I have been thinking a lot lately about how blessed I was living in Australia. Sadly much of that blessing was in a sense ‘lost on me’ because I didn’t see it for what it was. The longer I live here the more I realise the day-to-day difficulties people face in the majority of the world. I am amazed that people are able to keep their hope when so many things seem so difficult.
Things I have always taken for granted - access to water, nutritious food and good medical assistance - are, at times, just not available here. I am horrified at the number of times people come back from our local medical clinic saying that there is no medicine or even occasionally no doctor. We have had to shut nursery schools for a day or two more than once because a bore hole is closed and therefore there is no access to water without a long walk….not possible when drawing water for 100+ children.
Now that we have been here for a year, I have also begun to understand the food cycle in this place. We are just leaving the ‘hungry season’ - the time of the year where people have very little to eat. Food here is actually seasonal. A word we bandy around in Australia, usually to suggest that we should try and eat more ‘seasonally’ because of ‘food miles’ and a need to care for our planet. Here seasonal means “this is all there is to eat because nothing else grows at this time of year”.
A visitor to Mphatso was telling me a story of how she had met a lady in Australia who had emigrated from another country. They were in the supermarket together and the lady stated that “every day is Christmas in Australia”. It’s true you know. In so many countries to be able to eat your favourite foods is something that is reserved for really special occasions, such as weddings or Christmas, and isn’t even always possible then. Yet when I lived in Australia I could, and often did, have what I wanted when I wanted. It wasn’t unusual for me to take the car out to go up the street just because I had a craving for chocolate, chips…whatever. I wish I had known then what I know now, because I would have appreciated that privilege and not just taken it for granted. These days we have to think twice about taking the car to the hospital when someone is seriously sick because we may not have enough fuel; and while I am comparatively spoilt for food and food choice compared to my neighbours here, ‘feeling’ like a food and being able to eat it are luxuries that occur only occasionally.
Now I really do appreciate it when I can eat chocolate or there are some chips in the house. I no longer take these things for granted and, as I consume them, I am aware of what a privileged position I am in. My neighbours here have not tasted chocolate or chips (unless at my house) and are limited to the foods that they can grow or buy locally at a cheap price.
As for medical assistance, I don’t think I will ever complain about the quality of medical assistance in Australia again. I now fear when someone is sick. I have never thought in Australia when a friend was sick “I hope they are able to get medicine or that they are correctly diagnosed”. I just took it for granted that they would be. Here I often have my heart in my mouth, especially when a child is unwell and sent off to hospital because, despite the best efforts of some medical staff, they are hampered by lack of medicine and diagnostic tools, never mind ‘best practice’ training.
So this is how I have learnt to be thankful - realised how deeply I have been blessed - and it is why I wish for more for those I love here. How can I accept that “this is how it is” when I know it can be better. All I can do is pray that, as things improve here (however long that takes), people here maintain their sense of thankfulness for what they have. That they don’t, like me, take it for granted. I can only pray that I will never take my blessings for granted again either.