It is easy to be possessed by one's possessions, easy to imagine that we own our things when all too often it is they that have come to own us. It is this idea of ownership that makes sharing and giving such a complicated and often painful procedure. In the developed world we often allow ourselves to be described not only by what we do but also by what we happen to own. In truth each one of us is nothing more nor less than who we are - perhaps if we spent more time being and less time doing we would come to realise this.
The people that I met whilst living for a year on the campus of a rural hospital in Zambia seem to spend quite a lot of time being; they work hard at important things like growing and preparing food or carrying water but manufactured occupations seem to hold less appeal for them. It's not that they don't like 'things', most of those I met in my short stay would like to have a camera, a personal stereo or a tee-shirt but why should they put in the supreme effort required to buy such items from a meagre Zambian salary when there are quite obviously people around with a surfeit of such things?
Herein lies the problem: I, Lady Bountiful White Person, do a good and noble thing. I spend a year of my life amongst the poor and needy. In order to ease my life in 'primitive' conditions I take with me some of my home comforts: a liquidiser, a large tub of curry powder, pots and pans, an ample supply of cocoa and milk powder, a few bottles of Worcester sauce, a short wave radio and a small library of books. My husband and children also protect themselves against excessive deprivation with pens and pencils, cassette players, cameras, huge wads of drawing and writing paper and more jigsaws than may be considered wise.
We are nice people and therefore wish to enhance our stay in this strange land by forming real and lasting friendships with local people. These people however, don't seem to want our friendship - we know this because they frequently ask for our things which means that they are not only distastefully materialistic but also rather ill-mannered. However, not wishing to be too harsh a judge, I explain my feelings to my friends thus affording them the opportunity to explain their uncivilised behaviour.
Elizabeth and Aaron are puzzled: a foreigner has come to stay in their land, she has been made welcome, everyone treats her with respect, no-one complains when she is allocated the best house, no-one expresses jealousy or anger when they see how well-fed she and her family are. The lady seems nice, they spend some time together, become friends. But when they ask for a share of the food or for one of the cassette players, the lady says that her feelings are hurt, she wants to give friendship, not things. This is very puzzling for those raised in a culture where sharing is obligatory, a natural thing. What does it mean to share friendship without sharing food, to hold on to a surplus of things and yet claim to be giving love?
A clash of cultures, a lack of knowledge and understanding. Who is right? Neither and both. To understand all is to forgive all, to be ready and willing to scrutinise our own motives enables us to better understand the mind of another. We cannot blame our neighbour for coveting our goods and chattels unless we are prepared to face up to our own inability to let go of them. This world is a glorious, wonderful, colourful mix of cultures and people, a heaven-sent opportunity to revel in diversity and difference whilst discovering those things that unify and harmonise.Last Updated: 04/02/2011 Updated By: David