That Time I Felt Like an Overprivileged, First World Jerk

That title just says it all, doesn’t it?

For the past few months, I’ve been doing weekly Pilates sessions in the center of Maboneng – a hip, artsy, on-the-rise enclave within central Johannesburg. I’ve mentioned a tiny bit about Maboneng before, but since then I’ve been spending more and more time there and trying to get to know the area. (There is still much left for me to explore.)

Anyway, we recently had a new member join our Pilates class and the other day, I had a chance to chat with her before our class started. We did the usual exchange – Where are you from? Where do you live? How do you like it here?

And then she asked, “Do you miss it?” (Referring to New York City, where I lived before coming to South Africa.)

Rather than NYC itself, I missed the convenience of living in the States, I answered. I mentioned examples like being guaranteed that you’ll receive your mail every day and that parcels will arrive on time and intact. I joked about how everything was just so convenient and readily available. I said this lightheartedly (tinged with a tiny bit of exasperation) and probably as a reaction to my current situation of awaiting a care package from a dear friend, which is at the moment (as usual) stuck in customs and has no guarantee of arriving with all of its contents still inside.

She then said that she knew how I felt. When she moved to Johannesburg, it was like her New York City. Probably noticing my slightly puzzled expression, she explained that before living here, she had been working in Zambia for a few years. She said that when she arrived in South Africa, it was such a luxury to have running water. In Zambia, she even had to bring her own toilet paper with her everywhere.

I know this wasn’t said with any malice and that she was sincerely expressing how nice it was to come from a life where clean, running water was never a guarantee to one where it is readily available. But boy, did I feel like an overprivileged, first world asshole.

It was a huge reminder that while my husband and I live a relatively modest life without a lot of room for extras, we have everything we need: shelter, clothing, food, water. We have electricity (when Eskom isn’t cutting it off), indoor plumbing, and internet access. Hell, I can even afford weekly Pilates sessions.

We’re doing more than alright.

And this is why I’m grateful to have the opportunity to live in different parts of the world and meet people from all walks of life.

South Africa, despite all of the bad things that are said about you (the crime! a deadbeat president! the failing economy!), you’re still teaching me a lot. Definitely more than if I were still working a job in a posh neighborhood where I handled Amex Black Cards on a regular basis, and where people shat you out for running out of their favorite dessert. (No joke, that really did happen.)

I still look forward to returning to the States one day, but it will be nice to go back with a different mindset and hopefully, a bit more humility.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Amelia Felix says:

    so true but unfortunately things in South Africa are deteriorating at such an extent that soon it will be like the lady said – no more luxuries as we know them today. Zambia was a developed country in the past … former Northern Rhodesia

    1. YokoLily says:

      Well, here’s hoping that things turn around before it gets to that state.

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