The different flavors of life

“What do you do?”

“I volunteer at an orphanage.”

My answer usually invites curiosity, slight disbelief or no response. But for the first time today, someone stared at me as if I told him the sun had died and then laughed. Said nothing and then continued laughing. Finally, the person paused, and said, “I have a hard time controlling my laughter. You’re serious? You really do that?”

“Yes,” I responded, rather defensively, wondering what this person was up to.

“And what do you do there?”

“I teach English, do marketing, maintain the website and translate documents etc.”

“That’s quite a lot of work. Do you get paid for it?”

“No.”

More laughter.

“You went to University to do that?! Where is your career drive? All the people I met who’s your age are all really ambitious. You’re the strangest person I’ve met. If I was your dad, man if I was your dad, I would never let you do that.”

The fellow went on to reiterate how strange etc. I was and he wasn’t much older than I was.

“You’re still young,” I said, “I mean, I don’t plan to do this [ie. work for no money] forever. But I’m finding it absurd that you find this so absurd. Have you ever though what your life’s purpose was, as in, what do you think you can contribute to this world while you’re alive?”

From his face, it was clear no one has ever asked him that question. He just shook his head, “I just want to earn money so I can retire and have a great life.”

“And what makes you happy? Being able to buy all the things you want to buy?” I continued.

“Yes.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his viewpoint, I too want a great retirement and hey buying whatever I want is great! I’m not Mother Theresa, I like material comfort too…And then it went on…

“And this orphanage, you didn’t set it up did you, you just joined it later?” He ventured.

“Yes, I didn’t set it up.”

He sighed with relief, “Phew… thank goodness. You would be even more abnormal if you had been the founder.”

“What?! What’s wrong? I think it would be great if I can set up something in the future as well. Don’t you see how we’re helping all these people and the children?”

He shook his head with disbelief, “I can’t imagine, so much effort, for a non-profit. A non-profit! Can you imagine something NOT PROFITING AND MAKING MONEY??”

Maybe I won’t live in a village everyday, but I’m having a little fun while carrying my friend’s niece

I took the time to educate him with the idea of social entrepreneurship to let him know profit can be used for good and left the conversation at there. But thinking about it, while I was rather miffed by his attitude, it’s more SAD than anything.

Because of their life experiences, upbringing or other factors, they will never ever experience even the tiniest shred of the joy I feel. That joy of living in a simple village, listening to crickets, sleeping on a bare mat on the cold cement floor and yet feeling an incomparable warmth in your heart. That joy of of laughing with a group of people who had lost people and places dear to them, but still manage to smile at the new day. That joy when, late at night, your students talk to you, tell you about their dreams and how they want to change their destiny. To watch at such close distance how their eyes glow with hope and how much they have gone through and their determination.

“I want to go to University,” one of Yayasan Prima Unggul student explained her determination to me, “No one in my family had any education. I want to make them proud.”

If you’ve never tried something, you wouldn’t know how it feels like? I think that’s precisely what these people are like. I can experience the kind of materialistic joy they enjoy at any time and yet I can still experience a different type of joy. I pity them. They’ll never know what it’s like to experience the different flavors of life.

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