As I have introduced my philanthropic aspect, I might as well post a few of my past writing pieces that were inspired by my amazing traveling experiences. Here’s one that gives a brief introduction to my family, as well as our experience on a trip to Bangladesh, when we were funding the construction of rain catchment systems of my father’s design there…
I was born into a family of opposites that have fused into a single family. My father was a hippie in his younger years, and still acts like it with his refusal to cut his hair shorter than shoulder length, and his participation in any peace and environmental strikes that happen in Hawaii. My mother, on the other hand, grew up in an intellectually valuing Chinese family in Taiwan, following Buddhist traditions of spirituality. Somehow, this juxtaposed couple came to create me, the ultimate mixture of white and Asian, loud and modest, intellectual and daring. Together, we are a family of everything.
What unites us most of all is our value in living lives of voluntary simplicity. With a 47 year old house, solar panels that produce the energy for almost everything in our home, and a car as old as me that was just repaired with a dusty second hand door last month, we strive for humble living conditions. The excess money that we make, by worldly standards but certainly not by American, is given away every year to foreign countries for their well being. We’ve distributed my father’s solar oven invention in Africa and India, and have also funded the building of rain catchment systems in Bangladesh, spending up to $150,000 in a year. Through this action, our whole family unit is one that values generosity of excess resources, so that we may share our earnings with those who need them most.
On one occasion, we decided to check up on the building of rain catchment units we’d funded.
We’d just arrived in Bangladesh the day before, and today we went to the country side. We had driven for three hours by car and taken a motorized canoe across the Ganga Delta to get to the muddy roads and never ending heat before us. But even so, before I could help it, the words escaped my lips. “It’s beautiful.” I whispered, looking through the windows, watching as the golden fields of flowers the color of the sun blurred as they passed us by. It was indeed beautiful, seeing the sun kissed skin of farmers in contrast to the bright greens and mirror-like silvers of lakes.
However, once we arrived at the small villages across the river, it became a landscape of roads, poverty, and people. Houses were made of mud with tin roofs. Boys no older than myself and men that looked like grandfathers slaved away mixing cement to build the rain catchment systems that were their only hope for clean water. People with dirt smeared faces walked along the muddy path without shoes. No, once we got off the country road, it was not a pretty sight.
I thought about the visit ahead, how it seemed impossible that these people could possibly have any culture when the number one thing on their minds was to survive the hardships of their everyday life. I dreaded to see the faces elongated with misery, the backs hunched over and baking in the relentless heat, the ribs that became so defined by the hollowed stomachs that were never full. I didn’t want to be exposed to the ugly face of humanity. It was unfair that these people had such unfortunate lives, and yet I didn’t want to have to experience the heartache that I knew would come along with meeting the impoverished people.
We walked into their village, and the people all turned their dirtied heads and craned their caramel colored necks to catch a glimpse of us, the people of another color, from a far away land. My dad spoke, through a translator, to the people about the systems and our hopes that it benefits them greatly. I looked at the people, searching for pained, saddened features. Instead, I looked up to see them touching us, blessing us. They smiled with reverence and thanks toward a family who lived modestly in America, but who seemed like royalty to those before us. When we came to these people, they smiled at their first sight of light skin, light hair, and light eyes. They smiled at the fact that we were helping them with their only source of drinkable water. And they were smiling, despite the fact that they were in the midst of impoverished lives. The joy reached my lips as well, and they curved into a crescent of happiness.
That’s when I realized that these people did have culture, and it was rich. I found that different cultures evoke different emotions for situations like this one; from a materialistically cultured American, the predicament of this poor state of being would be considered terrible, and so we’d cry for our sad lives. But what my family and I saw in the Bangladesh people was only happiness in becoming prosperous in one more minor change: acquiring fresh water from rain catchment systems provided by my family. Their culture was one of happiness in what you have, we realized, not of sadness in what you don’t.
As we turned to depart, one dark woman with a kind, sun dried face said, “May Allah bless you all.”
And to return her blessings, my mother smiled and replied, “And we too hope that the rains come for you, so you may drink water again.”
“Thank you.” Said all the villagers, and “thank you” I whispered, as I appreciated the wonderment of their presence.
And as if Allah himself had been listening to our hopes for these people, I looked up at the sky and lo and behold, “Hey!” I exclaimed. “It’s raining!”
Bulbous, warm droplets of water exploded on our skin, and we watched as the people ran to the river to bathe as the rain fell, a natural shower over their heads. We saw the rain catchment systems swallowing their first mouthfuls of rainwater that would soon quench the thirst of hundreds.
This is when our minds bridged the gap between the cultural habits we’d learned throughout our lives and this new, awe inspiring aspect of a culture we hadn’t even began to comprehend. And I embraced it. I embraced this new, amazing happiness that was now allowed into my mind; I no longer had to feel sadness when I saw these poor villagers, but instead I was able to feel joy in knowing that they appreciate what they have. And I was also able to weave this new piece of culture into my own dynamic cultural identity; I was finally able to feel happiness in what I had and not need to want more.
So that was the day that my cultural awareness spanned the globe, and my family and I were exposed to the joy we had created in our small contribution. I saw my life in a completely different light. To think that my perception of the world could change so drastically with as simple a characteristic of culture as the way you evoke emotions. We also realized that with simplicity, people can be happier than those with complicated lives and antidepressant pills. Simplicity, it now seemed, is the path to contentment. From this experience the three of us had our simplistic viewpoints strengthened to the point of solidity, for we now knew that we were not only bringing more help to the poor, but we were bringing more happiness to the world.
If you’d like, you can check out my article based on this piece that was published on Civil Beat.