Posted by: Project MicroMundo | November 30, 2010

A Guest Post from Home

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  Steph here, but just for a paragraph, to introduce a guest post by my mom.  The following are her thoughts on the upcoming holidays, in light of her experience reading this blog, as well as some of her ideas for what she (or whoever she stole the phrase from) calls ‘armchair volunteering’.  As you’ll see, her perspective is very different from mine/ours–it was never exactly the same, and ours has shifted drastically over the past few months as mudslides and malnutrition and medical emergencies have worked their way into our version of normal.  Some of what she has to say sounds a little strange to us, but I’m guessing that a good bit of what we’ve had to say has sounded strange to you.  So here’s a little stateside perspective on MicroMundo, courtesy of Mom:

The author, in case you want to put a face to the writing.

There is so much STUFF in my house.  And there’s about to be a whole bunch more.  It’s the holiday season and “gift-a-palooza”, a term my daughter has given to the over-buying my family has indulged in for decades, is just around the corner.  The thought of it is making me uncomfortable, more so this year than ever. This feeling started a couple of years ago, but this year, after months of following the MicroMundo (and recently the Mayan Families) blog, I’m really having trouble reconciling the unfathomable gap between the have’s (us) and the have-not’s.  Who among us has food or basic clothing on our want list (designer jeans and cashmere sweaters do not count as basic clothing)?  More importantly, how many of us have anything on our list that is actually a need?  We all work hard and deserve nice things, but where’s the line between ‘nice things’ and extravagance? And at what point does extravagance become, well, wrong?

I’ve given a lot of thought to this lately.  I am absolutely no Mother Theresa. In fact, I’m not a Jess, Ronnie or Stephanie – or even close.  Not only am I not willing to give up hot showers and air-conditioning, I’m not even willing to forego a closet full of clothes, purses that match my shoes, jewelry that matches my outfits, or a bottle of wine with dinner. I like my life and I’m not looking to change it in any substantial way. But do I need more?

Well, I really do need a new bathrobe (my husband was so sick of my warm but ratty old bathrobe that he threw it away after last winter).  Does it need to be the $100+ designer robe that he’ll probably buy?  No.  And I really could use a new purse and he knows how much I love Coach, so that’s what he’ll probably do.  And, BAM!, there’s $500.

Boys perform a traditional dance in the best shoes they've got.

No wonder I feel this way.  Thanks to the girls, I’m now painfully aware of what that $500 could do (or make it $400 after you subtract $50 for a robe and $50 for a purse): Sponsor 2 children’s elementary education for a year, with enough left over for a Christmas tamale basket. Or provide 12 of those baskets, which will feed families of 10 (not standing rib roasts or turkeys, but rice and beans and tamales). That money could secure a family’s housing for 6 or 7 months, buy nearly four years worth of pain medicine for someone in need, or 80 pairs of simple shoes for those that have none (not the wrong size heel or color, but none).

What to do? I’m not going to deny myself or those who enjoy buying gifts for me completely and ask them to make a donation instead.  I’m just not that good and I know that would make some of them uncomfortable.  What I am going to do instead is ask my family and friends to avoid extravagant or excessive spending on me and to be conscious of such spending in general.  I’m going to ask them to consider making a donation instead of bringing a hostess gift to the countless parties they’ll attend this season (make it in the hostess’ name), and encourage their guests to do the same.  I’ll ask them to consider putting just a little less in each stocking and instead buy a food basket so a family can enjoy a traditional Christmas meal. I’ll ask them – I’m asking them – to take a look around at what they have and ask themselves just how much more they really need?

We’re not going to save the world, but we can certainly change lives. And less STUFF in my house will be a reminder that some of the lives changed were our own.


  1. Wendy,
    Thank you for articulating so well what I was feeling and didn’t have words for! I wholeheartedly agree…we are having a very austere Christmas this year…by choice – and we are so fortunate that it is a choice. It’s also a much “greener” way to go – less STUFF accumulating around the house that comes in just for the whole present thing. Best present: a gift to!
    Take care…can’t wait to see our girls in less than 3 weeks! That’ll be the best Christmas present ever!
    Eileen (Jess’s Mom)

  2. Wonderful article! I completely agree with you. We have too much and we do not need anything else. Christmas has become a time that I dread. I do not want to buy gifts that I am certain people do not need but I have to do it and it kills me. I have been to Panajachel and I know how much you can do with little money. I have been giving less every year but it is still difficult.

    By the way, the girls are wonderful! Wish there were more like them in the world. It would be a much better place.

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