Living in a developing country for an extended period of time irrefutably gives you a different perspective on life- and the one you left behind. The faucet has been letting out dark brown water as a result of the heavy rains that are a daily part of life this time of the year. Despite the fact that upwards of 97% of tap water in Guatemala is contaminated, when your toilet looks like a chocolate fountain it is obvious a brief opening of the mouth in the shower will likely result in hours on the crapper. Yesterday I took a warm shower under the murky water. I am fairly certain I am at least a tad bit cleaner than before I showered. This may seem to be a negative experience, but having a shower, a warm one at that, is actually a convenience. We recently went through a three week drought without water here in my aldea. Likewise, in comparison to the tarp outside my neighbors use as a showering area, I am quite fortunate. I have experienced a change of perspective in a plethora of areas, from everyday accommodations to larger scale issues.
Later in the week I will be taking a 10+ hour round trip to the capital, Guatemala City, to meet with a doctor. I won’t deny a 10+ hour trip is exhausting to anyone and I am not particularly looking forward to it or the possibility of pooping myself on the bus. This access to healthcare, funded by the U.S., gives me a huge advantage over the large majority of Guatemalans. In general, most developing countries do not have organized healthcare. Unfortunately, many of these countries additionally have the highest child bearing rates; family planning and population control are significant issues to be aided as well. (A topic which could be expanded on exponentially, but requires their cultural perspective to be considered in the solution.)
Being away from the United States has made me aware of a sense of entitlement many of us hold. I highly doubt I would have joined the Peace Corps without medical coverage nor do I feel anyone in the world should be without it. The harsh reality is a majority of the world is without medical coverage. In a nutshell, Peace Corps has taught me appreciation. Yes, new medical coverage plans in the U.S. may result in longer lines, but at least there is a line to wait in. I have experienced a similar change in perspective regarding schooling. This past week we held a half-day training with 15+ teachers regarding the implementation of environmental education into their lesson plans. In the middle of a water classification workshop, a number of the teachers had an extremely hard time with simple math (i.e. 1% of 1,000). Calculating that only 1% of the earth’s water is usable fresh water was a difficult task for a handful of those who are teaching the kids. This gave me a differing perspective and deeper sense of appreciation.
Yes, we should always strive to improve our lives, our systems, our regulations, etc. Yes, long-lines, high-unemployment rates, and not having the highest education system in the world can be frustrating. But taking a step back and taking a look at life from a global perspective can sometimes make all the difference. In fact, I could make a lengthy list of individuals who would give it all, even leave their families to illegally flee to the states to send back remittances, to see their children make it through high-school.
I will be back in the U.S. of Awesome in just two weeks for a visit. I can’t wait to appreciate a clean/hot/sandal-less shower, delicious food, comfortable transportation, and my loving family and friends. In the meantime, it is important to be aware of my change in perspective, while continuing to take everything with a sense of humor.
|Toothbrush holders in the classrooms|
|Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.-Christopher Morley|