Saturday, December 27, 2008


Recently, Jeremy and I wandered through the REI flagship store in Denver, Colorado. REI feels like one of those McDonalds play areas for adults. Well, the don't have a ball pit, but it's pretty darn fun.

Jeremy looked at knives and backpacks, while I'm always enthralled by little things like water bottles or those backpacking dehydrated meals. Chicken a'la King, just add water? Brilliant.

I'm a people watcher. So more interesting to me than the products at REI are the people who shop there.

Everyone who shops at REI is good looking, and a bit rugged. They are all wearing North Face "something" "somewhere" on their bodies. All look like they've had a few sunburns and crazy adventures climbing fourteeners and kayaking around glaciers. The women are naturally gorgeous, skinny, and wear very little make-up. There is a lot of long hair and gray hair, they're going au naturel. Some wear something knit or funky jewelry they probably bought at an antique shop in the middle of nowhere.

You don't see poor people in REI because everything is so gosh darn expensive! These are luxuries not everyone can afford. It's funny because they're probably thinking the same of me, but I can't really afford it at all. Talking to Jeremy about it he said, "Well, you could afford it, you just choose not to."

He's right. I'm in the richest percentage of people in the world, it's just easy to forget. My kids in Cambodia have never gone rock climbing or white water rafting. They don't go camping or go hiking just for fun.

"Extreme sports" are an American invention. There is no real purpose to snowboarding down a mountain or re-discovering already-discovered caves. We do so much for pleasure.

REI is filled with gear we "need" to enjoy our luxuries. We "need" these products to endure the great outdoors that we willingly thrust ourselves into.

Can you imagine how much an Arabian trader trudging across the Ethiopian desert could use a Camel Back backpack?

Wouldn't families in Nigeria just be thrilled to have our nifty little water filters we put over the top of Nalgene waterbottles?

Picture a sherpa in Pakistan decked out with a pick axe, hand warmers, Cliff bars, head lamp, and polartec technology long underwear.

We use our top of the line equipment to endure the elements which we enjoy on the weekends, when we feel like it. While real people, living in the elements every single day, make do with so little.

Overwhelmed by the feeling that I wanted and needed a pair of Phrana yoga pants for $60, I exhuastedly plopped down in the book section of REI. I found a book about a group of women who wanted to rock climb in Ethiopia.

The local people thought they were crazy. Why did they fly half-way around the world to climb on the rocks at the edge of our village? Because they could.

One Ethipian who had lived in the United States for a short time said, "I couldn't live there. I craved the reality of life, the truly extreme. People run faster, bike harder, skydive, and rock climb to call themselves extreme. I had to come back to my people living with AIDs to be reminded what extreme is all about. Life is real here."

Help me to remember life is not real here. Life can be difficult here, but our extremes are quite different. Complaining about a "brutal" 10 page paper in West and the World that just might "kill" me, just doesn't stack up.


Carley Brown said...

Life is real no matter where you live. It's just the simple fact that knowledge changes perception.