Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back to earth

It's funny how a wedding shifts one's view of economy. For six months, you have to beat people off with a stick to keep them from giving you appliances. Jeff and I purposely didn't register anywhere and asked people to give to Oxfam instead, which worked very well. But there were still people who couldn't stand it and needed to give us those teflon pancake molds.

I think the Target website embodies the worst of the gift registry. No matter what you're looking at - a sofa, a video game, a lipstick - there's a button so you can add it to your wedding or baby registry. If there's anything you want, Target indicates, you can throw a party and ask your friends to buy it for you.

It's true. There's a brief frenzy during which people want to lavish attention and material goods on you. We even did some of it ourselves - last winter Jeff and I went to a pawn shop to get our wedding rings as Christmas presents for each other. At $75, my ring is probably the most expensive piece of jewelry I'll ever own.

And then . . . it's over. After living with Jeff's family for a year, we're now looking at flying the coop. As I tally up what we could take with us, I've realized how many of "our" things are actually borrowed. The things we do and don't own are sometimes laughable. We own:

An immersion blender but no saucepan.
A banjo, mandolin, guitar, stroh violin, bass, and maybe 6 whistles, but no CD player.
An oscilloscope but not a bed.
120 forks but no spoons.

Monday, July 06, 2009

How to balance this one?

For a long time my job strategy was to do something helpful. At a time when my best friend was depressed, I wanted to be a psychotherapist. After I started learning my third foreign language, I wanted to work with immigrants to the US. After my first class in the feminist and gender studies department, I wanted to work in a domestic violence shelter. Finally I wanted to travel to other countries and work in microfinance or some other kind of development.

And by now I've come to believe: my labor is not that useful to saving the world. I think the world's worst problems are not in the US, and I as an American am not particularly useful to solving them. Anyway, I seem to have gone through seventeen years of school without studying anything very practical.

So now I'm convinced that my money can actually do more good than my labor. For example, I could join the Peace Corps and spend a year learning a new language and the names of the people in my village, eventually maybe accomplishing some useful work during the second year. Or I could work a job I'm good at in the US and send my earnings to an organization in the village where people who actually know what they're doing can make their own decision about what they need most. (One thing I like about Oxfam is that they do most of their work by funding local partner organizations, rather than sending Americans zipping around the globe trying to fix things.)

There are some problems here:

1) not many people want to do good works, but lots of people want money. The competition for high-paying jobs is a lot higher than for directly useful jobs.

2) The thought of going into business, law, medicine, etc. makes me feel ill.

3) If money rather than work is going to be my primary contribution to the world, I don't know how much is enough. At our current cost of living, Jeff and I can easily get by on my $18,000 salary. (If that sounds low, please note that it's 25 times the median household income in Haiti). But since we keep more or less only what we need, we get no more benefit from a job that earns $80,000 than from one that earns $20,000. And I think most higher-paying jobs would result in me being less happy.

Usually I don't think money is a good goal. I think people are happier if they choose jobs they're good at and that leave them with free time and energy to spend doing other things. I'm distressed at the thought of measuring my life by it. And if I do something I'm actually interested in, like social work, I'm saving my sanity but abandoning people who don't have the basics they need.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Peanut curry

I've been having a tough time with the amount of meat my family eats. So it was time to bring out a really good vegan meal.

Peanut curry

Pour a little oil in a big skillet. Over medium heat, sauté:
a small onion, chopped

While that's cooking, get together some minced garlic and grated ginger. I grate the ginger right into the pan. Add those and sauté a little longer.

Spoon in:
a glob of peanut butter (crunchy is more interesting)
some lime juice
spicy stuff, if you live with people who will eat that.
soy sauce
some liquid to make it the right thickness - water, milk, or coconut milk
shredded coconut
chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat it through and it's done! I'm serving it with quinoa and steamed chard. Beautiful.