The Imagined Charity of My Imaginary Life

Sometimes I dream that I’m in Africa.

That was the plan, you see. I was going to move to Japan for a year, maybe two and amass a little cash, then set myself up in Chile, Santiago, for a year, and then return to the States only long enough to sing up with the Peace Corps, hopefully to be sent to somewhere in Southern Africa, using the teaching experience I’d picked up in Japan and Chile. I didn’t really plan to fall in love and get married without ever leaving the first destination.

And the thing I don’t like to admit is that I miss my plan. I still want to go to South America. I still want to live in Africa. I still want to join the Peace Corps.

My parents, of course, taught me to be charitible and I like to think that I am. But, and this is in no way a criticism of my parents, my charity has always been both minimal and removed. Mom and Dad always encouraged me to give to the Salvation Army and I always participated in can food drives at school and church. And sure, I donated money to the Tsunami and Katrina relief efforts. I donated to the earthquake rebuilding funds here in Japan. I give away books and old clothes to people who have far less than myself, people who do not have the wherewithal to write on blogs about how much they want a new Nintendo and how they might have to forego that one Starbucks per day habit in order to get it.

The feeling that I’ve never done anything nips at my heels though.

On a personal, one to one level, I guess I could say I’ve done a bit. I’ve tutored people, and worked on reading skills and helped at soup kitchens once or twice. But nothing big. Nothing…real.

So, I dream of being in Africa. In the dream, I’m laughing and working with small, dark skinned children, reading donated library books to them and teaching them how to use the school’s elderly computer to read e-mail they recieve from American school kids. We have the run of the school to ourselves, and in the late afternoons I play soccer and basketball with the boys on the hard packed earth just outside the walls.

The meager stipend the PC gives me is spent mainly on finding my way into the larger city near our village, where I go once a month to find books and soccer balls for the kids and for myself. The tattered, dog-eared copy of “Superfudge” for the kids, the 15 year old “Africa on a Shoestring” for me.

Occasionally, I recieve a box from home, from the volunteers at home, or from my family, containing candy and treats that I share with the children of my school and the adults I know in the village.

On weekends, I make trips to other villages to visit with other Westerners. The German doctor two villages over is especially fun to talk to; the way he tells stories of driving up the East coast of Africa in a battered Mercedes to treat the “internal distress” of a visiting official from his home country is amusing and quirky and always a treat to listen to.

The sun shines down and I feel good about the way I’m living my life.

When I wake up, the sun is shining in through my bedroom window and I wonder, momentarily, which reality I’m presently inhabiting and which one I most wish I was in. Getting dressed in the same favorite T-shirts and pants, ignoring the dozen or more shirts that I should probably wear in their place. The thought occurs that I could find more charity to do here, in my present home and that sustains me as I dig out the books and work on my studies.

And just like my dreams of being a SCUBA Instructor in the Caribbean, I know that Africa is a true dream. Because I know that being happy is not a function of where you live, but of how you live. I know that being happy with what I do, like I am in Africa, and being happy with who I am, like in the Caribbean is so easily attainable if I just work at it. Every day.

So I do.

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