I have been thinking about the village of Supo ever since I left there over a week ago. I cannot possibly put everything I experienced into words.
Village life is hard. The people are very poor, work all day in the fields, do not enjoy any luxuries and endure a lot of hardships. Why, then, do I hear more complaints from wealthier people about their lives than from these villagers who are living in poverty by Western standards? I don’t know the answer, but I do have a few observations about village life that I think can give some clues.
In the village . . .
You are never alone. No one sits in a room by themselves to watch TV, eat a meal or even take a nap. Someone is always around you. There is a different standard for privacy in the village. Even in the shower/toilet, there is just a thin curtain separating you from the outside world and all the villagers walking by. Maybe Westerners spend too much time alone, either physically alone or by ignoring others in favor of being on a device. I have learned to get used to having strangers fall asleep on me on the jeepney or bus, sharing a “bathroom” with dozens of other people and being asked personal questions all the time. It’s not such a big deal after all.
Families live and work together. Everyone contributes, from children to great-grandparents. Families prepare meals and eat together, work in the fields together and spend their days off together. How many times have I heard people in the US complain about just spending a holiday with their family?
The community also works together. When it’s time to plant or harvest rice, families join together to help each other. You do not just work in your own field, you work in your neighbors’ fields and know that when you need it, they will help you. No money exchanges hands. People just help each other for the good of the community. On my last morning there, someone was going around and collecting rice from every family in the village to help the family of a man who had passed away in a neighboring village. Everyone contributes.
Everyone knows each other and welcomes outsiders. Many people in the village are related to each other and have lived there for generations. Yes, some people move away, but they always send money back to the village and will someday return. People in the village were happy to see me and never questioned my motives for being there, though they seemed a bit disappointed that I wasn’t married to Theresa.
You can solve anything with what you have around you. There are no Home Depots or Amazon delivery in the village. Every day, I saw people use something nearby to solve a problem – a plant to stop a scratch from bleeding, a plastic bottle for planting seedlings, rocks to hold the jeepney in place on a steep hill, a piece of wire as a clothesline, a homemade slingshot for catching fish, branches for making a scaffold, bamboo to make a cup for drinking or all kinds of furniture, and many other wild plants for eating and/or quenching your thirst while hiking or working in the sun. In the US, we run to the nearest store to buy manufactured goods for all of these things. In the village, people think outside the box and don’t waste time or money buying things they don’t need. Almost nothing is wasted.
Live simply and be happier. The homes I entered in the village had almost no furniture. People sit on the floor, on a stairway, or outside on a bamboo “bed” that also serves as a place to take naps. There are no beds inside. After sleeping on the floor for three days, I began to wonder why we need beds. In my town alone, there are several mattress stores! Why are we so obsessed with mattresses when most people in the world do just fine without them?
I also noticed (throughout the Philippines and Southeast Asia) that flip flops are the standard footwear. Almost everyone wears them all day long, no matter what they are doing. None of them are fancy or are worth more than a few dollars at the most. It’s simple and easy. My sandals with velcro straps seem extravagant and take a lot longer to put on and take off. Also, clothing can be worn several times before it really needs to be washed, and you don’t need that many clothes. Having less stuff really does simplify things.
There are fewer distractions. There was a TV in the grandparents’ house, but it was only turned on for an hour or two at night for the kids to watch Animal Planet. Wi-fi and cell service are intermittent, so people are not on their devices all the time. News arrives by word of mouth and no one is addicted to watching cable news channels. The only kid playing video games was McTery when he borrowed my phone. People in the village live with and for those around them, not in a virtual world. For entertainment, people join together for community events, or just sit outside and talk the night away.
But it’s not all perfect. The people in the village do want more money and more options in their lives. They need better access to schools and health care. Clean water and decent roads would be nice as well. I am not trying to romanticize the notion of being poor and living in the village. After all, I have the means and privilege to travel the world at will, something most of the villagers I met will never be able to do. In fact, many have never even been on a boat despite living in a country of over 7,000 islands. Yet I think there is a lot that wealthier people can learn from how villagers approach their lives. I am grateful for having had this experience and hope to take these lessons with me.
April 22, 2017 at 10:30
Your observations are so true! As I look back on my Fulbright time in South Korea, they apply in many ways to the Asian way of living and thinking. Though South Korea is a very rich country and technologically years ahead of the US, I had the same feeling in terms of how collectivism still influences every aspect of Korean life – there is no privacy and sharing is a given, technology is not part of the school curriculum as it is in the US, families spend time together and working as a community is what brought a war torn Korea to where it is today. I came back to the States wondering what we are missing – yes, we have so much and so much of it is great but we are missing out on some of the simplest and most rewarding things in life, being part of a greater self, of a community and a common goal. Again, thanks for sharing and for posting those gorgeous smiles. The kids always look happy!
April 24, 2017 at 03:08
Thanks for sharing this. It’s easy to assume that our wealth has created a society where we are surrounded by things and not by people, but Korea has kept its traditional values despite being so wealthy.
April 22, 2017 at 16:44
Values…..and perspective……thank you for sharing, Tim……gives me much to ponder!
April 24, 2017 at 03:09
Betsy Zarella Flanagan
April 22, 2017 at 20:03
Really enjoyed reading your observations of village life. Your detailed description made me feel like I was there. We could all do with less things! xox
April 24, 2017 at 03:11
Start cleaning out that basement!
Betsy Zarella Flanagan
April 24, 2017 at 06:44
Lol it’s all Erin’s stuff
Linda A Wight
April 22, 2017 at 20:19
We all have too much and I’m trying to simplify but also want a new floor in the bedroom. I don’t know if I want to sleep on it, but I do think we all could use less devices and talk with people and play with kids and eat together. If I didn’t have this iPad. i wouldn’t keep up with u or Stephen and see my beautiful grandkids, but I’ve also met a lot of people in Maine that make do and improvise in repairing things. I think we all will learn from your visit – it certainly will change u. I keep thinking it would be nice to have a tiny house. Hope we get to see u when your back in the states..
April 24, 2017 at 03:12
I like tiny houses too, but I also am attached to some of the more luxurious items. We’ll definitely have to get together when I return.
April 22, 2017 at 20:24
This post leaves a lot of unanswered thoughts. They have so little but so much that many of us never quite understand. Your travels have made me reflect on the important pieces of life we or I take for granted. You have your eyes wide open and mine are opening a bit more than they were. My dear friend’s mother in law often reminded her “Audrey, there is no shame in being poor, it’s just a little inconvenient!” There is truth in her wisdom.
April 24, 2017 at 03:14
I like that quote. People in the village often apologize for not having the food I eat at home or the things I’m used to. I kept reminding them I didn’t go there to experience what my life was like back home.
Vicky Ann Deledda
April 23, 2017 at 20:00
Wow, I can see why you and McTery love the village…
But I must admit, my thoughts are still on a mattress….
April 24, 2017 at 03:14
I’m sure I’ll get one when I go home, but maybe just a simple one.
April 24, 2017 at 09:45
You leave me with so many thoughts as well as questions to ponder.
April 29, 2017 at 09:49
We’ll have to do some pondering together someday after school!