Monday, March 16, 2020

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Before I retired from teaching six years ago, I used to joke with my students that when the Apocalypse happens, people from my generation will be the ones they turn to for leadership and guidance. I also used to encourage my kids to leave the country. Go to a Third World country and see how the rest of the world survives. I wanted them to stash a global perspective in their tool boxes. They scoffed, believing that apocalyptic events were the fiction comprised of zombies and aliens. None considered a virus would change all our lives.
Right now, hordes of people in the US are freaking out from the lack of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Small conveniences that we in First World countries expect access to any time, anywhere. The Rolling Stones wisely sang, you can’t always get what you want
For three years my family lived in Bangladesh. At the time, it was a poor country with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Bangladesh, like many Asian countries, has modernized through technological advances, yet large segments of the population still survive in poverty conditions. Living overseas in a poor country has given me an advantage to thrive in this current crisis.
In order to maintain a Western lifestyle, a couple times a year we ordered bulk shipments from Singapore of items we take for granted such as toilet paper, shampoo, coffee, oatmeal, chocolate chips, canned goods, peanut butter, and for my parents, booze. (My parents quickly learned to order more toilet paper and alcohol than our family needed in order to share with the nuns, priests, and staff at Holy Cross who weren’t privy to Singapore shipments.)
Until our supplies arrived, we used local products. Local TP was brown, and had the texture of paper towels at a gas station. Fellow Americans sometimes bartered with each other and traded products. Westerners returning to the sates often donated or sold what was left in their cabinets. But for the most part, we relied on what was available.
With the closure of restaurants and bars, you will crave what you cannot have. Our cook went to market daily and we ate quality food. But we spoiled Americans craved processed foods and brands we couldn’t get on the other side of the world. I once paid three dollars for a can of Campbell’s bean with bacon soup. That was in 1969, which is probably equivalent to twenty bucks.
We also had limited access to English speaking TV. We read a lot of books. We practically tackled the book wallah when he pulled up to our house with a basket of books to sell. Because the  country was in political upheaval, for our own safety, we were often remanded to our homes under Martial Law.
Life was vastly different overseas than it was back home, but overall, we adapted. And you will too.
My generation grew up without instant gratification. We had to wait for things. We communicated by mail rather than IM or text. If we craved fast food, we had to drive out of town. We knew we couldn’t always get what we wanted, but we got what we needed.

Hang in there. .


  1. Bean and Bacon? Bleah!
    This is a really interesting look at what another time, another reality looked like. I am sure the book wallah steeled himself before you all accosted him with your book requests!

  2. More cooking at home if we can find ingredients isn’t a bad thing. Otherwise the diet will be getting easier.

  3. We had a commissary in Rome where staff could get items from home like Cheerios, Butterball turkeys and cranberry sauce for Americans. We usually just bought Italian which was more fun anyway.

  4. This is such a good reminder. Like Judith, we had access to the post commissary when we were in Germany (and, earlier, France, but I don't remember much about shopping with my mother then). Every Easter, I would buy a big bag of jellybeans for a high school friend who didn't have access and missed them. Take care of yourself, Moe. I worry.