Whenever I travel outside Western Europe, the most common reaction is, "Wow, that must be really hard!" as if the developing world were little more than an array of obstacles, challenges, frustrations, and difficulties--unlike the unfettered convenience and ease of everything in the good old USA. 
 
Yet every time I settle back into the American Dream, I find myself pining for any number of things that were easier or better elsewhere.  But when I describe most foreign countries as "convenient," people look baffled.  So here are some examples:
 
1.     The world is a strolling buffet: from windows of rice pudding, sandwiches, and stews, to pushcarts groaning with mandarins and grapes, to itinerant vendors of popcorn, popsicles, and tamales, you can get fat without even sitting down.  By the time you've finished your kebab, candy apple, or empanada, another vendor will appear with the second course.

Cotton candy, anyone?


2.     Food and drinks are always fresh, and often organic: pisco sours made with hand-pressed limes, juices blended while you watch, potatoes simmered overnight to make stews for the next day's breakfast. 

How fresh is your OJ?


3.     No need to worry about your wardrobe, because it never rains, never gets hot, and never gets cold.  When your clothes get dirty, you can have them washed, dried, ironed, and folded in 24 hours for $1 a pound.

4.     Signs on American buses warn, "Don't talk to the driver," and if your bags are bulky, or you don't have exact change, you're on your own.  In Peru, there's an auxiliar who loads luggage, answers questions, makes change, and reminds you when to get off--and he takes requests.  Handicapped people, senior citizens, pregnant women, and new mothers get preferential seating, and assistance with boarding.

An auxiliar who supports the home team


5.     If you don't feel like going to the bus station, simply stand on the side of the road and wait.  When a bus comes by, wave at it to stop.  Spanish has handily provided a dual-use verb for this: esperar.  If you know there's a bus coming, it means "to wait"; if you don't know, it means "to hope."

6.     You needn't waste time going to the store, or online, because if you stand outside long enough, a whole world of merchandise will come right to you.  Newspapers and snacks are just the beginning: sunglasses, watches, wallets, windup toys, a set of scissors or paintbrushes, anyone?

Sidewalk sombrero sale


7.     Comparison-shopping is easy, because businesses come in clusters: Appliances Alley, Hardware Hill, Bedding Boulevard, Plastics Plaza, Shoe and Socks Street.

All things plastic


All things metal


8.     Anything can be repaired--shoes, belts, luggage, clothes, irons, blenders, TVs--and there's no need to order special parts: a piece of bent wire can fix a motorcycle, some scraps of fabric can revive a backpack, a plastic bottle and putty can solve most plumbing problems.

First aid for motorbikes


First aid for backpacks


9.     Hailing a cab is as easy as being tall, blonde, Caucasian, or confused.

10.  Forget waiting for UPS: anything can be hauled on the top of a car or minibus--sacks of potatoes, mattresses, giant squash, bedroom sets, refrigerators.
 
 
No such thing as "overpacked"


More cargo than car

 
11.  You can leave your iPod at home, because life has a soundtrack, and it's salsa, cumbia, or son.  You can't board a bus, sit in a restaurant, enter a store, or work in an office without lively dance music coming from somewhere.

12.  It's safe to let your gym membership lapse, because you'll be walking everywhere.  With the exception of an occasional taxi or bus ride, you can spend months getting reacquainted with your feet.  (If you can't stand walking, see #9.)

Narrow sidewalks make good neighbors


13.  Any imaginable service can be engaged, from the man who types letters to the guy who repairs watches to the lady with a scale who tells you your weight.

Keys made in the street


14.  Compassion is not considered a sign of weakness.  Bus drivers stop to give change to old ladies, calling them "grandma," and shopkeeps indulge children with coins, telling them to go buy a sweet.  People talk to beggars, and often I'm the only one who doesn't give.

With or without a sweet, a happy child


15.  In the time it's taken to read this, you could have had your shoes shined, your car washed, or your phone plan renewed.

 

Nothing spells "convenient" like making a Kiva loan of your own at http://www.kiva.org.  To support the people depicted here, and the microfinance organization where I'm working (Edpyme Alternativa, Chiclayo, Peru), click here.

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Comments

Me suena conocido todo eso, Gordon. Me parece que estas disfrutando tu trabajo por esos lados que tanto lo necesitan. Un abrazo y ojala que tu trabajo te brinde satisfaccion. Un abrazo

Gordon, your view of Peru is vivid and refreshing. Perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on why travel and vacation time is such a necessity. For many, the mode of travel is rarely convenient yet the journey away from mundane daily activities filters out the 'stuff' that makes our pursuit of simple authentic engagements, more meaningful. I enjoy reconnecting with people, culture, and the environment when travelling to far away places. Thanks for opening the window for your time in Peru.

Hola Gordon! Gracias por mantenernos informado de tus experiencias en Peru. Me encanta tu perspectiva de la vida y de la gente peruana. Que suerte es convivir como has hecho. Que estes muy bien. Un abrazo! :)

Thank you for sharing your perceptions from Chiclayo and their way of living. It reminded me of my life in Merida. Talking about convenience from a foreigner perspective, the first time I arrived in the States, it was difficult getting from one point to another because I did not know how to drive. I learned to use the transportation system but found it hostile because of endless and lonely hours waiting for one bus in the middle of winter.

I loved this piece! To see so many potential roles and ways to contribute in society makes me feel hopeful in a day and age where many folks up here in the U.S are starting to feel irrelevant professionally. Also, knowing I have what it takes to hail a cab with a mouthful of tamales? Sign me up. Gordon, your work continues to inspire, and just as you are grateful for your experience, Kiva is fortunate to have you as a fellow.

Hi Gordon. I am not sure if we have ever talked since I had been on hiatus from DCC for a period of time. I love your blog piece and am pleased that you have this opportunity to enjoy life with your travels but especially now as a Kiva fellow where you are able to truly make a difference in the lives of others.

Gordon, in light of so much that is gloomy around us recently, your images and outlooks are a beacon of a hopeful horizon. Thank you helping us to be outward- and inward-looking instead of simply looking at our own reflections.

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Originally from New Jersey, Gordon earned a BA in English and Music from Swarthmore College. During two summers with the Forest Service, neither Latin nor French helped him communicate with Mexican sheepherders. Over the next several years he learned Spanish by traveling and studying in Latin America while completing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida. After teaching in Chile, he landed at Cranbrook, a boarding school outside Detroit, where he has taught English, led wilderness expeditions, coached Forensics, advised the literary magazine, and worked in the dorm. Thanks to summer vacations, he's visited more than 50 countries, including volunteering at ASSET The Gambia and the Tshume school, South Africa. A Kiva lender almost from day one, he's thrilled to get deeper into microfinance.