What is Thanksgiving?… Is it the aroma of turkey-and-stuffing wafting from the oven?…Sweet ‘taters and punkin pie? Or is it something else?
Let me tell you another version of Thanksgiving… A version that may leave you stupefied—maybe even queasy in your stomach.Recently, my husband went overseas to some of the poorest nations on earth. He mingled with the natives of India and Bangladesh, marveling at their warm smiles and happy demeanor. He felt humbled to be among such a gracious people who were thankful for every crumb and crust of bread
.In Bengali cities, the streets team with the unwashed masses. Blind beggars live on every street corner. Gaunt. Hungry. Deformed. Oozing. They live an entire lifetime lying on grass mats at the intersection of a busy street.
There’s little preventive medicine in these cities. Flies are everywhere in the open-air markets. Raw sewage flows in ditches unchecked.The average American would not survive there more than a few days without vaccinations. Our immune systems would be devastated byPolio…Yellow fever. Dengue. Typhoid. Malaria. Cholera.
The specter of death is everywhere. In the wintertime, floodwaters rise on the outskirts of Bengali cities, bringing cobras and tigers out of the jungles. The predator’s approach is seldom seen until it is too late. In this primitive world, death awaits at every door in one form or another.
There are no Welfare services over there. No Medicare. No disability payments. There are no “Welfare Brats,” either, demanding their rights.
The people of Bangladesh “make-do” with whatever they have, caring for their families the best way they can. They are a kindly people, hopeful in the midst of their squalor. Whenever a tourist offers them a coin, they beam with joy—and in return they may offer their most prized commodity—a cup of “clean water.”
But Americans cannot drink it, of course. We would become violently ill from their water, and perhaps even die.
Bacterial outbreaks are common. There are few ‘basic necessities’ such as sanitary supplies. Lacking toilet paper, the natives just use their left hand …Then they wash the hand briefly beneath a nearby spigot—without soap and paper towels, of course. (That is why the left hand is considered “unclean and untouchable” in that part of the globe!)
We don’t understand such a lack of basic necessities. We would not let a stray dog live in such squalor. Even our “homeless people” of America often possess luxuries such as cell phones and cigarettes. But in Third World countries, such is not the case,Nothing is taken for granted there. Nothing is wasted. Every scrap is recycled and utilized in the most creative ways.
They would be horrified by our wastefulness here in America…and perplexed by our ungrateful attitudes.
These people thrive in spite of their chaotic circumstances…Energetic! Hard-working! Uncomplaining.There is a certain “method-to-their-madness.” As sunrise breaks each day in Bangladesh, the laborers appear in city streets.
The Wood-Peddlers come first with their hand-drawn carts full of firewood for the peasants and Bread-Bakers. On every balcony and rooftop, Bakers appear—kneading dough and baking bread in their fire-brick ovens…Then they, in turn, sell the bread to street-vendors below.
Soon, the Mud-vendors show up in the city streets, distributing fresh adobe-sod for new flooring in the peasant huts—if it can be afforded.As the sun climbs higher, cars, trucks, and buses show up—all convening in intersections at once—careening along the streets, beeping a friendly warning with their horns in a melee of madness. Chickens and people hang off the rooftops of buses—happy in the morning sunlight.
The traffic flows with amazing continuity even though there are no stoplights. No painted lines. No road-markers of any kind. It is the most out-of-control chaos on earth. By our standards, it should produce dead corpses for many miles…But it doesn’t. There are few very crashes, although buses do sideswipe one another on occasion—knocking off mirrors before continuing on their way, undeterred.
For the most part, it is still a pedal-powered nation. Entire families ride around, clinging to a 3-wheeled “trike” as it weaves in and out of traffic. There are thousands of bicycles everywhere—rickshaws—their flat-bed carts piled high with fruit and veggies, and with flopping fish, straight from the sea. It is amazing to behold!
Only the wealthiest drive around in vehicles, but they are not “riding-high” all alone…Sometimes 15 people are piled into one car. They would not understand a country like ours where a solitary person drives alone, chatting on a smart-phone, sipping Starbucks and flipping off the driver next to them.They would be as aghast by our lifestyles as we are appalled by theirs.
They have no road-rage like we do over here. In a chaotic land that would seem to be a breeding-ground for frustrated people, there is a simple harmony woven together in an endless stream of grinning, courteous natives. It is a true lesson in human cooperation….of humility and gratitude.
And so, my friends—as we head into our Thanksgiving season, it would do us well to remember our neighbors in other countries. Those people who take nothing for granted…who rejoice daily in the smallest of blessings…who revel in their own unique abilities and creativity. If only we can learn to do likewise!
May we learn to count our blessings daily—for we are all “millionaires” here in America, even the poorest among us.
This Thanksgiving, as we sit down to eat our turkey-and-stuffing, sweet ‘taters and punkin pie… Let’s remember those in need around the world. And let’s say a little prayer…for them and for ourselves, as well.
Believe me. We need it more than they do….!