We just returned from three weeks in Florida and D.C. for our first “R&R.” While we were there I kept seeing and hearing the catch phrase “Make American Great Again.” So, at the risk of making a political statement, and although I know most of my friends and family (ie: most of the people reading this) will side with me on this one, I have to point out that America is great. It has no need to be made great again.
There are lots of wonderful countries in the world, but in the DRC there is only one president emblazoned on the bread bags: President Obama (even though Justin Trudeau would make a nice looking bag…). People here believe America IS great, so why are there so many Americans who don’t?
There were times during our R&R when I wanted to jump up and down and shout at people “LOOK around you!”
Three times I walked from my in-laws’ house in North Florida to the CVS, less than a mile one way, and not once in those six trips did I encounter another pedestrian. Every time I strolled out of the house I thought about what a privilege it was to walk somewhere without fear of a random car or motorcycle driving up on the sidewalk in order to get around the traffic. I marvelled at how clean everything was, that the road was not full of potholes (or worse, made of dirt AND full of potholes), and that the majority of people had a car and were not forced to pile on top of each other in a broken down taxi (or “Esprit de Mort”/”Spirit of Death”) like they do here. How great is that?
There was no garbage burning on the street. Young children were not walking up and down leading their blind/handicapped parents or grandparents from car to car begging for enough money to buy a loaf of bread. There were no homeless children sleeping on the sidewalks. The electricity stayed on all the time. ALL THE TIME.
And I wondered how much the people driving past (usually alone) in their cars appreciated those facts. Whether they knew how great it is to live in a country where the electricity, internet, phone, and television work all the time. Our electricity goes out at least once a day, usually way more often than that, and we are much luckier than the majority of Congolese who, when the sun goes down (pretty much every day at 6 p.m.), the lights go out until 6 a.m. the next morning when the sun comes back up again.
Something else great? Produce aisles. The produce section at Publix literally brought me to tears. I was stupefied by the options. Fresh strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and pretty much anything and everything you want – and it will be relatively fresh, free from bugs and black or moldy bits and tasty. We have lovely fresh local vegetables and fruit here, but want anything that does not grow locally and you can either forget it or offer up your first-born to pay for it.
For me the biggest and most overwhelming difference while we were in the U.S. was the choices: Need an apple – within a 2 miles area you have dozens of options. A coffee? Starbucks is on one corner and Dunkin’ Donuts is on the next. Need lunch fast? Chick-fil-a, McDonalds, Zaxby’s, Taco Bell, Popeyes, Chipotle, Pizza Hut – and even healthy choices like Subway, Panera, Au Bon Pain, Jason’s Deli, and dozens of other places are everywhere you turn. That is great people. Seriously GREAT.
There are a couple of “copycat” fast food places here – but expect to wait 10-15 minutes minimum for your food, and don’t expect it to taste (a) consistent from visit to visit; or (b) like what you are used to if it is a burger or fried chicken. Our best options – a hamburger place called “Hunga Busta” and a Lebanese place called Al Dar – are pretty quick, not too expensive, and pretty yummy, but how many times can you eat a “Hummus Poulet” (rotisserie chicken on a bed of hummus)? (A lot if you are B; not so often if you are me.)
And the choices are not limited to food in the U.S. Want to buy a dress? There are hundreds – literally – of places to choose from. Do you need a computer? Somewhere to wash your car? A place to take your dog or child to run/walk/play? The choices almost feel endless when you are used to living with one or two options at best.
If you get in an accident in the U.S. you call 911 – it works everywhere. If you show up at a hospital in the U.S. you are entitled to emergency treatment under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act so long as the hospital accepts payments from Medicare (which most do) regardless of citizenship, legal status, or ability to pay.
Here there are no public ambulances, and you won’t be accepted into the hospital until you have proven you can pay. If you do get in, get treated and then you don’t pay, you will remain in the hospital until you pay up. It’s a bizarre system. The daughter of our neighbor’s housekeeper had an emergency c-section then couldn’t pay the bill, so she and her baby stayed at the hospital for almost 2 months until her family could collect the money to pay. The family was also responsible for feeding her while she was there.
There is no fire station in Kinshasa – a city of more than 10 million people. There are, allegedly, three fire trucks, but they don’t carry water or pumps, so they’re not overly useful. Papy told me that if your house catches on fire the “fire police” will show up after it has burned to the ground, and even then they’ll show up without water. There is a local urban legend that the fire station itself burned down.
I could go on and on. The bottom line is that I’m sure for some people it is hard to see what is all around you, but trust me when I say that America is great.
Oh, and one more thing that is great about the U.S… Disney. It is awesome.