Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Worry: There's no escape

Long, slow drives to distant communities are opportunities for interesting conversations with my co-workers, as there’s often just me and one of the guys in the truck. We've talked about workers’ rights, Canadian salaries, time management, trades training, attitudes toward homosexuality – you name it.
    “Why do so many people in Canada and the U.S. use drugs?” asked a co-worker last week during one such conversation. Hoo-boy, I thought to myself. Tough question.
    Making a living in the illegal-drug business is something a significant number of Hondurans are intimately familiar with, but there’s not much of a culture (yet) of using drugs and alcohol. Could be the lack of money, could be the Christianity. But it also strikes me that Hondurans just don’t have the drive to experience an altered state in the same way that those of us from privileged countries do.
    I speculated that people in my country just seemed a little more anxious and stressed-out about things, and that they use drugs and alcohol to take the edge off. I think my co-worker was a bit baffled by the idea that people would feel anxious even when they've got 10 times the resources and options that a typical Honduran has. We got to talking about whether there’s a certain amount of worry that people need in their lives.
    If you’re a typical Honduran, you might fill your worry quotient with fears about growing enough food for the off-season, paying your child’s school tuition next month, getting that festering wound on your leg looked at even though you have no money for medical care or transport to the clinic. You’d worry about your day-to-day job, being extorted by thugs on your morning bus ride, how to keep your teenage son from getting killed by the narco-traficantes he has taken up with.
    Few people from a country like mine have those kind of problems. But they might be worrying about where their life’s going, or whether they should quit their job. They wonder if their spouse still loves them. If they've got enough money for retirement. If they're living life to the max. If their children are happy.
    So we're all worrying, but about very different things. Managing problems through drugs and alcohol isn solution for any kind of worry, but I would think that it’s a lot better of a fit with anxiety-type worries in a middle-class country than it is with basic issues of survival. There’s just no margin for error when you live as close to the edge as so many Hondurans do.
    A middle-class Canadian misusing drugs or alcohol will eventually pay the price by way of risking their job, family, hard-earned savings and self-respect, but most of us could go years and years before anything bad actually happened. A campesino who takes up alcohol as a way out of his farming troubles puts his life and that of his family at immediate risk.
    Would my co-worker understand the developed world’s healthy appetite for drugs and alcohol if I told all of this to him? I don’t think I have the words to explain middle-class angst and anxiety to people who have never had the luxury of getting past survival. 
    I don’t know whether my co-worker feels heartened to learn that even when people have the life he wishes he had, they still have things that weigh heavily on their minds. But so it goes. And so the drugs move from south to north, adding a few more worries at both ends as they pass through. 

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