Sunday, February 28, 2010

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem

In South Africa, you can go anywhere in bare feet. The earth connects with the pads of your feet, the texture of the stone pathways is like a natural massage, and the asphalt that basks in the South African sun warms your soles. Yesterday I decided to walk only in bare feet, and it was nice. You can’t do this back home. I walked on roads and sidewalks, rode on the shuttle bus, and walked through the library, barefoot. It’s a nice feeling, some kind of freedom about not wearing shoes. As a child I liked walking barefoot in the grass the most (though I didn’t like scrubbing off the grass stains in the bathtub afterward). There’s hardly any grass here, but the sensation is equally pleasant.

Perhaps this feeling of freedom is what those topless ladies on the beach were feeling. About a month ago several students and I went to the beach for the day. With no restrooms in sight, we were puzzled as to how we were going to change into our swimsuits. Perhaps we could go behind those huge rocks and change while the other girl students kept a look out for intruders. Or maybe we could hold towels up as a curtain while each of us took turns changing right there on the beach. And then, we saw a topless lady. And then, another. And still another. Then we laughed at how silly we must look to the others as we stand there on the beach trying to decide how best to maintain our modesty.

There were about 1,000 steps leading from the road down to the beach, and I don’t think 1,000 is an unreasonable exaggeration. We ended up changing on the steps, which were mostly hidden by trees and other foliage. We changed quickly and hoped that no strangers came while we were in the process. No one saw us, but they most definitely would have been more puzzled as to why three of us were changing on the steps than as to why there were topless ladies on the beach.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

R & R & Mailing Address

It is hard to believe that I am already in my sixth week in South Africa. Where is the time going? I've been fortunate enough to fit my 15 hours of service (though it will probably be a few more than that) into three of the weekdays, leaving my Tuesdays and Wednesdays open for classes, running errands, going to the gym, relaxing, etc. Although we are into our third week of classes, I still feel like I am on vacation. Perhaps it's the warm weather tricking my mind into thinking it's summer, or maybe it's the lax pace of life here. Whatever it is, I feel content. Now, just because I am content doesn't mean that I haven't experienced my share of frustration, no sirree! I still feel quite confused as to what is going on in my classes, none of the classes have a permanent classroom location yet, and I am still amazed that the course syllabi do not include assigned readings or due dates for papers. I have to admit, I like having a schedule and knowing exactly when things are due so I can plan accordingly. But the good thing about this is that I am learning to be more patient and to go with the flow of things; in Africa, one has no other choice!

One of my present endeavors is that I am trying to condition myself to like vegetables. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a vegetable person, never have been. However, after one too many PB & J's, bowls of pasta, and pounds of meat, I'm realizing that, again, I have no other choice. Plus, they're good for me. Today I ate my second normal-size carrot, and it went down as easy as a pretzel. So I guess you could say I am making progress. Perhaps tomorrow I will tackle the celery (smothered in peanut butter, of course!).

Thank you to those who have sent emails, it is great to hear from you. I have had several requests for a mailing address, so I will provide that below. I'm not sure how long it will take to mail something to S. Africa from the States, but there's only one way to find out :) Here's the address:

Ashley Green
c/o Quinton Redcliffe, CIEE
IAPO Office
Lovers Walk, Lower Campus
University of Cape Town
Private Bag
Rondebosch, 7701
South Africa


Monday, February 22, 2010

Language and Post-Apartheid Legacies

A friend from home just shared this NY Times article with me: It is about the current "war" between taxi drivers and the bus industry. Taxi drivers in South Africa are predominantly black, and they became entrepreneurs in the industry post-apartheid. They're quite successful at it too. Now that the World Cup is coming to South Africa, the country is trying to improve the transportation system by introducing more buses as a means of transportation, thus competing with the taxi drivers. This competition is so fierce it has even broken out into violence and even death.

The current transportation competition is only one of the legacies of apartheid. Another is language. South Africa has 11 official languages, but English remains the main medium of communication in politics, business, education, and media. I don't have the statistics, but I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, South Africans are bilingual, speaking English and their mother tongue. (Nopi, our security guard, is fluent in nine of the 11 official languages.)

I assumed that having 11 official languages might pose problems when it comes to publishing newspapers, for example. But I never really considered how many levels of society it actually affected. Earlier this evening I attended my first Grade 9 Youth Group meeting at Equal Education. We played some fun games, discussed the goals of Equal Education, and talked about why the learners in the youth group decided to join Equal Educations causes. Since English is the language that will allow these learners to become successful, I was surprised that - when speaking in English without being prompted to - the youth group leaders asked them to speak in Xhosa (pronounced "cosa"), their mother tongue. Furthermore, everyone present could speak and understand English, but not everyone could converse in Xhosa.

Language is a powerful thing, and I understand some of the implications surrounding the debate over whether or not languages should be left to die out or not, though I admit the effects of such thing run much deeper than I am aware. For one thing, there are certain feelings, ideas, and concepts that cannot be adequately expressed in all languages. Secondly, language is a part of one's cultural identity. To allow a language to die out would be to cut one off from one's ancestors, and even one's immediate family. On the other hand, language is also a symbol of power and domination. The use of English, then, is a constant reminder of the colonizing of the African people. Although I don't think most South Africans are aware of this thing daily (particularly the youth), it is still a fact that resides in one's subconscious mind much the same as most white people in America do not wake up every day conscious of their skin color because they are part of the majority.

In short, the point is that apartheid's legacy is present at so many levels. You know, this shouldn't be surprising considering how recently apartheid was instituted. The thing that I still struggle to understand is how human beings can judge other human beings and decide that one is less human than he. Who are we to judge anyone? This is enough for tonight.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Penguins and Baboons, oh my!

Prior to leaving for Cape Town, Grandma and Grandpa Bowen mailed me a newspaper article about the overwhelming presence of baboons in Cape Town and the concern this presents for the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Apparently the baboons like to get into cars whose windows are left rolled down, especially if there is food inside. I have been in Cape Town for five weeks now, and up until today I hadn’t seen a single baboon. But today after our hike out to the Cape of Good Hope, we had a couple of visitors at our picnic lunch. As we were sitting outside under the shade tree eating our paper bag lunches, I spotted a mother baboon with her baby on her back about 100 yards away from where I was sitting. Then, within five seconds, the same baboon swooped down from behind us and took Tina’s bagged lunch right out of her hands. I don’t think I’ve ever seen 15 Americans scream and spring from their seats so quickly. I don’t know what made us think the baboon was satisfied with just one bagged lunch; just as soon as we returned to our seats and got comfortable again, she made a second appearance, at which point we decided (and were told by the security guard) to move our picnic inside of our vehicle.

That was one of the highlights of the day. Prior to the baboon incident we visited Boulders Beach, known for its penguins. African penguins seem to be much lazier than those in Antarctica, or maybe they are just more relaxed. I’ve always liked penguins, mainly because they’re just so darn cute. But more than that, penguins take care of one another. They are a most faithful species (they mate for life). Perhaps they also a sense of decency; today it seemed as though two penguins who were becoming intimate with one another quickly ceased all intimacy as soon as they realized they were drawing a crowd. Maybe we were the ones without decency, refusing to give them their privacy.

The final highlight of the day was hiking out to a mass of rock, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. I could see nothing around me except for a horizon line of ocean. There is something about the natural world that never fails to remind me how small I am. I stood near the edge of the rock watching the waves roll in. If the wave was just right, it would crash into the side of the rock on which I was standing, forcing the wave’s water upwards and arching over my head – thousands of tiny saltwater droplets raining down on me from below. The greatness of nature such as this cannot be adequately captured by even the most gifted writers.

This evening we also went to a rugby game between a South African and an Australian team at the stadium in Newlands. Without a doubt it was nice to experience the atmosphere of a rugby game in South Africa, but I don’t particularly enjoy sitting and spectating for so long. Or perhaps it’s just that I miss playing sports myself.
Until next time…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Equal Education

It is finally safe to say that my work at Equal Education has officially begun. After what has seemed like weeks of waiting, I’ve finally got my feet in the door and have some vision of how I can be of assistance at Equal Education. At first I was under the impression that I would actually be working with the gap year students to help them improve their scores on their Matric exams (the ones they take upon matriculating from high school), but this might not be the case. Although I still might be able to help them improve their English scores, we first have to establish an academic program. Joey Hasson, EE’s Youth Department director, told me that they tried to get this academic program off the ground in November without success. Although there are many teachers interested in coming to teach the gap year students, none of the EE staff members have enough time in the day to organizing this program. Joey has already collected a thick database of teachers’ contact information, which should make my job somewhat easier.

Today I did a whole lot of nothing, and I’m sure that this will be one day of many. Despite my eagerness to help, I couldn’t find any of the staff members to give me work to do because they were all in meetings. It was suggested to me that from now on, perhaps I could ask for a week’s worth of tasks at the beginning of each week so that I can be sure I have something to work on. Equal Education definitely needs the extra hands, and I am sure that after this week I will also have a better feel for where my hands are most needed. For now though I am trying to create each gap year student’s schedule so we can figure out what times during the day they have available to take classes, as well as which subjects they would like to re-test in. After we get this figured out, I can start going through the database of teachers and making phone calls to those who are qualified to teach the subjects that our students need. There is no saying how long this process could take, and it’s possible that I might not even get to see the implementation of the program in the short time I am here. This is where it is helpful to have the perspective that we as individuals are just one piece in a larger puzzle. In fact, one of the challenges facing EE is that so many of the volunteers, like me, are only here for a short period of time. So by the time they get settled in and comfortable with how the organization operates, they have to up and leave. In some ways this is just the nature of the organization, but they could certainly benefit from more consistency. Still, EE is doing great things.

That’s the update on the service project. Other than that, I am doing pretty well, though this week has been a bit exhausting. The food hasn’t been settling quite right in my stomach, which only encourages me to continue my all too starchy diet – a rotation of rice, pasta, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (These aren’t the only items on the menu, but they have certainly been taking precedent.) Everything seems to spoil here so quickly – milk, bread, yogurt, you name it. Perhaps this is just one more thing I have been taking for granted.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


1-One of the shops in Langa Township.
2-Traditional healer (of questionable authority, in my opinion). Notice all of the shady animal skins hanging around.
3-Herd of cattle coming towards us in Langa Township.
4-Barbed wire irony.
5-Lira in concert at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.


1-View from the top of Table Mountain, and we weren’t even in an airplane!
2-Lin-Lin, Tina, me at Table Mountain.
3-World Cup Stadium!
4-Sunset from Signal Hill.
5-Our study abroad group +2 on Robben Island.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A few of the girls and I just got back from a nice lunch at Cocoa Wah-Wah, a quaint little cafĂ© where we sat outside, munched on food, and talked about things that only girls talk about. It’s important for girls to have girl friends, just as it is important for guys to have their guy friends. Girls’ help their girl friends maintain their femininity, and guys their masculinity. And it’s a great dynamic when these two beautiful items, femininity and masculinity, find in each other those things which one was seeking but could not find within oneself.

In other news, I have finally settled on the service project where I want to be placed. The name of the organization is Equal Education (EE); you can read more about the organization on their website: I was previously set on going to either the primary or high school for my service project, but when I revisited the schools, I did not have that “yes, this is where I want to be” feeling that I was hoping for. Fortunately, I found that feeling at EE. In short, the organization is committed to improving schools across South Africa. Right now EE is campaigning, petitioning, marching, and drafting legislation to have school libraries instituted in every school in the country. As of right now, something like 97% of schools in South Africa are without libraries.

My role at EE would be working in the Youth Department with students who are also dedicated to improving the school system. I would be helping the students develop leadership skills so that, in the near future, they will be able to help the next group of students do the same. I will also be working with a group of eight students whom I had the privilege of meeting this past week. These eight students are taking a gap year, which means they are 17 and 18 year olds who have graduated from high school and are taking a break before going to college/university. Many of them are using this year to take additional courses to prepare for college entrance exams. So I will be working with these students and helping them prepare for such exams. I don’t like to call this tutoring because it implies some sort of power relationship, but I can assure you that I will learn as much from these students as they will hopefully learn from me.

So what was it about EE that I did not find at the schools? Mostly it was that I identified in these students something that I also find in myself. They are natural leaders, motivated individuals, and they are passionate about improving the school systems of which they themselves are a product. You know, before coming to South Africa, my belief was that people were poor because societal forces gave them no other choice. When I say poor, I am not referring to poverty in terms of money. It is true that some people are happy with no money at all. If this happiness is all they desire from life, then this should be sufficient. But for those who are not happy in the situations into which they were born or forced into, there are avenues one can take to change these situations – avenues that require absolutely no money.

One of these avenues is education. Now I recognize that my previous statement about the avenue of education requiring no money whatsoever is not true. Public education is not free in South Africa, although the fee is minimal (about USD $16 per year). Regardless, the gap year students at EE with whom I will be working with come from the black township Khayelitsha, one of the poorest townships in the Western Cape province. Until now, I always thought that every single person on this planet could become great. But this simply is not the case. Perhaps we all have the potential to become great, but at some point achieving greatness involves making a choice. These are students who have made that choice. And these are the students in whom I want my energy, students who have made a conscious decision to do something great and are passionate about the power of education.

So that is that. We are still working on finalizing schedules and whatnot, and I still do not know exactly when I will begin my service there, even though we are supposed to begin this Monday, the 15th of February. On a similar note, it still does not seem like school has started. I still feel like I am on vacation. I’m not complaining about the vacation part. It’s been quite relaxing to get some writing and knitting projects done. But one of the reasons I came here was to get an education, so that part has been a bit disappointing thus far. I am sure this will soon pick up though, especially when my service actually begins. Until then I am practicing being patient, so maybe that is the education South Africa is giving me!

Lastly, I have joined the Volleyball Club here on campus. I will be setting for the competitive league team. The club sports here are much more competitive than in the States, which I enjoy. The players and coaches are great, we train like a regular team, and it’s a lot of fun. The South Africans take their sports seriously, but not unreasonably seriously. We will practice on Mondays and Thursdays in the gym, and Fridays are reserved for beach volleyball. This will be a good stress reliever, and as one of my peers said, sports force you to socialize without being socially awkward. These are both good things. On that note, I must slap on some sunblock and head out to the beach courts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Expectations Weekend at High Africa

We spent this past weekend at High Africa, an adventure camp about an hour and half from where we are staying in Cape Town. (You can view pictures in the photo gallery on this page: It was a very nice weekend, and the location was beautiful. We stayed in cabins that looked out over a river, complete with mountains in the background. From the deck we could watch the sunrise, ever… so… slowly… And watch the sunrise I did, because the screech of the bed made sure that I awoke early each morning.

Besides all of the program-related lectures, we also did lots of team- and confidence-building activities. One of the highlights of the weekend was the high ropes course. I am aware of the fact that using a high ropes course as a metaphor for life is cliché. However, as you might have expected, I am going to make this comparison anyway.

Twelve meters off the ground, the ropes course was quite a fitting capstone for my past two months or so. Looking up at the course from the ground, it looked manageable, do-able. Climbing the stairs, it got progressively scarier, but still I went, reminding myself that all my fears were created by my mind, and my mind was the only thing working against me; this is the illusion of perspective. I was scared. Then, the wind picked up. And then I stepped down onto the log balance beam, shaking like a leaf. I could go into a lot more detail here, but it’s of little importance. What is more important than how scared I was is the greater lesson taken from this activity.

You see, life is a high ropes course. There are always unexpected challenges. But even when those unexpected challenges arise, you cannot let them distract you from your goal. Look at the challenge, assess it, and continue on your journey toward your goal. I did it, and it was a great feeling to complete that thing. And the accomplishment seemed all the greater because of all the fear that I had to overcome to get to that point. Would I do a high ropes course again? Yes, but only if I had to. But one thing I would definitely do again: keep journeying toward my goal even when the challenges arise. Make a decision and stick to it. Then, everything becomes less confusing. Suddenly, every challenge in life becomes an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Lastly, we can always achieve beyond our comfort zone, we just have to push ourselves outside that boundary. One is always capable of doing more than one believes oneself to be.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Soul Vacation

It has been nearly three weeks since I arrived in South Africa. So far it has felt like a much-needed soul vacation. Granted, most of the days have been jam-packed with tours and orientation lectures and other program activities, but the days in between and the evenings prove to be an opportune time for personal reflection. I did quite a bit of research on S. Africa’s history before I arrived so that, when I arrived, I could focus on the current conditions in the country. Also, I could be a little selfish and focus on myself. But there is a misnomer about this word selfish, I think. Devoting one’s energy to oneself is not a bad thing so long as the result is something positive. In America we are taught to focus so much energy on the self, but the result is not positive in the sense that I have in mind; we are taught to focus on the self in terms of achieving success, making money, earning rewards and promotions. In fact, I think this is one area in which American (and perhaps other Western) schools could improve; I only say American schools because they are the only ones that I have experienced first-hand. We focus so much on academic achievement and marks that we sacrifice the importance of the individual. Students, and eventually society, do not know who they are at the core of their being; they define themselves instead by their achievements. Consequently, students tend to value themselves based on the marks they receive rather than the positive personal characteristics that reside within themselves.

The mainstream person, the one who just rides the waves of life, never changed society. It is those who defy the waves of life that make a difference. It is our Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Hitler, who refused to float through life; instead they chose a non-conformist path. They were labeled “outsiders” by society because they adopted lives of nonconformity. Not all nonconformity is for the betterment of society, mind you. In fact, it probably occurred to you that Hitler does not belong in the aforementioned group. Here it is important to make a significant distinction between those who are internally and externally motivated to adopt lifestyles of non-conformity. Those who are internally motivated have some passion that drives them to fight for the betterment of the human race simply for humans’ sake. On the other hand, those who are externally motivated seek to gain something in return. Hitler was externally motivated. He did not have it in his heart to improve society - even though one could argue that, in his mind, this is exactly what he was doing.

I have gone off on a tangent. All of this was sort of inspired by something one of the coordinators at the Love Life Center said on our recent visit there. (Love Life is an after-school center for students aged 12-17, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that offers educational programs including HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, safe sex, etc.) The coordinator said that the mission of Love Life is to help the students realize who they want to become before they turn out to be who they did not want to become. His exact words were, “I think the biggest tragedy in this life is not realizing who you are until you become who you don’t want to be.” In other words, more important than the external factors which life has dealt you are the internal qualities that drive you. If the seeds of hope inside you are planted, watered, and harvested, you too can become an internally motivated non-conformist who will improve society. I realize that this commentary is quite abstract and that you might struggle to grasp my point here, but at least I will be able to glean my point from this when I read it later.

I brought with me to South Africa some of my favorite inspirational literature, and have been borrowing some from housemates. I am not the only one on this journey of soul searching. It is comforting to be in the presence of others who are also on some version of this journey. Some sort of bond forms between two people who can discuss the deeper meanings of life in terms of humanity and spirituality, as opposed to race and religion, for example.

This will conclude this post. This evening we are departing for High Africa. They haven’t told us much of anything that we will be doing this weekend – many things in this program are a surprise. However, if you Google “High Africa” you will get results. It seems that we will be doing team-building activities and setting goals for our service projects, which should be interesting since we haven’t been officially assigned service projects yet. Also, our classes begin on Monday, and we have yet to receive our class schedule. One thing a person must learn in Africa: patience. That the world will not end if something begins 10 (or 45) minutes late. I generally prefer to have a schedule, and adhere to it, but learning patience is a good thing for me. It forces me to surrender some small sense of control that I have over the happenings in my days. I think we could all benefit from giving up a little bit of control in this matter.

One more thing. The African sun is much more relentless than in North America. I officially have my first legitimately painful African sunburn. But the sand and the waves were beautiful!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Happiness and Rainbow Nations

Last evening we attended an outdoor concert at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The view was stunning. We walked up a stone path canopied with greenery so full it was as if we were completely immersed by the earth. The hill we sat and danced on during the concert created natural stadium seating, and the grass was a giant cushion, like an organic grass pillow. From the hill we looked down at the amphitheatre where Lira and others performed. Behind the amphitheatre were the mountains, so giant and mighty it is a wonder that anyone can deny the existence of some higher being.

We had never heard her jazz/afro-pop music before, but were all intrigued by the purity of Lira’s live performance. In public gatherings such as these, I am constantly reminded of how recent the end of apartheid is in this nation. Looking out over the crowd, Lira welcomed Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow nation” that was her audience. And it was truly something remarkable to witness. On this night, in this country where just a decade ago people still could not see past the color of skin, people of every hue were dancing and sitting crowded next to one another, no problem. Everyone was singing and dancing together and toasting to the same music of a Sotho musician. Music has a way of transcending boundaries that man has created. But it is not just the music, it is a spirit that is bleeding into the South African way of life, I think.

Lin-Lin, a fellow student, and I were walking through the garden paths prior to the beginning of the concert and were stopped in our tracks by a precious site in the distance. Three small boys, naked, frolicking in the stream. Two of the boys were white, one black. There is something beautiful about children, and I think we could learn a lot from them if we paid a little more attention. The sad thing about growing older is not that our skin begins to wrinkle or that our hair begins to gray. It is that we lose our childish innocence. We begin to care what the rest of society thinks about us rather than just doing what makes us happy, what brings us joy. Growing old is not all bad. Wisdom is precious (and we certainly would not want 40-year olds frolicking naked in the stream). But still we can learn to maintain, or at least return to, some of the beautiful parts of our childhood such as these.

While we are on the topic of happiness, let’s take it one step further. You know what I have noticed about this thing? It is everywhere that Americans might not expect it to be. I am reminded of an article we read for American Government last semester. The author stated something to the effect of, “there is nothing transcendental about democracy.” Her point is a valid one. I am grateful to have been born and raised in the United States, and I would speculate that most people have the same feeling toward their own native land. But like all other countries, the U.S. is not perfect. Perhaps it is superior in some ways, but not all. I think the one area in which its superiority falls short is that of happiness. People flock to America with the ambition of realizing the American Dream. The American Dream? What is this thing? For most, it is unattainable. The ability to transcend social classes is largely a myth. But this is not the point. The point is that people have invested false hope in the American Dream. They believe that if they can acquire more wealth, then they will become happy. If only they hit the lottery, they will become happy.

I am not dismissing the importance of money. Indeed, money is necessary to live. Instead I am suggesting that our flaw is in the way that we view money. Money will not make us happy. Certainly the availability of money can lessen financial stress, but we do not need money in excess. Money in excess does not breed happiness. Happiness comes from another source of wealth, and that wealth is love. After all, what do we need in this life in order to survive? We need food. We need shelter. We need clothing. We do not need money. You see, we have convinced ourselves that an excess of money is the only way to achieve happiness. But how? Who is to say that we will not die tomorrow? If we were to die tomorrow, what would make you happy today? Certainly money would not matter to you at all. At least it would not matter to me. This is why we must live each day as if there is no tomorrow.

What accounts for the over-medication of Americans for conditions such as depression? Is it the faulty notion that happiness can be attained by the accumulation of wealth? Do people become depressed when they realize that this notion is flawed? Why is it that underdeveloped- and developing nations have lower rates of depression and medication than the U.S.? You might say that they are less educated, thus they are not aware that they are depressed. (This thought only briefly crossed my mind when one of the teachers I observed offered her students a rather unusual explanation of bipolar disorder.) You might say they are less medicated because they cannot afford medication. Both of these postulates might be true. But because they are not aware of this thing called depression, its existence is minimal in comparison.

Awareness is often a good thing, but sometimes it hinders a human being’s development and prevents them from realizing their true potential. If this lack of awareness stems from the lack of capital, then so be it. It is better this way, is it not? Suppose that money allows people to be educated; educated people are made aware of this construct called depression; people believe they have this condition simply because it “exists”; people medicate themselves for this condition they might or might not have. And in the midst of all this, happiness is lost.

In short, my point is this. Would you rather be rich and miserable, chasing an unattainable dream? Or would you prefer to be poor and happy? This is something one must decide for oneself. A friend of mine recently shared a story with me about a man from Mexico who worked at a small home business in his village. He liked working here because he did work that he enjoyed doing, and he could play with his children whenever it suited him. Another man who was more educated and wealthy suggested that the other man go back to school, incorporate his business, make millions, invest it in the stock market, and become rich. “Imagine how happy you would be,” encouraged the rich man. “What would you do if you had all of this money?” he asked. The man replied that he would go back to his village where he could do the work he enjoyed and he would play with his children whenever it suited him – the same thing he was doing just now. So you see, even though the man did not have as much capital as the rich man, he was the wealthier man all along. He knew what made him happy, and he had it.

Some of the happiest people I know are from underdeveloped and developing countries, or even communities in the U.S. where poverty in terms of money is rampant, but where poverty in terms of happiness is virtually non-existent. We invest so much of our energy into the accumulation of material wealth when we should instead be focusing our energy on attaining something far more transcendental, something intangible. Happiness is not something that can be bought. It is something that comes from within, something that begins with you loving yourself.

Education is not a bad thing. In fact, it is liberating. But education alone is not sufficient enough to attain happiness. At some point, one must realize that just because one is educated does not mean that he must be rich, or that being rich will make one happy. There are better things to do with one’s money than to spend it on material things, or even to save it in the hopes that one might live to see another day. It is a myth that only the richest of the rich are influential in this world. It is the truth that actions speak louder than words. So speak with your actions. Begin now.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.