Imagine you live in Disneyland. You’ve spent your whole life in that park, except for a few short trips to Anaheim to watch the Angels play or In-N-Out to get the world’s best burger. You see Mickey and Snow White every day.
You know you live in Disneyland. You don’t believe Goofy is a real dog nor Donald a real duck. You’ve watched the movies and understand that Ariel is representing The Little Mermaid and Mulan is an actress wearing a costume. You understand that other places don’t have Space Mountain or Splash Mountain. You get that the Haunted Mansion isn’t, either one.
No one knows better or more intimately than you the shortcomings of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” You know that some of the staff fight. You know that a lot of kids–and adults–throw their trash on the ground. Someone has to pick that up to keep THPoE from becoming a dump. Maintaining happiness takes work. You also know that being in THPoE doesn’t magically make everyone happy, Magic Kingdom though it might be. People still scream at their children. You’ve seen children get hit. You’ve seen children run away.
In other words, you know the limit of the Magic.
So you’re neither naive nor immature in your view.
You are, however, limited in your perspective. Like all of us, you tend to default to believing what you’ve experienced is what others experience. You say things like, “I know not everyone lives in an amusement park,” but you’ve only lived in an amusement park, so you don’t know exactly what that means. You can guess. You’ve seen pictures. You’ve heard news reports. But there are many aspects to life outside The Park that you can’t quite picture.
No analogy is perfect and every analogy, if stretched too far, will fail.* I’m not trying to insult anyone with this one. I’m not suggesting that suffering and tragedies we experience are less real. There were ways life felt richer to me there than here.
Being back in the U.S. after living for so long in Nicaragua feels to me like living in Disneyland. This place is extraordinary, and extravagant, and has so much that strikes me as facade.
Every school, every public school I see in our area, has facilities vastly nicer than any but the wealthiest private schools in Nicaragua. I’ve seen poor schools in the United States. I know they are here, too. But even those have much more–of almost everything–than public schools in Managua.
I’m experiencing some of the typical reverse culture shock. Grocery stores have So. Many. Choices. But I’m not deadlocked or paralyzed. I get how this works. It’s Disneyland.
Every car on the road is nice here. I know, people drive around some serious wreck here. Except they don’t, not really, not in comparison to what stays on the road in Nicaragua.
Where does Nicaragua get its buses for public transportation? Most of them are “retired” school buses. Why did they retire? You know why. They were too old. Too many miles. No longer considered “safe.” So someone got them to Nicaragua where they were wired and welded and puttied back together, then jampacked with riders such that some literally hold onto the rear door and hang out the back.
This is Disneyland.
I’m not saying it’s without problems. You could argue that some of our national problems are worse than those in many developing nations (not Nicaragua’s, since April 18). But I’m returning to a life assuming lawns and lattes and golf courses and lawnmowers. If one assumes all of those as “normal,” a world without any of those…
Okay, some people want to debate whether you can get a latte or find a golf course in Nicaragua. Yes, and yes. It’s not a perfect analogy. But golf courses and lawnmowers and even the luxury of grabbing lattes are as far from most Nicaraguans’ experience as a loudspeaker playing “Zippedy Doo Dah” and Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Don’t believe me? Our neighbor, Mileydi, who became a sister to Kim, had never seen a microwave when she first came into our kitchen. I once tried to explain to my friend Tito, when he asked me if I owned a car, about car ownership in the U.S. He told me, matter of factly, that he would likely never own a car.
Have you ever owned a car?
I know, some people in the U.S. can’t afford cars. Can anyone you know personally, anyone you are good friends with, not afford a car? Ever in their life?
Do me a favor. Next time you are at church, or a grocery store if you aren’t a church-goer, just pause and look around the parking lot. Don’t look to see who has a nicer car than you, look to see how nice the cars are there and what the sum value might be in that one parking lot, in that one church or grocery store, in your one city.
I’m trying to adjust to Disneyland.
Again, I’m not trying to be frivolous with this analogy. I’m trying to convey how wildy vast and staggering our resources, our wealth, is here.
I say this with all humility: I consider it a privilege that I lived in Nicaragua and now the world looks different to me. We were able to do that because a lot of people and some churches (i.e. groups of people) shared their resources and helped make it possible. It cost us, too: years toward retirement, a whole lot of hair from the top of my head, whatever the ongoing cost will be for seven years of insomnia.
I feel responsible for that privilege, especially in how I use it to impact others.
So here it is. We live in Disneyland. I live in Disneyland. We live so differently than how the vast majority of the world lives that it’s like Disneyland by comparison. I’m not making value judgments on us individually; I’m not saying we don’t work hard. Neither am I demeaning Nicaragua and certainly not Nicaraguans. But if we won’t see this, or if we convince ourselves that we deserve (or earned) being born where we were, I believe we deceive ourselves.
I’ve just been comparing U.S. life (mine, at least) to “normal” life in Nicaragua. The violence and brutality unleashed on the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega goverment–attacking and killing unarmed citizens, firing randomly into crowds, murdering children, denying all responsibility–drives this analogy deeper. Yesterday I heard a “bang” that sounded like a gunshot and my brain whirled to place myself. Literally, it took me a moment, standing on our property in the mountains outside of Wenatchee, to remember I wasn’t somewhere I might be in danger from gunfire.
I don’t think I’m traumatized. I didn’t dive behind the brush pile I was clearing. I am readjusting to not feeling in danger.
So if my analogy is at all accurate, then what?
*Snap like a rubberband, I wanted to say. But that doesn’t exactly describe it.
5 thoughts on “Disneyland?”
Mike, this is wonderful. It’s how I feel when I come back from two weeks in Honduras. Everyone should have the experiences you have had and they would appreciate what they have here more. Thank you for this reminder.
And the fact that some countries don’t have libraries, and we have them in almost every town….Thanks for this thought-provoking post….Lord, guide us how to respond in light of our blessings….
Very well written. From having experienced Central America – but only for short term trips – I can say it was hard coming back EVERY time. I felt, at times, ashamed to hear my lips say certain things… like “I’m starving!” That was the worst. And if I ever caught myself complaining about anything… well, you know exactly what I mean.
Welcome “home” bud.
Keep sharing these stories, because we can’t get there right now. There’s a reason you were there when you were.
Still thinking about this, hours after reading it. What I loved was my opportunities to take groups of teenagers – good kids, every one – who DIDN’T know they lived in Disneyland, so to speak. We went to some of the poorest places in Costa Rica. They were so amazed at how blind they had been. Coming home for them was also such a shock. Weeks or even months later, we’d be home, going about our lives, catch each other’s eyes, and just say, “Remember that one thing?”