I’m reflecting once again on the question of why I like to hang out in Central America. What’s the point of it? One answer is that in a poor country, necessities and luxuries are cheap to me, I can afford more comfort and safety, better food, I can pay people to do stuff for me, and so on. Being rich is corrupting, and I know that, but we’ve talked about that before and it’s not what I want to dwell on right now.

We went to the airport in Belize early, at 8:00 AM for an 11:00 flight, in order to make sure everything was in order for our flight home. No one was behind the airline counter and the automated check-in kiosks were shut down. We found out they open at 9:30. For about an hour before they opened, employees milled around trying to keep busy, moving slowly, not booting up the kiosks. This assured that by 9:30 when they opened for business, there would be a long line of passengers waiting. Among my interactions with the ticket agent, she asked me if my accordion fits in the cage they have for measuring carry-ons. I said no but it fits into the overhead. She asked again if it fits in the cage. I said musical instruments are allowed on board, and she said OK. Everything worked out, they allowed us to board early with our instruments, they were actually very cooperative and responsive, but I was aware of being alienated in this foreign environment where people set up unnecessary impediments to things going easily. I was aware of feeling relieved that soon I’d be in Houston, which I hate, but where I feel better equipped to deal with things, to be demanding or assertive if necessary, or simply to anticipate what people might do.

So, why do I want to go where I’m alienated? Here’s the insight I had in the airport in Belize. I’m alienated here at home; I feel like an outsider in a culture that generally offends and annoys me, here in the U. S. So I’d rather go to a culture where I really truly am an outsider and don’t belong. There are things about the third world that I like: an absence of blandness, more of the friendliness and easy-going openness that’s found in places where globalization is not so pervasive, and so on. But fundamentally, I’m more comfortable being alienated in a place where I really am a foreigner. That’s what it comes down to.

As a foreigner, I’m exempt from the pretentiousness, from the social hierarchy, sort of outside of it. I’m a guest, treated with hospitality and respect. If I commit faux pas and don’t understand the social subtleties, not to mention the language, well, that’s to be expected and it’s shrugged off. I’m sincere and respectful enough that they don’t consider me too arrogant, just an ignorant foreigner. It’s a nice position to be in. And conversely, I don’t have to be annoyed or offended by things I observe and don’t approve of in the culture, because it’s not my culture. I’m just passing through.