If the shoe fits, wear it
As many of you will know, I have been in Costa Rica for almost two years, and I am doing my best to stay here. I have no desire to return to England, and an utter revulsion concerning the idea of ever returning to London, the city of my birth. It has already fallen, and I want no part of it. It is, of course, a rich city, a bastion of the first world. Or is it?
I am, supposedly, in the Third World. Now, the ‘three worlds’ are a legacy of a post-war carve-up primarily based on economics, but not confined to money. Saudi Arabia, for example, is bafflingly included as a third-world country, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were bankrolling the EU in return for shovelling their shit over there. Why do you think the Clintons are such throne-sniffers when it comes to an oil-rich state run by a handful of fat fucks who can’t even wipe their own arses?
Transparency International ranks 200 countries in terms of corruption, with Denmark being the least corrupt and Somalia finishing last. Costa Rica rolls in at a respectable 48, level with Spain, whose shackles it shook off in 1821. Ironic, really.
Economically, Costa Rica has had a steady 3.5% growth for the past five years. To give context, the USA achieved a feeble average of 1.6% under Saint Obama, and Trump has struggled to turn that into 3% as of the last available figures. You will not, of course, be reading about that in the newspapers I told you specifically to discard in the last postcard from Traumaville. Again, Spain is cruising along at a pathetic 0.9%. Maybe you should have fought harder to keep Central America, Sancho.
But, and this is my point, the league table of countries, and their division into first, second and third worlds, is basically an economic calibration. Economics, however, as contentious as it is, deals with figures and statistics, and is at least quantifiable. What happens when you switch from quantity to quality? Let us look at the World Happiness Index (WHI).
Now, these league tables reflect, I think, an obsession with soccer, and the WHI is backed by, and an invention of, the UN, which is essentially The Muppet Show without the laughs. However, even if it is heuristic, a rule of thumb, the WHI makes interesting reading. It is cobbled together as a joint effort between economists, psychologists, number-crunchers and social policy types. In 2017, the World Happiness Index top 20 was as follows:
8. New Zealand
12. Costa Rica
19. United Kingdom
You will note, I trust, that Costa Rica is the only Central American country to make the top 20, and one of only two Latin American countries to dent the charts. Also interesting is that, if you want to be truly happy, go and live somewhere fucking cold. In Europe. Let us change tack, and look specifically at my little corner of the country sometimes described as the ‘Switzerland of the Americas’.
On Thursday and Friday mornings, should you happen to be passing the Catholic church in the sleepy Pacific Costa Rican town in which I have washed up, you will see me there, waiting for my lift. A car will pull up – I am always early – and in I will hop, usually with one or two others. Then we will drive out of the town, for perhaps twenty minutes, to our destination. Once we leave the main drag, it’s a bumpy ride through African palm oil plantations until the road begins to smooth, having been graded against the heavy rain that falls during the wet season, just having passed as it has.
We will pull up outside a property which is heavily fenced, and for a reason. It is a dog sanctuary, and houses some of the many waifs and strays picked up from the streets, the beach, and the occasional cardboard box. But we will wait before we meet the doggies. Let us look at the journey.
What we pass through is not exactly a shantytown, but it is only a couple of rungs up the ladder. Most of the houses are chozas, or shacks, and usually built from cinder-block – breeze-block for my British compatriots – and finished in teak, which is cheap here. But some are wooden shanties, and some are simply fashioned from what we Brits call corrugated iron, warped tin panels roughly bolted together. It is a barrio, and it is a poor area.
We pass a school, though, and the richness of the township begins to occur to me. I see small children, perhaps six or seven years old, playing gleefully on a patch of grass outside their little school, proudly displaying the Costa Rican flag, as all schools do here. What do I know about these little ones? They will be taught mathematics and arithmetic. They will be taught their own language and English. They will have time spent drawing and colouring and singing, and all the things that bring joy to small people. They will likely sing their national anthem every day and have music lessons. They will learn about the fantastical menagerie of animals that live in their country. Costa Rica covers 0.2% of the world’s land mass, and yet is home to 5% of the world’s species. While walking my dogs this morning, I stopped to admire a toucan. What these little mites won’t ever have to suffer is a fat transvestite waltzing into their classrooms, with the blessing of their government, to lecture them about transgenderism. The won’t be taught about the evils of racism, or Islamophobia, or how diversity makes their country strong. They will get, in short, an education appropriate to small children from teachers who care about them and not ideology.
And these children will be happy and, perhaps when they are older, their beautiful little country will climb ever further up the Happiness Index, overleaping other countries as they have overleapt the UK since 2015.
And this is poverty?
Take your wealth and stick it up your arse. I have seen, and worked for, so many unhappy rich people in my life I have lost count. I remember one particular specimen, a fat fucker who was a retired accountant. He was on the board of directors at an expensive London block of apartments. One of the other residents used to refer to him as ‘The Fat Controller’, a character from Thomas the Tank Engine. That still makes me smile, years later. Rich as Croesus, and with a bitch of a wife who even made mine look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he was the most miserable fucker you could imagine. Straight out of Balzac. His apartment was worth north of a million quid in 2010, and filled, I mean filled, with vulgar, crappy, and expensive art. Him and his wife would get pissed on hugely expensive wine every night, but I never saw him spend a happy minute. He looked to me to be heading towards a heart attack. I hope he had it.
Speaking of which, poverty and wealth are in the heart, not in the bank balance. I have spent my time in the barrio here in Costa Rica, where people are lucky to earn $100 a week, and I have spent time in the council estates of London, where you can earn more than that for sitting on your arse smoking dope and watching daytime TV, and more if you crap out some kids. Here, you see smiling poor people with perfect skin, recycling waste, getting their refrigerators repaired instead of just buying new ones, lovingly nursing their rattling old cars, repairing their busted rocking chairs. In Tottenham, you see shambling, snarling zombies with fucking awful skin because of the processed crap they eat, and who will whine to the council that their DVD player is broken and can they have a new one. Or a new flat. Or a new mosque.
I would rather be poor in a poor country – and I am poor – than well-off in a rich one. Happiness is not money. It is the rhythmic beat of the heart in perfect accordance with the dictates of what one needs, rather than what one wants.