Rich or poor?

Bibi during a powercut

One of the very many highlights of our nine months travelling was the few days we spent in a small village on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo.  Thanks to the marvels of the internet, we arranged to stay with a family in their home in a place so remote from our normal lives we might as well have been time travelling.

The village has no roads, no running water, unless you count the river, intermittent electricity that travels by unprotected wire strung up in the trees and daily wages that wouldn’t buy a round in Starbucks.  Which ever way you look at it, their life is very far removed from ours.  By any international standard, they’d be considered poor.

A few days later, we were talking about our experiences with Bibi and her family as we walked down the shadeless, baking hot road to see orang utans in a sanctuary.  I asked the children whether they thought she was rich or poor.  They really thought hard about this, discussing it amongst themselves, and eventually said rich.  I asked what their reasons were and they came pouring out: prawns for breakfast, big house that fitted the whole family, plenty of clean clothes, their own chickens, allowed to wander wherever they like without worry about cars, and delicious food.  They conceded that they didn’t have many toys, but countered it with wild orang utans.

Now I’m not trying to pretend that I’d like to swap my life for theirs.  I wouldn’t, I think their life is in all likelihood extremely hard.  But I did like the way my children got to the heart of the matter, that they boiled life down to its very essentials: shelter, enough to eat, people to love and love you in return, good health.  Throw in a few orang utans and you’re rich.


I was inspired to write this post after reading Tara’s blog yesterday about her trip to Indonesia, and I’ve added it to The Things They Say linky over at Thinly Spread.

  1. This is a lovely story – I think that we all sort of know this to be true, but to have factual accounts of it is really helpful.
    There are people that I feel are ‘rich’ that I know, and it’s never to do with money. Which is a comfort with hubby being out of work and having to change my son’s school!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      I think it’s all about making the most of what you have, whatever that is.

  2. That’s a beautifully written post and very heartening given that, in my kids school, wealth is measured in iPads. Just read in the papers yesterday of impoverished people in Uganda who considered themselves rich because they had just enough to eat, a strong faith and a supportive community.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      And I think the people with the best attitudes are probably far happier than the ones worrying about iPads.

  3. That is truly lovely, we experienced similar last week in Sri Lanka and their reasons were similar. Who needs the latest toy when you live on the beach??? Beach Cricket, Swimming, Shell collecting, fishing, turtle conservation…..

    Makes you think doesn’t it?

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      It certainly does 🙂

  4. I love this post. Our hierarchy of needs has changed, our basic needs used to be the same -food, warmth and shelter. Now things that used to be considered a luxury are now considered basic needs that you can’t live without like television, mobile phones, computers.Its so good for children from a western culture to see this for themselves.. You must have been proud of your children with their response.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      I was proud, it was an very good experience for all of us.

  5. I love how children get right to the nub of it…they really get it. Perfect Victoria and many, many thanks for being my inaugural linker.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      You’re very welcome!

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