By “we,” I mean you and me. And by “you,” I mean most of my readers. We live in Northern America, most of us in the United States. A very developed, First World kind of place. We’re very wealthy here. I don’t care if you’re “middle class,” live paycheck to paycheck, or are even currently unemployed. Most of us know where our next meal is coming from, be it the grocery store or take-out. And I’m willing to bet most of us have seen the inside of a Starbucks before.
I think what I’m experiencing now that I’m home is a bit of culture shock. Where I stayed was lovely. But right outside the walled perimeter of the property, people were living in poverty. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I got used to seeing run down houses, graffiti covered walls and small, beat-up cars.
When I entered my home that first night, my immediate comment was, “Has it always looked this nice?” The next day driving to Publix, I marveled at everything. All the lawns were so green and manicured! All the buildings so neat and clean! And all the cars so big and shiny! We have money here to spend on pretty pictures to hang on our walls. Art. It doesn’t do anything. You can’t eat it. It serves no purpose whatsoever except our enjoyment. Imagine that. How strange.
And the grocery store! What a plethora of choices! In one aisle alone there are at least 15 types of crackers. And everything is clean and refrigerated and in plastic. Meat is virtually undistinguishable from the animal it came from. Contrast that to this open air market outside of Celestun, Yucatan. It’s not hard to figure out what kind of meat is for sale here!
I was reminded of my comparative wealth all the time. Neydi and Lidia, the two women with whom I spent most of my time, lived a few blocks from where I was staying. On one of my first days there, Neydi found a packet of crackers I’d thrown away, unopened, crushed by airline bag handlers. She wagged her finger at me. “This no garbage.” I didn’t throw out unopened food again. I gave them all my uneaten groceries when I left, but I was embarrassed by how much there was. How often do we buy more than we can eat? I used to throw away food I’d let spoil all the time. I’ll be more aware of it now.
An hour away, in the city of Merida, I gave Neydi and her daughter, Sarahi, their first introduction to Starbucks. “Starbucks only for rich people,” Neydi said. For once, I knew my way around someplace they did not. I explained we had to order at the counter and then sit. How many Starbucks have you been in? For crying out loud, there’s one on every corner!
I think it’s important to get this kind of perspective and only travel can give it to you. And I’m not talking about the kind of filtered experience you get looking at the world through tour bus windows either. Cruise ships came to the town where I was staying, but those were the days I preferred to stay at the pool. And not a five star hotel pool either. On cruise days, the prices went up and the English music came on. And there is something profoundly wrong with listening to Michael Bolton on the streets of Mexico.
I was in search of an authentic experience and I think I got one. These are the experiences that make you grateful for what you have, simply because you were fortunate enough to be born into a First World country and not a Third World one. So consider that the next time you sit down to pay the bills and lament your money troubles. And consider venturing out to see how the rest of the world lives. You just might gain some perspective.
P.S. Enjoy the rest of the market photos. I’m including them for those of you that missed them on Facebook and because they’re just so darn pretty and interesting.