It was HOT, like stick your face in a freshly opened dishwasher type of hot. I was drifting on a little bamboo raft, thatched together with string paddled by a young guide, red lips and teeth, maybe 20 years old, glistening eyes, bright red smile, clean clothes, no shoes. He was a native Mon Tribe inhabitant of the mountains of Thailand and he was our raft operator for the afternoon.
Not speaking Thai, we hired a private guide to accompany us all day. I love different cultures and people and places and asked our guide about the Mon people. “They are happy people; they live in the mountain, off the land.” “This guide,” he said, “he makes 100 baht a day”. That may sound like a lot until you realize 100 baht is equal to $2.86 per day. Shocked, I blurted, “Holy cow, there’s no way I could live off of $2.86 per day.” He smiled a little smirk and looked in my eyes and said, “But you could.” I stopped and thought, I could, technically. They have amazing produce growing wildly, things I pay an arm and a leg for like mangos and pineapple, there is bamboo everywhere, palm fronds, water and family, lots of family. And, they are happy and smiling. As we floated down the river, there were kids and parents swimming and swinging from ropes and flipping from rafts and eating fresh, ripe mangoes.
Here we can’t even get our daily coffee for $2.86/day and there, they live off the land. It was humbling and stayed with me as I swam in the river and watched happy people enjoy what they had. There weren’t slides or water trampolines or water guns, just nature. It was refreshing and made me think about happiness and living on $2.86/day. Happiness is a state of mind and needs vs. wants have become incredibly distorted in our society.
Our little red grinned guide tactically pulled our raft into place on the moving river and parallel parked us right next to 3 more anchored rafts loaded with a group of young boys, flipping into the river. They too had big smiles and armfuls of mangos, giggling, chasing and living. I asked our guide where they boys got the mangoes and could we possibly pick some too? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE mangoes and to eat them warm from the tree, simply divine! He conversed with our raft master in Thai. The young man turn around, hurried, ran over to his pile of clothes and picked up 2 mangoes, his mangoes, probably his snack back to the tribe. With outstretched arms, and his red toothy smile, he offered us his mangoes. He didn’t try to sell them to us; he tried to GIVE them to us. I was so shocked I hurried and said, “Oh no, I can’t take that, those are yours.”
Like the switch of a light, it went from dishwasher hot to a complete downpour like nothing I’ve ever seen. The guide, old truck driver and young rafter all hurried us into the open truck bed and tried to do all they could to keep us comfortable in spite of them getting soaked. The rain came in sheets and horizontally. The driver took off and suddenly, the truck broke down in the middle of the field and pouring rain! We all ended up soaked and freezing cold and wet, but not once did they complain, or lose their smile and eventually got another truck and back to camp.
I had nothing on the raft or the truck, just a soaking wet towel. I wanted so badly to give our rafter a tip to thank him, not just for the fun day, but for the lesson. But as soon as we pulled in, he helped us off the truck and then ran off, soaking wet in the rain, mangoes in hand. Funny thing, I didn’t even get one photo of our rafter, just an image in my head.
What a beautiful lesson. He didn’t ask for a tip and probably didn’t really need my tip, what he needed was my smile, my satisfaction of a beautiful day sharing his land and a safe return. So, to our Mon Tribe rafter, thank you for the amazing experience and touching lesson. Be happy, be kind, be selfless, be generous, be grateful for what you have and smile, even if it is a red toothy smile!