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.