I [Chris] have had a really interesting question lobbed at me a couple of times recently. The question, though worded differently each time, is basically something like this: is it harder or easier to live without so many modern conveniences when you're in Cameroon? The question points to an obvious implicit dichotomy. On one side, you have life in Cameroon without ubiquitous technology but with many things that have to be done manually – things that we take for granted here in the US. On the other, you have life with every conceivable modern convenience which then leads to having so much more to do/worry about.
My answer has essentially been, “It’s harder everywhere.” That doesn’t make much sense, although it’s the truest answer I can give.
Honestly, it’s at the core of some struggles we’ve had in adjusting to life in the US. And to be clear, struggles of adjustment in the US are mostly between the ears – stuff that’s hard to find a place for and comprehend.
So on the one hand, when we’re in Cameroon, we see a hard life for so many of our friends. We have friends, some in the village, some in the city, that live in conditions that our American friends could not imagine. There are struggles in child-rearing – the most significant of which is finding money for school fees. There is not guaranteed public education to benefit from and the fees a family with three children must pay can take about a month’s worth of income for someone from the working middle-class. Lower middle-class and below? Education might be rationed within the family (selecting which child will be educated) or not even become a part of their life.
There are struggles in the day to day. Many people in Cameroon, again both in the city and in villages, struggle to have clean drinking water. As a result, families may have a lot of illness which they probably won’t have the money to treat and the cycle just spirals.
Also, imagine living in a home with a curtain for a front door, basic cloth curtains in the windows (no glass or screens), no indoor plumbing, and an outdoor kitchen. There you have a fairly average home in our city.
And this is just scratching the surface. Frankly, when I consider our “struggles” after considering struggles of the average person living around me in our context in Africa, I feel like a spoiled brat. Our lack of a dishwasher, our two bathrooms that only have ¾ height wall between them, having to spend most of a day to do the week’s grocery shopping at several different stores, power outages a few times a week, etc. are difficult for us coming from the US, but less than a drop in the bucket compared to what our neighbors contend with daily.
So yes, life is hard in Cameroon. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy in the US.
Having so much modern convenience means a fuller docket in daily life. There are so many activities to chase our kids to. There are appointments to make and then keep. There are so many technological things to catch up on and keep up with…in part because our kids needed “devices” to use in the classroom (it was a shock to come back here to find that just about every middle school kid has a better phone than me). There’s learning Google Classroom in order to help the kids with homework. It goes on and on!
And then came the need to manage some of our financial matters and take care of our retirement funds while we’re here. And the management of our fundraising and all of the people and churches that are implied in all of that. The sheer number of “irons in the fire” has quickly become overwhelming.
There are so many things to take care of on so many angles that life here in the ultra-modern world…is hard. But beyond the visibly difficult aspects of life in the US is that we make it worse by covering it up. It seems that in Western culture, all of the conveniences that we have and use mostly serve to mask the frailty of our existence and put “makeup” on the real struggles that are deep in each of our hearts.
It can be a mess in our heads, living in both worlds simultaneously. We’re still in touch with life in Cameroon and wanting to be back there in 8 months. But we’re here now with feet in both worlds and not completely hanging tough and savvy in either one. Both the heart and the head are struggling to manage both and have proper perspective. Being bi-cultural is great, but it has exposed the blind spots that we had in our understanding of this life and how certain struggles were hiding behind the method of life.
My prayer is that this season of advent will usher us toward the understanding of the greatest gift ever given: Jesus, God’s gift that gives us the opportunity to dwell in fullness forever.