As I sit in my room on the 22nd floor of the Hilton the sun is rising over the city. Out my window I can see wisps of pink and red reflecting off of the clouds. It is beautiful – if you like cities. I find myself suddenly floating up here twenty-two stories from the ground and it seems fitting somehow because I’ve also been removed from the earth in many ways.
Modern travel is abrupt. It doesn’t matter to me that it takes 30+ hours to travel from one side of the world to the other (which is A LONG TIME in one seat) but it is still sudden! Just a day or two ago I was on the other side of the world in a poor, developing country where people struggle to have enough food to feed their families this week or even for lunch. There are no six or eight lane roads, the stop lights don’t work, customer service is non-existent, and so many other things are different – I can’t even list them all.
And yet living in that setting I feel close to the earth – I see people every day working in their garden, selling vegetables, sweeping the yard, drawing water, carrying bundles of wood or grass, laundry drying in the wind – the earth and it’s gifts are close and visible. Even the house I live in is made from clay bricks made from the surrounding soil, fired with trees that grew in the distant past from the ground nearby. Being this close to the earth means that I am usually dirty – somehow. Mostly it’s my feet which I admit that since I rarely wear socks and shoes (they are in sandals or flip flops) they are covered with dust or dirt. (I like to imagine that I keep the rest of myself relatively clean, though.).
From this existence, I suddenly I got in a plane and sat for a while and now I find myself twenty-two stories from the ground. Up here it’s clean (and I love that!) yet I also feel a distinct separation from the earth. I can go to a number of restaurants within walking distance and get food within five minutes (and that is amazing) but not even those who sold it to me know where it was grown nor have they looked in the eyes of farmers who grew it. On the 22nd floor my windows don’t open and I can’t feel the breezes or even know what the temperature is like outside – it is controlled with a little white box on my hotel wall.
I don’t have to stay up here though – I realize that – and living in the Hilton is not “normal” life. The contrast, though, is so stark that I couldn’t help reflect on the separation the developed world experiences by default. For me, it’s a sudden change. How long until I come down from my perch?
Elisa Brown is Director of Finance, Adventist Health International-Malawi, working at Malamulo Hospital in