Visiting Costa Rica in my early twenties, I had an opportunity to meet some of the locals at home. My aunt had married a man from the neighboring town, and one of the bird guides that worked at the lodge had a little crush on his niece. There was a custom where the guy and his intended would hang out on the bench or chairs on the front porch, like a chaperoned date. I thought it was sweet and harkened back to an older time.
We dropped him off for one of these dates, and all went inside the house to say hello before we left. Now, this is going to sound judgy, but there wasn’t judgment that went through my mind so much as there is a jarring feeling stepping into a house with a dirt floor when all you have ever known up to that point was homes with some sort of flooring: wood planks, ceramic tile, linoleum or carpet. Those are what I was used to seeing.
The house was pretty barren. There was a sofa of some sort and some rooms to the back. What stayed with me the most, on the wall to my right, was a framed magazine cover with Leonardo DiCaprio. It was the only decoration in the place. He had starred in Titanic, but the photo was from the cover of a magazine years older. It was maybe promoting Romeo + Juliet. With the humidity and no glass in the frame, it was rippled and not holding up well.
Many people I know would have a hard time living in that house. I have a hard time when the floor is dirty and walking around barefoot, I get dirty feet. I can’t imagine how I would live on a dirt floor.
But the thing is, these people were happy.
The employees at my Grandparents’ house tend to work long hours, many of them walking up a very steep rocky road through heat and humidity or the torrential rain. I spent a lot of time with them over the months I stayed there, and they seemed genuinely happy with their lives. If someone needed help starting their car, everyone pitched in and loved it. Sure, they would roll their eyes behind their boss’s back, like I might sometimes. But they were grateful despite having “less,” which always inspired me to feel the same way.
I experienced the same thing traveling to Greece. When I checked into my hotel in Kissamos, the nicest lady showed me to my room and talked about the town, her life, and the check-in process. Apparently, she was the maid, and when the concierge went on break, told her I was coming, and she took over. She had emigrated from, I think, Romania and had been living and loving Crete for many years. It wasn’t a tip she was after; from all the interactions I had with her during that week; I found out she was just genuinely a kind person, interested in other people and okay with what in the United States we might think of as “less.”
Traveling and seeing other cultures, learning what they do without what you might consider essential, is awe-inspiring. For me, at least, even though I might not be able to hack a dirt floor, I am encouraged by those who do and still love life to take some things in stride.
Cut off in traffic; it’s gonna be alright. The restaurant messed up on my order; no tantrums here.
Obviously, staying at a resort in a foreign country for a week, you aren’t going to experience too much of this. But, if you ever get the chance, get out there and into the culture; I think you will return blessed.