“Money isn’t everything,” Is undeniably something I have been known to say.
I always hated the concept of money and the harm it can cause. It can be an addiction, a distraction, a crutch. I swore I would live my life without letting money get in the way a long time ago. I don’t need to buy the world, if I have family, friends, health and happiness then I don’t need anything else.
Last night, I was swinging in the hammock and procrastinating from my paper with Martha. She is one our day guards. She is 26, grew up down the road, and has two kids. Despite the differences in our upbringings and futures and the language barrier she is easily one of the best friends I have here. We were sitting in mostly silence, swinging gently through the warm night air and listening to her pop music on my ipod.
“Sitaki kuondoka,” I grumbled quietly, I don’t want to leave.
I’ll miss you a lot, she responded in swahili, playing with the iPod, but you’ll be back soon.
Yeah, then we can vacation in Zanzibar, I joked.
“Tunahitaji pesa mingi kwanza…” She smirked, looking up at me, we need money first…
Well yeah, I’ll work a lot first. I laughed, knowing that in reality it will be a long time before I can think about vacationing in Zanzibar.
We swung for a few more minutes in silence. I looked over and noticed she was staring intently into space.
“Unafikiri nini?” What are you thinking about?
“Pesa,” she said offhandedly, Money. Then she smirked and surprised me with a new english phrase, “Money is everything.”
I laughed, my instincts rushing towards disapproval. Ugh, money. “Hapana,” I shot back, No.
“Kweli?” She turned to me with true surprise, Really?
I got defensive, Money is nothing if you don’t have family or love.
“Kweli?” she repeated. When I didn’t respond she sat up in the hammock to look me directly in the eyes, holding up her fingers to count off on. What if your family is sick? You need money. How do you feed them? You need money. For water? You need money. If you don’t have money you have nothing.
I lowered my gaze, chastized. “Okay,” I mumbled in English. I had no idea how to reply.
“Sema,” she said, still sitting upright, Say it.
“Money is everything,” I repeated. She smiled, relaxed back into the hammock and returned to playing with the iPod.
A short while later she got a phone call from her mother. I need to head home for the night, she declared in swahili. She tried to sound casual but I could hear the hesitation in her voice. The day before, she had left work early to pick up a friend in the hospital with typhoid fever. Going home meant providing medical care.
As I watched her go, my iPod in her ears and her token grin on her face, I thought about what she had said. Money isn’t everything. What a priviledged statement. Of course I can say that, I have never, ever had to worry about health, food and water. So to me, those things seem free. But they aren’t. So maybe money is everything, the base of everything. But I still maintain that family, love and happiness are just as important – and from what I have learned about Africa and this village, here those three things are rarely in short supply.
So really, I should stand by something else. Maybe, “Excess isn’t everything,” or “Less is more,” or “Money isn’t king.” But none of those really work… I will have to think about it. You get the point.