Go ahead, list all the problems you had.
Have you thought about a few? Good. Now come with me to a Caribbean island. It might make you feel a little better.
With his black-skinned toes in his native sand, Thomas sets up shop beneath a palm tree, looking out at the ocean and keenly watching the old, white, wrinkled European tourists as they stroll down the wave-tossed waterfront.
I met Thomas when he tried to sell me a woven bowl crafted by his nimble yet weather-worn fingers. The bowl wasn’t as appealing as his story.
Asking $16 for his wares, Thomas strolls up and down the beaches of Grenada selling what he can. It’s his full-time job and always has been. The nearby call of “Spices for sale! Necklaces too!” tells me that he isn’t alone. Those baskets and necklaces and homespun trinkets peddled to tourists are many Grenadians’ meal ticket.
Unemployment in this little country teeters at 40 percent.
Forty percent of the smiles you see on the street hide hunger pangs and that nagging image of a family back home in painted plywood and sheet metal bungalows. There aren’t any screens on the windows to keep the mosquitoes and flies out. Dengue fever is common; luxuries such as milk, or a computer, aren’t.
It’s an old, hashed axiom that no matter what your situation, there is always someone else worse off. Your eyes might have glazed over the old phrase because it was drilled into your head by your mother. But mom was right.
In America, unemployment sits at 8.3 percent. Consumer confidence weakened in January while at the same time homebuilder confidence continued to show signs of growth. The United Nations Human Development Index lists America as the third least impoverished country, just nanopoints behind Australia and Norway. Grenada landed 67th on that list, meaning Thomas and his hut-dwelling and hungry friends are in the top 50 percent of the richest countries in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was dead last at ranking 187.
With nothing but Top Ramen on the table, living in an apartment because of a foreclosed home and the Internet out of order because of a late power bill, many Americans think they have hit rock bottom. With a blackened and rotting semi-smile, Thomas tells me that he knows what the Internet is, but like a Rolls Royce or air conditioning, it is esoteric. Something he knows exists but will never experience. As I walked back home, my mind turned to all the little things that were waiting for me back in America.
Now, you were telling me about your Monday ...
Sarah Cooper-Glenn is a journalist from Sparks, Nev. She currently lives in Grenada where she is a global politics and travel writer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website, SarahGlenn.Net.