Whether we realize it or not, the vast majority of North Americans really are a fortunate lot.
For us, basic needs have evolved to encompass fancy electronic toys, pricey cars, splendid homes plus some extra cash to take vacations and get away from it all - whereupon we bring along some of those electronic devices so we can monitor what we're missing back home.
We consider consumer commodities essential to our existence in large part because we don't give much thought to such things as potable drinking water, electricity, an ample supply of food and adequate housing.
We take these things for granted, but in many parts of the world, having access to running water or a refrigerator is an amazing luxury.
We would consider accommodations lacking these "essentials" to be unfit for human habitation, but for many people in developing nations, almost all the houses would fail to meet these standards.
Last month, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of incredible weeks in the East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania. The scenery in those countries is stunning and the animals that populate much of the landscape were even more spectacular than we expected.
Naturally, I took lots of pictures, but since returning to Canada, my thoughts and recollections have drifted away from the wildlife and focused more on the people we met there.
Everywhere we went, the local people were friendly and extremely hospitable, even though catering to the "needs" of wealthy foreigners must have been frustrating for some of them.
One morning in Nairobi, we were travelling to a local airport and we passed a seemingly endless wave of men and women walking along the road. Most were dressed in their work uniforms although some men wore suits or dress pants with a clean white shirt while women wore smart, functional dresses. We asked the guide where these people lived and he gestured to a long row of makeshift shacks comprised of sheet metal and oddshaped pieces of timber.
It was, in fact, a shantytown, one of the largest in Africa where 200,000 people essentially resided in whatever they could piece together from scrap materials.
Electricity? Maybe if they could tap into a source. Running water? Extremely doubtful. Canadian fire code violations? Probably six or seven per square foot
And yet for these people, the rudimentary shelters were all they had and at the end of a long workday they probably spent an hour cleaning their clothes so they could be presentable when they left for work again the following morning. And they do it without washing machines, dryers or most other modern conveniences.
Later in our travels, we visited a village of the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya. The village consisted of a small cluster of rudimentary huts - woven branches with dried cow poop for plaster formed the walls, which supported a thatched roof - surrounded by piles of thorny scrub brush to keep predators from killing their goats and cattle during the night.
While the men tend to the precious livestock, the women take care of the daily activities in the village. This includes a three-to five-mile walk every morning to get water from the nearest river as well as collecting goat milk, cooking, raising the young children and anything else that needs to be done.
They also produce incredible beadwork and can turn any spare scrap of cloth into serviceable clothing, provided the colour of the fabric is vivid enough for their tastes.
As North Americans, a hot shower is a normal part of our morning routine. For the Samburu, preparing that shower would take up most of the morning.
A semi-nomadic people, the Samburu are not big on possessions - although one fellow showed off his Swiss watch.
Any money made by the villagers goes into a collective pool they use to purchase beads and other goods from a nearby market. Other than that, they live off the land and the dairy products generated by their herds.
Lodges employ Samburu men as staff, guards or guides so they are aware of modern conveniences, but are unimpressed by technology. They work a two-week shift at the lodge and then quickly return to their villages until they are needed again by the tourism industry.
We asked a couple of the men what they thought of the western lifestyle and, while admitting they liked sleeping on beds instead of dirt floors, they preferred their traditional village life. They have everything they need and cannot understand the western obsession with consumer goods. Six cows, a couple of dozen goats, a wife or three and life is good.
and life is good. This mindset stuck with me since returning to Canada, especially after reading some of the recent headlines: Strip clubs are going to recruit "talent" at high schools and colleges; pole dancing classes for kids; a jailhouse sex scandal in an RCMP detachment; a Canadian senator serving out her term despite suffering from dementia; the RCMP grounding an airplane for flying over Ottawa with a derogatory message about Prime Minister Stephen Harper; and on it goes.
Kind of makes you wonder who has their priorities straight.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com
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