With slightly more than 2 days before my really early flight to Asia (6:00AM), I have decided to pack. After 2 hours of feverishly ironing, sorting out stuffs, and checking and rechecking my travel list, for the most part, I am done. It is funny how experience changes you. I remember when I first packed for my Ugandan trip. It took forever. The list was 3 pages long and I must have packed and repacked for a million times. Taking stuffs out, putting other stuffs in etc.. It was a painful process. This time around, the process was fast and relatively painless. And I know the reason why. When I was packing for Uganda, I had the misconceptions and fears of a person who has lived way too long in a very well developed country. I had feared that Uganda was devoid of many daily life necessities and devoid of any sort of technology. How provincial and ignorant of me. During my stay in Uganda, it dawned on me that Ugandans, just like anyone else, need and want everything that any of us more privileged folks need and want. And wherever there is a need and want, there is a market for it. So, despite being an impoverished developing country, Ugandan markets have almost everything that one would need to survive. All you need is money, something many Ugandans do not have. So, armed with that experience, along with the knowledge that Asia (aside from some countries like N. Korea, Burma, etc) is more developed, I am traveling slightly lighter. Aside from some true necessities like my passport, cash, Steripen adventurer (my emergency water sterilizer kit), and malaria meds, I know whatever I discover to be missing, I can always get at a local market. In looking at my packed Northface Terra 65 (multi-day hiking pack that I love) and my NF Slingshot backpack (I am a walking NF advertisement), I realized another thing:
There is a significant difference between necessity and luxury. I know that if I am to empty out 1/3 of my hiking pack, I could easily live off of the stuffs I have in both packs (for a prolonged amount of time). Human beings are extremely resilient and we truly do not need a lot to live on. However, living in the US, we have come to believe that a lot of what should be considered as luxuries are necessities. And we often fear the loss of those "necessities" when in reality, we could easily survive without them. Afterall, there are many of our brothers and sisters out there (slums of inner cities, reservations, and developing countries, etc) that are living with significantly less. If they can survive with what they have, and what they have is significantly less than what we think we "need", then I truly believe that we each have to re-evaluate our definition of "need".
On a funny note, I had a wonderful conversation with a friend that I met while in Uganda. She is slowly moving her life into the humanitarian work. She is currently in the US, working just so she can save money to volunteer in Nepal in April. Like me, she has fallen in love with Uganda and humanitarian work. Unlike me, she has significantly more courage in voicing her opinion. She is one of those that is honest, kindhearted, and says what she thinks. Well, her husband and her attended a thanksgiving dinner with acquaintances and friends. Before dinner, her husband had warned those they knew that Jen is a strong supporter of humanitarism as well as lover of the African continent, especially Uganda. During dinner, the topic came up of where she went to volunteer this summer. There was grumbling by others because although they do not volunteer either at home or abroad, they were offended that she would volunteer abroad, much less Uganda (have to love those people). Despite the continued warning by Jen's husband, one of them asked "Ewww why would you go to Uganda?". To which Jen's answer was "Fu*k you!". When she told me this story, I laughed so hard because she had the courage to say what many of us who have had similar experiences would have liked to say. Her explanation for her bluntness "Phong, what else would I say?".
I truly like Jen.