As our 16 year-old Landcruiser bounced along the corrugated dirt track, an altogether more decrepit vehicle was being pushed enthusiastically in the opposite direction. The young boy may well have made it himself: a piece of wood formed the chassis; four cans had been crushed into crude wheels and a stick provided propulsion.
Catching sight of the boy, our own children sniggered from the jump seats in the back. It was an entirely understandable reaction. All their lives, we had surrounded them with first-world greed. They had been bombarded by advertisements precipitating the capitalist mantra of buy-to-be-happy and had grown up amidst the sickening wastefulness of planned and perceived obsolescence. A child with a junk-yard toy was fair game as an object of ridicule.
But understandable does not equate to acceptable. And so their relative wealth was put into perspective and the boy’s ingenuity and uncluttered happiness earned their respect.
Which brings me to the sad story of a small bear:
A week before we came to Tanzania, Fraser lost Pooky. It was the second time he had lost Pooky. The first fist-sized incarnation of Garfield’s teddy bear had disappeared a year or so before. A replacement Pooky was eventually sourced and was treasured with equal gusto. Pooky the 2nd went everywhere with Fraser and it was this devotion that brought their relationship to a premature end. Inevitably, Pooky was left behind somewhere, never to be seen again.
Fraser missed Pooky terribly and often asked if we could get a new Pooky (third incarnations are not uncommon in teddy-bear karma). But one night Fraser told me that, although he still missed Pooky, every time he thought about it he remembered the boy with the toy car… Life in Africa has given my six year old something many adults never attain.
Not a body-blow for consumerism – Fraser is just one of the millions of capitalistically inclined children carelessly scuffing the delicate shell of our fragile Earth. But if you’re going to change the world, start at home with your own kids’ perceptions, right?
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