One of the biggest changes in my attitude has been towards ownership and communities, and I can illustrate this with two examples.

When living with roommates, both during college and afterwards, I would always get mad when one of my roommates took something of mine without asking. Like, lets say I had coke in the fridge, and when I came home, if my roommate had drank my coke, I’d be annoyed. A funny story that an ex roommate told me like this was when he was rooming with someone else, and he came home and his diet coke was gone. He went to yell at his roommate and the inconsiderate roommate said, “here’s a dollar, go buy another one”, and my ex roommate responded, “I don’t want a dollar, I want a diet coke.”

Another example is from a volunteer who told me she went home for vacation and she was playing with her niece, her sister’s daughter. The little kid did something she shouldn’t have so the volunteer yelled at her and corrected her. Her sister got mad and told her not to correct her daughter, “she’s not your kid.”

Now two years ago, I would say yea, ask before drinking my coke and don’t correct my kid, but after two years in Africa and seeing how they live, I see the error of our ways.

The ex roommate is my best friend and I would probably give him my liver if he needed it, but I can’t let him take a coke without asking? Our concept of private property extends all the way to our personal relationships. It’s not the coke, it’s the principal that the person respects your property. But in Africa, where if you’re hungry you could literally stick your head in a house and if they happen to be serving food, you could just take a seat without asking and a plate would be divided up for you, the concept is as wrong as boots and shorts. I like being at a friend’s house in Africa and truly feeling “at home.”

And as for correcting your niece, this is not just some kid but a family member, but we are supposed to leave the raising of the kid to the parent, and if they screw up, we’ll probably criticize them later. In Africa the saying “It takes a village” is a way of life, probably because it needs to be, but couldn’t you argue we need it even more than they do? To raise a kid has to be one of the greatest challenges in our lives, yet in our society where work and money rule, and we don’t have enough time to know all of our kids friends or their favorite Sega Genesis game, we are expected to raise well rounded, responsible, citizens. Going to a church service or even at a restaurant in Africa, you often can’t guess whose kid is whose. How many times have you been in a restaurant and gotten mad because there is some kid running around near your table “disturbing” your dinner? Now I ask the question, how many volunteers in Africa have traveled in a bush taxi in a beat up 82’ Escort with 5 people in the back, someone’s baby on your lap for the hour ride over a bumpy dirt road? Sometimes it does take a village, and then some.