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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Surprising Link with the People of Eritrea

Last week, my wife sent me a questionnaire to determine where I stood, weight-wise, in comparison to the rest of the world.  I typed in the relative numbers, and learned that I weighed less than 97% of the men in my age group in the United States, and less than 83% of such men in the world.  This came as such a pleasant surprise that I called up my wife and took her out to lunch.

I’m not really sure what to make of these statistics.  I know the average weight in this country is rising.  My own weight has varied over time.  Growing up, I was always on the heavy side, and for most of my life I’ve weight at least forty pounds more than I do today.  Counting my calories has not only removed the weight and kept it off, but it’s ensured I don’t eat M&Ms by the handful when my mood sinks, and has improved my self-image.

What intrigued me most about the questionnaire was how it ranked me in comparison with the average BMI (Body Mass Index) of other countries.  According to the World Health Organization, I have the most in common, weight-wise, with the people of Eritrea, a country on the horn of Africa.  Its citizens stare across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia & Yemen, the latter country being notable, in fiction at least, for its promising Salmon fishing industry (see the Ritz Cinema link below).  The Eritreans have been ruled by the same president for nineteen years, and have a single-party government.  They receive their news solely from government sources, which ranks them below North Korea on their openness to outside reporters. 

I grew up in the Nazarene Church, not one recognized by the Eritrean government.  So, after my parents had been thrown in prison (and perhaps tortured), had they been willing to convert, I might have been brought up in the dominant Orthodox Church, or been raised as a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran.  Otherwise, my parents would have remained in prison without charge or trial, and I would have grown up as a street urchin.  But even if they had opted to become Lutherans, which seems the closest to Nazarene belief and practice, we would have been in the minority, as the population is largely divided between Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims.  As national events are tied to the Christian (Orthodox) calendar, unless the Lutherans observed the same religious year, again, my parents and I would have been cultural outsiders.

In a country in which 80% of the population survives on subsistence farming, my parents would likely have raised crops or tended animals.  While education is available to all, I doubt my parents could have paid the school fees, given their status not only as farmers, but also as reluctant converts to a minority religious group.  But even if they had managed such a feat, given the state-controlled media environment, I find it doubtful I would have aspired to be a novelist.  It goes without saying that I probably wouldn’t have a computer, let alone a blog.

One of the reasons we love Fantasy is because it’s fun to imagine becoming a knight, wizard, or king (or their female equivalents).  We love to imagine that if we lived in a different place and time, our lives could be more glamorous.  But I found it interesting to muse on what my life might have been like, based upon my family’s background and beliefs, had I grown up in an African country I hadn’t heard of before I completed the questionnaire.  Suddenly, life here didn’t seem so bad, even if I’ve yet to fulfill all my personal goals.  Perhaps I ought to call my wife and thank her again for sending me the questionnaire.  No, better yet, maybe I’ll take her out for a celebratory lunch.

Musing on my weight-relations,
Dragon Dave

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