What is Your Definition of “Less?”

            As our bus rumbled down the dirt path leading into Lilapur and away from our hotel, refreshing, cold air blew onto my face, my body jumped in my seat at every turn, and chatter from those around me filled my ears. I felt the earth beneath me slowing down and finally looked away from the window. I had been anticipating an experience like the one I thought I was about to have since I was thirteen, and my excitement got the best of me. I craned my neck to see where we were, five other heads bobbing up and down in front of me. When I finally got a look, I saw a sea of smiling faces before us and could feel a pulse from a drum vibration running into my feet and through my body. I came to a stop with a jolt, the bus stalling underneath us. I followed the stream of students down the stairs, a burst of humid, suffocating hot air hitting me in the face. But the heat wasn’t as strong as the warmth that immediately filled my heart as I looked around me.

            My feet eagerly thumped on the ground, the beat of a drum and the sound of a tambourine my ears as villagers greeted us with enthusiastic yet timid smiles. A pungent animal smell rose into my nose, but I focused on the line I just walked into.  The most hospitable energy surrounded me, my body enveloped in love. I pushed my hands together, the roughness of my palms and the bend in my waist as I bowed proving to me that I was really there. I distractedly followed forward until I reached a young girl with hands splattered with red. She submerged her finger in the dye and pressed it to my forehead as a blessing, her smile infectious and the community heartwarmingly accepting. As I sit here at dinner, back in the hotel, back in the refreshing air conditioning, the feeling still hasn’t left me.

            I continued through the village after the welcome I’m not sure I’ll ever experience again, my heart permanently opened and mind spinning. At first glance, Lilapur looked like it could fall apart at any second. Some houses had tarps as roofs, mangy dogs laid in the street, and faded paint covered the buildings that lined the streets. My immediate thought was, “How could these people love so much when they have so much less than us?” After these words ran through my head and I wrote them down in my journal, I began to think about what I just said. What does “less” mean? Less stuff? Less happiness? Just, less? I amended my comment to “so much less material,” and this made my mind spin even faster. The ability to love is affected by how much stuff you have in literally no ways. You could have nothing and have the biggest heart in the entire world. But because American society correlates happiness, and thus love, with wealth, my initial comment found its way into my head. Material is not a quantifier of love; love is a quantifier of love. You don’t need shiny things to be a good person or to find good in the people around you. Sure those villagers have less “stuff” than we do, but by what I saw, they have a much greater sense of community and selflessness. They welcomed us with wider spread arms than I’ve ever seen before. Thanks to that welcoming in the village, suffocating air and pungent odor in all, I learned that we don’t have it all, even if we think we do. What good is an enormous house if we can’t love and accept every person who walks through our front door?