Wednesday, April 16, 2008

High on the Hog

A few years ago a friend of ours summed up our existence as US citizens as, "Living high on the hog, and that hog is going to roll over and crush us." I thought it was an accurate metaphor for our consuming culture, and wondered if he thought it up all on his own. Moral outrage was part of the Seattle's welcoming package, we were new transplants to the emerald city, and our popular disdain for the mainstream was appropriately honed over the course of our next 5 years there. I've never felt patriotic, actually I feel that my political view, while strangely mainstream, has been marginalized by the media. When my husband considered applying for the grant that would lead us to a remote part of the Czech Republic for an extended period of time I was skeptical. We weren't sure if it would generate enough income to support 3 of us, and there were no work options for me. If we were in Prague, maybe. I've always looked at the opportunity to live abroad, wherever it might be, mud hut, Paris, etc. as wildly romantic. The experience of living abroad seemed to me a badge of courage, evidence of intellect, cultural superiority, and tons of other snobby validations. That said, actually leaving the country was preceded by a complex set of sacrifices and generosity from friends and family. I considered not going. People all around me raved about the wonderful opportunity it would be for us to live abroad as a family. Slowly I started to convince myself that the benefits were worth the sacrifices. I warmed to the idea of leaving our corrupt consuming country, evil politics, & actually considered what it would be like to leave all of my frustrations with the US behind, my only responsibility to be Thomas's mother.

We have been living in the Czech Republic for 7 1/2 months now. We've seen magnificent things, and experienced beautiful acts of generosity. Still, we aren't on vacation. We aren't even living here on some fancy expait package. We are three people trying to live this adventure to the fullest, off of a stipend meant for one without whittling away at our meager savings in the states. Our income isn't terrible, considering it's about what the average school teacher makes here, but the cost of living gets tricky. The cost of living here can be quite low, but unfortunately to keep it so means sacrificing petroleum products (thus a car & the freedom it allows), electricity beyond one tank of hot water per day, nutritious meals that include fresh fruits and vegetables, 2 ply toilet paper, cleaning products, periodicals, and household goods that last beyond one day of use. Well made clothes, shoes, furniture, shoes (did I mention shoes?), electronics, books, autos, petroleum, electricity, and fresh foods are wildly cost prohibitive when compared with the average income. We shop like our neighbors in this small town, between stores full of affordable clearance-house food, illegal imports, knock-offs that break or rip before they reach home, and stores filled with packaged organic products and solid wood toys, plastered with pictures of blond grinning German models using the well made purchases in sparkly clean homes with 2.5 golden children at their sides. It's daunting. I spent a good portion of the winter trying to figure out how to minimize our energy use even more & wondering if I was just a wasteful American. And the politics? I can't speak too much about it, since to truly understand how the average person here feels I would have to have a phenomenally better grasp of the language, but I can say the politicians are corrupt and selfish and aren't keeping fair representation of their citizens at the top of their priority list.

I don't mean to sound whiny or discouraged, just a bit humbled. Prior to this experience I thought I could be happy as a stay at home mom living in a mud hut, maybe not. I need to have a job and to contribute financially to our family, or the concerns of daily life just grow and keep me awake at night. Mud-hut is no longer on my to do list. I bet people in mud huts feel pretty damn politically and economically marginalized themselves. When I return to the states I want to rub my body all over the racks of adequately designed and tailored clothes at Target. I'm going to lick every green leaf I see in the grocery store & the organics? Watch out! A trip to the GAP just might take the edge off the reality that is our student loan debt.


Anonymous said...

"The experience of living abroad seemed to me a badge of courage, evidence of intellect, cultural superiority, and tons of other snobby validations."

I find it impossible to believe you actually having all of the above in your spirit, as negatives.
I would definitely agree with the "badge of courage," as being a thought that allowed you to rise above normal fear, and to take a chance. What the three of you have done is courageous, and also life defining. It has taken intellect, gleanings from your culturization, and self-validation as well.
As I read your words, I believe that you are on the cusp of witnessing new thoughts and realizations of who you are, and what life means to you.
When I went to Canada during the late 60's, ostensibly to finish my college degree, but knowing full well that I harbored the thought of becoming an ex-patriot, I learned who and what I really was. Realizing my need for freedom, also made me realize that to be free I had to come back here to the U.S., and be courageous and true to my beliefs. Fortunately, I was able to do and be both.
I trust that the three of you will not only profit from your incredible experiences in the Czech Republic, but will never forget what you learned about yourselves, either. Even Tom's spirit has been shaped by these months away.
The three of you are heroic, and fine examples of humanity.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I can't wait to see what you cook up with all of the organics, cast iron pans, etc. that you crave. But you can only Gap it on the sale items--40-75% reductions. :)
It's going to be great to witness!
Most of all...your writing, self-expression, and candor are a wonderful gift to all of us who come to your blog.

Anonymous said...

I am still amazed at your ability to put your experience into such vivid words. Doesn't it feel like forever since you left?
As for us, here we sit grumbling about gas costing $3.25 a gallon and the rising price of tomatoes - how silly we must sound to you foreigners!
Live, struggle, survive. When you get back you will have quite a story to tell!
Take care!