Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Expats ability to reimagine third-world countries

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Travel | 0 comments

I love the imagination and creativity of American and European expats who romanticize life in third-world countries. You can find their stories all over the internet: a digital nomad tired of life in a first-world country moves to a third-world country and finds himself.

So far, nothing wrong with that. You don’t need to like the country you were born in. After all, it is a happenstance, a mistake, a luck of the draw, a matter of randomness.

Things go off the rails when they are sold by locals that life in that third-world country is better than anything you can have in that first-world country.

Of course, those locals have a strong incentive to talk like that.

First, collectivistic cultures tend not to talk about their problems in front of outsiders.

Second, nobody talks bad about their house.

For example, I live in California, and I don’t want to tell you the space I live in with my family requires small acrobatic acts to make it work or that our kitchen serves as a kitchen AND dining room—California is expensive!

But I don’t tell anyone that. Instead, I focus on the fact that I’m surrounded by vineyards, green rolling hills, and green juice shops. Also, the winters are mild and don’t make me want to jump off a cliff to end it all.

I remember being at a party one county over and talking to someone upset about the Trump presidency. They were ready to move to Mexico City if Trump got reelected.

Of course, I might run my big mouth in my writing, but I’m rather pleasant in person, so I just bobbed and nodded along with the conversation. But in my mind, I was doing summersaults and thinking, “Really? Mexico? Really? Cartel-ran, political-corrupted, frijol-powered Mexico?”

Mexico is lovely, but I know Mexicans who, after being deported, go back to their favorite coyote to cross the border and risk life and limb again to get out of Mexico. They don’t choose to stay. They like to visit, but they choose to live here over and over again.

And here is what these digital nomads forget to mention: bad things happen everywhere. It seems to me they happen less compared to third-world countries. That might not be true for you.

One of my childhood friends came to visit LA from Colombia. He stayed near LAX. When he left, I asked him, “So what do you think?”

“I wasn’t impressed.” He said plainly.

I would’ve been impressed if he was impressed. Who the hell goes to LA and stays near LAX? He still didn’t get stabbed. Which is more than I can say if he would’ve stayed near the airport in the city we grew up in.

That’s why every immigrant in a first-world country thinks, “Sure, things can always be better. But this is pretty fucking great!!!!!”

That’s not all; the legal protections for disadvantaged groups are almost nonexistent in those countries.

From seeing my grandfather age, I have come to learn there are very few protections for the elderly in my country. There is virtually no protection against elderly abuse—not in the way that we have it here in the States.

I recently met a sixty-year-old Colombian who, after being unable to find work in Colombia in the career he had worked on for forty years, moved to the States to start a food pop-up business. That’s because there are no labor protections against ageism. The moment the workforce ages, they are replaced by cheaper students exiting college. I saw it happen to men in my family. But these people still have strong work ethics, and they put it to use in countries where they can.

People complain about the state of the rhetorical discourse in the country. I am always in awe of the shit people get to say and not get killed. I am surprised the shit I get to write and not get killed. I saw many of the heroes I loved gunned down; political satirists; politicians trying to make a change, teachers trying to change minds, beloved fútbol players, and friends who were in the goddamn wrong place at the wrong time.

When Kevin Styron, the founder of Instagram, quit, he famously said, “No one ever leaves a job because everything is awesome.”

Replace job for country, and you have a quick soundbite that could explain many migratory movements: “No one ever leaves a country because everything is awesome.”

No one stuffs themselves in a container to cross the ocean because everything is awesome.

No one places their life and that of their family in the hands of a coyote because everything is awesome.

No one chooses to spend their life looking over their shoulder for la migra because everything is awesome.

Don’t get me wrong. Those countries are amazing!! Are the people in these countries warm and welcoming? Yes, they are. Are these places worth visiting? You bet! Is the food delicious? You will never be able to taste all the flavors a tostón can have in a restaurant here.

These countries are wonderful places to visit and live in, but they should never be confused with being perfect or better than others. Because the truth is that nothing is perfect. It means we get to shape what our countries look like and what our future looks like through our work.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” You can turn that into a traveling lesson by adding more insight for travel caution, “Wherever you go, there you are. And if you are in a bad neighborhood, regardless of the political and economic power of that country, you might get stabbed!”


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