I have been back in America for only a week, and I must confess: I love it.
Everywhere I go, everything is laid out to make it easy to do what I want to do, or to have what I want to have.
After living for three years in the secluded jungles of Costa Rica, I have accepted inefficiency and senseless delay as a natural condition of the world around me.
Coming back to America, I feel grateful that this is not a condition of the world, but only of the place where I was living.
4 Big American Gratitudes
1. America is set up to Get Things Done
I’m in a highly productive phase of my life right now. I am the provider for a large family, and a few years ago I lost everything. Right now, I am focused on making a fortune that is more than happiness, and creating a foundation of monetary wealth for my family.
In Costa Rica, this was difficult, because excellence is not a virtue. Things don’t get done, and nobody bothers to fix it, because problems will go away if you ignore them long enough (so the thinking goes).
In America, I see evidence of a systemic aptitude for making things better, and this brings me a great sense of relief.
This environment suits me much better, because my natural state is production. I get things done. I make things happen. And in America, things are set up to help me do that to the best of my ability.
2. Winter Homeland
The past few years of living in Costa Rica has showered me with sunshine, and the great weather was a welcome cure to the SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I developed before leaving rainy Portland for sunny Central America. But now that I have returned, I recognize that winter has its own virtues.
I awoke to a strange sound this morning. In the distance, I could hear a loud staccato echoing off the ridges that frame the Willamette Valley, and it took me a full five minutes to puzzle out the sound.
These irregular bursts of sound — was it a type of industrial machine? Construction work?
I looked around at the sunlight sparkling through the flowers, and I remembered that this is the beginning of hunting season. In the distance, there were hunters shooting down their prey.
I had not heard this sound in so long, because hunting is illegal in Costa Rica, due to the wide variety of wildlife that could easily be mistaken for something not on the verge of extinction. It is a passive, peaceful place.
I like the peace, but I am a Huntress. My bones understand the cold here.
3. The Abundance of America
In America, a great number of choices compete for your favor. I can walk into a grocery store, at any hour of the day, and browse the organic aisles for anything I want to eat.
One of the first things I did when I came back was spend some time walking through New Seasons Market. I did not buy anything, but as I walked through the aisles, I was flush with the knowledge that I could buy anything I wanted.
When I got to the produce aisle, I marveled at the abundance around me, and I cried.
Eating organic food in Costa Rica is very difficult. There is one organic Feria in the Central Valley, and one semi-organic feria in the Southern Zone.
Pesticides are used liberally by most Tico farmers, so making the hour-long trek out to one of these farmers markets once a week has become our regular ritual for obtaining our food.
In Costa Rica, if the Mennonites didn’t make peanut butter that week — sorry, no peanut butter.
If you didn’t make it to the Feria because of a flat tire or a difficult travel schedule, then you had no organic food until next week.
Removing this weekly obligation to ‘shop now or forever hold your peace’ has lifted a heavy weight we didn’t know we were carrying.
We went to the Farmer’s Market at PSU this past Saturday, expecting to do our weekly shopping. We walked, got some treats, played at the playgrounds, and then the kids were grumpy and ready to leave.
Knowing that we could leave, right then and there, and not forfeit our only opportunity to obtain healthy food, was very liberating. In Costa Rica, we had no choice but to power through and get the shopping done, no matter how the kids were faring, because it was the only opportunity for the week. Now, if it works, we let it work. If it doesn’t work, we do something else.
Many things are also less expensive in the US – because it is easier to ship goods from place to place.
Hot Wheels cars, a regular expense in our household, cost half what they do in Costa Rica. The cars are less expensive, when there are wide, wide highways built to get things from here to there, and tariffs and taxes that impede the movement of trade are frowned upon here. Another stark contrast.
4. Rules make sense in America, or the rules are changed.
There are plenty of valid reasons why Costa Rica is annoying. On our last morning there, we were sucker punched by the legendary Costa Rican bureaucracy, right at the airport.
I’ll spare you the whole story, but it involved leaving my wife and toddler with all of our ready-to-check bags, jumping in a cab to take the two big kids into Alajuela to find a place that did passport photos, all so we could put a stamp on these photos saying that both parents are giving their kids permission to leave the country, officially.
(Since both parents were flying with the kids, we didn’t think we would need official paperwork they didn’t have available at the airport to certify this fact, but that’s how Costa Rica works: this is a stupid law, that we all adhere to, unless you give me some money.)
After one wild goose chase and a couple of bribes, we raced through security and got to the gate just as the plane was boarding. We made our flight by the skin of our teeth.
Epilogue: Transcontinental transition
The rest of the trip went very well. We had plenty of new games and activities for the kids. Taos went cruising through the airport on his scooter, simultaneously giving him exercise and sparing us the strain of carry him.
What I loved about this was watching the smiles pass by, like a wave. He brightened so many people’s days, and many a harried traveler was able to take a momentary break from their journey to smile and share in this little toddler’s joy.
During our layover in Dallas, we rode the Skytrain for almost an hour. It was one of the best layovers I have ever had.
The new movies on the iPad kept the kids entertained, and distracted from the decidedly non-Waldorf in-flight movie,“Wolverine.”
It looked like a great action flick, and I’m looking forward to seeing it someday.
Maybe with my kids.
When they are 14.
This was our first initiation into coming back to America, which is a violent, bloody place compared to the country we came from.
We have successfully sheltered our children from conflict and aggression, to preserve their gentle spirits (Indilea once asked me at six years old, “Daddy, what’s a gun?”) and Hugh Jackman was not doing us any favors on the flight.
We parried the claws of Wolverine with The Love Bug and Mary Poppins, and it worked. The kids remained in good spirits for most of the flight, and we were gratified by the compliments that other passengers gave us on their behavior.
*Note: Not every flight with the Huntress Kids is free of screams and crying. This just happened to be one of the good ones.
Coming home for the holidays has made us relish the unique benefits of being in America: things are easier, and generally cheaper, than living abroad.
We will stay in America, like Mary Poppins, until the wind changes. And then, our Gypsy lifestyle will bring us to our next adventure.
It is the joys of travel that open our eyes to how others live in this world, but also how wonderful our home is. I love Costa Rica, I love Africa, I love lots of places in this world, but I will always live in the United States largely for the reasons you have stated. Great post.
Thanks, Jet! I didn’t realize how much I valued some of the benefits of our homeland, until I left for a while.
I totally felt the same way when we returned from Costa Rica. And we still have that same gratitude. Sometimes it takes leaving something to really see the truth. The diverse and intense free market of the States can be looked at as too much, but for an innovator and creative entrepreneur it is the world we make of it. And here in the pacific northwest the sky is the limit and we have all of the resources we could ever need to make our dreams come true and follow our spiritual path at the same time. Welcome back to the other jungle. 🙂
Thanks, Kahlil. Getting this level of gratitude from spending some time in an outside perspective – it’s such a gift.
I’ve always identified with the Gypsy women in the movie Chocolate, who were only able to stay in a place till the wind changed. You reminded me of Mary Poppins’ same stirrings. I’ve watched it 70 times with my daughter and somehow missed that piece. There are distinct pros and cons to being tugged at, as Gypsies are. One of the best things is what you reveal here: that it is only when we travel that we are able to look at where we came from, and see it properly.
So true, Crystal. We can’t get a good perspective of where we are, if we are still in that place. You need distance.
Welcome home! I’ve been to Costa Rica several times, as my company has an office there. It’s certainly beautiful there but I have no fantasies of retiring there.
I think that the U.S. attitude of making things better, as you put it, has accelerated over the last twenty years. As a quality improvement professional, I’ve seen an evolution toward focus on the customer and getting things done more efficiently.. And my interactions with government (even the IRS) have been cordial and taken care of quickly. According to my Costa Rica friends, this is not so much the case there.
Exactly right, Jeffrey. Customer service has reigned supreme in American professional thinking, while in Costa Rica…meh. Not so much.
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