Raise your hand if you went to Starbucks today. Ok, truth be told—I would have done un-yogic things to grab a nice cup-o-Pike’s Place Roast, but that was not going to happen in my current locale. For those of you who are not my Facebook friends (what’s wrong with you?), I journeyed down to St. Lucia a few days ago in order to teach some yoga, free my spirit, and oh- write a little bit. Call me a free spirit, a gypsy, a hippie, a head-in-the-clouds dreamer; simply put, I desperately need to escape comfortable life every now and then.
Speaking of comfortable life, I get a ton of readers who are fans but don’t know it yet (aka, really harsh critics… aka… haters), and you know what makes me laugh? When said future fans comment on an article of mine and say, “First World Problems.” (I have a tendency to discuss issues that divide us socially.) What would really be ironic would be to see from how many Mac’s, iPhones, and other first-world devices those comments spew from- but I digress. Saying that the societal issues we navigate are unworthy of discussion does not change the fact that they remain problems. It’s like the hipster way of throwing an Internet eye roll and muttering a “kill yourself” through a keyboard. First-world problems. Got it. For two years I lived overseas and spent 90% of my time in third-world countries, so I’ve become pretty accustomed to the differences in what can be categorized as a problem by an American, versus say, ehhhh, a Thai bar girl?
So let’s talk about a first-world problem. Entitled privilege. “I’m so American (read: elite), and so busy saving the world, that I don’t have time to discuss the things that are creating social issues and plaguing the mental health of our society.” Orrrrr, “I’ve been on a cruise ship that toured the Caribbean. I got off at every port , spent three hours looking at poor people, and I gave a crusty looking guy half of my sandwich because he probably would have used my money on drugs. So, I’m entitled to make judgments about how snobby Americans are.” These are the only kinds of people who I think could possibly feel the need to point out the obvious fact that, no, I’m not roaming around the streets hungry, so I have space to discuss more progressive issues. Because people who have experienced real, gritty, in-your-face, unthinkable poverty, the kind that a long inhale of will make you sick to your stomach from its stench…those people tend to not take anything for granted and to be extremely grateful for the most simple of things. So, without further adieu, here are a few things that I’ve found to be under-appreciated, along my many adventures.
If I had a dollar for every pair of bare feet I’ve seen walking along pitch-black-hot-as-hell asphalt in some grimy places (think: typhoid), I’d have enough money to have first-world problems. Seriously though. Combine that with feet in shoes that don’t fit, sandals in the snow, tattered out soles of 1980s sneakers, and you may get a slim idea that those 45 pairs of shoes in your closet are a bit excess. I love shoes just as much as anyone else, but I have seriously scaled back on how many I need after seeing the feet of poverty.
The worst transportation experience I’ve ever had in America was on a Greyhound. The air conditioner was annoyingly cold and someone stank up the bathroom 20 minutes into a 4-hour trek. Poor me, right? Today I sat jammed between two islanders, in a manner in which my 5’10 frame was cramped into a too-small seat of a mini-van that felt like it may break down at any moment, all the while sweating profusely and sticking to my seat. Could. not. breathe. We drove over an hour to go about 15 miles because of the roads- or lack thereof- and other issues that countries without great transportation systems get to enjoy.
3. Tap Water
“I can’t drink the water?” I asked upon my arrival. “You can, but you’ll be asking me for some Pepto Bismal right after you do,” was the reply. Smartwater is a luxury. That Fiji stuff? So chic. But to just be able to brush your teeth with the water coming from your sink is a blessing that many people never even consider. So is feeling safe when consuming a natural resource. Plus, how many Americans do you see lugging around 5-gallon jugs of water, on any given day? Not many. That’s what I thought. Next.
4. Freedom to Leave
Okay, we are getting into deeper stuff here. This one really gets me. When I visited Sri Lanka, I got a tattoo in my hotel room (long story-but no, I didn’t contract any diseases), and the kid tattooing me was desperately trying to leave. You know how many options he had? Not many. We talked about two potential countries where he could go. He was so desperate to get out but so bound by his Passport cover. Me, on the other hand- I do have privilege to go pretty much any place on Earth I can. This is one of those really unfair facts of life that people will argue about forever. But, really- none of us have control as to where or to whom we are born, and I really hate to see people take their freedom for granted.
5. Our Attitudes
Possibly the most important of all. It is wonderful to not live in fear of terrorists coming for my family. It is also wonderful to not be forced into a marriage, or told what to believe, or punished as a criminal for writing blogs like this. Maybe it’s the yoga in me, but I write daily about the things I am grateful for- and they are usually as simple as waking up and seeing a beautiful sun rise. Or finding 5 minutes to meditate. Call me old-school, but I really appreciate strong character, values, and good attitudes. I find those to be components of success cross-culturally, and it kills my vibe to hear complainers on every corner talking about things other people dream of experiencing. We always can control our attitudes and reframe our perspectives, and it would impact the world so much if we all tried to be a bit more positive.
We all have issues, and we all think our issues are more important than everyone else’s. And that way of thinking really does no good at all. It adds to a very self-centered, egotistical existences that prevents enjoying the finest things in life- none of which, cost a dime. How is that for irony?