People ask me how I am adjusting to being back in the USA. The question makes me think about the ways we choose to live with the environment. Do you live inside or outside?
(By the way, the nature pictures with this entry show the Central African Republic, Cameroon and places I have visited recently in the USA: North Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana. Can you tell which is which?)
I Cameroon/CAR most people live outside. Yes, they have houses, but most use them principally for sleeping. OK, many also have a living room with a TV that they use some of the time, but it is usually hot in there. Windows are small. (Central Africans told me they prefer them that way since it’s harder for thieves to get in.) There is no air conditioning and generally no fans (since electricity is rare in CAR). So, much of the time, people live outside.
Usually, women cool outside over wood fires. People sit outside in the shade – to visit with others, braid hair, eat, rest, etc.
CAR is a community-oriented culture in which relationships are (Relationships are important in the US, too, but individual concerns/wishes/desires often take precedent over the community.) Being outside encourages relationships and interactions. People will stop to chat as they pass by and see others outside their homes. No doubt, these are social interactions, but work goals are also advanced.key.
Do people spend more time outside, visible to the community, because it facilitates maintaining relationships or has the maintenance of relationships increased because people are often outside? (Which comes first, the chicken or the egg??)
Many people there spend more time outside, too, because they cultivate fields – even those with “desk” jobs since those may not pay well or regularly. Most people also get where they are going on foot leading to more time outside. There are a lot of motorcycles taxis and some have cars/trucks, but garages are rare so they can’t go into the house from the garage – adding at least a little “outside” time. They also play volleyball and soccer outside, but overall there is less leisure time in CAR.
As you read this, have you been comparing it to what is often the reality in the USA? Generally, we live inside. Let me acknowledge, upfront, that many people in the US go outside for picnics, sports, walks, swimming, etc. And, people, in general, have more leisure time to engage in these activities. Still, we most often cook inside, work inside, watch TV and play video games inside, etc.
I find myself living in both worlds. I am perfectly comfortable living and working inside but prefer the windows and doors be open. That means I prefer big windows (that actually open) that let in sunlight and the breeze. Considering these preferences, my house in Garoua Boulai was perfect. Doors (with lockable screen doors) on two sides, large windows that open (with screens to keep the bugs out) and a great cross-breeze. I was more likely to sit outside on the porch than on a mat in the shade, but seeing a computer screen outside is difficult so I generally worked inside. In GB, I often walked to get where I was going, but had a truck to use, too. And, since I am back, I am often cold in air conditioning. Some have exhorted me to carry a sweater all the time – but this is summer! Why should I need to? Why can’t there be more moderation?
How do these approaches (living inside or outside) affect environmental issues and global climate change? I don’t know. I see major problems with both. Cooking over wood fires can’t be good – you have to cut the wood from somewhere and then the smoke goes into the air. It is also not an efficient heating/cooking system. But, to use propane (which is cheaper in the long run) you have to be able to pay money upfront for the compressed energy instead of a little every day – this is a problem for many, and not only because it involves planning ahead. Then, too you have to buy a stove, another big, upfront cost. (And, what are the environmental costs for producing the gas and getting it into the bottle?)
Constantly controlling indoor temperatures in the US has an enormous energy cost. Why do many demand lower, colder temperatures inside in the summer than they will accept in the winter – inside or out? Why do we condition the air when the outside temperatures are the temperatures we seek? (OK, that doesn’t apply currently in places like Houston where it goes “down” to 82 degrees at night…) In some “modern” buildings you can’t even open windows; the buildings are designed that way. I wonder, too, about always cutting ourselves off from nature; do we end up paying less attention and, therefore, using resources more quickly or carelessly?
And none of these considerations address the resources we use to power computers, telephone, and internet! But, let’s leave that issue for another day.
I don’t have any answers, but since I have been back and traveling around to talk about my work I have often felt isolated from the natural world around me (once even when I was at a church camp - in air-conditioned building!) If we are to be good stewards of this world I believe we need to be paying more attention to nature and ways our everyday actions impact God’s creation.
What do you think?