Different Paths of Life

Good morning.

Super clean manicured cities, towns, and subdivisions bother me. I don’t know if it is because I have lived outside the U.S. for so long or if this is just because the feel of a place where every piece of grass is the same length is boring and unappealing in general.

I don’t love dirty and polluted, but I do love grit.

My worst nightmare now is to live in a suburb where the roads are pristine, with each home clearly marked by a uniformly bland front yard. Even if it is in the wealthiest part of town, it doesn’t matter, it is just so boring and it feels to me devoid of connection to anyone around you.

I have kept these thoughts to myself in the past because I have accepted that I am not like everyone else and this is probably one of those things that I should not engage with publicly.

I am not interested in insulting other people’s ways, after all there are many different paths.

It is just that I rarely meet people in these places that are really happy and they certainly are not connected to their neighbors.

I decided it was worth writing about when I heard a clip from writer/filmmaker Sebastian Junger. He wrote The Perfect Storm and famously was a war reporter for years.

In the interview he talked about how modern society is rife with problems for individuals and the source is often traced back to a missing connection with society.

He says that “If you live in a modern society, you are 8 times more likely to suffer from depression in your lifetime than if you live in a poor agrarian society.” He goes on to reference a study that compared Nigerian women, a country that is often in chaos and one of the poorest in Africa, to North American women. The highest cited rates of depression were in wealthy urban North American women.

Come on! A poor country in Africa has less depression than a wealthy U.S. suburb?

The point that he goes on to make about these and other problems found in modern society is linked to the idea that it is harder than ever to be part of a community and not be alienated.

He believes that the heart of the problem is that modern society alienates people and makes them feel lonely.

After 9/11 the murder rate went down by 40%, and the suicide rate went down. The reason according to Junger is that when you traumatize an entire society you don’t turn on each other, you come together.

Basically, we tribalize.

During the Blitz in London, admissions to psychiatric wards went down.

He says that tribalizing and coming together as a group gives individuals meaning and purpose.

And meaning and purpose is a perfect way to combat depression.

I often use the word community when discussing life in the Latin Tropics and refer to it as being one of the most important considerations when deciding if this life is right for you.

Sebastian’s point of view shed light on a part of community that I feel, but never was able to precisely express.

Being an expat in Central America is like being part of a tribe.

Whichever town you live in, there are others who have moved there too. They may be from different countries, different backgrounds or whatever, but if they live in the same town as you, they have something big in common with you. They moved away from family and friends and committed to life abroad.

When people make this choice, they become untethered to their human networks and develop a need to find reliable people and information.

You end up depending on each other and needing each other to live well.

You share experiences from the location of the best hospital to what plant species is best for erosion. You develop a trustworthy network of individuals that help you cope with the unpredictable nature of living in the jungle.

If you get into trouble, people want to help because we are connected in an intimate way as a tribe.

Being part of a tribe gives individuals meaning and that in turn provides some level of satisfaction.

This is something that I have not witnessed in wealthy North American suburbs; life there is so individual and separated from your neighbors.

In my travels to Asia and Europe I realized there are many versions of expat life, but something I think that is unique to Central America is power of the tribe.

In Central America it is common for particular spots to have many expats living there. In some cases, expats started the town and there are more expats than locals; this is not the case anywhere else in the world that I have seen.

There is usually an expat network available in other places worldwide, but in Central America it is more distilled with less interference from local culture.

The good part of this is that the tribe aspect is strong; the bad part to some is that local influence is small. From cultural input to indigenous members, expat tribes in Central America can be in short supply.

I used to lament this, but I have changed my perspective.

In my opinion it is the very fact that expats have to rely on each other that leads to such a strong community bond. Developing their own body of information in their own environment specifically for their needs makes the tribe such a compelling experience.

Being a stranger in a strange land but having a community of others just like you is awesome.

It is this single reason I still live in Nosara, Costa Rica. There are better places to live worldwide, but I would miss being part of the tribe too much to leave.

I always leave Costa Rica ready to consider a new place to live. I like to be disciplined and open-minded and not avoid choices because they are uncomfortable. It is because of this I consider living somewhere else. But after I experience other places there are inevitably strengths and options that are better than my home, but they just don’t have the same community feel that I have grown to love.

I head back happy to call Costa Rica my home.

All countries in the Latin Tropics offer some version of the tribe and you can pick one that fits your interests. Rest assured if you do pick a tribe, I think you will find benefits that make you happy for years to come.

Have a good weekend.

Josh    Viva Tropical      notifications@team.vivatropical.com

One Comment

  1. Lorine

    August 27, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Loved reading it and though my experience is very different, I live in Nicaragua and my tribe is equal expat and lifelong Nicaraguans, the idea of cooperative vs defiantly independent is likely a cornerstone of mental health or lack thereof.
    The concept of pulling together has long been recognized as what moves a society forward or into an indefensible corner.
    I live in rural Nicaragua, grew up in very rural Montana, raised my kids in full on suburbia (Oregon). The isolation and disconnect was only with the “houses” that changed hands frequently. We still have lifelong friends from the old neighborhood and though many have moved on, we stay in touch weekly… I still prefer rural, but it is more about who I am than my neighbors..
    Much to ponder….