Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

I grew up in a place where apartments were pretty much assigned by the socialist government. The 11 storey 200 meter long rectangle of a building where I grew up in Warsaw, Poland brought together the strangest of neighbors. There were national theater actors and authors, living in identical apartments next to ex-farmers and government informers. There was a sense of safety, provided you didn’t ask for much. You couldn’t travel to western countries, start a business nor criticize the government openly – it was a safe, gold-plated prison cage.

Benjamin Franklin warned that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither.” The two extremes of security are anarchy and prison and not many of us would consider living in either of these extremes.

For many of us living on Roatan, working toward and preserving one’s sense of autonomy is very important. The pirates, sailors, immigrants, desperados, divers, and ex-company men that came here were often searching for that sense of freedom. This is why I like living in Honduras and on Roatan in particular. You can be free and live in conditions that provide basic security, basic infrastructure, basic healthcare and basic order. Orwell wrote that freedom “is the ability to say that two plus two is four. All else will follow.” I think Roatan offers a unique place to state that basic math.

Living on such an island teaches you many things though perhaps the most important is self- reliance. I don’t mean self-reliance as in an individual going it alone, I mean self-reliance in the sense of a community relying on itself. We can’t rely on things going right all the time, or on the government doing its job, nor on Roatan skies unleashing only average rainfalls. Life on the island teaches us to be resourceful, to anticipate crises and to be prepared for them. When hurricane Mitch hit, many islanders were prepared and had plenty of food to share. Island life teaches you to work with others as Roatan is not a place to be alone, or count on government organizations to step in when things get complicated. Here you have to work with your neighbors, friends, sometimes even with individuals you dislike in order to solve issues at hand.

Life on the island teaches to be resourceful, to anticipate crisis

Roatan also teaches you humility. Living in a big city teaches you that consequences of casual individual interactions have little impact on the future, as it is very unlikely you will see that person ever again. Not so on Roatan. Here we constantly run into the same people and relationships do matter.

Living here teaches you to appreciate life. We are surrounded by often rugged coastline, and seas that offer up deluges and occasional hurricanes. We are plagued by power outages, ill-maintained infrastructure, and never-ending traffic accidents that remind us how very fragile life can be.

Island life teaches you that answers to many questions should and will not come from the tax funded, say-it-all and know-nothing government. The solutions to island problems will come from members of community itself. Here, dozens of functions normally fulfilled by government agencies are fulfilled by good-willed volunteers and donors feeling strongly about an issue.

In many places: Nicaragua, Europe, and the US, the public forum, fueled by rampant social media use, is becoming what philosopher Hobbs described as “war of all against all” – an ever increasing compartmentalization of groups and individuals into opposing fractions with differing points of view on things of increasingly less significant, but given increasing exposure. This has produced a reaction from the opposite side: a surge in of authoritarian state and increasingly authoritarian regional state blocks: the Chinese state telling you if you can have a child, the European Union telling you what you can post on social media, the US telling you precisely what to do and how to act in an airport.

While visiting these places is nice, on Roatan two plus two is still four.