Last night during Cubbies, I told the kids a little about my summer in the desert to help introduce our lesson. (I was teaching them about John the Baptist--who lived in the desert--it all connects. I kind of wish we still used those sorts of names, "John the Baptist," "Richard the Lion-Hearted," "Edward the Great.") When I was eighteen I spent a summer in Egypt working at the Lillian Trasher Orphanage. For 3 months I lived out of a duffel bag, and reader, it changed my life.
I did my laundry by hand with a bar of soap, scrubbing brush and a bucket. (Fortunately, clothes dry real fast when you're in the desert--like in about 15 minutes with full sun and zero humidity.)
I used shampoo, but no hair product (it was 1989, this was a MAJOR sacrifice for a girl who'd invested her hard-earned ice cream scooping earnings in a spiral perm and Sun-In for "natural blonde highlights") and no electricity, so no styling devices either. When I returned to Wisconsin, the gal at Dorothy's Hi-Style who did my hair back then remarked on how healthy it was after a summer in the desert. Today I have no curling iron or flatiron, but I do have hot rollers and a hair dryer that I use on occasion. I never got another perm and after a couple years, quit coloring it, too.
I wore the same 5 outfits in rotation. Jeans, t-shirt, sundress on Sunday, work boots, socks, undies. What seemed necessary in my wardrobe suddenly felt frivolous when I stood next to orphans who owned one change of clothes and a pair of flip-flops.
No hot water, showers were fast and fiercely frigid.
No cold water either. Room temperature water that we'd boiled to avoid dysentery, and when we drank it, the residual silt scraped the back of our throats. The only cold thing to drink was soda purchased from a guy on a bicycle. Coca-Cola or some orange pop in tiny glass bottles. Our love for each other was mutual--he made buckets of money off of us thirsty Americans (and Canadians), we got to wash the silt out of our throats.
I didn't have sunscreen, a bathrobe, a razor, nail polish, TV, phone, reading material, radio, video games or jewelry. I wasn't fashionable. I wasn't well-read that summer, hip to the latest celebrity gossip or wealthy.
But we had music when we sang. We had laughter all the time, and some tears. We played games we invented. We had plenty to eat, even if our meals lacked variety. We got daily exercise--mixing cement by hand with shovels and tearing down an old barn without machinery keeps a person fit and strong. We had faith, punctuated by regular calls to worship echoing through the sky in lyrical wails, the Muslim song projected from the speakers mounted on the sides of mosques and they were everywhere. In the desert you can see every star in the sky and in the silence you have lots of time to think, wish and dream.
In that summer of nothing, I had everything and I gained more than I'd have ever imagined.
Lately I've been reflecting about what is necessary and what I can live without, and I remember that summer and know I can live with much less than I have. What I believe I need and what I actually require are pretty different.
Spill it, reader. What could you live without? I'm not talking about sacrificing what you don't have--most of us live without designer clothes and speed boats--what do you have right now that you could live without and be just fine?