True confession: I am an information junkie. Gotta be in the know, at all times. First thing I do upon waking in the morning -- check the e-mail. Check the headlines.
This need for news is a matter of frustration for the mister -- he isn't wired like this. At all. My checking of the internet whilst we were on the cruise was a bone of contention between us: he wanted to totally disengage from the outside world; I had to know what was going on to feel calm. My mind is weird in that it never really shuts off -- a blessing and a curse and most likely the subject matter for a therapy session to be discussed later.
We had a TV in our cabin (a nice one, too -- flat screen with a DVD player.) However, our channel selection at sea, as you might imagine, was limited. Satellite versions of CNN, ESPN, TNT, TCM and The Discovery Channel. What really interested me was seeing my country -- the good old USA -- portrayed by the world media, as opposed to the homegrown coverage I'm used to. The CNN broadcast was, as best I could tell, out of Hong Kong. The Bhutto assassination was the big, ongoing story, with coverage from every angle. I learned about the rise in champagne consumption in India. And the latest rankings in some European soccer league. Plus I was well-informed about all the rain plaguing the Asian continent.
It was jarring, but appropriate, to hear the Iowa caucuses referred to as the American Presidential Elections... to an international audience, it was just one more item for the world news section -- for me, it was much more than that. We did get the local/US feeds on caucus night, complete with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer and pundits-a-go-go. But the saturation I'm used to wasn't there. And honestly, it was refreshing. I would have liked to have seen more about Obama's victory (YAY! WHOOPEE!), but then again, I'm very biased in that area.
I'm coupling this with my port visits to Guatemala and Mexico, which also provided perspective for me. Guatemala, especially. We docked in the port of Santo Tomas de Castilla -- which is basically a commercial shipping port. Lots of big land-to-sea metal containers as far as the eye can see. No frills, no fuss, nothing fancy -- even the little "market" set up for cruise tourists like us was simple and streamlined. We took a tour bus about an hour and a half out from the port to visit the archaeological site of Quirigua -- one of the smallest Mayan cities, but one of the most notable due to its splendid series of monuments. The site itself was totally fascinating and whet my appetite to learn more and see more of the Mayan world.
However, the bus ride was more enlightening than I could have imagined. The starkness and utilitarianism of the port was but a mere precursor to what we would see riding through the countryside. Simplicity. Tarnished pastoralism. A third-world country. Ramshackle buildings serving as homes and businesses and meeting places. Tangible residue of ventures and perhaps dreams long gone. But in the midst of what my American eyes saw as impoverished chaos, I saw people. All ages, shapes, sizes. Hard working adults, wielding machetes of determination. Young men toting wood on carts attached to bicycles. Children running through fields with joyful abandon. Multi-generational women using the laundry line as a coffee klatch. I'd never seen anything quite like this before. I hope it's not the last time I'm witness to it. My church sponsors mission trips on a regular basis to Central and South America -- might be time for me to clear the schedule and participate. I suspect that it would be a life-changing experience for me -- to give some of myself and to get so much in return. On the other hand, there is so much to be done here at home, where our areas in need are of a different flavor but still no less needy.
I forget sometimes that the USA does not the entire world make -- it was a good object lesson for me to see that we're not the only dog in the hunt, so to speak. It was also enlightening to see my country through the eyes of others. And in turn, see a tiny piece of the world without the frills and adornment designed for tourists with travelers checks burning holes in their wallets. That's not to say that I didn't do my part to help the local economy by shopping (not having to pack to travel by plane helped me to legitimize many purchases) -- but I think that I can do more. Maybe here, maybe there.
I'm still a very proud American -- only now, I'm a more respectful one.
Which hopefully makes me a better world citizen.