Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Utopia?

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Gina's Post

Imagine a community where . . .

-There is no homelessness
- There is no gun violence
- People grow over 90% of their own food, the majority of it without synthetic chemicals
- Parents are okay with their children playing outside at night without fear of traffic or strangers
- Life is largely free of television or commercial advertising
- If someone is sick or has died, the community gathers to support the family
- Money is rarely transferred—more commonly people barter goods and services with their neighbors
- People pay few taxes, but instead donate time and labor to their community
-People gather at least weekly to share a common spirituality, although they still have the freedom to practice religion how they wish
- There is an extremely low carbon footprint: bicycle and walking get the residents most everywhere they need to go, much of the electricity comes from solar power, and almost all commercial products are re-used or repurposed with minimal waste.
-Most of the objects that people own are either second-hand or handmade using natural local materials, and locals pride themselves on their self-reliance
- Many people own mobile devices, but face-to-face communication is 100 times more prevalent than using these devices.
- Neighbors gathering for mid-afternoon or evening chats is the norm.
- There is a communal respect for the natural surroundings
- People can leave their houses without locking the doors
- It is not uncommon hearing your neighbor singing for joy as they walk by

Many world images come to mind that could fit these descriptions:
-       An Amish community in the eastern US
-       A hippie/burning man commune in Northern California
-       An expatriot eco-lodge and organic farm in Central America
-       A yoga ashram in Bali or India
-       A grassroots back-to-earth community in Scandanavia

But . . . if just given the above description, how many Americans would pinpoint this community to rural, Sub-saharan Africa?  Before I left for Zambia, I got responses as varied as, “be careful” to “but what about the drastic poverty there?”  Indeed, the news coming from Africa bombards us with images of sad-looking pot-bellied children, guerilla warfare, and urban gang violence.   Luckily I had been to Africa before and realized this simply wasn’t the case for the entire continent.  It’s just like many outsiders believe that all there is to America is New York City and Hollywood.

Although the people I live and work with are monetarily poor (Zambia has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the world), many of the rural traditional communities are rich in terms of social support systems and self-sufficiency. 

I’m not discounting Africa’s problems: indeed there are many.  My little Lunda Utiopian neck of the woods is often cited as having the challenges of:
-       lack of access to adequate health care
-       high rates of infectious disease
-       high birth and  death rates
-       illiteracy
-       little access to formal education
-       hard hours of labor many days of the year
-       gender inequalities
-       deforestation
-       pending encroachment of land by multinational mining companies

But, does this list of challenges mean that the proud lifestyle that the locals have chosen to preserve must be sacrificed to overcome the challenges?  Indeed, what do we as outsiders have to learn from living with people who live in an entirely different way?  What really is the value of money?  These are questions that have struck me profoundly as a Peace Corps volunteer and will indeed influence some of the choices that I make for the rest of my life.  In the meantime, I’m making my best effort to share with you that in building intentional communities in the future, we may have to step back and look at some of the less “developed” cultures to inspire and perhaps motivate us to live in a more sustainable way.


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