This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots.Anxious People, Fredrik Backman
But aren’t we all idiots at times? I know I am. One of my sayings is “We’re just trying our best.” It’s what we can do. So when we moved to Quito, Ecuador from Florida about a month and a half ago, we lived life. Trying our best.
I’m reading Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman right now (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and one of the reasons I love Backman is that he zooms right in on what it means to be human:
. . . it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is. Especially if you have other people you’re trying to be a reasonably good human being for.
Uh, yep! You hit the nail on the head, Backman.
When we first arrived in Quito to a dark sky and city lights, we were in that survival mode where we had simple objectives: get from Jacksonville to Quito. Don’t die. Try not to get Coronavirus. Don’t lose any of the kids. Don’t be complete idiots.
Well I’m happy to report that we achieved those objectives.
But now that we’re here, survival mode has turned into this hairy little Popples beast that clings onto our chests, occasionally reaching up to slap us right in the face. We’re in a foreign (to us) country (slap), we don’t really speak the language (slap), we know only a handful of people (slap), we don’t have a vehicle or even bikes (THE HORROR), and we have a difficult time getting our key to open the gate to our apartment compound (slap). I won’t even mention our weekday schedules of dealing with the boys logging on and off of zoom-school getting the Zoomie Gloomies, trying to prevent the apartment from becoming an absolute disaster zone, feeding three growing boys and a grown boy, changing poopy diapers, and folding all of the laundry. So it’s easy to fall into the survival mode way of thinking. We have a lot going on. We certainly don’t have time or energy or brain capacity to think about how we can lead a less-wasteful, better-for-the-environment kind of life. Just reading that paragraph was exhausting. I’m sorry.
But my friend Backman gets it. He understands:
Because there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days. You’re supposed to have a job, and somewhere to live, and a family, and you’re supposed to pay taxes and have clean underwear and remember the password to your damn Wi-Fi. Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control so our lives simply carry on, the world spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce around on its surface like so many lost socks.
Looking back on our first several weeks here, dealing with *all of the things,* I did feel a little like a lost sock bouncing around, just trying to survive.
When we first went to the grocery store, we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Definitely idiots. So we did what we saw others do, and came home with (it seemed like 1000) plastic bags of food. The next time we went grocery shopping, we tried bringing this huge Costco bag that we found tucked next to the refrigerator when we moved in. We used it at the store. AND WE ALL LIVED. And came home with fewer plastic bags. The next time we hit the store, we saw that reusable bags were for sale. We bought some. And now we come home from the store with zero plastic bags. Level up. (Have I mentioned how much I loathe plastic bags? It’s the Californian in me.)
One of the things waiting for us in our apartment when we arrived was a lovely little bag of coffee beans sitting on the kitchen counter. So starting morning one, I was able to enjoy my making-coffee-and-then-drinking-it ritual. In Florida, my coffee grounds would eventually make their way to the compost bins in the backyard. So on morning one of Quito life, I didn’t know what to do with the grounds. I couldn’t throw them away! So I dumped them in a little glass jar I found in the cupboards. Since we have a little outdoor space with some fruit trees and various flowers in our apartment compound, I thought I’d wait until the jar filled up, and go dump the grounds outside somewhere. So that’s what I do. And the plants thank me because coffee grounds are great for the soil! Simply knowing that I’m not just dumping something that could be useful into the trash makes me feel a little less like a bouncing sock. Level up.
Another issue we’ve had since living here has been something probably most everyone deals with when moving internationally: VEGETABLE BROTH. In Florida, we had gotten into the handy habit of buying our veggie broth at the store and then recycling the box it came in. Since it isn’t sold here, we had to bounce to Plan B: make our own! I had done it before, but, as things do, it trickled out of my life when it was so easy to buy it at the store. Quito, thank you for reminding me how easy it is to make your own veggie broth. Instead of throwing my veggie scraps in the garbage (oof, that hurt my heart just writing it), I throw them in this crappy tupperware container I found lurking in a cabinet and then store it in the freezer. When it’s full, I dump the frozen scraps into a big pot, add a bunch of water, some peppercorns, and herbs, and let that bad boy boil for a few hours. Then I pour it through a sieve and have delicious, homemade veggie broth. I store some in the fridge and some in the freezer and always have plenty on hand.
But what to do with the boiled, limp celery and other sad scraps? My husband and I talked about it, and the next step for us is to dig a small hole in part of our teeny tiny yard, dump in the scraps, and bury them. We don’t have a shovel or even a trowel (yet!), but I for one am very excited about this next level-up in our lives.
So there are lots of easy things you can do in the city to lead a less-wasteful life:
- Avoid plastic bags by remembering to bring your reusable bags. And if you have plastics bags lurking under your sink or in a closet already, use them! Don’t simply throw them away. Don’t be an idiot.
- Sprinkle used coffee grounds into your garden. Good for the soil. Good for the soul.
- Make your own veggie broth. This eliminates dealing with packaging of store-bought veggie broth, and it’s healthier. Then dig a little grave for it, sing a song, say a prayer, etc. It’s like on The Office when they have the funeral service for the bird — but for veggie scraps.
But the most important thing when going through life (dealing with an international move or not) is to get the chaos under control so our lives are not simply carrying on.
Because simply carrying on isn’t good enough. We have such rich lives, ripe for new experiences and deep relationships. Getting plastic bags at the store simply because most everyone else does isn’t good enough. Throwing away coffee grounds and veggie scraps simply because it’s easier isn’t good enough.
It’s plastic and coffee and veggie scraps for me. What is it for you? What can you do beyond simply carrying on in survival mode, bouncing around like lost socks? The thing with that beast, survival, is that it lies to us. It tells us that we can’t do anything beyond what we’re doing. And it slaps us. (Not cool.) So if you think that hairy beast is clinging onto you still, it’s time to rip it off and throw it on the ground (because you’re an adult . . . and also because happy birthday to the ground).
Look around to see what you can do for others and for the environment. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be something.