Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Better Off

It was around our 4th month in Ethiopia and I was starting to run out of reading material. We had packed up and moved everything we might need within Lufthansa's weight restriction of 60kg each. While that might seem like a lot of weight to some we had to have everything for a year's worth of living in there and had to make some sacrifices. So out went my extra pairs of underwear, my extra deodorant (they use must have that there right?) and in went as many books as my wife would allow.

Books are heavy though and by the fourth month I was nearing the end of my stash. I had bought and read everything of interest from the only bookstore in Addis that carried English books. I had even ordered some books from Amazon, delivered to Ethiopia: those books were done. I had borrowed books from students; those were also done. I was heading for some hard times.

And then one day my compatriot Rob invited me to check out the new (and only) modern cinema in Addis. I believe Will Smith's I am Legend was playing. I hadn't heard of it and am not a big movie goer to begin with but I gladly accepted. ANYTHING for a taste of home. And it was next to that shiny new cinema I found the greatest thing aside from my wife: a new bookstore.

It was stocked with leftovers from who-knows-where. In English. Everything from medical texts to cook books to sudoku to steamy Harlequins. Piles of books, all over the place. And they were cheap. Way cheap. The price on the back said 10. We were both sure it meant ten dollars but were curious why an Ethiopian shop would sell in dollars (though it obviously catered to foreigners). So I asked the clerk, "Is this in dollars?" She assured me it was in birr. 10 birr = 1 dollar. Hallelujah choruses rang through my head as I tried to reason in my head how many books I could carry home with me.

One of the books that grabbed my eye was this one: Better Off. Since I was a kid I dreamed of living off the land; fed by those rugged Canadian pioneer stories and Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. Robinson Crusoe was a favorite as was Swiss Family Robinson. I wanted to be abandoned on an island or to run away from home and have to fend for myself.

As I matured this passed but I have always been interested in the idea of "walking away from it all". Leaving the traps of society for a simpler life. Walden Pond called to me in Thoreau's work. In Vietnam, on a small deserted island I was bewitched and told Nolana I wanted to buy a hut on the beach and grow a garden and fish for a while and I read about a guy who did just that in the Philippines. "Into the Wild" was great right up until the second he dies.

This book was an excellent, thought provoking read. Eric (what a GREAT name!) realizes the limitations of doing this within today's technological society and works to find ways to around what we think is 'necessary'.

And the flame was rekindled. Nolana told me I would have to wait until she passes to move to a deserted island because she's not so keen on desertion.

So I thought of other things. This month I wrote up a proposal for Nolana that outlined why and how we should sell our car and live without electric heat. She threatened to call social services for intended abuse of a not-yet-born baby. Needless to say, we still have our car (though when it looked like it needed repairs she softened for second...)

The point of this rambling story is not to paint my wife as the ruiner of my hopes and dreams. Far from it. In fact she in rather normal and had already followed me to Ethiopia and no running water for 8 months. Rather, it is to point out how ludicrous it sounds to leave it all behind, to make 'serious changes' beyond recycling milk cartons and energy efficient lights. But WHY? I hear of people who did it and the hardships they had and I desire them rather than scoff. I swear life was different not so long ago and people were at least as happy as now. People could be farmers AND scholars. They built their own house AND preached in church. We're so one dimensional these days.

And so I was reawaken by the latest edition of GEEZ magazine in which there was a call of lifestyle experiments for their Spring 2009 edition. In it, someone who I knew a long time ago, shares of how he and his wife and his kids took off and lived for a year in a cabin in the Canadian woods. Wood fires. Cast Iron Pots. Outhouses at -60. And again, I wanted it.

There's something about moderation in this instance that seems dirty. I turn my lights off but who cares. We're going to use cloth diapers but we're still going to buy them at a store. We buy local produce. It just seems so vulgar in light of what could be.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. I want to find a place in the middle of nowhere. Miles from a town but close enough for emergencies. A garden to work. Maybe a lake to fish in. And not much more. Am I crazy?


Jen said...

Not crazy! I would love to experience something like that. They did it for thousands of years before us. I'd love to do no car but I need heat and I need a warm shower.

Michelle said...

Not crazy at all. I would LOVE to live in a cozy A-frame in the woods somewhere. Growing a garden, reading books by lamp light. Sounds wonderful. I am with Jen though, I need a hot shower and running water.