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Happiness

07/06/2011

Take a look at this picture.

Would you say these girls are happy?

Now what if I told you they belong to an indigenous group called the Guaraní, and that they live in a small, relatively isolated village called Fortín M’bororé near Puerto Iguazú, Misiones, Argentina?

What if I told you they are desperately poor, and live on crops that their fathers manage to grow themselves and whatever money their mothers can make selling crafts to tourists?

What if I told you they weren’t barefoot by choice?

Would you still say they were happy?

On the day this picture was taken, we ate a meal prepared by some of the women of the village. We played fútbol with the boys. We got a tour from a young Guaraní man who spoke Spanish. He showed us their crops (sugarcane, squash, yerba mate) and the traditional traps they still use to catch animals (all made out of wood and held together with vines).

When the day was over and we returned to the relative luxury of our hostel, I couldn’t help but wonder. Many of the Guaraní suffer from malnutrition and they lack basic medical care. But they live on their ancestral land, they hunt in the same way they have for hundreds of years, they practice their religion, they grow crops, they sell handmade crafts, they wash their clothes in the river. They marry and have children. In short, they live their lives.

So are they happy?

If your definition of happiness is comfort, long-term security, and material possessions, then you’d have to say no. This is not an easy life, or even necessarily a safe one.

But the Guaraní of Fortín M’bororé do the best they can with what they have. They care for their families and they are free to practice their traditions.

Call me crazy, but you could do a lot worse.

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