Reality Check

Australians are pretty good at having the occasional whinge.

From time to time we all like to complain about how hard we are done by. Perhaps we believe we pay too much in tax, the increasing costs of living and power prices, housing has become unaffordable, the health care system is broken, the trains don’t run on time, we get held up in the traffic, our sporting teams don’t perform the way we would like, or the weather is a bit crook.

You know what I mean – and as much as we don’t like to admit it, we all have a bit of a gripe about things on occasions. It is a bit of a national pastime.

Now for a dose of reality….

My wife, Kerry and I have recently returned from our first ever trip to Africa.

I must admit, it wasn’t on my list of places I must visit ‘before I die’, however, when the opportunity arose we embraced it. Apart from some work commitments, we did the ‘touristy’ bits like visiting Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg, and had an amazing experience at a couple of game parks.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with some of Mark’s articles on his visits to Africa.

Personally, I found Africa to be a country of contrasts, and it is a place I must return to in the future. As they say, I am ‘sold’.

As part of our African experience, we got to visit Zimbabwe – just up the road from South Africa.

Once one of the jewels in the crown that was the British Empire, Zimbabwe has sadly degenerated to the status of a third world nation. Prosperity has been replaced with poverty within the space of a generation or two.

In 2009, the year the Zimbabwean currency was replaced with the US dollar (many other currencies can also now be used in Zimbabwe), the inflation rate was 11.2 million percent!

For us, Zimbabwe was a reality check.

Despite the apparent poverty – the unemployment rate seems to hover at between 90 and 95% – the people appear to be generally happy. Kids were playing with things like a disused car tyre, and walking kilometres to collect water from a well for their family is just a part of life. If you were ‘rich’, you didn’t have a car to use to collect your water, you had a wheelbarrow.

In spite of this, folk did not appear to be complaining about their lot in life.

Imagine being sick and having to walk for many hours, even days, to a village clinic only to find they there are no drugs available to treat your ailment. No wonder the average life expectancy is only 62 for women and 59 for men[1]. Apart from AIDS and HIV, which is the largest cause of mortality, many of the main causes of death are preventable diseases, like influenza and pneumonia.

After visiting Zimbabwe and hearing of the challenges people face on a day to day basis, I couldn’t help but think about just how lucky we are in Australia. The problems we whinge and complain about are very much ‘first world problems’.

Zimbabwe is not an isolated case. There are many countries in the world that don’t enjoy the same standard of living that we are fortunate enough to have.

If anything, visiting places like these are very sobering and help us to realise just how very fortunate we are to be living in a country like Australia.

After our experiences, being stuck in the traffic, having to wait for a train that is running late, or getting an electricity bill are really quite insignificant in the scheme of things.

Next time you feel like having a bit of a rant about a ‘first world problem’, spare a thought for the hundreds of millions of people out there would simply love to have our problems.

We live in a very lucky country.

[1] World Health Organisation


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