Today's article is written by Matt Dayka, whom we recently profiled. If you haven't gotten a chance to read his feature yet, you can follow the link here (after you enjoy Matt's article below, of course).
After a long day visiting and photographing a remote, poverty stricken village on the southeast coast of Haiti, our team loaded up for the four hour drive back to Les Caye. I opted for the tailgate seat next to one of our guides, Patrick. As we bounced along the rocky dirt road skirting the sea, I smiled at children, who were startled and curious to see foreigners passing through. It was a picture perfect Caribbean paradise with impossibly blue waters, vibrant jungle and life energy bustling all around. But the entire region was desperately poor.
In low gear, the Nissan jostled its way across a riverbed, trying to buck us off as it carried us up the washed out bank on the other side. We crept up the hill only slightly faster than the old man walking it, making his way to the edge to let us by. As we ground past, I noticed the fish slung over his shoulder and certain ease about him. His face, wrinkled from many years in the sun, seemed younger when his sparkling eyes met mine. I didn't know why, but I had an immediate respect and gratitude for this man. I wanted to take his photo, but the caravan home was not easily stopped by two guys at the tail end.
I pointed out my observation to Patrick, who was proficient in Kreyol. He greeted the old man warmly and asked how he was doing. "Mwen kontan," (with a strong emphasis on kontan), was his reply as he trudged his way up the hill and rounded the gate to his home. On the porch of their small, simple home surrounded by forest was his wife, waiting to greet him. Their place in this world was unassuming, but his happiness shown brighter than the sun.
"Directly translated, he said 'I am content,' but it means 'I'm happy,'" Patrick explained. "I am content," I thought, "I am content." The wording struck me.
The moment was gone before I could realize the impact, but this one brief, seemingly mundane encounter has become a feature film in my mental cinema. An obsessed fan, I've watched it tirelessly, each time discovering a little more or reminding myself of something deeper.
I have always thought of the word "content" as meaning sufficient in an underwhelming kind of way. But as translation often does for me, I re-analyzed what else it can, and maybe should mean. Dictionary.com defines content as: "Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else."
To be without wanting or lacking? To be truly satisfied? That sounds like an ultimate level of happiness I think most people seek. I know that the moments of my life where I wanted nothing more, internally or externally, were the happiest.
For the past six years, I have spent a lot of time traveling in the developing world and meeting people who have few possessions, yet often seem more gratified and grateful than many of those I encounter at home. And while some still debate if more money can in fact buy more happiness (like this, or these guys), one thing remains very clear: having money is not an absolute requirement in the quest for happiness. More "stuff" does not necessarily mean more joy. The concept that "happiness lies within" is nothing new, and individual satisfaction remains a complex matter that is personal to us all.
Like many, I have concluded that intrinsic pursuits are far more fulfilling and realize they require little more than my willingness and effort. But at times, in a world filled with glowing screens constantly marketing external happiness, and being surrounded by society that seems all too willing to eat it up, I find myself forgetting this simple truth.
I could very well have exaggerated this entire story of the old man, filling in details that never existed and reading more into it than there ever was to read. But it doesn't matter. What it has become for me is so profound, I can't be bothered by fact. "Mwen kontan" has become something of a mantra for me. It's a self-check I can use to gauge how much of the Kool-Aid I have drunk. It is a reminder that in all my various pursuits, the most important are within. Above all, it is an ideal to strive for. If this old man living with the most basic of necessities can feel content, what is stopping me from saying "I am content"?
Matt Dayka is a freelance travel-lifestyle photographer based out of Santa Barbara, California who spends most of his time living on the go. When he's not capturing his perspective of the world through a lens, he enjoys writing about subjects that often can't be conveyed by photos. Wherever he is, it's guaranteed that his running shoes are with him and if a trail is nearby, he's on it.
Cap-Haitien, Haiti image courtesy of Shutterstock