There are first world–FW (annoying, bothersome, petty, but usually solvable) problems and then there are third world–TW (really difficult, hard to handle, life shattering, and systemic) problems. For an example, I will be using U.S.A. as the first world and let’s say Rwanda or Afghanistan as the third world. For your imagination’s sake, picture a pretty blonde girl from Colorado in yoga pants and a Starbucks speaking as a first world representative, and a sun-hardened, war-battered peasant akin to the Afghani girl from the 1980’s National Geographic cover holding an empty clay pitcher representing the third world.
A FW problem is: “My hot water didn’t work yesterday. I had to take a cold shower after Pilates.”
TW problem is: “The pot I use to boil water to clean before eating was stolen by roving bandits.”
FW problem is: “The free, unpolluted water from my kitchen sink doesn’t taste like clear glacial H2O and leaves a funny aftertaste.”
TW problem is: “The communal well has gone dry and the nearest one is 30 miles away.” OR “The communal well is full of cholera ridden, filthy water and my newborn is dehydrated.”
FW problem is: “Gasoline is so expensive. I had to spend 60$ to fill it up just so I could drive on paved roads to my air-conditioned office with cushy chairs.”
TW problem is: “The water buffalo I depend on to plow my fields so that I can sell my soybeans for 10 cents a pound broke its leg walking in sodden mud flats due to heavy rains that also destroyed this year’s crop.”
FW problem is: “This fruit has a spot on it!”
TW problem is: “Bugs have eaten their way into all the fruit on my trees due to the lack of sustainable pesticides.”
FW problem is: “The government wants me to register my gun to prove I’m not an unstable lunatic with previous history of violence.”
TW problem is: “The government is sanctioning the machete hacking deaths of all people born of a different tribe, evinced by their thin noses or taller stature.”
The point is, the problems we see around us are problems because of what’s around us. We wouldn’t complain about a bruised peach if we were starving. We wouldn’t complain about paying for gasoline if we never had had a car or a job to sustain us. We complain about the things that seem like a disturbance due to our surroundings.
In a richer, more prosperous country like the U.S.A., annoyances are seen as problems. In war-stricken, desiccated countries like Afghanistan or Rwanda, life can be problematic itself, I imagine. I have no idea really, I’m assuming central air cooled/heated housing, running water, plumbing, la-z-boys, fresh fruit, and iPods aren’t common features among citizens of Kandahar or Kigali. I might be wrong, but I think my perception of what is considered a problem to them and residents of Kansas City might be rather different.
Yesterday, I was making my midnight snack of apples and peanut butter. I have one of those apple coring/slicing contraptions. I was pushing it down, and it was very hard to push through this time. It just wasn’t gliding smoothly. I pushed really hard and the middle started to sink in around the slices. I gave one last hard push and the apple opened up to reveal a terrible sight. The inside of the apple was moldy and horrible. The inside! How the hell did that happen? How did the inside get stale and fusty leaving the skin looking perfect?
I didn’t inspect it too much. But it greatly affected me. I don’t know why. I’ve seen worse things. Once, I poured out some cereal into my bowl and a dusty cockroach fell out with the bran and raisins. Another time, I pulled a comically long, dark, strange hair out of my mouth after my first bite of soup. Gross things are gross, but this really hurt my brain. I literally get chills every time my mind sweeps across that image. I quickly picked another apple from the bunch and cut a little slice off of it to assure myself apples were still delicious. But, I’m scared I won’t get over this. I know it’s a first world problem, but damned if it doesn’t make me a little sick to think of that busted up, furry, brown and withered apple core. I now have a new, unwanted, unsolicited memory of the old maxim “rotten to the core.”