This post is part of The Write On Project
“What’s that, daddy?”
The glow from the monitor lights their faces.
“Those are parts from old computers, Bug.”
“Well, computers break and then people throw them away.”
She sits silent for a moment.
“Why do they throw them away?”
“Because they can’t fix them anymore, or don’t try, and then they buy new ones.”
“So, they throw them away there?”
“Is that by our house?”
“No, that’s in Africa, in a country called Ghana.”
He picks her up and walks over to the map on the wall. Holding her on his hip, he points to a small vertical rectangle in West Africa. “That’s Ghana. It is very far away.”
“Are those computers theirs?”
“No. A lot of them are from here. Probably a lot from Europe, too.”
“Why do we throw our computers away there?”
“I guess we are running out of room here to throw them away.”
He pauses and thinks about talking to her about the differences between where they live and third world countries, about exploitation and economic inequality, about how the industrialized world is packaging up their trash and shipping it to Africa and calling it what it is not. He feels his chest rise and fall.
“It isn’t very pretty there, Daddy.”
“No, it’s not, Bug. I bet it used to be very pretty, though.”
“So, why did we make it look like that?”
His lips tighten around his teeth into a grimace as thoughts race through his head about all of this. How do you tell your four year old about the world that she is going to grow up in? How do you tell her that you aren’t sure if she’ll have the chance? Just that morning he was reading her “The Lorax” and talking to her about responsibility and respect and what could be. Now, as the afternoon sun quietly comes through the window above them, he is thinking about what is.
He wants to talk to her about capitalism and the consumer culture. He wants to tell her that the economy, the only imaginary monster that does exist, hinges upon people buying things that they really don’t need. He wants to explain the theory of planned obsolescence and how companies intentionally make products that will fail so that everyone is forced to keep buying new things. He wants to show her that we have burdened ourselves with a system that cannot be sustained, forsaking survival for money.
She stares into the screen, probably thinking of the shapes and the colors and the smoke. He thinks only of the consequences. He knows what he believes, but there was no way he is going to tell her that. There is an illusion that is perpetuated for the sake of children that the world is filled with nothing but beauty and good and justice, that people always try to do the right thing for the right reasons. He holds her close and tries not to think about how long the charade can be maintained. He tries not to think of how long he believes they all really have left. There will be a time for this conversation and it isn’t now. She isn’t ready. He isn’t sure he is even ready.
“Daddy, this picture’s sad. Can we watch that video of the boys playing tuba again?”
“Sure, Bug. I think that’s a great idea.”