Liesel’s dad sent me a very nice letter about happiness. I wanted to include my response here:
I would say that the number one source of my happiness is life. I am happy to be alive. To be able to wake everyday to the sun, see all the wonderful people and views around me and go to sleep with the stars and moon.
To have life I need a few basic things—food, water, shelter. Up until this point, all of these things have been in abundance around me. For this, I focused my sights, worries, ambitions, and expectations to other things, and all but forgot the three basic things needed to support my means of happiness—life.
People have very little here. Most people have probably never owned new clothes, shoes, buckets, etc…Everything is used, hand-me-downs sent from more developed countries. Despite this, people here are definitely happy. This leads me to the conclusion (one which many over the years have arrived at): happiness is, without a doubt, not a result of material goods.
My village friends Deo, Happy, and their two year old daughter Dense live in the developed part of the village. I am a bit unsure about social hierarchy and common wealth around here at the moment, but as far as I can tell Deo is from a very well respected family and is relatively well off. The three of them live in a two room house which, in total, is smaller than any bedroom I have ever had in America. They sleep together on a mattress on the floor of one of the rooms. With Christmas lights strung up on the wall powered by a small solar cell (a gift from the last volunteer), their small abode is certainly humble, and their welcome of me has made their house feel more like a home than even my own.
The days here are full of hard work. Happy works as a fundi, tailoring clothes. Deo sells soda in the village and farms. I went to their bean farm the other day to help pick the plants. After 5 hours picking beans in the sweltering sun I was glad to relax under a tree to pick the bean pods off the stems of the plants. After another 3 hours of doing this I was more than ready to leave. Once the bean pods are picked off the plant the only thing left to do is open the pods to get the beans. I went yesterday to help them do this. I now have a newfound appreciation for every single bean that I will ever consume. I had no idea all the work that went into getting it on my plate.
This, I think, is the fundamental difference in lifestyles between Tanzanians and Americans. In America people work to have things, to gain status, power, etc…Here in Tanzania, people work to live, to survive. If Happy and Deo had not worked to plant/pick/de-pod all those beans, what would they eat for the rest of the year?
Because people here realize the work that goes into fundamental survival, I think they are much more appreciative of the small things, much more appreciative of life. The entire country gets happy after a rainstorm because it means their crops will grow well so they will be able to eat.
In America, lack of understanding of the work that goes into basic things needed for life, causes people to be less appreciative of the “small things”. I put “small things” in quotes because it is hypothetical. What I have come to find is that many of these “little things in life” are actually quite big things. Getting rain in the wet season is the difference between eating and not eating in the dry season. Having the means and education to boil your water before you and your family drink it could be the difference between health and dysentery (the number one cause of death for children here).
In America all people have access to clean, free water, school is a requirement for children and it is free of charge—we are lucky. Because these things are widely available and easy to take advantage of, education, clean water, etc…almost become basic rights of individuals. They are taken for granted.
I am unsure where this fits into my above discussion (it does relate), but I wanted to include it for something further to consider:
I read a quote somewhere (where I cannot remember), made by a fellow named Paul Sweeney. This quote has stuck with me:
“How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy.”
I am in a region where HIV/AIDS rates are among the highest in the country. Yesterday another teacher came into my class to ask each student whether their parents are alive or dead (to know if they are eligible for a certain sponsorship). I was amazed to see that in my class of about 50 students only about 10 of them still had both parents alive. Of these 50 about 20 of them are orphans. These kids are 15 years old and already orphans. The orphaned students did not even flinch as they confirmed their parents’ absence to the teacher, “mama hayupo, baba hayupo.” This sort of loss has become a norm in the developing part of the world.
I, for one, feel incredibly blessed that I was born in America.
As a side note: Yes, I am living in Africa for two years. This does not, by any means, give me authority on the matter of living without. The fact is if no rain comes in the rainy season or I forget to boil and filter my water I can always go and buy food and bottled water. I am a foreigner, protected by where I was born. I have the option of leaving anytime I wish.