Sunday, November 25, 2012

On Gratitude and Growing Green Stuff

This Thanksgiving Day was not the greatest.  We weren't planning to celebrate until the weekend, since we still had class on Thursday, but it still seemed like the day should be a little special, since it was actual Thanksgiving.  I thought maybe I could at least do a little Thanksgiving craft with Juliana.

I picked up a few things around the house and was emptying the trash in Juliana's room when I saw it.  Nasty growing green stuff.  My eyes traveled along the edge of Juliana's windowsill and everywhere I looked the mold was sprouting up again. 

The window in her room is already not the best part of the house – the ridiculously thin inner windows aren't enough to keep out the cold and the landlord is unwilling to fix the broken outer windows, so we constructed our own window replacements with old window screens, thick plastic, tape, some wooden supports, and yes, chopsticks.  The room has been much warmer, but every day the windows cover with condensation...water which drips down into the old windowsill boards.  We re-varnished the boards a few months ago, but they are so cracked and warped that the moisture keeps soaking through,  The radiator is directly underneath the window, so we have our own mold breeding ground.  And it was certainly breeding again.

On Thanksgiving morning as I stood looking at the mold I felt frustrated and defeated.  I was pretty sure that no matter what we did, the mold would just come back.  Suddenly our apartment felt like a giant, toxic mold breeding factory.  The bathroom has no ventilation and is covered with water every time we shower, so it molds.  In the wintertime all the windows cover with condensation (or ice, when it's cold enough), and all the radiators are directly under the windowsills.  Even the kitchen windowsill, which is tile and generally stays pretty cold, manages to produce mold.  Our stupid little stove alcove is almost impossible to keep clean, so in the wintertime it forms frozen mold!

I grabbed my vinegar (the strongest cleaning supply I have around right now) and scoured Juliana's windowsill and then moved on to attack the kitchen.  As I cleaned I thought about what we could do.  Move!!  No, not really.  We have no place to move to, and anyway have already paid rent through July.  But this would mean we'd need to move Juliana out of her room.

Juliana has been coughing for the last two months.  I don't know if the mold is the cause, but I know it's not helping.  When I took her to the doctor the other day he said he though she had an infection and gave her antibiotics.  I hope it is an infection.  I would like it to be that easy to clear up!  But I know doctors like to give antibiotics for just about everything here, so I remain a bit skeptical.  Besides, if you only have to pay 60 cents to see the doctor, doesn't that make you a little leery of their medical advice?

As I spent my Thanksgiving morning cleaning up mold, I did not feel grateful.  I felt frustrated and overwhelmed and angry.  The kind of angry that spreads from one specific area to encompass every wrong recently experienced.

I was angry with this old building that is a mold machine.  I was angry with Chinese builders for not making better buildings that wouldn't turn into mold machines.  I was angry at the landlord for not having higher standards.

I was angry at the doctor for prescribing Juliana medicine that was banned in the US because of possible liver damage.  It's probably the third or fourth time that's happened to us.  I was angry at the whole Chinese medical system.

I was angry with all the people who keep telling us that Juliana is coughing because she's not wearing enough clothes or not drinking enough warm water or that we would dream of giving her cold milk and yogurt.  Doesn't anyone understand germs – and mold?

I was angry at the roaches who have taken us up on the “our home is your home” mentality though I'm quite sure we never extended that invitation.

Of course mold and roaches and poor construction and well-intentioned advice can happen in any country, but somehow this all seemed like CHINA'S FAULT.  This is what we call a “bad China day,” and I hadn't had one of those in a long time.

So here it was Thanksgiving and I was feeling less grateful than I had all year.  I knew I should feel grateful, but that wasn't helping.  Even in the midst of my terrible mood I could recognize that old familiar feeling: entitlement.

It's not enough to have a warm, mostly comfortable home nicer than most people in the world – one large enough that we had another room to move Juliana into – I want a better house.  It's not enough to have medical care when many people have none – I want the standard I am used to.  It's not enough to be surrounded by caring people who are concerned about Juliana – I want their concern to be scientifically accurate!  All these expectations seem entirely reasonable because I am American.  If I just lived in America I could have all these things (more or less), so even though I choose to live outside America I still feel like it is my due.

I can't think of much that is less conducive to gratitude than a sense of entitlement.  It’s pretty ugly, but I find it creeping in much more often than I would like.  For some reason it’s so much easier to recognize the things you don’t have.  This summer we heard several messages related to gratitude and generosity that have been on my mind ever since.  Erwin McManus said, “It is a life of gratitude that makes us whole, overwhelms us with love and moves us to live generous lives."  I really do think that gratitude and generosity are intimately linked.  When we become so busy looking at the small lacks in our own lives, we lose sight of the genuine needs of others.  Entitlement leads to bitterness and stinginess.  Gratitude leads to joy and generosity.

So I’m still working on the generosity thing, trying to keep my small problems, like mold, in perspective.  It may not be ideal or good for our health, but it’s not going to kill us like starvation or unclean water.  I may have spent the day cleaning up mold and rearranging the house, but I have a whole lot to be thankful for.  Like thankfully we got the house moved around before I sprained my ankle! :)


Katrina said...

Good post Ruthie!

Mallary said...

Thanks for posting, Ruthie. I don't usually have much patience for people who complain about life in China, but today I found myself in that same place. My pregnant self fell smack on my bum on the icey streets we traverse to school each day. I got so angry with China because I knew everyone's response would be "walk more carefully" when really no matter how cautious I am, a fall is inevitable when walking on sheets of ice everyday. I wanted American standards of clearing roads. Entitlement, no doubt. In spite of slick roads, there is still so much for which to be thankful.