I think every North American should have the opportunity to host someone from a developing country in their home at least once in their lifetime. It’s delightful to watch the wonder in their eyes, and humbling to see the shock.
Pugeni is visiting from Zimbabwe. Today was his first full day in a country outside of Southern Africa. There were many firsts for him today – the first sight of snow (“wow – I had no idea it would cover EVERYTHING! And you can walk on it!”), the first visit to a Canadian church, the first trip to a North American grocery store with shelves overflowing with abundance, the first Slurpee (my kids were determined he needed that experience), the first time bundled up in layers of jackets, gloves and a hat (while the rest of us celebrated the relatively lovely weather by walking around in unzipped jackets) – the list goes on and on. By the end of the day, he looked completely overwhelmed with the newness of it all.
Pugeni’s life is so much different than ours. He is thrilled to be visiting Canada, but he can hardly comprehend all that he is seeing. “You can get milk every day from the store? In Zimbabwe, we rarely have milk available anymore.” “These vegetables you’re serving for lunch – this is what the rich people eat in Zimbabwe.” “I think people in Canada like to drive big cars. And so many of them drive alone.” “It seems like people here really like to eat.” “Everything is so CHEAP here! You mean you can buy batteries for FOUR dollars?!” “You have it so GOOD here!”
The most humbling of his comments was his response to our house – a house that by North American standards in very modest (and about half of the square footage of an average-sized house). More than once, he mentioned how big our house is. That was even before he’d seen it all. There was a look of shock on his face when I took him downstairs to the family room where I’d prepared a bed for him. “You have ANOTHER room down here?” he asked, incredulously. “My, your house is SO BIG!” And then he spotted our second computer. “You have computers everywhere!”
I started to feel embarrassed about the abundance I was now noticing as I looked around the house and glimpsed it through his eyes. Two rooms full of comfortable couches to sit on. Two tables for people to eat at. Two bathrooms. Shelves and shelves of books. Electric lights to brighten every room. More clothes than we can fit in our closets. A pantry and freezer full of food. Abundance beyond his wildest imagination.
He told us a story of a time when he’d been visiting Botswana. He’d traveled to the local market and had been so surprised to see the availability of meat that he’d bought 7 pounds of it, quite certain that he’d lucked out and visited the market on a rare day when meat was readily available. When he’d arrived back at the house of his host, proud of his wealth of meat, his host had laughed at him and said “but there’s ALWAYS meat at the market – we could just buy more tomorrow!” Living in Zimbabwe, where the economy is deteriorating on almost a daily basis, he’d grown accustomed to the scarcity of precious food like meat and oil.
After lunch today, I was glad that Pugeni was out of the kitchen when I loaded the dishwasher. Suddenly I felt embarrassed by the ease of my lifestyle, where water flows freely into a machine that does my dishes for me.
Pugeni is sleeping now, in my “luxurious” basement. Ironically, he almost didn’t stay with us, because I usually don’t think we have enough room for overnight guests (after all – they have to sleep in the family room because we don’t have a spare bedroom). How could I ever think that, with all of this space? Why do I still always want more? Why have I never noticed just how much food is sitting on our pantry shelves? Why do I worry about my ratty furniture and stained carpets?
I hope I remember the look on Pugeni’s face the next time I wish my house were just a little bit bigger.