Life Lessons in Cambodia

I had only traveled to a handful of third world countries before I came to an inescapable conclusion: These people seem happier than we do. I’ve seen this in Morocco, Vietnam, Peru and a dozen other countries. It was perhaps the most obvious in the village of Tonle Sap in the lower Mekong Basin. A large portion of the village is built on giant stilts to accommodate the rise and fall of the river. An even larger portion of the village is floating. In the dry season the total area of the river is around 1000 square miles, but during the wet season the river swells to over 6000 square miles. The houses that were on 20 foot stilts earlier in the year now sit at water level. The rise and flow of the river brings many challenges to the villages of Tonle Sap. An absence of roads during the majority of the year means that almost everything they have much come from the river. Luckily the river is full of fish, but material possessions are scarce. By any Western standard these people are extremely poor. However, it seems that someone has forgotten to inform them of this fact. When entering the village we were greeted with smiling children running up to play with us. During the boat ride we rode through villages that got increasingly poorer and even more remote. The floating houses got smaller but the smiles on the children’s faces did not. I witnessed children that don’t own a thing in the world jumping into the dirty river while smiling and waving at us. My wonderful guide explained that although they don’t have any material possessions they get to spend all day playing with their friends and spending time with their family. They don’t realize that they are missing out on “things” because they simply have no concept that there is anything else other than the simple life they are living. Therein lies the valuable lesson….a desire for material possessions will rob you of your happiness and wreck your life. Many of us have food security, big houses, fancy cars and yet it has been years since we have experienced as much joy and happiness as those children swimming in the dirty river. Remember to live life in the moment and not focus on what you don’t have. Focus on what you do have.


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