The most difficult adjustment upon changing places from Latin America to the United States is that here, we are expected to flush toilet paper. It is sacrilege. You could ruin your plumbing system from here to Kingdom Come, and you can abandon all hope of ever decontaminating your waterways.
I was shocked in IAH to find that the Tampax waste container in the bathroom was so small – where were you to put toilet paper? I am practicing flushing it in the privacy of my home but I am very concerned about what I might be doing to my pipes and to our fisheries.
When I travel from here to the West Coast or to Mexico, I am always amazed by the opulence of everything, and by how relaxed everyone is because of this. Coming from Peru to Panama I experienced the same shock once, and it doubled upon arrival in Louisiana.
I should stop being amazed, however. My student from New Jersey pointed out all the reasons why Louisiana is an inferior state, and he has me quite well convinced. Meanwhile, I looked up some information on Zimbabwe, one of the world’s most ruined countries with a lot of pollution, unemployment above 80%, and life expectancy in the mid thirties.
By these standards I should be more critical of Louisiana, which I have been painting as a paradise for several days, and less so of Peru, about which I have expressed horror for two months. On the world scale they are quite close together. In life expectancy, for example, the United States and Peru are only about 25 percentage points apart, in the middle and high middle of the world range.
And Lousiana ranks #49 in life expectancy among our disparate states, followed only by Mississippi and the District of Columbia. This brings us closer to Peru, where life lasts 68 years compared to our 74. And the official unemployment rate in Peru is less than twice ours (7.2% vs. 4.8% (U.S.) and 3.9% (LA), although much Peruvian employment is underemployment, and is severely underpaid).
I went to Wal*Mart, where despite the horror of this company I sometimes go as an alternative when horrified by other stores and their prices. I always forget how long the lines are, and how slow. I realized again how efficient the old fashioned markets in Peru are, and how upscale my supermarket really was, with its well stocked shelves and checkout stands manned at all times.
While shopping and waiting in line I was observing people, who in especially this Wal*Mart are quite rough. My experience with the speech and mannerisms of prisoners suggested to me that some of these customers had done time. I thought back. I decided that a comparable group in Peru would look about the same. Slightly more hard bitten, but healthier. And they would be less raucous, because this is, after all, the United States, land of raucousness.
I did not understand all the in jokes being made. I remembered that one never understands everything, even in one’s native language.