That First Taste of Free Air
You feel it the moment you step out of the airport, and are busy cruising down the highway to your destination. It’s not just in the traffic that crosses double yellow lines or ignores stop lights if the road is clear. It’s in the vehicles themselves; sometimes crowded to the maximum, with luggage tied to the top, sometimes appearing to be tied up just to keep the vehicle together.
Maybe you’ll notice a truck filled with workers or one that has a hammock swinging lazily in back, with the occupant blissfully taking in the sunlight. The buses lumber by, so packed, passengers cling to the door frames. If you brave one of these second-class, local buses, you might feel you’re in a barnyard. Chickens squawk from crates packed under the seat, and there might even be a goat or a lamb that somebody’s transporting to the market.
It’s a reminder of how America was before seat belt laws and strict traffic regulations, before traffic citations became profitable. If you have someplace to go, nobody cares about the means you use of getting there.
Outside the city hubs, vehicles are relatively sparse. The most common mode of transportation is by bus. Pedestrians, farmers pushing along a few cows, wash women with piles of clothing on their heads are not an uncommon sight along rural roads.
This daily life, so unencumbered by appointments and punching a clock, begins to seep into you. You find yourself hurrying less and relaxing more, spending time doing those things you’ve always dreamed of doing, but never found the time or the opportunity. You begin to think about your new found freedom, that began with a freedom from worry.
The Economic Race
It seems odd that so many of the citizens who are immigrating from the United States into Central America are doing so out of a longing for freedom, but sadly enough, as a country founded on the liberties of all people, it has become a system of rules and regulations designed to give advantages and privileges to some, while penalizing and suppressing the many.
That hectic pace felt so distinctly in urbanized America is the desperate measure of a people determined to keep their heads above water. The American dream for many married couples, of a fine little home and a two-car garage, can’t possibly be realized unless both are working and they take out a twenty year loan. Those over sixty who had been planning to enjoy the benefits of their golden years, find their retirement or social security checks just aren’t enough, and take on part-time jobs for which they are over-qualified, but too financially distressed to refuse.
Then there are the young singles, working hard and studying for a degree that may not be very helpful for finding work. Jobs that had once taken an associate’s degree, now take a master’s, and debt-strapped students wallow in student loans.
When Life Becomes Stifling
The opportunities once offered in America don’t seem so plentiful anymore. Innovation, imaginative ideas, are either swallowed in a maelstrom of bureaucratic paperwork, or take a long time to mature, making the process uncomfortable for non-entrepreneurial types. For every proposal, no matter how universally beneficial, there is opposition. The red tape ticks away at finances, valuable time, and eventually, motivation.
America can barely breathe. You cannot even build a porch for your house, on your own property, without permits and inspectors. In some communities, there are agreed-upon house colors, and regulations concerning what you may have in your yard. You may discover you don’t even have a right to grow a garden instead of a water wasting lawn. The attempts to create a uniform standard of living within specified zones has swept away the concept that one’s home is one’s castle. The spirit of these rules makes sense, they are for the benefit of environment, home prices, and people’s safety, but in today’s world the rules are wielded like weapons against creativity and individuality.
You’re as Free as Your Neighbor
The migration into Central America is made up of people who have grown weary with asking for permission. The safety net hovering over American social affairs feels more like an entrapment net, encumbering freedom of travel with security checks and invasive techniques, such as airport scans and cell phone tracking.
Homes and small businesses are regulated with so many expensive codes and mandatory health care. The U.S. constituents are strapped with so many liability laws, they become nervous about allowing the neighbor kids to come over and play on a trampoline.
Coping with Drawbacks
The expats have had to make some adjustments. In an area where there is little to no regulation, cities can turn ugly fast, while everybody builds whatever they want and a smorgasbord of buildings go up. If your neighbor wants to begin his day at six in the morning, banging away at his new addition, and you want to sleep until seven, it’s best to just roll over with your pillow.
While the cities offer the modern conveniences, the farther away you are from them, the fewer commodities, such as super consistent electricity, paved roads, libraries, and U.S. foods you’ll find. You may find a lower quality in many of the common household tools, such as for gardening or carpentry.
There is a role reversal once you are an expat. You are suddenly a minority in a foreign country. You’ll feel subjected to the same type of scrutiny as given any minority. You may get pulled over just because you look like a gringo. If you are aspiring to become a global citizen, this actually aids in perspective. Outside the dynamics of the western world, you are a minority.
You Still Feel Freer than You Did in the United States
There is an enormous amount of satisfaction in living and breathing freely, without the rigid controls over an over-regulated government. It’s a learning experience in getting along with others of different cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. It allows you ample opportunities for evaluating your own beliefs. It teaches you resourcefulness with the tools and materials on hand.
For the health-oriented, it becomes advantageous to acquire a taste for the native foods. This isn’t too hard, considering the volume of fresh tropical fruits and delicious sea fare that abound in Central America’s market. Not only do you benefit from the organics, but buying local is cheaper than the shipped-in U.S. market.
The Growing Family of Expats
Families make up a vital force in the expat community. Sometimes, they come down for a year to absorb the cultural setting or as a reprieve from restrictive American life. Sometimes, they arrive with more permanent intentions in mind.
The challenge for these families, if they remain within a residential area removed from the major cities, is finding good schools. But like pioneers, they draw upon their own resourcefulness, enjoying the opportunity to educate their children in the manner they feel is best, maybe even starting their own school.
As We Look Forward
It is, in every sense, a type of pioneering. The expats that settle in Central America don’t hate their country. They hate the limits placed on their abilities to make conscious choices. They no longer wish to be treated like a kid, they trust their own ability to decide what is best.
They know this freedom comes with a price. They are moving into a different culture with different customs. They must depend on their own abilities to cope with change, to problem solve, to develop good relationships with others, but it’s all part of the excitement, the adventure. These are the stimuli for growth and development, the fundamentals of increased awareness, and the reward is an evolving society, ready to explore the new boundaries of individual rights and harmonious communities.