As I leave Boston which is the last stop of my two month-long trip, I am yet again reminded about how different my life has become mainly because of two things : Being a Bahai and having grown up in El Salvador.
Usually, in Hollywood films we see the poor impoverished boy finally going off into the sunset to the United States and the hope of a better life. The End. Roll Credits. But I am grateful for having the opportunity to have grown up in a third world country. ( A term which I strongly hate and don’t believe in…but it’s hard to find another term for it.) I know that I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t had this opportunity. In case you think I am nuts here are some reasons why :
1. It allowed me the chance to realize how big the world is, how diverse it is and how many new places there is to discover.
Look, I started travelling when I was six months old. I realized that there was much more in the world, that the way I thought was not necessarily the same as others and I learnt all the colors of the rainbow were beautiful. I learnt this at a very young age. I grew up celebrating diversity.
2. I learnt the true meaning of wealth.
I am really , really lucky. I have running water, electricity, cable television and two cars. I also have an ability to travel because of my dual citizenship and contacts around the world.
I have seen firsthand metal shacks with no electricity, people without a lot of food or basic comfort. But I would argue, sometimes they are really wealthy. Because some of them have family, a sense of community that others didn’t have.
I was always in shock to see the comparison of kids satisfied and grateful for one toy and then going to the states where kids had rooms filled with unused toys. To see so much waste, huge portions , insane amount of spending.
There are some people who might seem poor but they own their own land, they grow their own food and don’t have any debts. Even though society has taught us the opposite, in reality they are pretty wealthy.
With so much technology we are losing this ability to appreciate such simple pleasures, as people become increasingly more in debt to buy the latest gadget but in simpler times some were satisfied with very little. Today developing nations aspire to as much stuff as first world countries and slowly this simple way to appreciate life is disappearing.
This is not to say that people do not aspire for more, but they know the difference between necessity and unecessary.
I am also now discovering that true wealth has nothing to do with what you possess but in the qualities which you acquire in life, your ability to share those qualities, and acquiring more knowledge to keep contributing positively to those around you.( Don’t get me wrong I love stuff too!)
3. Finding the comfort in discomfort
Appreciating water when you don’t have it for days on end makes you check how you use that precious resource. Sleeping in very uncomfortable circumstances when we went up to rural areas to teach kids when I was around 12 made me appreciate the bed I had. Not having electricity in a blackout makes you find ways to entertain yourself that doesn’t involve television, or the internet. ( This rarely happens now but it did when i was a kid)
Human beings are incredibly versatile, and they have an ability to find ways to adapt. We just don’t allow ourselves the chance to do so.
4. Learning to appreciate the little things
When i grew up during the civil war, it was quite commonplace to have bomb drills, to hear the sounds of violence outside. Even today, you would never think of going outside at night. It was so great when I had that opportunity in Europe. I appreciated it much more because I knew that there were a lot of people around the world who weren’t able to go outside at night.
5. Learning to Share
I always knew that others sometimes could not travel where I did, and those that could didn’t want to. So I wrote. Writing was a way to realize that I had to share with others my experiences. They were not my own but merely borrowed for a time.
6. The beauty of community.
You would think that people who have little resources would be selfish and individualistic. The opposite tends to be true. The less people have, the more willing they are to share and the easier they open their hearts and their homes. In the countryside, people would offer up meat that was their weekly supply all so I would feel remotely comfortable. You would have to learn to not go into the houses during lunch time because they will literally offer up everything they have. An old man once pointed to the sky and told me : The only thing that is important is God and ” ( he tapped his heart and then point to the ground and made an obsolete gesture as if to say God and Love that’s all that matters).
7. Not everything the media says is true
I learnt from a very young age that a lot of the way the country was depicted was a lie in the media. The news would project an image that is not necessarily a real one just to be sensational and to give an idea that there is so much difference between the United States and third world countries. The reality is far different. Yes there is poverty, but people have paved roads, and television, art and cable and a lot of other technologies. There is education, and freedom and an ability to think for themselves. They have amazing ideas which comes from their own culture. But they are taught that somehow, that isn’t good enough. That First world countries offer Better Things. They are taught to hate who they are.
The Power of Hospitality
When someone who is a foreigner comes here, people go out of their way to make them feel welcome. They offer their house even if they have nowhere to stay, give food without ever charging a dime and pick and drop them off places. They do so without expecting anything in return but to get to know someone else. This is their home and they will make them feel welcome.
I have been to countries – especially in Europe- where I am always shocked to see exactly the opposite. People never offer their homes and tend to make people feel unwelcome . It is out of the norm to go out of your way for strangers, foreigners and outsiders and even family members. You are expected to fend for yourself. The motto is ” You came here, it’s your problem not mine”.
Look, in order to survive a city like Madrid, or London or Boston you need to have your wits on you and rely only on yourself. You need to have the ability to find and discover things on your own. But it’s sad that we lose this sense of collective community in the process. I can honestly say that in El Salvador people really treat everyone as one big family.
I learnt from being in El Salvador how important that is. ( Of course I am half Italian and that is a big part of the culture as well.)
The Power of Divine Acquiesence
El Salvador alone has gone through earthquakes, civil wars, poverty, dictatorships, bloodshed, and anything in between. Yet a lot of people don’t complain. They brush things off and continue on because they have to. They don’t dwell. They had an earthquake where hundreds died at the same time as 911 yet no one brings it up. They can’t afford to, they have to keep on living. When you have really gone through a lot you have to be resilient, and find happiness and gratitude even in times of great hardship.
Look, there are a lot of things I have learnt from being in all the different countries I have lived in . The world is a beautiful fabric that weaves all our imperfect threads to make a wonderful and diverse quilt. Hopefully I can only continue to discover all of it’s nooks and crannies.