Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Two different worlds, and something to be said for both of them

Thetis Lake
  I've found myself using the phrase, “And the infrastructure here!” a lot since arriving back on the Island from Honduras, so I guess that must be one of the things that has struck me most now that I am back to the life of a Canadian.
    But in truth, there are so many points of comparison, good and bad. I do like sewage pipes big enough to embrace toilet paper, and water that comes straight out of the tap ready to drink. And the green spaces – well, I’m ecstatic about the green spaces. Honduras has the right climate for amazing public boulevards but at the moment there are hardly any, so just walking along the Gorge appreciating Saanich’s free flower and plant display is a rush for me these days.
    On the downside, people are much less friendly here as they pass each other on the street. I’m really struck by how many people go out of their way to not make eye contact with the passing stranger, or even drop their gaze just at the point where a person might otherwise say, “Hello!” Walking in Honduras was a festival of “Holas!” and “Buenas Tardes!” because everybody greets everybody there. I’m missing that.
    As for that infrastructure, there’s just no comparison. Canadians have some amazing infrastructure. The roads! The signal lights! The beautiful public washrooms! Every day since we arrived last Wednesday, I’ve found myself appreciating some aspect of good old Canadian infrastructure while reflecting on the lack of it in the country I just came from. Not only are the sidewalks wide enough to accommodate walking abreast or even the occasional errant cyclist, they’re even level and well-maintained, and none of them ends in a leg-busting dropoff.
Riverside in a San Pedro slum
     On the downside, I wonder increasingly whether having everything just so nice makes us a bit  tense and cranky as a society. There is a certain tendency here to look for reasons to get angry at people for breaking the rules, and I don’t just mean the tenant in my mom’s apartment building who is currently harassing Mom’s 83-year-old sister and her husband for making too much noise.
    The noise went on and on in Honduras, and I do admit that sometimes I was not happy at all to hear it. There were times where Paul and I couldn’t hear each other inside the house mere metres apart, because there was some car blasting up the street right outside the front of our house.
    But you know, life’s too short for feeling mad at people. Something’s gained and something’s lost when we create a society as controlled as Canada’s. I've learned in this time away that there’s a strange freedom to just giving into the noises of the world around you and letting go of that strange bitterness that can manifest in developed cultures when other people won’t do what we say. At any rate, isn't that why they invented ear plugs?
     My friends and co-workers from Honduras would be awed by this place. Three of them went to Wisconsin for a week during my time there, and they came raving about the highway rest stops and the autumn leaves. Imagine if they saw B.C. I feel like being away for more than two years is letting me see this place of ours through Honduran eyes, and it is a knockout.
    As much as we like to gripe about our governments and our taxes here in Canada, we have been blessed with decades and decades of governments and citizens who have given us the gifts of unbelievable infrastructure, parkland, well-educated children, Medicare, well-paid jobs, old-age security, social support. I have never appreciated Canadian-style government more than during these two years of living in a country that virtually didn’t have a government in any kind of meaningful way. Thank your lucky stars, people.
    We are much older here. I see that in all the faces that look like mine, whereas half of Honduras’s population is under 25. I was always so much older than anyone else in the room when I was meeting with my co-workers or doing just about anything in a group in Honduras; all my co-workers, even my boss in Copan, were young enough to be my kids. Here, people in their 50s and up are the majority. It’s neither good nor bad, just different. Definitely a different energy.
     We have much more money, of course. And much, much more stuff. But I wouldn’t level that as a criticism against Canadians, because I think everyone in Honduras would love to have a life like so many of ours, full of things to buy and money to buy them. (I’m convinced Honduras is ripe for a chain of good second-hand furniture stores with really fair prices, because you would not believe how fast our furniture sold in the days before we left Copan Ruinas last week. I even sold my potted plants.)
    I miss the heat of Honduras. But I love the long days of Victoria. I miss all the dogs that used to ramble around the streets. But it’s nice now to see nothing but fat and happy dogs with healthy fur.
    I don't think I ever would have considered that having dogs rambling around free was fun. But in fact, the practice let me get to know some really special dogs, including the one we brought home with us. Sure, sure, I dream of a world where every dog is a wanted dog. But that’s not to say there isn't a lot of pleasure in just developing relationships with strays and hungry canine neighbours who show up at your door for food and affection.
    People have told me that some of my posts remind them of all the things we have to be grateful of as Canadians. That is so true. Anyone who thinks that less government would be good for the country really ought to get on down to Honduras and just take a look at how that’s going for them. I know more than ever now that good governance and responsible, organized use of public money are absolutely critical to everything. 
    But at the same time, I’d caution against believing that everything is better in Canada.
    Ultimately, Canada is probably the country I would wish for on behalf of my friends in Honduras, because they would love to live like this. They want jobs that pay what they’re worth, health benefits, good schools and opportunities for their kids. They would like to have a 65-kilometre drive on a great road that takes 40 minutes, rather than a bumpy, dangerous and slow weaving trip that takes an hour and three quarters. Just like us, they want their kids to be well-schooled and well set up for a good life. They would go crazy for potable water and incredible internet speeds.
    But now I feel a new connection to another kind of life, too. It’s messy and uncertain, but also compelling and warm, in every sense. It’s a life that reminds you of the sheer persistence of the human race, in the face of all kinds of weirdness and unfortunate developments. There are Hondurans who are actually 100% self-sustaining, and with none of the hullabaloo and fanfare that greet such rare practices in our over-served land.
    On the one hand, I am glad to be from a country that doesn’t let strangers just wander on up to an orphanage and start hanging out with the kids, even taking them to the pool unescorted. On the other, that aspect of our lives in Copan Ruinas, hanging out with the Angelitos Felices children, was an amazing part of our two years there.
    In Honduras, there is no real option except to trust that someone means you no harm, because no one's going to do anything about it anyway. There might be laws or a regulation, but no one is enforcing them. Here, we leave nothing to chance. Those have been two interesting extremes to contemplate.
    So. Get on out there and enjoy a green space you especially like, and think about all those generations before you who did their part to leave you that gift. Take along a water bottle filled straight out of the tap. If you’re a cyclist, look down at that bike lane you’re riding in and think about how something like that didn't just happen. 
    Then put your head up and say hi to whoever passes. We've got a lot of things to be happy for in this country. Smile.


Ivo Serenthà said...

My compliments for your blog and pictures included,I invite you in my photoblog "photosphera".


Greetings from Italy


Cori Howard said...

So interesting! I was a journalist for many years too and now work in communications. Used to live in Costa Rica and have a permanent urge to return to live and work in Latin America. Hopefully one day soon! Would love to keep up with your transition back into Canadian life! Bet you have a book in you now!

Diane said...

Thank you. So often we take our places and situations for granted. Thanks for the opportunity to reminded of what we have or don't have. I love where I work and saying,ÍY SȻÁĆEL in SENĆOŦEN to everyone and hearing it back. Hello would be nice downtown.
Beunos Noches!

Anonymous said...

I felt like you only wrote on the good part of Canada, nothing about our homeless, nothing about our poverty, we all can`t go out kayaking on the gorge, money, ability, and many of the other problems in life get in the way. No talk about our murdered and missing women or building jails instead of housing. Written more like a tourist invite rather than reality for 20% of Canadian children who go to bed hungry!

Ian Lidster said...

Well dear, you darn well made me appreciate what we have in a society that is often downright spoiled despite our tendency to bitch about minutiae. I found your point about the age demographic disparity interesting. I had never considered that. Anyway a beautifully composed item that entry was, and bravo for White Dog. Would love so much to see you when you get a chance.