Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We Got 99 Problems But That Ain't One

I count myself as guilty as anyone, really. It's such a standard thing to do in Fort McMurray. We complain - often vociferously - about the things we don't have or should have or want to have.

We want more retail, we whine. An airline cancelled our direct flights to Vegas, we moan. We have to wait for hours in the ER to see a doctor. Our roads are bumpy, our traffic jams too long, our governments too slow to give us what we want, which usually involves putting more of the money we generate back into us to improve our quality of life.

And I get it, I really do, because I have been one of the complainers, but on occasion you go somewhere and realize how relative it all is. For me that place was Cozumel, Mexico.

Cozumel is a wonderful place for tourists or cruise ship passengers like me. This little island greets visitors warmly and welcomes them and their cash, and when we arrived our tour guide wanted to ensure we enjoyed Cozumel. We were heading to do some horseback riding and then on to the beach for some rest and relaxation, and it was marvellous to bump along in an air-conditioned Mexican bus playing tinny Spanish music on our way to our destination.

The ranch was wonderful, the ranch hands friendly and warm. We enjoyed our time and then we headed to the beach, a quick stop for some nachos and margaritas and sea and sun and sand.

While at lunch we were approached by one of the ubiquitous beach side jewelry dealers. He claimed he is a gemologist and makes his own wares, although I was dubious as I had seen the same rings and earrings for sale on the ship. It was a game, almost certainly, one designed to attract tourists who would relish the idea of buying handmade jewelry rather than mass produced, and I could not fault his ability to weave such a yarn to brighten his livelihood.

After awhile we finished our nachos and the Intrepid Junior Blogger headed down to the sea, anxious to enjoy the beach while I stayed behind to pay. The jewelry dealer who had approached us earlier (and been rebuffed with the knowledge that I had not come with enough cash to buy) approached again and asked how old she was.

I told him that she is fourteen and he smiled. He then asked what I do for a living and when I said I am a writer he shook his head and expressed some surprise that that could even be a job (I didn't even know how to explain operating social media accounts as part of a career). He asked what the IJB wants to do, pointing to her as she stood on the beach, water up to her ankles and shoes in her hand.

"She wants to be an engineer," I said. "Maybe even work on the space program, designing space vehicles or be an astronaut. Or maybe design ships, she's shown some interest in that after this cruise", I say.

He looks at me and says: "Big dreams, big plans!" And then he shakes his head again and says: "But maybe in Canada these dreams are possible, si Amiga?" and in his face I can see that in Cozumel these dreams, dreams as simple as going to university, may well be big - and unachievable - dreams indeed.

I join the IJB on the beach, and after a time we head back to the ship in our air conditioned bus. The tour guide says he wants to show us some of the real Cozumel, and so we drive through the city, passing the kind of abject poverty that even I have tried to forget exists. At one house - a place where it appears part of the roof and wall have caved in - a group of small dusty children stand beside the road, listless in the extreme heat. They watch as we go by, their faces expressionless. 

As we pass them I wonder about their dreams and their futures. I look at the IJB beside me, her eyes wide as she sees a kind of poverty she has not really experienced before.

We have problems in Fort McMurray. We have the kind of problems that a booming economy brings, the kind of problems people in other parts of this world would give anything to have. Even with all our problems we are rich beyond the comprehension of people like some of those I saw in Cozumel, who would no doubt be astonished at our complaints as while we have problems we have incredible opportunity and hopes and dreams and plans. 

We might have 99 problems in Fort McMurray, but opportunity ain't one. The next time I think to complain about some tediously minor issue in our community I hope to remember an island far away, where opportunity isn't a given, but a dream. 

I don't swear often in this blog, but today I will. We are so fucking lucky, regardless of our 99 problems, and we should never, ever doubt it.

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