Early this morning I was awoken by the sound of a snow plow plowing the road just outside our house. Even half asleep I was quite sure that was what it was. It snowed all day yesterday, a layer of new snow on top of the foot or two which has been accumulating and settling since Christmas. In Norway things do not grind to a halt when there is snow. There are systems in place to deal with it, and everyone knows what to do. The snowplows come early in the morning before anyone is up. People get up extra early to shovel their driveways and clear off their cars, and morning traffic flows as usual over the snowy streets.
When I was awoken by the sound of the snowplow this morning, I thought of Tanzania. Not of the climate difference, although that is huge. What struck me was how comforting it is to be able to take something like a snowplow for granted. To know that there are systems in place to take care of the problems of my daily life. Ever since being back here, I get a little bit of the same feeling every time I hear the garbage truck go by. How nice!, I think, that all I have to do is put my garbage outside in the bins provided for that purpose, and I can know that it will be collected weekly with no more fuss. In Tanzania, there are no good options when it comes to trash. I know it sounds awful, but due to a lack of options, here’s what we do: there is a big hole in the ground in our yard, and we dump our trash into it and burn it on a regular basis. Glass bottles and tin cans are tricky. Some people just stick them in the hole along with the other trash, while others ‘dig them down’ in a separate hole in the yard. We do try to reduce our household waste by reusing plastic bags, and we have a compost pile to deal with food waste. Daniel’s nanny started a little side business, selling my glass jars and bottles to a lady she knows who sells sunflower oil.
I could give a lot of examples of things we take for granted in the western world that don’t exist in Tanzania if I let myself keep going. A few of those I appreciate most; paved roads, stocked grocery stores, reliable electricity, good healthcare, and a trustworthy police force. When we encounter exceptions to the rule in these areas like potholes, power outages, medical malpractice, or a store being sold out of our favorite brand of cereal (not to mention something basic, like milk) we feel we have every right to complain. How would it feel to no longer have that right? To know that an extraordinarily bumpy dirt road full of deep mudholes is simply the norm? That there is no number to call in an emergency. That if you need to go to the hospital, no matter how sick you are, you’re going to have to walk there yourself? Like I said, the list of examples is long. And I find myself feeling very blessed and thankful for the garbage truck and the snow plow.