The inequity here just kills me sometimes.
In New Zealand or America, we would not be considered rich. We would probably barely qualify as lower middle-class, at best. We’re a one-car family, we don’t pay for private preschool or daycare, we don’t go out to eat, we don’t buy lots of luxury items, we don’t even own our own home.
This morning I sat at my kitchen table drinking tea with one of my best friends in this place. We munched chocolate chip cookies that tasted suspiciously like Chips-A-Hoy, bought from a local store, and I wondered when was the last time she had extra money to buy cookies. I poured milk into a pitcher from a 1.5 liter carton that cost more than 4 times as much as the raw milk she buys and pasteurizes at home.
I cut up apple and orange slices for the kids, which were devoured in seconds. Unless they had their own apples stored in the basement, this family wouldn’t have been able to afford the price of fresh fruit for the last three months at least.
I served leftover pizza with our chicken soup for lunch, and my friend remarked innocently that she made my pizza recipe one time and her family loved it, but cheese has gotten so expensive they can’t afford to buy it any more. I wince. I pour more tea.
James brings home vitamins for me from the drugstore, and I think of all the bottles of baby Tylenol I’ve given my friend for her little 10-month-old baby girl at the head of the table, and how she has to scrape together money for every prescription, every shot at the hospital, even every single diaper they buy.
Later, sitting outside together in the winter sunshine while the boys ride trikes up and down the driveway, my friend asks to see pictures of our recent holiday. Grudgingly, I bring out my laptop and bounce her baby on my knee while my friend eagerly scrolls through snapshots of another world: miles of blue ocean, wet sandy beaches, Will and Ben with their floaties swimming in a pristine pool, our family on a boat going to an island to feed monkeys. Her little boy comes over to the see the monkeys and asks, “What do monkeys eat?” And when she tells him bananas, his eyes get big. Here, bananas cost 50 cents apiece. I can almost hear him thinking, “Those are some really rich monkeys!”
Before they leave, she asks me if we’re going to use the logs of wood James chainsawed down in the backyard. These late winter days, everyone’s scrounging for fuel to feed their indoor furnace-stoves. She asks to borrow my lightweight umbrella stroller this summer if we’re not using it anymore. She asks if my mom sent any more used kids’ clothes from the States. She tells me she’s only been able to go to the bathroom once a week lately, and when I tell her the answer is to drink lots of water and eat more raw fruits and vegetables, she laughs and says, “Well, water’s free, but I can’t afford fruit and vegetables!” I run inside to our overflowing fruit bowl and bring out a bag of apples and a ziploc of raisins for her to take home.
After we kiss each other goodbye, I slowly climb the steps up to my nice, warm, diesel-furnace-heated house (with a thermostat - my local friends don’t even know what the thermostat is when they see it on our wall - they’ve never seen one before). I put my boys down for naps, and crawl under my own blanket with a heavy heart.
Not once did our talk turn to spiritual things today. Not that that necessarily needs to happen every time... but today, especially, I felt like what I have came between us. That what I have to give her physically was a distraction from I have to give her spiritually.
Don’t misunderstand my friend. She has been a true and genuine friend who has loved me unconditionally since we met and who is frank, open and honest with me. I really enjoy our friendship. She just can’t help wanting what I have. Good baby Tylenol that actually works. Warm kids’ clothing that doesn’t fall apart. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Extras like cookies and cheese. Who wouldn’t want those things? In the West we even feel like we’re entitled to them.
And it’s because she and I are so close and she feels so comfortable with me that she asks so much. In some ways, that makes me feel good. In other ways, it makes me feel pretty wretched.
What other choice do I have but…
to be grateful for what I have,
to be generous with what I have, and
to visit her more often at her house than at mine, so the symbols of our differences fade
and what stands out are the things we have in common:
Our motherhood. Our wifehood. Our womanhood. Our personhood.