I’ve met people who have what seems a bottomless bank account, a number of houses around the world and pop from one luxury resort to the next.
And I’ve met people who live in a wooden shack with a corrugated roof and cook their freshly caught fish over the coals the old fashioned way.
Who is happier? Who has a better quality of life? And based on what?
These recent meetings and experiences have all led me to question what life is about and what I want out of life. And with my recent adventure to Yogyakarta, I pondered more….
What does it mean?
Who is to say what a good standard of living is, a quality life?
Based on what?
What do we really need....?
Over the years I visited a few villages, I’ve visited as a tourist and not known or thought too much about the people who live and grew up on them. Now I do, and it is changing the way I see things.
The latest trip was to Mengkait, a very small island in the South China Sea, part of the Anambas. On this tiny island live maybe 1000 people - living closer together than you live in Hong Kong that’s for sure. Just across the waters is a huge island, why not settle there I asked....
Because they worry they may run out of water....
Having to go across every day to get the water they need means they are more conscious of what they use, if they had easy access to it they would probably use more and use too much and run out.
It reminds me of Ellen MacArthur who was the first woman to sail single- handed around the world. On her journey the realisation came to her that the earth’s resources are limited and as a planet we will run out one day....
Mengkait is dirty, filled with rubbish and plastic littering the streets. They have established some form of economy for themselves. The kids go to school, many fathers are fishermen, and their diet is mainly white rice, fresh caught fish and some green vegetables. However there are many shop houses selling single use foods, drink sachets and household items - the bane of our plastic problem in the world.
As our boat sailed away, I caught myself thinking how we could help them establish industry, improve their economy and help them live better lives.
Better by whose standards???
By mine, my egotistical western mind thinking that how I have known to live is the right way to live. Who am I to say their lives are not fulfilled and they are not content with how they live?. Unless I ask I don’t know and even if their answer is they’d like it to be different, is the Western way the best?
Honestly, I don’t think it is. Our consumerist nature, our lack of community and our long hours of work (that I question the necessity of) are not creating happy countries. Many people and societies as a whole are driven to gain more and more at the expense of their health, happiness and overall well being.
These islanders are probably not the healthiest I know that, but they are strong in community and they have time with families and extended families. They sit and eat together, they don’t work round the clock and in many ways they don’t spend above their means.
I did wonder as I looked at the many fishing boats bobbing around on the waters, how many men lose their lives to the sea - who goes out one morning never to return? What happens next?
What are these children learning about life? Skills from western ways or skills needed for the way they will live their lives and how many actually leave the islands - how many want to? And for what? In search of......
The one thing I really do think needs to change for these few villages I’ve now visited, is the cleanliness, the reduction of plastics and the proper disposal of waste. It’s a selfish wish as it is for the betterment of the whole planet and I say selfish because it is my wish. I know there are many who feel the same, and these small islands are a great place to start.
There are people out there doing this; BAF (the Bawah Anambas Foundation), https://www.bawahreserve.com/bawah-anambas-foundation/ , the Vega https://www.sailvega.com/ , Plastic Bank https://www.plasticbank.com/ to name a few. Through BAF we are assisting them in waste management and educating them why to change. But we also need to consider the manufacturers who continue to produce these single serve items - if they stopped there’d be less waste wouldn’t there??
Let’s be real, that is unlikely to happen. So in the mean time, we do our part, help these islands to tidy up - not to become "westernised" but to improve island hygiene, and to help them be able to keep fishing for their livelihoods.
I have experienced a few things on these journeys - some new, some simply interesting to note. 6 hours on a big old boat having to squat over a hole to pee into the sea below. Washing with cold water I throw over me from a tub of collected rain water. Freshly caught and cooked fish (and I mean fresh) barbequed over an open, old fashioned fire that tasted so much better than any other fish I’ve had in restaurants. Mooring our boat by gently easing the smaller boats out the way; think bumper cars with less bump, sitting on the floor attempting to eat with my right hand (I gave up I admit and resorted to cutlery...), watching kids climb in a tree and pick up a scrap of plastic to swing about, chickens and cats meandering the wooden streets, houses on stilts, upturned satellite dishes for something or other, and all the while many have their mobile phones in hand....
What do many of these villages need? Simple basic resources - school items, medical provisions, a dentist, education… Not necessarily a change to the way they live, but maybe making the way they live a little healthier both for them and the planet.
As I watched those kids in the tree, I thought
“what is life about?”
At the end of the day, I’m thinking that life is about simply living and living simply, learning, experiencing, and giving to each other and the earth in whatever way we can for the betterment of all life on earth…