Life is full of trade-offs. The older we get the more opportunities we have had to incorporate this reality into our experience. Any parent knows the constant difficulty it is to instruct one’s children in not only accepting this but in learning how to be wise in making compromises. We are living in an environment that in many ways is idyllic–temperatures always between 65-90 degrees, beautiful mountain vistas, perched by the side of a large lake with nice sandy beaches. Many of the inevitable trade-offs for us are inconvenient or frustrating but certainly manageable.
For example, for the first three months here in Bujumbura we rented part of a house which was roomy and had a second-floor bedroom with a nice balcony. That means it was very cool at night with a breeze and a nice view of the mountains to restore one’s soul. Since the house was rented out to others for the month of April we had to change locations for the month (until we leave for a one-month US visit, to return to our own rental for the next year).
Trade-off #1 we lost the cool breeze at night because we are now in a one-story house next to a 3-story building (HAU classrooms). Trade-off #2 power goes out every night round midnight until about 5:00 am, so forget about a fan to create a breeze. But on the brighter side there is hot water for showers and the kitchen sink. There is a nice porch with a wonderful bench-swing for enjoying the outdoors and visitors.
The house is very roomy with a nicely equipped kitchen for cooking. We don’t have to take taxi’s or buses to work because we can just walk the few feet over to the classrooms or across the street to the clinic. Another bonus is it is much cheaper rent. There are, however, a few other trade-offs. Such as being the students entertainment between classes, as the second and third floors look down onto the porch (you could call this the “gold-fish bowl” scenario) and the life-noise of the school day. Also there is greater accessibility to students, which is nice for the many meetings Randy has had with them but that can also get a little overwhelming at times when he’s having office hours on the porch.
Another area of trade-offs has been the recent acquisition of a car. It’s great to have the independence to get around town, come and go as one needs and take care of business according to one’s own schedule rather than paying for taxis, depending on rides and feeling hemmed in (read definition of frustration: an American without a car!). The trade-offs are the cost of gas (about twice the US price), the hazards of driving–especially at night but all the time, there are so many moving pieces on the street and a great many oversized potholes. I am constantly praying that I don’t hit someone or something when I drive.
But no matter how many of these trade-offs I list or experience I am constantly being reminded they are really minor in comparison to the types of trade-offs so many others here face. For the students who are fortunate enough to attend HAU their trade-offs are of a more serious nature, usually monetary. If they pay the semester tuition, what will they live on?
During a recent class discussion I asked how most of the students came to school, almost everyone of them told me they walked and not just for a few minutes but an hour or more. The trade-off for them is that by walking they can save the 1,000 BF cost of a motorcycle taxi (equivalent $0.67) or 500 BF cost of a bus, for another expense, such as copying a paper they must turn in (50 BF a page) or buying food for a few days. Another trade-off they are constantly facing is which class to attend when their classes are overlapping due to a professor’s availability. But even more serious will be the compromises they will have to make when they graduate, because once they have a degree it is no guarantee of employment. Jobs are very limited and unemployment high, even for those with degrees and advanced education. Many speak of creating businesses with youthful hope and tenacity, perhaps unaware of the trade-offs they have to navigate.
As I observe the trade-offs many of those around me are making daily faced with the realities of life I am constantly aware of two things:1) the necessity of a grateful, thankful heart for everything the Lord imparts to me daily from basic sustenance to the many good things he gives me each day and 2) my need for heavenly-kingdom wisdom to be discerning with the compromises and trade-offs I face. I am reminded of a wise saying: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6) This is my prayer and encouragement for the students of HAU.