My sister Morgan has spent this year in very rural northern Uganda, working with refugee women on a project called Paper to Pearls (these women make and sell incredibly beautiful jewelry out of recycled paper, often the only source of real income to their large families, and which often goes to support the community at large). Much like letters from the mission field, what she writes about this experience has been hilarious, humbling, faith inspiring, and quintessentially Mormon. I wanted to share one such nugget that she wrote:
When my grandfather passed away one year ago in March, I really wanted only one thing from his possessions: a plaque that sat in my grandparent’s kitchen for years that read, “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I’m not sure why that spoke to me like it did because I wasn’t necessarily very good at doing any of those things. I was successful in obtaining the plaque however, and as it sat on my bookshelf in the following months I can say it truly made a difference in how I viewed buying new objects and throwing out old ones. Since moving to Uganda though, I have learned I still have a long way to go. It seems to me the concept was born here in Gulu and every day I am amazed at the resourcefulness of people.
I brought a cheap pair of Old Navy flip-flops with me from America and it didn’t take long until one day, walking up our driveway of sorts to greet the people I live with, one of them broke. Distraught, I held it up to show Concy and said something along the lines, “I guess it’s time to buy a new pair in the market.”
“NO-ooo. You will fix it,” she told me.
Fix it? I thought, this cheap piece of plastic? Is that even possible? Indeed, there was a shop right up the road that fixed my little flip-flop for about $0.15. At that point I got it; why would I buy a new one when I could fix this one?
As far as “wear it out” goes, the best example I see of that daily is in clothing. Almost invariably the clothing people wear around is second-hand. Of course sometimes it’s rather tragic to see people wearing something that barely resembles clothing anymore, but I often find myself watching a beautiful young Ugandan woman walk by and thinking, “Oh, cute top! Where’d you find that?” Of course I’m not suggesting one should wear clothing to the point it is falling to pieces, but most the stuff people wear here I have a hard time believing someone in the western world thought was used enough to give away. While most of what is donated to Good Will is in fact sent here to Africa, I have a whole new perspective on shopping at thrift stores.
My favorite instance of “make it do,” (though there are many,) is the transportation of goods. My first week in Gulu I stayed in a hotel located on a fairly busy street in town, on the edge of the open-air market. I laughed every morning as I sat eating breakfast and watching the bustle around me – particularly at the wheel-barrows, motorbikes, and bicycles carrying loads four times their size. They looked like little ants scurrying back to the ant-hill with their enormous find. Think you need a truck to move a mattress or two? Think again – all you need is a motorbike. Just this morning I saw a man transporting a load of 2x4s twice the length of his bicycle.
That brings us of course to “do without.” For better or for worse, “do without” is pervasive here. People are often forced to go without the necessities in life – shelter, food, clothing, education, etc., and these are pains in life no one should have to suffer, pains we would all like to alleviate. On the whole however, I think we could all take a page out of the Ugandans’ book – we could stand to do with a little more “do without” in life. Do without the latest electronic gadgets when we already have one that works just fine; do without buying yet another handbag when we already have a closet full of them; do without the supermarkets full of stuff that is unnecessary, unneeded, and will eventually find its way to clogging up our landfills.
I love America, I love that I have the freedom to choose there, and indeed I believe that variety is often the spice of life. I do believe as Americans though, with that choice, it is important we make a choice that will benefit our earth and our neighbors across the globe. I believe we should all try do as the Ugandans and make the choice a little more often to fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!