Where is happiness ?

A moment lived in Cabo Verde by Maria, a traveller from Portugal

Most of us, living in western countries take for granted all the advantages of living in democratic and developed nations. We have freedom to think, speak and move around. We have a house, usually a car, a job to earn our living, health insurance or national services, access to school and to books, Internet, cultural events. We should agree that we, who write and read travel blogs and actually travel for leisure are just a few (a privilege few) of the 7 billion over the earth.

But you agree with me that, most of the time, we don’t feel privilege. We feel that we want more. And don’t take me wrong. I believe that ambition may be a great thing. Can be a powerful drive to make you grow and be a better person or a more accomplished professional. But what are we missing? Sometimes is just stuff. A bigger house, a new car, a new smartphone or a new camera. Sometimes is something we can’t define. It’s a hollow space inside, needing to be fulfilled. It’s an emotion that eludes and escape from us. And we feel incomplete and unhappy.

Twenty years ago I went on a job assignment to Cabo Verde, an African archipelago close to the coast of Senegal. Once a Portuguese colony, Cabo Verde was an independent country for around twenty years then, but still poor and in development. Contrary to other African countries once in Portuguese dominion that have many natural resources, Cabo Verde lacks those resources. Nevertheless, for many years now the country has a stable representative democracy and grow an economy that is mostly service oriented, with a great focus on tourism.

But let’s go back in time. It was the early 1990’s and I moved to a country with an outbreak of cholera going on. The water was not safe to drink or even to wash yourself (try to shower with your mouth closed!). The supermarkets had just a few items on the shelves and no more than one or two varieties of each product. The street markets were full of color and people, but it was easy to see how poor the people were. Was current word that, in the capital, some people used to go to the dumpsters to collect food from the waist of the hotels.

Children ask us for the remaining water in the bottles we have on the restaurant tables, for they didn’t have money to buy bottled water. And ask for pens and pencils, for in school they would receive one of each in the beginning of the year and it didn’t last. Cabo Verde is a very dry country where hardly ever rains. Still, every year the farmers work the land and prepare the plantations, not knowing if the water will come, without any guarantee that their effort will give some fruits.

In those days, even small kids had to walk miles to get water from public fountains, carrying heavy jars. And the same kids, build their toys from cans and wood. Amazing toys they love and were proud of. They shared with each other the things we give them and were grateful.

Day after day, the things I saw, heard and feel while talking and relating to these people, brought some light into my mind and some lightness into my soul. Those people have so little, endure such hardships and yet, they seemed so happy, grateful and perseverant. Poor as they were, they give me such a valuable gift. Happiness is not out there, definitely not in any material possession or even in the best of circumstances. It’s in the attitude, in the way we look at live and at us in it, in the gratefulness we can feel for this amazing opportunity and for what we can make with it.

This traveller has a blog : The Wanderer’s Chronicles

credit photo : Maria