Poverty and Bliss

I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, and I’m going to say it again: This trip to Africa changed me forever…or has at least changed me for the foreseeable next few months.

There was a time in my life when I was constantly worrying about EVERYTHING. At the slightest mishap, misstep, or diversion from my expected outcome of any given scenario, I would accordingly and predictably fall to pieces. This used to frustrate my husband to no end.

“I promise you, it will be ok,” he used to say.

“No it won’t!” I’d wail.

“Where is your faith in God?” he’d scold.

I in turn would rail on him for questioning my faith or suggesting that I didn’t believe that God could work out my/our problems. Following the rehearsed script, I’d give him the silent treatment for 3-4 days as “punishment” for calling my Christian character into question. He then, would apologize for his “offense” a few days later. Insane, yes I know.

In the last few weeks since we got back from Ghana, everything that could happen has happened as far as my finances are concerned. Astonishingly, none of these have fazed me at all; whereas before, I’d be a weeping, melancholy basket case.

1.  My phone bill is 2 months in arrears, amounting to waaaay over $200. This is because Marshall did not see a bill while I was gone and hence did not pay it. So Sprint sends me a text to inform me that my service will be disconnected. I called and negotiate to find out if I can pay $x to keep it on. They agree. Problem solved. I get to keep my phone on (sans the ability to send or receive texts for a week or so – anybody remember that?) and I go about my merry way. I’ve got Facebook and Skype to keep in contact with the world after all. Hitherto, I would have contemplated putting an ad on Craigslist advertising an overweight stay-at-home mom looking to give some one a “good time” in an attempt to raise the $200 to pay the bill.

“Make fat love!” the ad would scream. “I’ll bring the fudge.”

2. My credit card is waaaay past due. We used my card to finance the trip to Ghana. Of the $5k that was owed, we payed $3k before I even got back. You would think this would satisfy the card company. It didn’t. I got 2 collection calls.

“Mizz Grant,” the debt collector drawled. “This is Gary from X card company. You’re behind on your payments. Wanted to see when you could make a new payment on your balance.”

Not a question, but more of a directive.

Each time he’s called, I’ve been munching on something. I never stopped chewing.

“I can’t make a payment right now,” I said simply. I haven’t started working and we’re still playing catch up from my 7 weeks in hell. He didn’t need to know all that, and I didn’t tell him. I just kept chewing my food.

“Oh.” He seemed taken aback that I was so nonchalant.  “Well, we’re going to have to suspend activity on your card until you do pay.” Gotcha ho’!

“Okay,” I replied, still chewing. “I’m not traveling or have plans to buy anything anyway. Suspend it if you need to.” No, no you don’t.

“Uhhh…well alright. Thank you.’

“Yup. You have a nice day Gary!”

Nigga, puh-leeze. I’ve been to Africa. Your threats don’t mean ish to me.

3. Student loans. ‘Nuff said. In direct relation to my holiday in hell, I have also fallen behind on my student loans as well. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I get an automated call directing me to call the student loan center. It’s gotten to the point where I recognize the number on the phone and just answer it – then hang up immediately after so I don’t have to clear out the aggravating voicemail the mechanical female voice always leaves.. I’ve been paying on my student loan for FOURTEEN YEARS now. I’m pretty sure have paid the government back what I borrowed. It ain’t my fault they have such a draconian interest rate. When I get the money, they can get their money.

Finally, they got the hint and proactively sent me some forbearance paperwork. I filled it out, mailed it, and continued changing diapers. This is a huge breakthrough for me, because this scenario a year ago would have sent me into weeping hysterics and frantically looking for a (phantom) job to pay off Uncle Sam. There ARE NO JOBS. So what can I do? Cry about it? No! I’m going to change some diapers and keep it trucking.

4. The TV is broken! My son. My sweet, sweet son. My son likes to pull wires and play with plugs. There are 3 colorful ones that stick out in front of the TV. He recently discovered that they control the audio and visual mechanisms of the device. He has made it his business to plug and unplug these several times in a day. This has, of course, resulted in a short in one of the plugs. So guess what we have now? A TV with loads of lovely surround sound and no picture. Just a year ago, I would have gone into a deep dark depression and possibly kept my baby boy locked away in his crib so he couldn’t – break – anything – else. But why? It’s just a television. Never mind that we’re getting an Xbox from my brother and sister that we now can’t use. We’ll save it for when we get a new television. What do I care? I just spent the last 2 months watching 3 year old reruns of ANTM and dubbed over telenoveles from 1998.

I’ve been to Africa!

Last night, one of my best friends was telling me about how the IRS has been all over her a** about some payments. She said she sat outside in the cold, in her broken car talking to the guy, feeling worse and worse. She confessed that that call could have potentially resulted in her naming me as her beneficiary before doing something tragic (and stupid). But then she thought of me.

“None of these things faze you anymore Malaka,” she said.

“No, they don’t! And they shouldn’t faze you!” I said wildly. “I give myself and everyone else the same advice I give my kids. ‘Are you hurt? No. Are you bleeding? No. Is somebody beating you? No! Then why are you crying!’ If the guy from the IRS can’t come to your house an physically harm you, then why are you so worried?”

She protested just a bit.

“But they can put a lean on your credit, and it’s a b*itch to get off!”

“Then let them lean it!” I laughed. “Are you buying a house anytime soon? No. You own your car right? Yes. And it drops off in 7 years. I been to Africa! There is nothing America can throw at me!”

When a man has absolutely no money, he has nothing to lose. He also has nothing to give. We’re not at that point (and I hope we never do get there), but I refuse to hide under the covers and shut down because I can’t give you what I don’t have. That’s idiocy. If you’re reading this and this sounds like familiar behavior: Don’t be an idiot.

Thank you, Africa.