Sunday, December 9, 2007

Coming Home

Plaza las Americas, San Juan Puerto Rico

This morning I woke again to the sounds of birds and rain falling. With my morning coffee I enjoyed a rainbow over the Caribbean. Ah, Home.

We did have a good time in San Juan, but it is all too much. Too much noise, congestion, traffic, and consumption. Too much competitive undertow. Just like the world we ran away from, screaming.

The world I live in does not require makeup, high heels (also known as high hells by anyone who has worn them) and smart outfits. Of course there are some who dress to impress here, but more commonly we are barefaced and comfortable in sandals. I am certainly not up to San Juan standards any longer. Maybe I never was.

Imagine what it is like to our ears, grown accustomed to the background sounds of nature, to enter a store at Christmas time. First we are bombarded by the banks of huge TVs all blaring away, and behind them, the stereo systems hip-hop. Then we meet the animated Santa's shouting Ho!Ho!Ho! I want to cover my ears.

Masses of cleverly displayed goods designed to entice and create desire for more are piled everywhere, the abundance overwhelming. Too many choices, too many new and exciting things to try. The eyes are dazzled and strained. No gifts of natural materials are to be found anywhere. No handcrafts, no artistry.
Everything is a product of manufacturing and packaging. Merchandising is King.

When I look at clothing I wonder where all the natural fabrics have gone. No cotton, no linen is in the stores I visited. Have these become specialty items? Everything is synthetic, either in black or a retro print from the 60's. Everything I touch has the slick feel of petrochemicals. I spent a whole morning searching for a simple cotton shirt.

Each item we purchased was encased in masses of packaging, often several times larger than the item itself. Masses of waste pile high as we remove packaging in order to pack our purchases for the trip home. How much additional cost, both economic and ecologic, does all of this packaging embody?

I have become a 3rd world girl. I want less. Less is more. These days, the mercantile emporiums induce abhorrence in my unaccustomed mind. It is all too much. It is all a great reminder of why we love Dominica.

As I packed to return home to Dominica, I listened to a BBC program about happiness. According to the experts, money and possessions do not make us happier. (Imagine. Mr. Wizard and I were able to figure that out without experts.) Here is a link to the BBC Program, where you might enjoy the clip about the recipe for happiness. I was impressed with the graph showing that more money does not make us more happy. Of course, any farmer on Dominica could have told us that.

livingdominica: give me the simple life.


Peter said...

I remember seeing a study showing that struggling to make ends meet (being poor) definitely correlated with being less happy - that's at least one exception to the 'money does not make you happier' rule.

Other than that, these two Ted Talks together really knock it out of the park, for me.

Dan Gilbert on synthesized happiness:

And Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice:

Both talks are about freedom and choice as things that, really, should be avoided.

And I just realized why so many Indian-American couples I've known over the years seem to be happy, if not completely happy, in their semi-arranged marriages - despite white/American-raised folks' disbelief.

And I never put the 'Paradox of Choice' guy together with the 'Manufactured happiness' guy, but they're talking about the same thing.

Jen said...

Yes, Peter, perhaps my remarks were insensitive to the fact that many struggle daily for water, food, and shelter across the globe. But once we have enough, it seems further monetary gain is futile in improving our quality of life.

My comments are obviously skewed to my middle class North American roots, with all its excesses and the feeling that it is never enough.

Your links are awesome. Thank you for sharing them. I loved the theme of more choices being immobilizing. I have certainly experienced that!

zooms said...

Welcome home Jen,
please tell us what is the one single thing that you did buy that gives you the most pleasure.

Jen said...

I bought ice cube trays that freeze long sticks of ice to go into water bottles. I always carry a water bottle so that purchase will be nifty!

Minerva said...

Lol, Jen, I beg to disagree. I do not see you as a 3rd world girl, but as a 1st world girl who got bored with the excesses of consumerism, noise, traffic and "high hells". But, in my informed opinion of a - once - 2nd world (= communist 3rd world) girl, the 3rd world girls like consumption, big houses, shiny cars, clothes, jewelry... they just usually can't afford them. Nary a true 3rd world girl appreciates nature, makeup free faces and a ridiculousness of high hills. Only some 1st world girls do. ;-)
Here, on the west coast of the same Puerto Rico it might be a poor shoppers paradise, but quality merchandise ( like all cotton clothing)is hard to come by.
I am afraid that when furnishing a place I would have to go to Barceloneta or San Juan to find anything remotely resembling the simple yet at least a bit sophisticated style I like.
But, for your future reference: there is a store in Old San Juan (for turists rather than locals) with beautiful pure uncombed cotton clothes from, if I remember correctly, Peru. Their sizes runs small, though, so in January I was out of luck, but now, after loosing 16 pounds I could shop there.

Jen said...

Minerva, you are right. I am just a first world retread.

Oh Zooms! Another welcome purchase was large dressings for Mr. Rasta. It will be heaven to have the proper dressings! (He is in hospital right now,so I am not changing his dressing)

zooms said...

Wonderful Jen,
these are the best, the little things that the big world takes for granted.