Return to the First World

In early November we left Europe and flew into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ever since then, we’ve become accustomed to life in the developing nations we’ve called our temporary homes. Heartbreaking signs of poverty and starving stray animals were things we saw on a daily basis. Dusty, pothole-filled roads and the noxious smell of burning plastic became the norm. The sad dichotomy of walking through an impoverished neighborhood to get to a bustling, touristy market served as a reminder of the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots in this world.

We’re a little amazed at how quickly we’ve switched gears to the conveniences and comforts of life in a fully modernized country. We arrived in New Zealand just over a week ago, experiencing a bit of culture shock as we drove on smooth, paved roads and stood staring at the insanely immaculate and well-stocked shelves of the grocery store. Yet, we’ve already noticed ourselves slipping into “first world problem mode.” Here are a few examples of our sudden change in mentality.

A walk in a developing country: Constant maternal anxiety while weaving my kids through a busy, dusty city street with no sidewalks as motorbikes and cars zip by within inches of us.
A walk in the first world: Um, hello! I’m standing near the crosswalk, Driver of the BMW! You’re supposed to slam on your brakes for us! Geez!

Shopping in a developing country: Hmmmm…I’m not sure what this is or if the kids will eat it, but it’s the closest thing I can find to peanut butter.
Shopping in the first world: Man! Of these 18 brands they don’t have the one with no added sugar that doesn’t have to be refrigerated or stirred. Annoying!

Driving in a developing country: Watch out for the pot hole! Look out, there’s another dog in the road! Pothole. Dog. Pothole. Pothole. Yuck massive puddle of what looks like raw sewage. Dog. Pothole.
Driving in the first world: Can you please change the album on our Bluetooth-enabled car stereo? We’ve been listening to Avett Brothers for like an hour.

Utilities in a developing country: Is the power back on yet?
Utilities in the first world: Dammit. I only have a 3G signal here. It’s taking forever to load this video of Tom Hanks doing scenes from his most famous movies.

While the conveniences of modern countries certainly make life more comfortable, the developing world brings constant gratitude to life. I was grateful we could afford to buy clean drinking water. I was grateful we had a solid house to stay in, clean clothes to wear, and durable shoes on our feet. This appreciation seems to slip away easily in the first world. We’ve found ourselves taking things for granted which only a short time ago would have had us excited and thankful.

So the challenge will be to consciously keep that underlying appreciation no matter where we are. Having clean, potable tap water is actually a really big deal. So are safe streets and consistent electricity and clean, well-stocked grocery stores. This has been the theme rolling through my mind as we’ve explored Mt. Cook and Wanaka in New Zealand. After we’ve hiked on well-kept trails leading to pristine mountain views, we make sure to appreciate that clean little toilet with running water available to us before we climb back into our safe, reliable, fuel-efficient car.




About the Author

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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  1. I love, love, love this post! Like your family, while traveling in the 3rd world we have had a much greater appreciation for the things we have had at home. Clean, paved streets and well-stocked grocery stores are things we fantasize about now. It’s interesting how travel can make priorities change. Even though it can be difficult at times, it is great for your kids (and ours) to have these experiences. BTW, New Zealand looks amazing!

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