My mother was radical, in her actions if not her words. Sharing was her philosophy, an ideology to counter what she considered to be the emotionally stingy notions of possession or entitlement. We were never to think, This orange is mine. I’m giving you what’s mine. We were to think, This orange is ours. We’re sharing what’s ours.
I think back to this often in trying to make sense of the world—how there are people who have so much and people who have so little, and how I fit in with them both. Often I find myself trying to bridge the two worlds, to show people, either the people with so much or the people with so little, that everything is yours and everything is not yours. I want to make people understand that boxing ourselves into tiny cubbies based on class, race, ethnicity, religion—anything, really—comes from a poverty of mind, a poverty of imagination. The world is dull and cruel when we isolate ourselves.
Survival, true survival of the body and soul, requires creativity, freedom of thought, collaboration. You might have time and I might have land. You might have ideas and I might have strength. You might have a tomato and I might have a knife. We need each other. We need to say: I honor the things that you respect and I value the things you cherish. I am not better than you. You are not better than me. Nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody is who you think they are at first glance. We need to see beyond the projections we cast onto each other. Each of us is so much grander, more nuanced, and more extraordinary than anybody thinks, including ourselves.
I’ve flown on private planes, I’ve lounged on private beaches. I’ve fallen asleep at night with no shelter, no parents, no country, no food. I’ve been made to feel worthless and disposable by the world. I’ve seen enough to know that you can be a human with a mountain of resources and you can be a human with nothing, and you can be a monster either way. Everywhere, and especially at both extremes, you can find monsters. It’s at the extremes that people are most scared—scared of deprivation, on one end; and scared of their privilege, on the other. With privilege comes a nearly unavoidable egoism and so much shame, and often the coping mechanism is to give. This is great and necessary, but giving, as a framework, creates problems. You give, I take; you take, I give—both scenarios establish hierarchy. Both instill entitlement.
The only road to equality—a sense of common humanity; peace—is sharing, my mother’s orange. When we share, you are not using your privilege to get me to line up behind you. When we share, you are not insisting on being my savior. Claire and I always looked for the sharers, the people who just said, “I have sugar, I have water. Let’s share water. Let’s not make charity about it.”
Excerpt from The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya