Early this afternoon me and three medical students were returning to my little, mountain pueblo in the Dominican Republic from our trip to a rural region of Haiti. I leaned back in the car and asked them what they thought about what we had just seen.
One of them said that returning here made him feel both angry and guilty because of the extreme poverty and hopelessness he saw in Haiti.
I made it a point to say, "You do realize that we are in a poor part of a 3rd world country right now, right?"
It's important to keep some perspective.
We took a health survey of houses near my pueblo yesterday.
One of the houses was about 2 kilometers from the nearest road. We had to hike to get there. It was a one room house with 12 people living in it. One of the kids had obvious signs of malnutricion (for instance, his hair had begun to lose color).
There was no kitchen or bathroom (or even a latrine). No electricity or running water. And worst of all, no floor in the house. Only dirt.
Almost everyone there had been born and raised in that house. Most of whom were less than 12 years old. Their normal diets didn't include fruits, vegetables, or meat, just rice and yucca.
And yet this wasn't unusual. We visit several more houses that day without floors, bathrooms or running water. Where the adults in the house couldn't even remember the names of all the people living there, much less their ages. Where no one had incomes of any kind.
And still you need to put this into perspective. Because even this situation looked relatively wealthy compared to what we just saw in Haiti.
In Haiti, kids spent much of their time waiting alongside the dirt road for a car to come by to beg from. One woman offered to sell her baby to us as we drove by. Malnutricion is the rule, not the exception.
Even the landscape was depressing. It was dry and without shade from the tropical sun. Most of the trees had been cut down, and it seemed like its been months since the last rain. It's amazing how much things can change in just a couple kilometers.
None of the houses had floors, electricity, running water, or much of anything other than a zinc roof.
I know its going to take me several days to get over this visit emotionally (it did last time too). So I totally understand why the medical student said what he did.
When I call my family in The States I try to explain what I saw, but I know that there is no way that they could ever understand.
During my last visit to The States in November I had several instances of reverse culture-shock.
One example is how everyone is so damn scared of everything in America. The TV tells them to be afraid of something, and, guess what? They are! Everyone is afraid of losing what little they have.
In my community there is none of that fear. You see, the worst has already happened. You don't have anything to lose, so why be afraid of losing stuff now? It's a very liberating feeling, actually.
Another example is how people in America get all uptight over stupid shit that isn't important.
So the f*ck what if someone cut you off in traffic? So the f*ck what if you couldn't buy some stupid piece of sh*t that you don't really need? So the f*ck what if your favorite sports team lost? So the f*ck what if your favorite politician got made a fool of?
Does any of that really f*cking matter?
Please allow me to give you a free clue: I see more smiles here in my poor pueblo than The States.
People are nicer here than in The States.
People are more willing to share what little they have here than in The States.
The reason is because once you scrape away all the bullsh*t and get down to what really matters, you discover that stuff just gets in the way of happiness.
What really matters is people. Your friends. Your loved-ones. Your family. Everything else is just a distraction.
It sounds like a cliche, but it is more true than many people realize.
Maybe I'm a little bit emotional right now (probably am), and my english is probably piss-poor because I've been speaking spanish all week, but I think most Americans could use a reality check.
I should emphasize: don't be afraid of reality.
It's late. I'm going to bed.