Monday, September 9, 2013

The Pessimistic Optimist


It costs $100 a month to rent a tent in a Syrian refugee camp. One can’t purvey the amenities on the Air B&B website, but it would be safe to assume that these tents don’t come with heat, air-conditioning, running water, a kitchen, toilet facilities, or electricity. Such a deal. But compared with being bombed out of one’s home, the choice is obvious; intolerable is better than catastrophic.

To help pay the slumlord, children in the camp can work in neighboring fields for $1 a day. Let’s see, that makes $30 dollars a month during September, April, June, November; all the rest have 31 days – if the little ones work everyday. Even with the shameless exploitation of these unfortunates it is hard to image an unrelenting schedule, but nothing can be assumed in this upside down backwards scenario.

Add to this delight the neighbors, some of which are pro-Assad while others are pro-opposition (an oxymoron that isn’t an oxymoron). Skyrocketing rapes and assaults in the dusty makeshift alleys make social mingling a drag, so the amusement of the day might be a furtive stroll to one of the few food stands set up by an enterprising camp resident to gaze upon unaffordable fruits and vegetables.

People in these camps had houses, jobs and lives with extended social networks, just like me. I gaze at my surroundings, pondering this fact. Granted, the couches are 30 years old (thanks to the sturdy hide of a cow who was even more unfortunate than these refugees), yet “home” is a spacious abode with a view of the mountains and a garden that serves as an addition to the house, with its entrancing terraces, native California plants and an understated waterfall that is a large, flat rock with water dribbling over the side.

Then my mind wanders to the over-sized refrigerator, which is fairly empty by choice. This suburban housewife-mother-painter-writer-filmmaker finds grocery shopping tedious; obviously starvation has never been a personal issue. But were I an enthusiastic chef, there are over fifteen markets within a five mile radius, all wonderlands of colorful vegetables, fruits, and processed food in cardboard packages with marketing ploys adorning their containers like prostitute flowers awaiting their bees.

As an affluent American, it is horrifying to travel to Third World countries and behold people living in drain pipes in heat stroke temperatures, or huddled in plastic garbage bags during freezing winter months with a cow dung fire and half-naked children caked in dirt. Where I live, even the homeless are kings compared to these folks, as a societal castaway in Westlake Village can beg and collect at least $10, then walk into one of the food extravaganzas and chose hundreds of ways to spend the bucks.

Guilt is the hacksaw that slices the heart, but gratitude is the balm that soothes it. This attitude of thanks might not put food in the mouths of refugees but it does one powerful thing: erase the arrogance of the “more is better” culture. Someday our population might achieve critical mass gratitude, and then a global shift would occur. The most pessimistic optimist around, it is my prayer that one day this too shall come to pass.



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