It was a historical day when “The Oreo” came to Zambia.
Me and the other SALTer Tiffany had managed to get a day off work, which usually meant (admittedly) some form of escapism to find American culture within Zambia. We chose going to the movies, which meant an obvious venture down at the “Pick n' Pay” grocery store nearby to pick up some snacks.
Snack foods options usually included crisips (Zambian chips) or spinners biscuits (Zambian cookies), and the selection ended there. But this time, we were in for a surprise. We turned the corner, and there it was- a big life size cut out of a giant oreo advertisement and the oreos themselves to purchase in small packages of three. Strange things happen when you’ve spent enough time without certain cultural comforts. Its not like I was even that wild about oreos in Canada, but for some reason having it here was the best thing since sliced bread. Tiffany and me started jumping around in our excitement, and tried to take a picture next to the cut out until a security guard came and told us we could not take pictures with oreos… who knew. I don’t know what’s more strange, being scolded for taking a picture of an oreo, or feeling the need to take a picture next to the oreo as if it were some sort of celebrity.
So you might assume that when I finally arrive to the land of abundance, I would be that much more ecstatic about having these things at my finger tips. Oh, on the contrary. The first time I walked into Walmart, I felt like I was having an allergic reaction to the place. I kind of wanted to vomit, and run away, and explore the ongoing aisles of food all at the same time. I wanted to yell at people for buying into consumerism, but I also wanted to get my favorite shampoo that was just so dang cheap here. I wanted to get the things I had gone so long without, but I didn’t know where to start. I think I left the store with some yogurt that I didn’t end up eating because my body was doing weird things while adjusting back to American food.
Call me strange, but I just think there is something beautiful about being able to walk down an aisle in the grocery store and get excited about simple things like an oreo cookie. I think I valued things like that more in Zambia. When you break apart from society’s entitlement to “stuff”, the stuff you do receive becomes these precious gifts that you begin to cherish with a sense of gratitude.
I can’t help but think that our culture makes life unnecessarily complicated. In Walmart there was an entire aisle dedicated to every kind and variation of oreo you could possibly imagine….
You could get oreos in Strawberry Milkshake, Green tea, Birthday Cake, banana split, or gingerbread flavours. They came in mini or triple stuffed sizes. You could get them football shaped or in brownie form. For the “health conscious” they came in sugar free, reduced fat and in 100 calorie packages.
Now 50 options of cookie flavours may seem like a luxury, until I spend 20 minutes in the grocery store trying to decide between double stuffed or regular, mint or vanilla, family pack or regular size. I just think that in all the things of this world that should stress me out, picking out oreos should not be one of them.
But living in simplicity is not so simple as it sounds. I am navigating my way through a culture that has mastered the art of alluring me into the consumerist lifestyle that I am trying so hard to run from. I literally cannot escape it, nor do I think I should spend my life demonizing every packaged item as ‘the enemy’. But it’s finding that balance between need and want, necessity and excess. It’s finding out how to use my money to glorify God and other people, rather than placing my worth on the material things I have. It deconstructing words that are associated with money such as “power” “success” and “happiness.” It’s remembering that the “poorest” Zambians I met during my term had a wealthy spirit, and valued things we often take for granted.
After being home for over 4 months now, the excitement of oreos has lost some of its appeal. But now, and especially around Christmas time, I want to remember those who were rich in spirit, and use them as a guidepost for how I live my life and where I place my worth.