Country X

More stuff happens in my head now. It’s interesting.

Anyway, because of that, I recently had the sudden idea that Country X is actually quite materialistic. It is a materialistic culture and an indulgent culture. You don’t notice this, because there are hardly any consumer items to buy. What people have instead are things that Westerners don’t realize are markers of financial status. Like dried meat hanging everywhere. But there is a great deal of emphasis on possessions and on money. Parents expect kids to grow up, make money, and buy them lots of stuff. When kids can’t do that because the job market sucks, they complain to anyone who will listen about what their kids have failed to provide for them.

If you go back to visit your village, you are expected to bring stuff for everybody. On any special occasion, money and alcohol and packaged food is brought to the house. Generally, there is great discussion about what stuff is bought. Inadequate gifts are criticized soundly. I don’t know that everyone is like this, but it happens enough that I have been informed of it. Every item I have given to C’s mom has been tallied and discussed by all the neighbours. Luckily, I got a positive result. The clothes you wear on holidays are also discussed and appraised. Like meat, these are also markers of financial status.

There is a reason the King would like to de-emphasize a focus on materialism. As more and more consumer goods hit the market, this country will spiral out of control. When there was nothing much to buy, a little meat hanging from the rafters and a few extra bits of cloth were not a big deal, but when everyone needs an SUV (and there are suddenly a lot of them in Y-town), a materialistic approach to life is going to be real problems. Especially when driving 10 meters is part of displaying your status. Which it is. No one who has a car walks anywhere. They drive the 10 minute walk to school in the morning. They drive home for lunch. They drive back to school at the end of lunch. They drive home at the end of the day. I don’t know if petrol is subsidized or what, but when there are more vehicles on the road, they might stop being a carbon sink.

You don’t notice the indulgence either because it’s not exactly like there is a spa. What you see instead is a lot of walnut-eating and sitting in the sun. Having a good time is highly valued. Goals and hard work are not, and any chance to not work is usually seized upon quickly. This could be why the leading cause of death in Y-town seems to be cirrhosis of the liver. A significant minority of the population is literally drinking themselves to death: most people think of happiness as forgetting your problems and having a good time in the moment. They don’t understand it as an overall, long-term satisfaction with life because your life gives you meaning and purpose. And this is probably one reason why young people who could work don’t take the jobs available and Indian nationals are hired to do them instead: it’s easier to coast between the floors of all your relatives rather than do work you don’t like.

The reason this suddenly fell into place for me had to do with C. First, C’s grandmother was really impressed I bought everything for C to go to her hostel and she was bragging to somebody I didn’t know about it. Then I bought about 4 dollars worth of biscuits and soda to give to the high school Vice Principal when we went to ask him whether she could have a place as a boarder and VP Ma’am made sure to tell C this. Well, these things are the easy part. I have a decent salary. It is not going to cause me worry and grief to buy a 2-inch-thick foam “mattress” and a bucket and a school uniform and some other stuff. Some biscuits and soda are hardly going to set me back. The hard part is trying to support C emotionally, because I can’t always figure out how to do it, because it takes effort to understand her, and because it takes time. At some level, I think C actually understands that and appreciates it.

But everyone here, I think, understands “adoption” as basically being about money, which is something that had almost entirely escaped me. When I said I would pay for all her school expenses, then it really counted for something. However, the idea that the hard part was convincing her parents to send her here. That, I think no one but my good friends grasp.

And I imagine C is not quite sure what to expect. Her culture says “adoption” means I will give her money and erratic attention and mostly forget about her. My own behaviour says I will look after her emotional needs. We will have to thrash it out.

At the same time, maybe that’s why there is still such a sense of our relationship being private, even though most people know she’s adopted. The depth of feeling involved is not average. The usual relationship is not so emotionally close: as I said, money, some affection, but it’s more that you feel sorry for a kid and want to help them out with their money problems. I mean, you like them, but it’s not deep. No one is saying, “You are my mom, like real mom, and I cannot hurt you.” What C and I are doing is different. It can kind of squeeze itself into a Country X box uncomfortably, but it isn’t the same.

I am working stuff out now. Things are going on in my head.



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