The Pampers Dilemma

Today I’m washing my last load of cloth diapers. After this, I’ll be tossing small smelly bundles of plastic and chemicals directly into a hole down the hill from my house. And although I admit I’m a little thrilled at the convenience of it all and am pretty sure I won’t miss the nightly ritual of plunging my arms into buckets of poop soup, it’s still one of the most difficult socially responsible decisions I’ve had to make. I realize the mountain of Pampers I’ll be leaving as my legacy here in Kenya doesn’t exactly appear all that responsible, but I really am doing this one for the land and community around me, as crazy as that sounds.
Kenya is having a drought. It has been for many months, although it’s hard to imagine as I sit here surrounded by a near jungle of green in Nairobi. But upcountry, people and cattle are dying, crops are failing, and almost an entire population is losing hope in their future, at least the near future, which is sometimes the only one that matters. Here in Nairobi we’ve been able to keep up the facade of water springing eternal, especially in the richer areas of the city. But the facade is crumbling. I don’t know anyone who has water flowing through their pipes on a regular basis any more, most people have given up the luxury of showers and washing machines long ago, and yesterday a friend was longing for the simple satisfaction of just flushing without first lugging a bucket of already-used water to the toilet. On the compound where I live we have a bore hole that’s been providing steady water for us for months and makes the shortage seem distant and theoretical. But not for long. The bore hole is nearly empty and city council says it’s out of water completely, regardless of how much money you offer, which is quite a thing in this society where money can usually conjure up just about any magic you desire. And so, when every drop is precious, when people around us are actually dying for want of water, I just can’t see my three hour diaper-cycle on the washing machine or even the diaper pail full of water as being the responsible option. Thus the Pampers.
I’ve been developing this theory lately that most of our important decisions are not between right and wrong, but rather a prioritizing of values, and nothing seems to support that theory more than the decision that Pampers are the best choice for me right now. I face these priority dilemmas all the time. Eating organically is a value for me, but so is budgeting wisely and most of the time I have to choose which value will take precedent. I’m a pacifist, and as a Mennonite, this value is inseparable from my faith, but caring for my children is one of my most important life purposes and so any situation that puts those two values in conflict is necessarily going to require some heartwrenching prioritizing. I’m not arguing that there is no such thing as right and wrong, just that most of our life decisions are not nearly so straight forward. Which seems to call for a fair bit of grace when we’re judging other people’s decisions. It’s easy to conclude that other people are making wrong choices, but who knows what opposing values they’ve had to choose between. Maybe that irresponsible lady with the cart piled with Pampers is really a conflicted hippy, just trying to do the right thing.

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