People are the Meaning of Life: The Rich, The Poor, and The Loved

There are three types of people in the world. The rich, the poor, and the loved.

Ecuador

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

I recently watched the deleted scenes from the holiday movie Love Actually. The camera zooms in on a poster of two African women in the hot desert. They are carrying baskets full of corn on top of their heads – a scene that would cause many viewers to assume they live a difficult live. As their camera gets closer to the shot of the women, the picture comes to life.

Through subtitles at the bottom of the screen, the viewer learns that these women are indeed quite happy. They are simply carrying food from their garden as they do each day, talking about their husbands and their children. The scene closes with one of the women with her husband, looking out across their small plot of land. They lived a simply life, but were quite content. They had each other and had enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

A few weeks ago I viewed a slide show called “What the World Eats”. Each slide featured a family from a different country pictured in their kitchen with all the food they eat in a week’s time. One of the poorest families featured was from Ecuador. Their kitchen was simply a corner of their hut. They only ate vegetables, I’m sure not by choice. But they sincerely looked happy in the picture. They had each other and enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

Here is a link to that slideshow I saw :

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

While much of the world experiences constants civil wars and famine and corrupt governments, not all “poor countries” are suffering. They just live on a lot less than us. And are happy. Not all cultures require a family to own a large house and a minimum of two cars.

Italy

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Subconsciously, I have been pitying every foreign country poor enough not to have their own national brand of vehicles or their own equivalent to American Idol. But perhaps, they have been pitying me, the Capitalist. Living in a land where it’s easy to end up focusing on chasing money for an entire lifetime.

My church has a ministry where they take in refugees from northern Africa, Iraq, and Southeast Asia. The church helps them to find jobs and an apartment to help them “get on their feet”. Some of them have expressed that life in America is not as easy as it has been romanticized.

While it is the land of the free, it is also the land of the working. Many are surprised by how many hours Americans must work a week to support their families and keep up the maintenance of even one car, which is all but necessary in our culture.

Obviously they are glad to be here instead of imprisoned in a refugee camp in a country plagued with violence, racism, and religious discrimination. But to be an American typically means a person must work the majority of the hours of the week.

Mongolia

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

From what I’ve been hearing from people outside this country, something Americans are known for is being obsessed with their work. But I don’t know. I’m not an outsider.

I do know I only have about 3 quality hours (at very best) each weekday with my wife. Because she’s in her Master’s classes all day Saturday, the only day we really have together is Sunday. And by then, we’re exhausted from the work week. I’m realizing I envy families who actually get to spend time with each other.

My wife has said several times that she would have like to live in the pioneer days of covered wagons and schoolhouses in the West. Not me. Too hot. Too cold. Too easy to get sick. To easy to die. No thanks.

Egypt

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

However, this is the only life I know. If I never knew the comfort of an air conditioner in a house or road trip in an SUV with a CD player, then I wouldn’t know what I am missing.

I thank God for my life in America in 2009. Such a blessed country.

But in my time of seeing happy, simple families in poorer countries I have traveled like Trinidad, Ecuador, and the northern mountainous villages of Thailand, I became aware that I wanted what they had.

A big house and trendy clothes and new cars mean working more to keep up with the high overhead. I try to imagine a life where the picture is so beautiful, even if the frame isn’t fancy. That’s the life I’m aiming for.