As we make the trek back to Ann Arbor, I am realizing how much Grenada has given me this past week. It is not just the spices I am bringing back home for my mom or the delicious Grenadian hot sauce for myself (a hot sauce I loved so much I was able to incorporate it into nearly all of my meals in Grenada). Rather, it is the demonstration of community in Grenada that really affected me during our trip and had me questioning the way things are done in the U.S. Because of this opportunity with PHAST, I was lucky enough to be able to experience first-hand a country unlike any I have been to before.
What makes Grenada so unique for me is the overwhelming sense of community that was clear to me within minutes of arriving to the island. Driving from the airport to our resort had me laughing out loud because our driver would honk at almost every single vehicle that we drove past. I honestly thought to myself, “What kind of upside-down country is this where they are constantly honking at each other as a form of greeting?” Driving around the island throughout the week, I came to expect lots of friendly-sounding honks (the U.S. really should work on manufacturing happier-sounding horns) and lots of people on the street waving to whoever our driver was. It seemed like everyone on the island knew literally every other person living there. Granted, the entire population of the island can fit inside the Big House, but it is more than the small size of the country that has resulted in such a tight-knit population.
Though Grenada is less developed than the United States, a question arose throughout the week about what “development” really means and how that affects health. One could argue that more developed countries such as the U.S. offer the best medical technology and the most highly skilled specialists. The U.S. may be good at treating diseases, but how good are we at maintaining an overall sense of well-being?
Stress is a word not frequently used in Grenada. This is not to say that Grenadians live stress-free lives (though the 56 beautiful beaches and tropical weather can’t hurt). From my observations (disclaimer: I only spent 8 days in the country so I am no expert), I think stress is managed differently in Grenada than it is in the U.S. because of the strong social cohesion on the island. We often hear about how stress can negatively affect health, but how a stronger social network can help manage stress and promote better health. I think Grenadians experience just as much “stress” as other people across the world, but I think it manifests differently than it does in the U.S. When you walk home from work and receive greetings not only from familiar faces but also from strangers, I think it helps contribute to a healthier overall well-being because you have a stronger sense of connection to the people in your community. Running on the streets of Grenada, nearly every single person would offer a “good morning” to us. I compare that to running in Ann Arbor where receiving a smile or greeting is becoming more of an anomaly (and I don’t think it can just be blamed on people’s faces being frozen).
The point is that “developed” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” in all aspects of life. I don’t think I’ll ever experience that same powerful feeling of community in Ann Arbor as I did in Grenada, but it is still important to be mindful how the creation of cohesive social networks similar to those in Grenada can promote health. I don’t advise honking at every vehicle you pass, but a friendly smile as you walk around town can really go far in creating a better sense of well-being in our community as a whole.