Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Perspective

I heard of this book from a friend.  The author's concept captures material wealth by taking pictures of families with all of their material possessions in their front yard.  The picture shows the exterior of their home, all the people living in that home, and all the possessions stored in that home.  I became super curious and spent about 30 minutes on the internet searching for this book to check it out.  I found it.

It's called Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel.  (I checked this copy out from the library.)

I was most struck by the poorest family represented in the book.  They are the Getu Family of Ethiopia.  The nation of Ethiopia is ranked 180 out of the 183 United Nations for per capita wealth and 183 out of 183 for number of physicians per person.  The average family in Ethiopia earns $123 per year, per capita.  That was in 1994, when the average U.S. family earned $22,356 per year, per capita and ranked 9th in U.N. affluence.  Ethiopians spend nearly 50% of their annual income on food alone...and still go hungry most days.  This is their "material" picture:

This family, despite all the harsh circumstances under which they live, are happy and loving.  The photographer recounted how they were the most generous people he'd met--sharing their food even when it meant they would go without themselves.  Seven people live in their household, protected from the elements by gathered animal dung that they hand form into a paste to stick against the straw walls of their home.  They have two tin cans that the family shares as drinking cups.  They use an empty, plastic motor oil can to store their water.  They work between 80-120 hours per week just trying to survive.  They don't have running water, plumbing, gas, or electric.  In fact, when the book showcases bathrooms from around the world, when they show a picture for Ethiopia, it's simply a cluster of trees in a field.  No joke.

When asked what the family would want if they could ask for anything they said:  more animals, a 2nd set of clothes, better seed stock, farm implements, and peace in area and in the world.

Wow.  They asked for a second set of clothes and world peace.  They asked for tools and work necessities just to survive.

I have it so easy in comparison to this family and many other people in the world.  When I get down because I don't have as much money as I would like, or the new outfit I would like because I "have nothing to wear" even though my closet and dresser are bursting at the seams, or I'm tired of the place I'm living or the job I do or don't have, I just need to look at pictures and stories like this to be completely humbled and reminded of how blessed I am.

Ponder this:  when the Getus were asked how they find solace amidst their circumstances and the political upheaval in their country, it was explained that their faith gave them comfort.  They are Orthodox Ethiopian Christians.  (See picture below.)

They live in such poverty and with such difficulty, yet they are probably happier than most of us here who have our needs met.  No, we may not have our WANTS met, but our NEEDS usually are.

Peter Menzel has several other books that I'm hoping to check out soon.  They have the same concept as this one but instead of material possessions focus on foods the family eats and the lives of mothers.  Very intriguing.

This inspires me to live so much more simply and to be thankful for everything I have--even things I don't.

Keeping all of this in mind, what is it you would want if you could ask for anything?

...You just might already have it.

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