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They were the most awakening moments of my life when I experienced honest beauty for the first time.
I was in Southeast Asia on a volunteer trip with Rustic Pathways in the summer 2010. I had devoted over a month to traveling through Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand staying in villages, working in an orphanage, building, repairing, and teaching English. I saved my money for two years to make this trip possible. It was in Laos where I was awakened with a new sense of understanding for this world and the people who harbor it. There, I could clearly comprehend how much we take that for granted.
For our first project, I was in Na Som, Laos. A small rural village surrounded by a river that gave the villagers all their necessities. For as far as the eye could see, there were mountains. Being the rainy season in Southeast Asia I got lucky enough to experience the greenest it would be all year. At 7:00 am the clouds were as awake as I was, reaching only 50 feet. The days in Na Som consisted of constructing new walls for the village school, filling in pot holes in the dirt roads with the rocks from the river, teaching English, planting rice, painting walls, and administering health exams for the locals.
The need for this village was increasingly demanding, making it Rustic Pathway’s the most critical project in Laos. The medical needs of the village were dire; they couldn’t help illnesses such as pneumonia. The children’s teeth have never been brushed, their hair was lice-infested, half of them didn’t have underwear, and the walls and ceilings of their homes were molding and falling apart.
As I was invited into numerous homes, I entered imagining myself stepping into my own. I wanted to feel what they felt, see what they saw. An overwhelming sense of dolefulness and jealousy came over me. They were happy to have a home, to play in the rain, and even work in the rice patties for eight hours a day to make their necessary means. It made me see their benevolent outlook on life, despite their extreme poverty. What they have is obviously lacking in so many of our mindsets. I longed for that ingenuity.
No matter their circumstance, the villagers always seemed willing to give something, even to strangers. Whether it was an invitation into their home, tea, or a smile, they are the most simplistic and grateful people I know. That is when I saw it, beauty. Not physical or even tangible. To them, this beauty was as natural as the river surrounding their village. As their river gave them their necessities, their unknown lesson to me, gave me mine. To live life simply and honestly, naturally, not forcefully.
Experiencing this beauty in Laos and Cambodia allowed me to start an understanding for our world. When we go outside ourselves, our flaws, and our misconceptions we can understand the people who make the world and why it is the way it is. This understanding is a catalyst to how we find solutions for global problems and consistency with those solutions. The villagers in Laos showed me that when you not only accept what you have but when you are grateful for it you can live life simply, naturally, and benign. I can now live through honest beauty.