Relative wealth

Relative deprivation: the term used for how all of us feel like we’ve got less than other people. Well, I’m having the opposite problem. I’m doggy-paddling to keep my head above the relative-wealth pool I’m in now!

Our crates arrived last week, so all Friday and Saturday we unloaded them and carried in boxes, bags, and garbage cans full of our stuff. Our house-helper, gardener, and night guard were all here to help carry things in.

As we opened the first crate, we realized it must have been dropped at some point. The book case came out in pieces. The desk was splintered in several places. Plastic containers were shattered, and the freezer door was dented so badly the seal is compromised. Our missionary friends were all so sorry for us, seeing our broken things come out one by one. I didn’t shed a tear. I was too caught up in the knowledge that our 3 Malawian helpers were carrying in more stuff than they will ever own, combined.

Every load of laundry Musa helps fold makes me aware that we wash more clothes in 1 load than he even has. When we bought new mattresses for the kids’ bunk-bed (“cheap” $23 foam pads, really), Musa admitted he was longing for a mattress because the cement floor he’s sleeping on in the apartment behind our house is getting cold at night. In the US, I was so proud of myself for being satisfied with the 99-cent brownie mixes and foregoing the fancy $3 ones. Here, I see the stack of those ‘cheap’ mixes I brought and groan over the fact that they’re each worth more than the daily wage for a general laborer. Our gardener jumped at the chance for 12 hours of OT when our guard didn’t show one night—for an extra $1.30.

So how do you handle this???? I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t think we give up all our possessions and live in abject poverty to be like those around us. I don’t think we pretend that the inequality doesn’t exist. And we can’t pay US wages here, or it would make them too dependent on us, and we won’t be here forever. We’re keeping our heads above water right now by helping where we can (we bought Musa a mattress as a “starting bonus”; we paid our guard’s mom’s $13 hospital bill he couldn’t afford) and by viewing our things as things God has given us to share. I offered to wash Musa’s clothes in the washing machine, because how can I have him wash our clothes and then watch him hand-washing his own? I share the cookies and cinnamon rolls I’m practicing making for tea-time, give them veggies that we can’t finish before they spoil, provide Ibuprofen when they have headaches.

It’s all tiny things to us, and it does little to ease my guilty feelings, but it seems to be significant to them. You should have seen Musa’s smile when we pulled his pink ‘Backstreet Boys’ comforter out of the washer, all clean and sweet-smelling! In fact, he brought us a fresh papaya as a thank you! Who can cry over a splintered bookcase screwed back together compared to that?


  1. Read this and tears came flowing down at how guilty am of having much and wanting more. Every blessing be on you as you share what you have.

    alison x


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