BLACK FRIDAY BLUES
Thanksgiving nearly passed me by but last night one of the brothers asked me at dinner last what it was all about. I told him about the harvest meal shared with the Indians after the pilgrim’s hard winter. He looked at me and asked, if it was a recent holiday, because he thought white Americans killed all the Indians? I sort of smiled back uncomfortably and said “Well not all of them,” going on to explain that all that took place after the celebration of thanks with the people who helped them survive. I also explained that now it is a nice holiday because unlike so many of the other holidays Thanksgiving is not based on gifts or buying stuff, it is based in families eating together, and the long weekend is a good time to spend family time together as kids who go away to college come home and offices are closed etc. trying to make it sound a bit better than I remember the reality of the whole weekend in practice.
So this morning I was quite glad to have been late for breakfast as the BBC did a program on Black Friday. The program was interviewing someone from Toys R’ Us and he was happily saying how Black Friday equaled a week’s worth of shopping in some places, and how the shopping days from today onwards increases till Christmas. He also said some shops are now opening Thanksgiving evening, and people are camping out waiting to get in to get the bargains, some forsaking meals with their families to do so. Man was I happy to miss the brother’s questioning eyes at breakfast!
As I stirred my morning hot drink alone at the table I was mulling over the report in my head. In the past few weeks Burma has had a visit from Pres. Obama, but more importantly the news was saying how companies like Coca Cola, visa/mastercard, and some other multi-nationals are now looking to open the markets there. When that is seen as development I always hold my head in my hands and shout out, “Why?”
No scene I have seen here has affected me as much as the vision of Americans waiting on line for Toys R’Us or the like on Thanksgiving evening, while children home from college sit in their rooms on facebook “chatting” with their friends as the dirty dishes are being washed up in the new dishwashing machines rumbling quietly in an empty kitchen. Call me romantic, but history aside, I remember Thanksgiving fondly as a day of eating, football games on in the living room and people washing the dishes together as the table was cleared for dessert and a game of cards. Friday wasn’t Black, it was a nice bridge to a long 4 day weekend.
Please tell me that the BBC got it wrong. I sit here with tears rolling down my cheeks thinking that one day Sierra Leone and Burma along with many other countries reaching for the golden ring of western lifestyles and modern-day-capitalism being the ultimate goal of development, will be claiming they have made it when reports of shopping are the benchmark of success.
I have a program tomorrow in a small village helping some teachers and students getting a used bike. When I get the big smiles at the end of the day as a teacher tells me he can now get to his farm after work and still be home to eat with his family I smile. The possession is not what makes the people, for the most part, happy. It is the freedom that comes along with it. When we become possesed by the possessions and the whole process of acquiring them start to dictate the lifestyle and shopping is not a means to an end but an activity to fulfill a deeper void lacking within, something has gone horribly wrong.