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Are You Happy?

<div class="img-center"><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/74876546" title="Jacob smiling, Mobi, Yangon, Myanmar"><img src="https://farm1.staticflickr.com/43/74876546_6cac6f541b_z.jpg" alt="Jacob smiling, Mobi, Yangon, Myanmar"></a></div>
"Are you happy?", they ask.
I stood there, stunned for a moment. Wow, I'll have to think about this one.
"Yes". I smile and nod. It was such a relief that I didn't have to cook up the "correct" answer to the unexpected question. I was happy to be there with them.
Where our standard greeting here in Singapore is "have you eaten?", or more accurately, "have you had your fill?", almost every orphan I met in Myanmar asked me "are you happy?". It is almost as if they knew something I didn't; that they knew – without having ever set foot outside of their village – that the lives we live in comfort held within them an emptiness.
We dare not speak its name. We do not ask each other if we're happy. It is such an odd paradox, going by Maslow's famed hierarchy of needs. We in the developed countries ought to be seeking high level goals like self-actualisation and what-not. These orphans in third-world Myanmar should be obsessed with low level goals like having food and shelter.
And yet there we were, interchanged. They had little else but happiness. We had plenty, but were found wanting.
While in Myanmar Mark and I spent late evenings teaching Esther how to use the computer someone had donated to the orphanage. Esther was one of the few Burmese there who was fluent in English. I fired up MS Word and told her to type away.
The first line she typed was:
<blockquote>I am happy today.</blockquote>
The sheer simplicity of her statement still leaves me in awe even now.

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