BESIDES BEING CHEAP, WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT NICARAGUA AND THAILAND?
I’ve found that people without much money are often more sweet- natured than people who have more than enough. They’re also inclined to be more generous with what they have, and with their time. I know such a statement could be considered to be so general as to be meaningless, but it has been my experience in traveling to places where the median income is very low.
Thailand has some awfully fancy shopping malls, and some really spoiled rich kids who are as addicted to their iPhones and iPads as any kids on the planet, but there are millions and millions of Thais who live much as their Lao and Cambodian neighbors do. For them, it’s Ireland before World War II. It’s rural America before the Depression. Kids know where eggs come from, and chickens, as well.
There is a natural beauty to children at play outdoors that you don’t find in monitored play groups at institutions. That’s what I’m looking for. No consent forms to sign, no driving kids to scheduled activities. It has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, but now it’s almost absent in America. You don’t see or hear kids playing tag in the streets or ranging through a neighborhood. They’re all indoors playing Xbox or watching TV.
Emerging democracies have their own growing pains, and the spoilage caused by rapid development is heartbreaking to watch, but they still have more of what I’m looking for than has been retained in the American landscape. I don’t want to drive to a shopping or strip mall and choose between franchises. If my opportunities for socialization involve a choice between church and shopping, I’ll take neither.
In Nicaragua, people in cities and towns set up rocking chairs on the sidewalk in front of their house. Then, in the darkening twilight, they rock and visit with neighbors who stroll by. Of course, this habit is dwindling, and you can see the flicker of a television inside most livings rooms, but until it dies out completely, and the giant flat-screen TV dominates all activity in the home, I’d rather stroll around my neighborhood and chat with folks.
How else are you going to learn the language? You can’t learn a language by only a few hours a week in class. Most of the learning comes in forcing yourself to use it on the hoof. You can’t remember vocabulary unless you can trick yourself into forming emotional connections with the words. Those come from talking to real people with whom you are developing real relationships, not from scanning lists of words in a book.
It’s thrilling to come alive again in somewhere that hasn’t lost most of its messy human-ness. To eat where the food hasn’t first been shrink-wrapped, to drive into the countryside where uncertainty awaits. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is predetermined. It’s life on life’s terms. Could turn out great, could be awful, but at least there’s a sense of adventure lurking somewhere.
I know I’m romanticizing these places because I’m a foreigner, and since I didn’t grow up here I find novelty where others who have lived there whole lives here might find only drudgery. But I think there’s more at work here than the sense of novelty I’m finding. I think there’s a difference between real and illusory, human and inhuman, life and death.
One out of five people I know back in the States is hooked on anti-depressants. Their well-intentioned doctors sadly inform them that they shouldn’t try to wean themselves from these expensive drugs, because then the depression will reoccur. Then, like a lobotomized patient, the doctor recites the tired old lie about a chemical deficiency in the brain that is not likely to go away, necessitating a lifetime on the pills. This is nonsense. Lethal nonsense. It is, at best, a self-fulfilling prophesy.