Thursday, January 10, 2013

The actual first world problem

This winter break I went with VIDA to Costa Rica and Nicaragua to volunteer by providing healthcare in under-privileged communities. I'm talking about places where they had no access to basic health and dental services, none of this fancy internet access we take for granted... and even as far as no running water.

But wait, in actuality I expected a lot worse than what I saw, which really goes to show just how arrogant one can get growing up in the Westernised culture. In truth, I felt like although it was clear that the standards of living for the communities we volunteered in were below what I was personally used to, I have no other negative opinions about the communities. In fact, I found the people there perhaps more mature and polite... and overall much more pleasant to deal with than many strangers I encounter every day at home.

To give an idea of the places I mean by "no running water" let's start with the generally more economically well off country I visited, Costa Rica. Note: these are the bottom line of economic areas in the country. Any of you who've been there will know that it's actually really pretty and full of electricity and running water and tourism.

A small store in Costa Rica

The blue building on the right was where lunch was served

Not what you see every day is it? But over all Costa Rica had quite a lot more of a Westernised flare in the bigger cities. In fact, it was so similar to back home that it would appear I chose to not take any pictures.

During the middle of the trip we crossed the border into Nicaragua. There we stayed with a home-stay family (with whom communication was greatly mediated by the universal language of Charades). My home-stay took us out around the town to check out the local scenes. I snapped a few pictures of course.

The road

Every door and window of every home had a gate-
it was very beautiful (and probably efficient too)!
Did I mention there are volcanoes there?
This is a volcano. Active. Far away.

In Nicaragua our clinic locations were set up in the school of a neighbourhood that was much poorer than that of our home-stay families. I should note at this point our home-stays were rather well off in Nicaragua. I snapped a few photos of this school, the children were on their "dry season vacation"  (not sure what it would be called...) because that's technically their summer break.

Tiny little chairs! 
Classroom used a whiteboard! 

So I returned home and started remarking on the various "first world problems" that we make fun of everyday. And I think I've started to look at things with a bit of a different angle. Mostly, I wonder what most of us mean when we say "first world problems"? Do we pride ourselves that we're in a position to have these problems or are we using irony to try to guilt ourselves? I wish I understood exactly how my own perspective on the matter has changed, but that'll require a bit more self thought. 

I do remember talking to an former (rather cynical I think) teacher, arguing that she should be allowed to move up her own ladder to self fulfilment before she helps others approach the first step. And while I do think that's a bit too much, I also know that saints are rare in number, and I certainly don't have the predisposition for sainthood. At the same time, I don't see why one has to stop their own climb in order to help pull others up. 

Oh, and no trip to Costa Rica can be complete without a sunset picture (ruined due to my horrendous camera).

Sunset at El Coco Beach, Costa Rica

P.S. Free panorama software online