We have learned something about ourselves and the people in the U.S. It happened after spending two months in Mexico, a couple weeks in Guatemala and traveling further into Central America. It happened while watching every day life for every day people in the big towns and in the small villages in these countries.
It happened while driving down a paved highway through the hard rain and getting passed by a motorcycle that was made for one but carried five; dad in the front holding the handlebars and squinting through the downpour, brother in the middle gripping a plastic container filled with chips, baby sister sandwiched between dad and her brother, and mom in the back with a baby slung over her arm holding everyone together like a bookend. And of course, no helmets.
It happened one day while driving on the highway through Mexico and passing a car with every seat occupied included the tight area between the seats. Arms hanging out of the windows for extra space, a wheel that looked flat, and a baby tucked carefully on top of the dashboard.
It happened when we witnessed the famous “chicken buses” in Guatemala that are old U.S. school buses revived and revamped uniquely painted and decorated with flash. Everything and everyone can ride on the bus – including animals, luggage, bikes, crates, stacks of wood, buckets of goods…and chickens. When the seats are filled, people climb to the luggage rack on top and hold on tight.
It happened on the worst roads in the western highlands of Guatemala when we followed trucks with added racks and people hanging from every bar. Bouncing over pot holes and cracked pieces of pavement. Some chatting on cell phones. Not a worry in the world.
It happened while roaming the aisles at the super market to see unrefrigerated bins full of raw chicken. You just grab a bag and take what you need.
It happened while watching families clear fields. Young kids whacking weeds with machetes while standing inches from one another. If this was my family, the day would end with a field still full of weeds and someone on the way to the emergency room.
It really happened the day we saw another family on a scooter, but this time they were cruising through town over cobble stone streets while dad was zipping around other cars, trucks and pedestrians his daughter was squished in the middle tucked next to mom, who cradled a baby in her arms while breastfeeding. Talk about multi-tasking! And still, no helmets.
All this happened while we were carefully driving under the speed limit, strapped in our seat belts, wearing prescription eyeglasses with stashes of hand sanitizer placed all around the truck…when we realized Americans have gotten soft. We have no stomach for danger. We are too careful, too fearful, and too worried. We are scared our kids will get hurt or bring home germs. We are nervous about Ebola and watch the news to see where it strikes next. We wonder about our place in the world and worry if we are smart enough, wealthy enough and strong enough. We don’t want scratches on our cars or gray hairs on our heads or wrinkles around our eyes. We are too busy, too stressed, too preoccupied.
We only see a sliver of their lives through the window of our truck. But it’s enough to reflect back from the rearview mirror. When did we become so consumed with fear? Maybe a little dirt, danger and adventure is good for the soul…