With my recent trip to Ensenada still fresh on my mind, the title of this article caught my eye.
Though locations were different she captures the spirit of Latin America, and other poor cultures I have visited, so well. I think you will enjoy this whether you have travelled or not.
Lessons From South of the Border
“I just see some things differently now.” I was explaining to a friend after my recent trip to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Things here in the US just seem so orderly, rich, quiet, and…sterile.
In the month spent south of the border, I became accustomed to daily walks among throngs of Latin Americans who live their lives on busy streets buying and selling from each other, running for buses, walking to jobs, schools, pulling their pigs to market, carrying huge loads on their backs and heads leaving trickles of sweat on dusty streets.
From the early dawn wakeup calls of roosters and church bells to the late evening, throbbing is heard throughout the darkened city streets, I felt connected to the rhythms of daily life in a way that I miss here in the US.
My senses were awash each day with the sights, sounds, smells, and whirling vibrant activity of human interaction.
Horns beeping, bus attendants yelling out destinations, children laughing and kicking balls down crowded streets, women gesturing wildly to get a point across as they bargain in street markets, shoe-shine boys clamoring for business, sizzling onions and meat cooking at a street stall.
Then to add to the chaos, a car drives by with a blaring message from its enormous attached speakers announcing a dance that evening in the central park.
I sat in buses packed far past capacity with people being pushed along a sea of humanity toward their destinations. After a respite from the lively street scene, I’d jump off a barely stopped bus and rejoin the cacophony of sounds, the music of humans, living in all its confusion, joy, hardship, inter-dependence, and struggle.
I was as wide-eyed with amazement as the babies bouncing along on their mother’s backs.
“But isn’t it really poor and sad their?” a friend asks.
I think for a minute trying to understand my own mixed feelings. Why did it seem so rich, so vibrant, so alive when indeed the people have so very little?
The people of Latin America appear to enjoy the rich simplicity of life in a way that we don’t here. They don’t expect life to be easy and truly enjoy the times when things work out. They live in all its messy, disorderly, uncontrolled beauty seeming to understand their limits and their reliance on each other.
People here live behind closed doors in protection of their wealth, comfort, and things. Many don’t have to rub up against neighbors, depend on them, sit and talk until the wee hours about troubles, run for buses and sit next to them as we struggle to eke out a living.
We don’t wake to the same sounds as each other and go to sleep at night with opened windows and night air filled with laughter, crying and passion.
But the price we pay for our privacy, comfort, ease, and order is a sense of disconnection and loneliness. It’s possible to live out our days having little or no contact with neighbors, only impersonal contact with merchants, alone in our homes, isolated, and dependent on our cars, driving to jobs where we sit in cubicles, alone at computers, or home with young children away from the comforts of other mothers raising their children.
Lives like that can seem comfortable but there’s a trade off, one that leaves many Americans depressed and confused about where they belong in relation to others.
Here in America, we have to work hard to increase our sense of connection and community with each other (given our current culture and lifestyle) as people in other parts of the world have to work to put food on the table.
It is a goal worth pursuing.