggles. And I can’t explain it, but when we talk it out with a safe person, we feel better. When we get validation that our pain is our pain and we have a right to that pain, we can take a deep breath and know that everything is going to be okay.
I don’t think it’s natural to be happy about a hangnail because someone else has cancer. I don’t understand how comparing our suffering to another’s suffering could be helpful? Maybe this comparing shit we do is the real problem!! Hmmm…
I had a great experience at Swaziland. A trip of a life time. Maybe one day I will get the chance to go back. And not for one minute will I feel bad about the life I have made for myself here. In fact, I am thankful that my ancestors were able to jump the border and make a life in this country- before “the wall” became an issue- so that I could sit here, in my 70 degree house, with cushioned seats, typing on my expensive lap top and write about this life I find so fucking incredible!
So complain on my warriors! I’m here for you!