A Lesson in Gratitude on the High Seas
To travel to other countries, see the poverty that the majority of their population lives in and have small children running along your tour bus begging is lesson enough in all that we, as Americans, have in this country.
The real lesson, however, came from within the walls of the ship. We learned that this particular cruise line caters to an older crowd. I won’t try to categorize or stereotype ALL of them, but when we sat on the pool deck or in the dining room, what I heard was complaining, miserable people who were not happy with anything going on around them. Their coffee was too hot, their ice tea didn’t have enough ice, their filet mignon was too tough, their lobster didn’t have enough butter. Really? Your “filet mignon is too tough” when you’ve just witnessed children begging to sell you a mango for a dime and people living in homes made of stone and mud? And it would be different if it were just one person or a few people complaining, but it was many, many people complaining when we were being served 24/7 with fabulous, abundant food and should, quite honestly, be grateful simply for the fact that we live in a country that allows us to work, pay our taxes and still have the luxury of sailing for 15 days on an ocean liner.
We did several tours on the islands and were humbled at how those inhabitants live, yet they are happy, smiling wide smiles of joy and dancing for us. Then people get back on the tour bus and complain about the heat, the prices in the gift shop and ask how much longer the tour is.
I’d never even heard of some of these islands, and had assumed most of the Caribbean islands were very wet and more like rainforests. Instead, some are very dry, arid countries with an average of 20 inches of rain in a year. I came away having learned a few words in their native language, which is Papiamento, a Caribbean Creole language, particularly their welcoming saying of Bon dia, mi dushi, meaning good morning, my love. They welcome and love you before they even know you. And they say it with the most inviting, wide smile that you’ve ever seen. Some on the ship said, “Well, that’s because we’re tourists and they see dollars when we walk off the bus.” Maybe so, but it appeared genuine to me and I immediately felt welcomed. When is the last time you said anything even remotely like, Good morning, my love, to someone in your family, much less a stranger?
Three older couples sat at a table behind us and one, in particular, was a most frequent complainer (wonder if Holland America has an MFC award?). She wasn’t happy with the excursion offerings, the length of the excursions, the nightly entertainment, the room stewards, or the food. The list could go on and on. By the time she reboarded the tour bus, she’d forgotten those children walking along the streets, those houses that appeared they could be washed away by even a little rain and the extreme heat they endured by living in the Caribbean islands.
The locals told us about iguana soup and how good it was. We trusted them when they said, “It tastes just like chicken” but opted out of trying it! The thought of eating an iguana just didn’t appeal to most of us. However, after some research on my part (yes, we had internet on the ship), I learned that they resorted to eating iguanas because there were some many and the iguanas were killing their goats, which is their main food source. They found a resourceful solution to an island-wide problem. How can you learn things like that, then, just hours later, complain that your coffee isn’t hot enough?
Yes, tourism is their main source of income and I’m sure they appreciate every single American who steps foot on their island and opened their shops at 8:30 in the morning (rather than their standard 10:00) because an American ship had docked. However, I didn’t get the impression on any on our tours that they saw us only as dollar signs. I saw pride in teaching us about their country and their customs, opening their doors and sharing their way of life with us.
I’m grateful for the learning experiences from this trip but also saddened that so many in our society are not more like them. We need to focus more on the positives in our lives, not dwell so deeply within the negatives. These people feel privileged to have a job. They “get” to work; while many in our society feel we “have” to work. What a difference in that mindset alone.
As we enter the holiday season, I feel grateful for this country in which we live and the opportunities we have as Americans. It’s something instinctively we know, but sometimes forget. It is a lesson of which I was reminded so well by those who have so little.