Mindfulness versus Mindlessness

It is easy to just keep doing what we have been doing, following the path in front of us, but realize you can make small adjustments and live differently. To do this you must be aware of the myriad of small choices made each day. For 2018 my theme is “mindfulness”. Being aware of things I have taken for granted or incorporated into habits, acting as if that was the only choice. For instance, food and groceries are handled differently here. My village has less options and my budget is smaller. Only sunflower oil is sold in my village and chicken, either frozen or live, is the main meat choice. The basics are available within walking distance and by car or taxi the options greatly expand. But if I am to live like those in my village, I need to buy locally.

To push my mindfulness further, I am paying more attention to what I buy and eat. The tomato sauce may be from Spain, the peanut butter from India, and the pasta from Lithuania even though my cornflakes, tea bags and vinegar are from South Africa. I thought I was buying locally but food outsourcing helps keep costs down and provide better quality and options.

I have recently been limiting how much I buy. Only using a handbasket when walking through the store, so I can manage to carry my groceries home and to encourage me to make the most of what I already have in my pantry and freezer. It has reawakened my culinary creativity through a combination of necessity and choice. Most people in my village have always lived this way, only buying local and using the food in their homes to make it through the month. Most also lack electricity, so less cold or frozen food is offered at the store and even fewer have ovens so baked goods are a luxury.

Challenge yourself to be more mindful of what you eat and buy. Look at the country the products are made in. Don’t automatically throw the same items in your cart every week, it seems easier but leads to mindless eating of the same things again and again. All the food in your pantry, fridge and freezer is something you bought. Something you wanted. Stop shopping and start savoring. Discover new combinations. Look up new recipes. Challenge your culinary creativity.

Water is another element in my life that I have become more mindful of here. Access to water, quality of water, and what I use water for. I am extremely fortunate to have a house with indoor plumbing which means not only do I have faucets which usually deliver what I need, but which also means I have a kitchen sink to wash dishes and pots and pans in and a tiled bathroom to wash myself in with a sink to brush my teeth, and a toilet to… well, you know. For those who don’t have pipes in their house, clean water must be brought in and dirty carried out with a latrine in the yard. Many who live in rural South Africa live with a series of barrels, buckets, and pots making the most of every drop. They may collect rain water from their roof into a jojo (a 2500-liter green plastic above ground reservoir) when drops fall from the sky, but most must carry 25 liter buckets from the closest communal faucet or stream. Making 3-5 trips a day, depending on the size of the family and what they need it for. Laundry, cooking big meals, and mixing cement for building, all require a larger amount. Carrying water is done by women and

girls, balancing the buckets on their heads as arms would quickly tire. It is done every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. A 25-liter bucket of water weighs 25 kilograms or 55 pounds. A few families have wheel barrows, but then they use it to carry 2 or 3 buckets at a time.

Parts of South Africa are experiencing drought that have been going on for some time and includes natural as well as man-made causes and rural areas frequently don’t have the infrastructure to deliver it to the communities. At times, the water is dirty or the supply can’t keep up with the demand. So the municipality has to limit the pressure or volume available to centrally located standpipes when women fill their buckets. Last winter, the dry season here, we had no rain from May until September, not a drop. The people and animals suffered. The women would queue early, often before sunrise, to bring a bucket or two of water for their families to use.

Since living here I have also become more mindful of what I use water for. All dishes and clothes are washed by hand. No machine to throw them in at my house. So I begin with the least dirty, drinking glasses or pajamas, to the grubbiest, pans and socks, depending if I’m in the kitchen or cleaning my wardrobe. I don’t get things spotless or pristine, but clean enough. The rinse water at the end is cloudy but hopefully I have removed the worst of it or freshened things up. I don’t know how the mamas get the small children’s clothes so white.

So before you hop in the hot shower or bath or run a load of clothes or dishes through, pause and think about it. I only get hot showers when I am in a city and host country nationals may have never had one their whole life. When I asked some friends if they would rather have a dishwasher or washing machine, I got only blank looks. They couldn’t imagine using either one. Carrying water and washing by hand is just the way life is here. They work hard, but they don’t hurry and somehow it all gets done.

I have become more mindful of other things as well such as transportation, education and housing, but I will leave that for you to ponder. Communication will be the last topic I will write about. I started making changes before I left the US. Turning off cable, unsubscribing from automatic email updates and limiting social media. I chose not to bring a hard drive filled with American movies or music, hoping to expose myself to what I would find here. I did buy a radio and listen to an English speaking station from Durban that plays pop and oldies or try out one of the local stations where Zulu is spoken and they play artists and tunes my neighbors are listening to. There is a tv here, but I heard it only got one channel so it isn’t even plugged in. The organization I work with has an internet café and I have a smartphone to help fill the gap with texts and emails. Over the last few months, satellite service has been slow to non-existent. A chance to find out what silence sounds like and feels like. When I had no cell service or internet accessibility initially there is concern, which heightened when my first phone quit working and I felt cut off from anyone who was not within my sight. There was even 10 days when the post office was closed to investigate a break in and repair the damages. I am thankful to miss the presidential tweets and the ads that get pushed out. Billboards are mainly in the urban areas. The only ones I see regularly are mainly posted by the government for a few development projects.

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