Finally back in town after our 7 day cruise to the Western Caribbean. It feels very strange to have missed Thanksgiving, and to suddenly be thrown full force into the holidays without having any lead up time. Also, it is a bummer to come back to cold rainy weather here on the east coast, after being in perfect 80 degree and sunny weather for the past week.
However, I am glad to be home. As crazy as it sounds, I have missed writing on Money for College Project, and I have missed interacting with you all. A lot has happened in the last week that I need to catch up on!
As I am transitioning back into the American way of life I have become even more aware of how wealthy we are as a nation. On our cruise we visited Grand Cayman, Cozumel Mexico, Belize City in Belize, and Isla Roatan in Honduras. Grand Cayman and Cozumel have long been cruise and tourist destinations and have adapted to the influx of tourist money quite well. You can’t go 100 feet without running into a duty free shop or a jewelry shop.
Belize City and Roatan are a different matter however. Carnival Cruise lines literally created the ports in both of these locations. When you get off of the cruise ship you are greeted by very American looking shops with pearly white floors, fluorescent lights, and credit card machines. You can walk the streets of the port and feel as if you are in any beach town U.S.A.
However, when you walk through the back gate of the port to book a taxi to go on an excursion or see more of the country, you are greeted by the real country, and real third world poverty.
My wife and I already knew this to be the case. My wife had visited Belize twice before on mission trips and stayed in the villages of the country. I have not been to any of these countries before, but I have been to many central and south American countries, and well as spending 6 months in Malawi, which taught me a great deal about what real poverty is.
So we were not shocked by the poverty of the country, but I could tell by the reaction of many of the American cruisers, that they did not expect this at all. In fact, many of them never left the port because they did not want to leave the utopia created by Carnival.
I felt bad for many of the local craftsman as I could hear them being berated by Americans for charging high prices for their custom wood carvings, or for charging a high taxi fare (in a country where gas is over $6 per gallon!). It seems that we as Americans easily forget that we are truly a financially blessed nation, even with the downturn in our economy, and the financial crisis that so many of us are struggling with. In comparison with the poverty in these tourist destinations, we are still fabulously wealthy.
I don’t mean to hop on a soap box or anything, I just think that it is very important to always have a new perspective and a broad world view. It is so easy to get caught up in our narrow minded focus and lament the problems facing us, but when confronted with the broader problems and struggles of this world, it often makes our own problems pale in comparison.
Obviously people on a Carnival Cruise were there for a vacation and we all paid good money to enjoy ourselves. For many people, enjoyment does not mean subjecting themselves to the poverty of a third world country. For me, it is refreshing and motivating. I can look back on my week outside of the United States and approach this holiday season with a fresh perspective.
Last week I posted a top 20 best christmas gifts for college students list. It has been far and away my most popular article I have ever written, and I think that tells us a lot about our culture (and that I sold out a wee bit to appease the Google monster…it worked!) Christmas time in America, is no longer just about celebrating with family and enjoying quality time while exchanging meaningful presents. It has become a celebration of materialism. The fact that the majority of the gifts on the list I made were over $200 also says a lot. We spend a fortune on Christmas ever year! (Well, the majority of Americans do anyway).
My wife and I had a lot of fun buying all of our Christmas gifts from the local artisans we found in the ports, for a fraction of the price we could have here in the U.S. We were also able to meet the craftsmen and women who made our gifts, and support them directly. No middle men. It was a lot of fun, and even more rewarding for us.
This cruise came at a very good time for me. Going into the Christmas holiday I have a different perspective on things that I think I ever have before. It’s easy to get wrapped up in materialism and commercialism around the holidays, but I strongly believe that we are much better off without it.