Weave your own clothes?…Build your own house in a day from materials straight out of your own back yard?… Cultivate your own field of corn, rice and beans?… Build your own canoe from the trunk of a tree?
Well… Can you?
I bet that if you’re a privileged, white person from one of the “First World” nations, you probably answered “no” to most or all of these questions.
You might be thinking, “Who can do all these things?”
The indigenous people of Central America can. They’ve been doing it for centuries, and they will continue to pass these skills onto their future generations, unless their habitat and natural resources are destroyed due to the insane agenda of my country of birth (the U.S.), among other First World nations who are hell-bent on exploiting the natural resources of the world as fast as possible.
Unlike most of my fellow Americans, I was willing to admit that my life of privilege in the U.S. meant that I agreed to consume more than I needed as well as fund wars every time I paid my taxes. In my mid-thirties, I abandoned my life of privilege in exchange for a humbler, simpler life. I packed my bags, quit my job, donated most of my belongings to a charity, and came to southern Belize, Central America … sight unseen.
I’m not mentally handicapped or mentally ill, as many of my friends and family have insisted I must be (“Why would you quit your job?”… “You ruined your career” … “You must be crazy”…). I’ve already reflected and written about this here.
I exchanged my career, my cushy job, my new car, my proximity to family and Walmart and fancy movie theaters for the life I’m now living, which is much more sane than the life I would be living, had I stayed in my country of birth and continued serving the ruling elite in their agenda of planetary destruction. I chose to live a principled life instead of the privileged life I was handed by virtue of my birth and heritage.
Within a year of moving to Belize, I’d purchased an acre of fertile land on the outskirts of a small town where I found other counter-cultural ex-pats who shared my values: We’d left behind our lives of privilege in the First World to learn how to grow our own food, live off the grid in simple, thatch-roof houses, and attempt to acculturate in a Third World country.
Over the past five years, I’ve wanted to give up many times. But I made friends with the locals and learned from them. I improved my Spanish fluency to the point where I could joke around with the locals and haggle in the street markets. I learned how to be more resourceful and get by with less.
I’m glad I persisted, though I often feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced—sometimes terrified—every day. But I’m definitely not bored. In spite of the obvious challenges of living as a white woman in a Third World country, I choose to live a life based on principle instead of a life of privilege.
I now have my own small, thatch-roof hut with no electricity or municipal services. I now have a small garden of fruits and vegetables. I can now say that I prefer to live south of the border than in my country of birth.
I still have a lot to learn.
When I lived in the U.S., I used to think that I should come down here and “help” the poor people. In my blind state of privilege and hubris, I thought I had something valuable to offer. Then I actually came down here, to the Third World, and I gradually realized that instead of trying to “help” the indigenous people, what I actually needed to do was learn from them. After all, I’d been pushing pencils my entire life as an academic seated at a desk in air-conditioned rooms. I hadn’t gotten my hands dirty, hauled buckets of water, or any of the other forms of manual labor that are part of the fabric of life here.
I’d hammered a nail into a piece of wood … mmmm, maybe once?… Suffice it to say: I had a lot to learn. I had the sense enough to get over my pride and get humble enough to learn from the indigenous people.
Locals with whom I’ve had the pleasure to become friends have kindly and patiently taught me a lot of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t come down here and been willing to learn: how to plant rice, how to sharpen a machete, how to build a thatch roof, how to milk a cow, how to cultivate coconut trees, etc., etc…. The skills I’ve learned over the course of five years have enriched my life to the point where I no longer consider the local people to be “poor”; on the contrary, I now consider people in privileged, First World nations to be the poor ones, while the indigenous people are rich beyond our understanding.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend from the U.S. She told me that she had to put her mother, age 89, in a nursing home, because everybody in her family was too busy with their jobs to take care of her.
“That’s unheard of down here,” I told her. “Nursing homes don’t exist in Central America, unless they’re funded and built by Americans who value such a thing. The people down here don’t understand the concept of putting their elders in a nursing home.”
She said, “I can understand why you like living down there.”
I replied, “It’s a saner culture.”
Here, old people live in multi-generational homes, usually in one room where everybody sleeps beside each other, wakes up together, cooks together, eats together, and celebrates … together.
The fact is that vast majority of people in the world live on less than 10 dollars a day in a state of what we would call “poverty”, but when you look at it from a certain standpoint, maybe we privileged white people from the First World are the “poor” ones.
It’s a Faustian bargain: We white people live a life of privilege in the First World in exchange for living in a rat race where we barely have time to talk to each other. If it’s hot outside, we close ourselves off from nature in air-conditioned rooms and complain about the heat whenever we have to walk to our fancy cars. We spend more time on our fancy tablets and smart phones than we do talking to our kids and our elders. We eat poor quality fast food, get sick and don’t have time to exercise. We bury ourselves in debt until we die and get buried in fancy cemeteries. We rely on specialists instead of learning how to do basic skills ourselves.
On and on and on… We privileged people are an abomination: We’re indulgent and spoiled without even realizing it. We’ve sold our souls to the devil, and the devil would have us believe that we are the best. That we have it all.
In a desperate, vain attempt to assuage our deep-seated guilt, we take trips to foreign countries and make donations to good causes. Sorry Charlie, but that’s not enough. It was never enough and will never be enough.
A friend of mine, a reluctant messiah of a message that no one wants to hear, points out in his incisive writings that we should have dismantled the whole rat race and stopped being hamster cogs in the giant wheel a long time ago. But in our selfishness and denial of reality, we failed to do so. We settled for a life of privilege in exchange for destroying our own planet. To deny it is to ignore the undeniable facts.
From an economic standpoint, Third World countries are poor because of the disparity created by First World domination and appropriation of resources. In a saner arrangement, we’d all have enough, and we’d all be living like the indigenous people of the Third World: getting by on less than 10 dollars a day, building our own houses, healing our bodies with medicine from the plants we cultivate in our own back yards.
I don’t know where we privileged white people get off thinking that we can come down to Third World countries and redeem ourselves by leaving stuff behind as donations and then returning to our jobs, our big houses, our big cars….
I suppose I can have compassion for the hubris of white people who think they need to “help” the poor, indigenous people. I’m guilty of it, too. I came to Belize, Central America over five years ago with the same pompous attitude. I was born and bred in a culture of privilege where I never had to pick up a broom or pull weeds out of the garden or get my hands dirty, unless I was playing in a sand box in my school playground. I understand the mentality of trying to help people who are less privileged than me. Yet, I no longer participate in it. Instead, I left my life of privilege behind and chose to live and work with the indigenous people, gradually developing appreciation, respect and admiration.
Here, indigenous people learn how to survive without industrial inputs before they learn to walk. Meanwhile, we privileged white people show up in Third World countries in large tour groups, in shiny vans with shiny, new suitcases and shiny, new shoes, determined to save the world with a few donations of shiny, new “stuff” that we assume the villagers need.
An indigenous wisdom keeper once shared a story with me from her childhood. She remembered how a bunch of volunteers from the U.S. showed up in her ancestral village in Honduras with a truckload of shoes for all the children. It was a custom in her village for the indigenous people to walk around barefoot, because they believe that our feet are our “soul”: When we walk barefoot, we stay connected to the earth.
After the white people had dropped off the shoes and left the village, all the people gathered, threw the shoes into a large pile and set it on fire. My friend recalled with a smile how she stood there beside her mother, watching the shoes burn for hours.
Reality check: The villagers have been getting by just fine without these shiny, new things for centuries, and they’ll keep getting by, with or without us.
If one is willing to slow down and examine what lies at the root of our predicament, as I do daily in quiet, seated meditation, I can clearly see that fear is the primary motivation. We privileged, white people are afraid that we are not good enough. That we don’t have enough. We believe we are not enough. So, we desperately build more… faster, better, bigger, more … more … more…. on and on and on.
It’s a culture of insanity rooted in a culturally inherited inferiority complex that would have us assert our dominance over nature and other less developed nations, thereby proving to ourselves that we are better. Bigger. Faster. More.
Fear is, ultimately, like a raging river fed by rivulets of comparing oneself to others. Fear motivates all kinds of insane, disordered behavior and activities designed to deceive oneself into becoming better or more than what we thought we were before.
What if I’m enough, right now, just as I am? What if I don’t have to race like a rat in a maze designed to keep me confused and busy? What if I can slow down and enjoy my life?
What if I accept that I have enough… I am enough…. There is enough… for everybody?
If I am willing to accept reality as it is, without the overlay of my culturally inherited inferiority complex and concomitant disordered behavior and thinking, then I might start living more like the indigenous people of the Third world. Getting by with less. Being satisfied with less. Living well with the natural resources that surround me. Without needing to assert my dominance over nature, other humans, or other species.
Please, do yourself and the world a favor. Don’t go on a weeklong excursion to a foreign country in the Third World thinking that you can drop off a load of toothbrushes and parasite medicine and then return to the U.S. feeling good about yourself. The indigenous people are likely to forget about the toothbrushes, and the parasites will be back in two months, anyway. Besides, the herbs and plants in their gardens can do a much better job of getting rid of parasites than your medicine. Like I mentioned already, they’ve been getting by just fine for centuries with or without us sticking our long, European noses into their simple, humble lives.
We privileged white people assume that we are helping indigenous people with handouts, when our charity might actually be harmful, or at the very least, unnecessary….. Consider for a moment that indigenous people know how to do most everything themselves, while we rely on paid specialists and laborers to do most everything for us: mow our lawns, build our houses, take care of our animals, grow our food. If you’re a white person living in a First World country, when’s the last time you did any of that yourself without complaining or paying somebody to do it for you?
I’d suggest you try what you might consider impossible, or at least, more challenging: Stay here for longer than a week. Get to know the people. Live with them. Get your hands dirty learning from them instead of just leaving your money behind and getting on a plane to get back to your job, your big house, your mortgage payments, etc, etc….
Stop thinking you’re not good enough, and look inside of yourself to realize that you already have enough. Stop acquiescing to the agenda of people who would have you believe that you need the next best product… faster, better, bigger… more.
I am enough.
I have everything I need, right here, right now.
I don’t need to go looking outside of myself.
I enjoy my life.