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Many Americans tend to have a polarized view of the world. America is safe; the rest of the world is a war zone, or at least a series of perpetual assaults on your person. America is clean; the rest of the world is dirty, polluted, and unhygienic. In America there is justice; the rest of the world is a Kafkaesque zone of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, filthy prisons and human rights abuses everywhere. America is the leader in higher education; the rest of the world is mired in ignorance and poverty. Only in America can you find everything and anything; the rest of the world lacks culture, convenience, and consumer products.
It is much more complex than that.
Sure, there is crime and robbery here just like in any big city. Homes have tighter security-yes, picture those beer bottles cemented along the tops of walls then broken off to leave their jagged edges, electric fences, high walls with barbed wire. They do exist. The police are not always around, nor are they always honest. But people don’t live in a state of constant fear or paranoia, carry guns, or constantly hassle with corruption. Life is pretty normal.
The sidewalks are cracked, trash accumulates and is an eyesore in places. People cook food on streetcorners over open homemade barbeques, and handle it with their bare hands. You can choose not to eat it. But there are beautiful, pristine places, untouched and wild, close by. Food tastes like real food, not something that was harvested two weeks early so it could be trucked 3000 miles across a continent. It comes from just miles away, usually harvested the same day, or just the day before, it shows up in the market.
You can get in a car crash and be hauled off to jail, pay someone off, or maybe just make amends with the other person and go on your way. Most of the time you won’t end up in jail. People are generally fair-minded and treat you with decenc and respect.
Public education is often less than adequate or worse; yet there thousands, millions of successful people all over the world living decent lives who didn’t attend the Ivy League, or even a university. And they may not be making millions or flying in private jets. But they live lives of quiet dignity and respect.
You can find museums, theater, and art here. You can also find what you need. Ok, maybe they don’t have infomercials and the shopping channel, Ionic Breeze and other useless items to spend your money on-but would you really miss those things? And if you have enough money, you can get them anyway, just like anything else you want.
I should make it clear to my readers that despite some of my descriptions of daily life here, such as the process of obtaining my visa and the whimsical and arbitrary nature of some of the bureaucrats here, it is by no means a Kafkaesque atmosphere. A far cry from it. One of my friends who spent two years here in the Peace Corps commented to me that while living here, he always had the grass-is-greener attitude that this or that would go so much smoother in the US. Yet he astutely points out that after being back in the US over ten years, despite all the technology and supposed accountability, his attitude holds true less than half the time.
We can all turn up or down the volume on any portion of the world we wish too; you can allow these small inconveniences to become big ones that can ruin your day, your week, or even your life. Or you can take them in stride as just the way things work here, and find your way around them. Rather than focussing one’s energies on worrying about or obsessing about the way “things should be”, which can easily become a roaring din that drowns out all possibilty of positive thought, I find it easier to try and just deal with things the way they are.