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International Desk: ...Abuja, Nigeria

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International Desk: ...Abuja, Nigeria

Most people would never choose to visit the Third World, even if they had the opportunity to do so—but they should. Here’s why.

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Imagine you have just been offered an all expenses paid, eight-day trip to two countries of your choosing—no exclusions. You have the incredible opportunity to visit, free of charge, any two of the 195 nations on Earth.

Which would you choose?

Would you select a tropical paradise for the first four days, and then follow with a visit to a cooler climate? What about two nations in Europe, with its long, rich history? Or would you choose to vacation in the United States, with perhaps a brief stop in Canada? Maybe you would like to visit Central and South America—or nations in northern and southern Africa.

Now consider the one stipulation to this scenario: You can never visit another country ever again for the rest of your life! No doubt, your selection would require a great deal of consideration, and you would think long and hard about where to travel—since it would be the last time.

Likely, few would choose to visit a third-world country, especially those residing in a first-world society, with all of its modern conveniences. How many would choose to lower their standard of living—even for four days? Lowering this for even a short period would be too much to handle for most.

The majority would not visit the Third World—whether or not it would be their last vacation—but they should. Here’s why.

“Other Worldly”

We landed at Nigeria’s Abuja International Airport at 4:30 a.m. A fellow Real Truth writer and I were somewhat rested after having slept soundly during our six-hour flight from London. Upon disembarking the plane, we were greeted by intense heat and humidity—at such an early hour in the morning! Even a little physical exertion resulted in breaking a sweat.

Our journey through baggage claim and customs was, thankfully, fast and uneventful. Airport staff was courteous and helpful. It was nice to see that there was no charge to use the luggage dollies. In the United States, one can expect to pay $3.00 or more to use them. The airport was much smaller than I had anticipated, and was well maintained, yet has only several flights per day.

We soon found ourselves at the pick-up area of the airport, where we waited for transportation to our lodging. We somewhat adjusted to the temperature, but had no idea how sweltering hot the day would be.

Before we arrived we had only a vague idea of what to expect. But the trip to our accommodations left no doubt that we were no longer in the United States. The scenery was entirely different from what we were accustomed: endless lines at gas stations; numerous villages dotted the countryside—which, by American standards, would be considered substandard at best. Yet in Nigeria, these are considered average developments.

Perhaps what stood out the most was the sheer number of people. There were people on the road; and people off the road. People off the road in their cars; people off the road next to their cars. There were people cramming into cars; and people exiting cars. People were everywhere! Granted, it was morning rush-hour traffic, but we had never seen anything like it in America. We would later learn that, in Nigeria, people line major roadways at any time of day—and night.

Around 6:30 a.m., we entered the neighborhood where our accommodations were located. Again, the scenery was unlike that of the U.S. Even more people were alongside the street—standing, walking, running on the road, dodging cars and other pedestrians. Cars constantly weaved in and out of lanes. Before we knew it, the three-lane roadway unofficially turned into six lanes! Vehicles came within several inches of one another constantly, yet without collision. Despite bumper-to-bumper traffic, it still moved along at a steady clip. This scenario unfolded wherever we traveled around Abuja. (I was thankful I did not have to drive. I amusingly concluded that a foreigner driving in Nigeria should undergo special driver training.)

We arrived at our hotel sometime just before 7:00 a.m. Thankfully, our rooms contained wall-mounted air conditioners. But unreliable electricity quickly became evident, something totally foreign to Americans. I had heard stories of this before my arrival, but could not grasp what it meant until I experienced it firsthand. Unlike most people in first-world nations, Nigerians live with the reality of random blackouts every day, without warning—and yet they are able to function.

How many in the West would tolerate no electricity for hours at a time? How many would accept not being able to spend hours in front of a computer or television? Think of how those with technology-driven lives would react. Most of us “first worlders” probably don’t give much if any thought to reliable electricity. We just turn on our computers…and work or play. We accept reliable power as a normal part of everyday life. Imagine, for a moment, if it were taken away.

Looking out my hotel room, I could see scores of giant black containers throughout the neighborhood. I soon learned that many homes and businesses in Nigeria supply their own water via large holding tanks perched high in the sky. Many towns do have public water systems; however, as with electricity, these are unreliable.

That afternoon, after we had rested for a bit, we enjoyed a wonderful traditional Nigerian meal. The hotel supplied us with plenty of bottled water during our meal (and throughout the rest of our stay), for which I was extremely thankful. It doesn’t take long to dehydrate in 100-plus degree heat.

Throughout our several days in Abuja, we enjoyed delicious local cuisine, which was very different from what we were accustomed. Rice was served often, and so was chicken. Various fruits and vegetables filled our plates. But the meals were not as diverse as those normally found in the United States. The reason is that most of what is eaten in Nigeria is grown locally. Large distribution networks are not in place. The incredible amount of diverse foods we enjoy in the U.S. is simply not possible in many other countries. This, too, we take for granted. Few of us could imagine not eating what we want, when we want it, and how we want it.

No Reason to Complain

After the meal, I toured the area. Again, pedestrians were everywhere—which led me to realize the significance of this. Without many of the modern conveniences we enjoy, most Nigerians do what human beings have done for thousands of years: they talk to one another; they socialize; they enjoy one another’s company; they build strong friendships with their neighbors. All of these things are dwindling in the land of modern nations. Instead, we are preoccupied with our toys—our mp3 players, big-screen televisions, gaming systems, computers, fancy cars, expansive homes—and ourselves. When we do communicate with others, it is through technology: social networking sites, email, instant messaging and text messaging. Face-to-face, human-to-human, live interaction is becoming increasingly rare.

That afternoon, my view of Nigeria began to change. Part of me had anticipated a land of sullen faces and discontented people. Yet this was far from the case. Sure, people there have their problems to face, as with anywhere. But they appeared willing and able to cope with (what first worlders may consider) sub-par living conditions. Generally, I witnessed happy, smiling people wherever I went.

I am certain that if the average American had to live in Nigeria for the rest of his life, he would not be content. In fact, he would probably be miserable, unable to cope with his new standard of living.

Think about how blessed are those in Western nations. Most have access to every form of physical convenience and pleasure under the sun. Yet they lead unhappy lives, and complain at the slightest inconvenience.

We complain when we have to wait in a long line at a grocery store—while those in developing nations never have the opportunity to choose from among so many different types of food.

We complain when gas rises to $4.00 a gallon—while others pay much more than that, or do not even have the chance to buy gasoline because they do not own a vehicle.

We complain when electricity or cable television service is interrupted for an hour—while others do not have electricity, or have service that is constantly interrupted.

We complain when we lose our jobs and the government does not step in to bail us out—while others never hold a job, or if they do, they earn in six months what we in the West earn in several hours.

We complain when our roads have a pothole or two—while others maneuver through dirt paths on which it is faster to walk than drive.

We have nothing to complain about—but we do anyway. Americans and those in other affluent nations enjoy blessings beyond comprehension. And they take them for granted.

Worth Its Weight in Gold

As we departed Nigeria, I counted myself incredibly blessed for having the opportunity to visit. I entered the country with one perspective; I left with another. My experience was beyond what words could possibly summarize.

If you live in a prosperous nation and someday have the opportunity to visit a third-world country, I recommend you do so, even if it is the only trip you will ever take. Witnessing firsthand how most of humanity lives is worth its weight in gold—and it helps to place one’s own life in proper perspective. One quickly learns that most people live entirely differently from those in the Western world—but they can still laugh, smile and enjoy life, despite not having a tenth what we have. Modern conveniences are not a necessity. We only think they are, because we know no other way of life.

Yet try telling your average American that “a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15). Try telling yourself that. Do you believe it?

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