retrospective no. 6: juicebox gardens and looking forward to january.

a garden in cartons

This garden caught my eye the second or third day I was working in the office in Kinshasa. It’s under a tree right next to the pool in the yard outside the office. Something about it is so beautiful: simple, utilitarian, creative, colorful… I’m not sure who put it together, but anyone could have. It’s not exactly the kind of project requiring a degree in agroforestry or soil sciences. It’s just a few cartons growing herbs and flowers and other small plants. But it’s brilliant.

I’m home for Thanksgiving and thinking back to the spread we had on our table yesterday (and the containers upon containers of leftovers now in our refrigerator). Two turkeys, stuffing (vegetarian and regular), potatoes, squash, salad, cranberry sauce, bread, and more vegetables. The array of desserts was even more obscene. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say there were seven different kinds of ice cream.

I am extremely grateful for the abundance in my life (and not just food abundance). I wonder, however, where the line is between opulence and excess. What does it mean to have such a huge spread on the table? How is it any better than a dinner with just enough food for the people there? I understand the social implications of food: feeding someone to show you love them or care for them, gathering around a food table to share in a feeling of community, preparing food together and spending time with people you love. Somehow these feelings were partly lost on me yesterday.

I wish it had been more about family and sharing, and less about a display of food that could have fed a small nation. A simplistic version of Thanksgiving could be just as nice. To ensure that we only have as much food as we’ll eat – and not be weighed down with more leftovers than the amount of food we brought to begin with. Don’t get me wrong; I love Thanksgiving. It’s by far my favorite holiday and I would never want to do anything to take away from what it is. This year, however, there seem to have been forces at play that adulterated the real meaning of my favorite day of the year.

Black Friday sales starting on Thursday or even before; the less-than-subtle infiltration of Christmas and Christmas consumerism; the ridiculousness of the production (do we always have to out-do ourselves from what we did last year?)

I’m moving to Bamako in January. And trying to simplify my life between here and then – become a little bit more minimalist, so-to-speak. Thinking about the non-essentials in my life feels like a direct contradiction to the dinner we had last night. This might be a bit of a stretch, as comparisons go, but I was slightly disturbed by the consumption and the need to produce. Could we have done with less? (Okay, obvious answer is yes. Next quetion: how, exactly?) How can I make do with less, what do I have that I don’t need or that I could get rid of?

Over the next couples of months before I leave, my project is to scale back. To minimalize what I own and have and buy and use. I’m not sure exactly where to start, or how serious I want to be about it, but I think it’s a good exercize in simplicity and in analyzing my life a bit.

A life like a garden in juice cartons – simple, utilitarian, creative, colorful.

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