Comfort

Posted Jan 01, 2010 by 4 Comments

I have been uncomfortable a lot here in Panama.

It started with my first week in the village of Llano Ñopo.  I was living in a hut made out of sticks and sleeping on a “bed” which was really nothing more than a wooden table.  Sure, I had a thin air mattress and an old, ripped sheet to lay on, but let’s just say that a chiropractor would have wept to see it.

Every night, despite slathering myself with 98% Deet (and getting uncomfortably slimy in the process), I was eaten alive by all sorts of strange creatures.  I woke up several times each night, itching all over and wondering when the sun would finally come up.  Fun, to say the least.

The inside of my hut.  Protection from the rain, but that's about it...

The inside of my hut. Protection from the rain, but that's about it...

But tiny insects weren’t the only organisms in my little hut.  One morning, I awoke to the sight of a spider building a web one foot above my head.  The following night, as I got ready to climb into bed, I saw a huge rat crawling through the stick wall inches from my pillow.  He looked at me with a big yellow smile, said “Sup?” and disappeared into the night…

I crossed many rivers in Panama, but only a few with dry feet at the end...

I crossed many rivers in Panama, but only a few with dry feet at the end...

The climate was uncomfortable too.  I went to bed hot and sweaty, then often found myself freezing cold in the middle of the night (high altitudes near the equator are like that I guess).  Because November is the end of the rainy season, it poured every single afternoon.  And with air this humid, my clothes never really dried.

And then there were my two other excursions into rural Panama…

On my first trip, our campsite was in a muddy field filled with cow droppings.  Moments after setting up my tent, there were spiders crawling all over it.  It rained the whole time we were there.  Each morning, I slid into wet, muddy jeans and laced up soaking wet boots.  Awesome.

To bathe, we had to hike up and down across a rolling cow pasture and wash ourselves in a freezing cold river.  To eat, we had to rely on cans of plain tuna, crackers and granola bars.  For days.

And on my final trip, we hiked a grueling 18.5 hours in a day and a half.  We climbed 9 miles into the mountains, sometimes going straight up for an hour and a half.  By the time we reached our destination, my leg muscles were cramping, my back was killing me and my skin was sunburned.

A view from the top of one of the many hills I climbed.  (Click the image to see the full size panorama!)

A view from the top of one of the many hills I climbed. (Click the image to see the full size panorama!)


The night after we limped back into Llano Ñopo, I was so physically exhausted that I woke up three times to throw up outside.  Oh, and once just to swat a cockroach off of my back.

Ok, ok.  You get the picture.  I’ve been uncomfortable here!

But here’s the crazy thing.  Here’s the reason I’ve gone on and on here about my discomforts… When I look around at the people who live here, I am the only one who is uncomfortable.

For people who are used to spending long hours sitting in the back of pickup trucks, comfort really isn't an issue.

For people who are used to spending long hours sitting in the back of pickup trucks, comfort really isn't an issue.

When I’m miserable at six in the morning, covered in bug bites and groaning about my wet clothes, my Ngöbe host family is walking around with smiles on their faces.

When I am slogging through the mud, dreaming only of a hot shower, the farmer I’m following is walking happily.

And when I’m collapsing sweaty and exhausted at the top of a hill, wishing I could just call in a helicopter, our indigenous guides are taking in the view.

They have to live here.  And I’m the one who’s uncomfortable.

At first this totally confounded me.  Don’t they see where they live?  Don’t they understand how uncomfortable they are?  But then, I began to realize something.  Perhaps I’m the one who’s missing something…

In the States, we spend a lot of time, energy and money keeping ourselves comfortable, don’t we?  A/C in the summer, heat in the winter, ice cold drinks in the fridge…

These boys are used to discomfort.  To them, it's just a part of life!

These boys are used to discomfort. To them, it's just a part of life!

We have silk PJ’s, universal remotes and dish washers, and we come up with new must-have comforts all the time.  Remote control car starters, toilet seat warmers, blankets with sleeves!

Yet despite our never ending quest for well-being, we’re the ones who are the most uncomfortable in the world.  Doesn’t that seem kind of strange?

It’s got me thinking.  Maybe all the time I spend worrying about my comfort is actually just a waste.  Maybe if I changed my perspective, I wouldn’t be so uncomfortable.  Maybe my discomfort is not so much a status as a choice

Now, it is going to be hard to change a lifetime of habits, but perhaps now I can start the process.  With winter in full swing back home, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to be uncomfortable.  Freezing temperatures, stuffy nose, chapped lips…

Maybe I can learn something from the Ngöbe and simple appreciate what I do have instead… Warm clothes, food and a loving family.

Woah.  Who knew that I’d have to go to the jungle to learn how to be comfortable?

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    January 1st, 2010 at 11:36 am  

    Yep two things are true about us (suburban Americans…although urban and rural folks get in on the act too)

    1) We crave comfort, as you have said.
    2) We will do anything to alleviate or avoid pain of any kind.

    Just down the street from our home a new CVS pharmacy is going up just 400 feet from another CVS (which I presume will be razed) and across the street from a brand new Walgreens that is going up simultaneously!!

    We need our drugs and anti-pain meds stat.

    Oh and I have “bun” warmers in my car…and not one but two HVAC units in my house…and a little frother to make my own lattes…

    I’m all set for anything that might horn in on my comfort. And if not…I’ve got a new CVS and Walgreens right by.

  2. Jenni Bliss said... 

    Reply

    January 1st, 2010 at 6:22 pm  

    Love this article Barry. I have been thinking a lot on this topic as well. We spend excessive energies in making ourselves comfortable, thinking that it is of course our right and we never question the pursuit. I have been thinking of late that my comforts are ruining me in so many ways. Not only am I softer, less equipped to survive in the real world; I am weaker. Weaker physically, spiritually, and emotionally. All of our striving ultimately leaves us with a negative result. Ugh. However, what is the balance? Like you said, we can’t go about and change a life time of habits, because we are all adapted to our environments. But I think a place where I want to start is for one, not have an expectation or demand for comfort. Then two, expend less energy in attaining it. And lastly to look for His strength to genuinely be content in all situations. Because it is always an issue of contentment. A genuine peace in all circumstances that truly transcends. The good news is, Paul tells us that this contentment is learned…so onward we press. Thanks for the encouragement Barry.

  3. Leah said... 

    Reply

    January 2nd, 2010 at 4:16 pm  

    love that you included the snuggie reference, but you should go check out ezcracker.com to see the newest laziness/comfort device… we just saw a commercial for it. absolutely terrifying

  4. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    January 2nd, 2010 at 4:43 pm  

    Haha Leah. I think I should probably write another article just about the EZ Cracker!

    “Uh oh. Crunchy egg shells ruin those muffins!”

    We really do love our comfort…

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