As my return to the States draws nearer, I’m increasingly bombarded with the all-important holiday query: What do you want for Christmas?!
As I considered the question last night, I had the weird and wonderful realization that I cannot even think of things that I want. This is not only because being with my family, breathing cleaner air, eating as many fruits and vegetables as I want, and having hot running water will be MORE than enough of a gift, but also because I’ve been so removed from American consumerism and advertisement that I can’t even think of what there is to want.
So, (and I admit that this is a major First World Problems moment), I googled, “What should I want for Christmas?” After about 10 minutes of perusing websites full of ridiculous gadgets—a self-stirring coffee mug, an alarm clock that launches rockets, a case for your iPhone that looks like an oversized ear—I started to feel sick (and not because of food poisoning this time).
All I could keep picturing was this family I know that lives on the street outside of my neighborhood. They spend all day out there in the sun, babies in tow, sometimes attempting to sell trinkets. They talk to me every day when I pass by, greeting me by name and asking me how school is going, but they never, ever ask for money. This is a huge deal, because everyone asks me for money—even respectable people who clearly have enough to live on. And yet here is this huge family wearing genuine, non-resentful smiles and full of kids that hold out their hands for a high-five rather than for my spare change. Ironically, it actually makes me want to give them money and food (maybe they know about reverse psychology…those clever homeless folks).
Anyway, in my head I couldn’t help but think: The same $14 that could purchase a pair of microwaveable slippers could feed this family for a week. “Roly, the ‘hilarious canine’ toy” could fund one of those kids’ schooling for a year.
Now, I realize that money and its corresponding ethics are all relative… I don’t like it when people say things like, “If you would just skip one pedicure a year, you could feed a starving child for a month!” I mean, that may be true, but people have a right to decide what they want to do with their own money. All the same, there is something striking about being able to make those money comparisons in regards to a specific family—a group of extremely kind people I’ve come to be really fond of. So when I think about using $15 to either buy a Digital Voice Changer (“Scary fun!”) or to buy those kids a ton of fruit, bread, and water, the choice is clear.
I realize that not everyone lives in West Africa and can just walk ten meters down the road to give to people in need, but I just wanted to share what this semester has done to a person who used to have pretty extensive and detailed Christmas lists.
(…Although, I’ll be honest, microwaveable slippers might come in handy this winter, now that 75 degree nights here feel cold to me).