Monday, October 19, 2009


In my last post, I talked a little about contentment. I wondered what deprivations I would be able to experience while still being content. Today, I realized yet another thing that I take for granted and not all others have. Indoor plumbing.

Yes, that's right. Indoor plumbing. It's a great privilege to have it. Many people around the world get all of their water from canals, wells, rivers, or other such sources. They have to go fetch their water, and what they get is what they get--microbes, pollution, and all. Although my water ultimately is obtained from similar sources, I have the great convenience of having it delivered right into my home, in exactly the quantity, temperature, and location of my needs and desires. Furthermore, because of where I live, my water is filtered inside my housing compound. Egypt apparently has a good water filtration system for Cairo, but the clean water then goes through dirty pipes, so the water that actually comes out of the tap is not safe for expats to drink. Not so in my home--the tap water is clean enough to drink without worries.

How often do we think about the clean water that is delivered to us on demand? Speaking for myself, not too often. I've thought about it a bit more than usual lately because there have been a few times when this luxury has not been available to me. I'm not sure what's been going on. The water was out a couple of times last summer, but on those occasions, it was for some type of work that was being done, so we were given advance notice. The three or four most recent occasions--all within the last month--occurred without warning.

The most recent occasion happened just this morning. In fact, the water is out now, unless it's come back in the last 45 minutes or so. It went out at a particularly inconvenient time for me today. I delayed my shower this morning until mid-morning. As I was soaping up, I noticed a marked decrease in the water pressure. Because of the recent outages, I realized immediately what was happening and started rinsing. No sooner had I gotten all the soap off of me than the water went out entirely. My washcloth is hanging in my shower, still full of soap. There was no time to rinse it. I didn't get to wash my face in the shower like I usually do. I didn't get to condition my hair, although I had washed it.

I was a bit annoyed.

Then I started thinking. Even though our tap water is potable, Jeff and I have chosen to drink bottled water, as most expats here do. So we have plenty of bottled water on hand. I was able to wash my face in the sink using bottled water. I was already mostly clean when the water went out, and one day of not soaping up my legs won't hurt anyone. I had washed my hair. So I ended up with a clean face, clean hair, and a half-clean body. It's enough for today. It's more than many people throughout the world, and throughout history, have had.

Most days, I am able to shower, brush my teeth, wash the dishes, and do any number of other tasks with minimal inconvenience. I don't have to haul water from the well, river, or canal in order to fill a bucket to wash my clothes. The easy availability of water on demand means that I don't even have to scrub my laundry myself--because we have indoor plumbing and electricity, I can have a machine for that, and another for cleaning my dishes. In the grand scheme of things, I'm spoiled rotten. Even now, with the water out, I can be confident that it will be back, probably within a couple of hours if not even sooner, and definitely by the end of the day. It may even be back already.

Why should I complain because my indoor plumbing stopped working for a short time, even if it was at a particularly inconvenient time today?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Cleo--the cat who can't decide if she's a cat, a human, a dog, a monkey, or what--recently happened upon me as I was taking care of the laundry. My jeans were still warm. As I folded them, I stacked them on the sofa. As you can see, she jumped onto them and promptly went to sleep. I just kept stacking them. After I was done, I left them there until she decided on her own to move. She stayed snuggled up in her warm little bed for a good 15 minutes before she came looking for me ... at which point, I petted her for a couple of minutes, then gathered up the jeans and put them away.

Sometimes I'm in awe of my cats. They need so little to be content. A warm place to lie down. A small, enclosed area to feel safe--they love their airline crates. Fresh water to drink. Nutritious food twice a day (although they really would prefer that it be available all the time). Occasional petting and brushing. A small ball, bottle cap, or cable tie to chase. A clean litter box. Each other. That's all they need.

So what do I need to be content? It's hard to say ... I know the difference between a need and a want. I know the things I need in a physical sense. But the things I need psychologically ... that's where it becomes a little more complicated, more difficult to determine with certainty what is a need and what is a want. I know I need my relationship with God--that's fundamental. Could I be content without anything else, just me and God? The Sunday school answer is yes. But I also know that isn't how God created us; there's a reason why He said it wasn't good for Adam to be alone, even though God Himself was there. We're made to need human companionship. So I need interaction with other people--my husband in particular, but also my extended family and my friends. That's what I need relationally. How about physically? I'm pretty sure I could give up my creature comforts. I could be content with a lot less stuff than I have now. But then I think ... if I really gave up my creature comforts, to the extent that I lived like the zabbaleen (the Egyptian garbage collectors, who live surrounded by the garbage they collect, sort, and sell for recycling) or like many villagers (not surrounded by trash, but in extreme poverty, like in my last post)--if I really gave up my creature comforts, could I be content? Probably so, I think, but only after God had used the circumstance to stretch and grow my faith well beyond its current limits.

The sisters at Mother Teresa's chose to have their faith stretched and grown in just that way. They willingly gave up creature comforts to live in Muqattam and pour out their lives to help the children of the zabbaleen. And they aren't alone. There are people all over the world who sacrifice immensely for a cause greater than themselves. From what I've seen of the sisters, they are content--more than content--with the life they've chosen. They don't seem to see its deprivations, only its joys. They are content because they trust God absolutely, welcome all that they have as a gift from Him, and view the things they do not have as opportunities for their faith to grow--either by seeing how God will carry them through without it, or by seeing how God will provide it.

Now that's a worldview worthy of emulation.