I have lived and spent beautiful 14 months in South America. I spent a semester in Mexico, six months working in Colombia and the rest I spent mainly travelling across Central and South America. South America is a continent full of contrasts, colours, tastes and extraordinary vibes. Spending so many months there, made South American culture a part of my identity. Today, I want to share with you what I have learned from there. As Europeans, we might live with the eurocentric point of view and just travelling on our own so far away help us to realize we are not the centre of the universe. In my opinion, we have a lot to learn from South America and vice-versa.
People Are Good
This is definitely the biggest lesson learned. Before coming to South America I didn’t really have doubts about the locals and their kindness. But still, I have encountered such nice people, even in the countries like Honduras, Salvador or Colombia which, unfortunately, have such a negative renomé due to their security situation. I have hitchhiked, completely alone from Mexico to Panama and even though some call me crazy, it allowed me to meet many people on my way. 99% of people around the globe are good. No matter what when media says, the media mostly covers events which people want to read. Therefore don’t let fear deter you from visiting South America.
Europeans and Americans and people influenced by western standards worry too much about the future. Job, kids, climate change, money, university. There is a constant flow of thoughts which stops us from being present. This can be both good and bad, but I believe that most of the time, we worry too much. In my opinion, we should have a long-term plan, but still, we should be able to enjoy the presence and daily little things. I give you a live example. When we miss a bus, we automatically get angry and upset and we can easily let this negative event ruin the rest of the day. What do people in South America do? They start talking to others who have also missed the bus. The new company will make a nice ambient and they suddenly realize that a new bus came. They might be 2 hours late, but s*it happens. Enjoy life, smile and be present. At least more often.
Safety, Education and Healthcare are a Privilege
Hands down to our governments and public institutions. I come from the Czech republic a country with free (and excellent!) education at all levels, public healthcare system for everyone and safety on a high level. As I was raised in this, I consider it a standard. Safety, healthcare system and free education. But it is not a standard nor a norm. People in Latin America usually need to work hard to go to university, whether to earn money and pay for a private university or study extremely hard to get into a public school.
Be Proud of Where Are You From
Countries in South America might be corrupt, might be complicated to live in and might struggle a lot, but one thing is in common. People are proud of where they are from. Some countries might be more and some less proud of their history and origin, but I think the nationalism in South America is big! I might be a little bit biased here as Czechs are, in my opinion, not really proud. Don’t get me wrong, we like each other, but probably due to a lot of historical negative events, we don’t have healthy self-esteem. Your country doesn’t have to be the best in the world, but it’s a place from where your roots come from. Embrace it!
Water is Precious
We hear it. We read it. But we don’t really realize it until we live or at least visit a place, where water is the most precious thing. Yes, recently we read a lot about oil prices and gas shortages, but water is vital for all life. You could survive for a month or so without food but less than a week without water. We should really be conscious about the use of water and save it as much as possible. There are many parts of the world, not only in South America where people die due to lack of water. How lucky we are that we even splash a toilet with potable water.
I will tell you a story. Our tour guide in Comuna 13 was a woman, of African descent, a 30-year-old woman with three kids and no husband. She plus her broader family live together in a little house with cold water, poor electricity and miserable infrastructure. She said she has to take care of the kids and it hasn’t been always easy. Increasing prices and the same amount of salary every month make her life more and more difficult to feed her and her family. We don’t have much, but we are happy, she said. We have literally everything in Europe and the USA, yet we feel miserable. This is probably the deepest and biggest lesson I have learned during my latest visit to Colombia in March 2022. Happiness comes from inside and if we are not happy now, we should probably learn it.
Food is Love
Food is culture, food is a love language, food is communication, food is a social event, and food is everything. Food gives an occasion to meet with members of your family, it’s a way to preserve a culture. Food is a way to understand particular regions and immerse into their culture. For example, Mexican food in México has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Some countries can plant almost everything thanks to geographical diversity. This helps to be agriculturally self-sufficient. In Europe, we struggle a lot with imported fruits, which could be easily produced on our own lands. Yes, South America is far away from everything with fewer strong markets, but the fact that you buy a banana and potato which has travelled only a hundred kilometres is different. And the price is different too.
We have so much to learn from indigenous cultures. A diverse population of nearly 370 million habitants (according to the UN) are the pre-Columbian peoples of South America and their descendants. Before the Spanish colonization of the Americas, many of the indigenous peoples of South America were hunter-gatherers and indeed many still are, especially in the Amazonian area. Some women don’t even speak Spanish, some people still believe a camera takes their souls away and many live in a close connection with nature. For me, meeting an indigenous community which still lives a deeply traditional way of life is always an extraordinary experience. If you ever plan to visit South America, please make sure to visit some indigenous communities. If you are in Peru or Bolivia, no need to search since the majority of habitats are still indigenous.
South America is love and has many faces. I am planning to come back soon and explore the parts I haven’t been to yet. It’s such a big continent!
Have you been to South America? Or are you planning to go? What countries are on your bucket list? Let me know in the comment!
Chica Checa (alias A Czech girl in Spanish)