Many people have asked us back at home how we cope with the extreme poverty in this part of the world.
When we actually started to think about it, we realized that we didn’t notice poverty as much. And by that I don’t mean that we run around ignorant, living a bliss life without paying attentions to our surroundings.
In fact we’ve seen a lot of poor people, a lot of slums and extremely poor areas, we’ve seen people living in tiny little corrugated metal or straw huts. People working hard jobs all day long to make a living and we’ve seen children workers.
But for some reason it didn’t come as much of a shock as expected.
Why? Not because we’re heartless. No, mostly because these people don’t radiate poverty. Of course their outer experience, clothes etc. But if you look in their faces they radiate richness. Glow of life. I’ve passed people on the street begging but when I smile at them they return the broadest most genuine smile. We joined villagers in their tiny straw hut; around a fire (the kitchen) fitting half the village on tiny space, drinking rice wine with them. Enjoying their joyful smiles, innocent giggles, willing to share with us the little they had.
We drove through slums in India, filled with piles of trash but sure enough also saw a dad playing with his son with an old filthy soccer ball, but surely nobody cared about the ball falling apart, both having what seemed the time of their life.
We saw people helping each other out, happily.
After seeing these and other beautiful situations time and time again, you can’t help but question what poverty actually means. Does it mean lack of possession?
And then we enter a big city like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. Fast moving and on top of the newest technologies and what not. See hundreds of people taking the same train, but they don’t see each other because they’re busy staring at their phones.
See girls in malls stress out about buying the newest nicest clothes. See parents ship their child around in a stroller equipped with the latest iPad, because obviously city lights aren’t enough entertainment for a three year old. See people rush through their daily routine.
And then it becomes clear, this is poverty. These people are deprived of freedom. And they don’t even know it. Because freedom does not mean your country gives you freedom of speech or religion (of course that’s an aspect of it). No, freedom starts inside your head.
These people with all the opportunities in the world, that make no use of it, because their head keeps them from being free. Because we constantly stress to make others like us instead of growing up to who we want to be. We constantly force us to be what we think pleases others. None of us is really free.
Corporations and politics own us. We’re constantly surrounded by ads, people and social media that tell us how to look, how to dress, how to do our make up, where to spend our vacation days, which food is healthy, how skinny or fat to be, what’s in and what’s out. Surrounded by politics that tell us which wars to fight, that tell us where our borders are, which countries we can visit and which we can’t, that decide where our planet’s resources go to and who we can trust. And they lure us with money and we forget that money is not freedom.
Freedom means listening to the voice within you. Freedom means trust. Freedom means breaking free from our daily routine, freedom means questioning everything and acting upon what we think is right and not what we think is expected of us. Freedom means love. And love is the antithesis of laziness*.
Freedom takes courage. It is easy to live a life running from sleep to job to food to sleep. It takes courage to break out of this cycle. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe. It takes courage to question what you are doing and why. It’s easy to just do as you’re told and have financial security.
But we must decide, do we want to be free or do we want to be comfortable?
The poor here don’t seem poor because they’ve learned to understand what’s important. Poverty doesn’t mean the lack of possession. Really poor is who has the opportunity and doesn’t take it. You are only poor if you strive for possessions, if you forget what’s important.
*Quote by Scott Peck