What visiting developing countries taught me that nothing else could

My friend Scott and I lived with the Mentawai people back in 2011 for a few weeks. They live off the land and mainly eat fruits, sago (ground up tree cooked with water) and pig on a special occasion. The Mentawai tattoo themselves and grind their teeth down into sharp points as this reflects beauty in their culture. I also lost 16kgs in 10 weeks on that trip.

For us in the west we are privileged beyond comprehension, with nice roads, top level health care and the freedom that others would give anything for. The first 14 countries that I visited before setting foot into a developed one changed how I viewed the world and that we should be grateful everyday because we are the 1% in this world.

Here are 6 lessons that I took away from visiting underprivileged nations and staying with local families in almost all of these places.

#1. Family and Friends are everything

Where life is a struggle just to survive, family and friends mean everything. Where we move out of home somewhere from 18 until our late 20’s, it’s not uncommon to see the whole family ( children to great grandparents ) all living under the same roof. Always around each other and always there each night to talk about what they got up to that day.

In all my time away from home I’ve learnt that relationships are one of the most important things in life. To be around the ones you love are some of the most cherished moments in the time we do have on this earth. When our parents or grandparents grow old, we find ourselves visiting them much more than we might usually do but this shouldn’t go for just those times. It’s important to keep in touch and tell the people we do love that we love them — we never know when we might get another chance.

#2. Happiness isn’t related to money

The people that gave me the biggest smile were usually the poorest. Not knowing a world of over consumption they are happy with what they have and make the most of the materials that they do have. They choose to play outside with their friends and don’t even know what an iPad is. They are creative, making structures and playing games that used to be our norm a generation ago. The biggest lesson I learned was to be grateful for having less, the more we have the more upkeep we have to pay just to keep it. If you look around your house what are 20% of the things you use almost 80% of the time? With less things we can really maximise our time and become more flexible as a result.

Street kids in Kathmandu, Nepal. They always have the biggest smiles on their faces yet live in one of the poorest places on the planet.

#3. The squat toilet is way better than a sit down one

This one was super hard to get used to at the beginning — especially the part of using water instead of toilet paper. There have been numerous scientific studies on this subject and they are all in favour of the squat toilet. There are 7 key factors that make the squat toilet more beneficial but the 2 main ones that most people can benefit from are that you spend way less time in there and it protects the many nerves of the digestive tract by using a “correct” technique. As with using the water, it is far more hygienic and if you just think this is gross and can’t get your head around it my friend put it in pretty good context — “If you get poo on your arm do you wash it off or wipe it off with paper?” Debate over!

#4. Religion is a lifestyle

My very first long term trip was with my best friend to Sumatra, Indonesia. We spent 2 months there and with a 97% muslim population, we learned very quickly about religion. It didn’t help that we arrived on the very first day of Ramadan so we got an extra special lesson in what the Muslim faith was about. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu the basic fundamentals are all there. There is a time for worship, prayer and ceremonies that occur in all religions and most people will plan their day around that. It all kind of ties back into point number 1 where time with family is the most important thing.

#5. Be a modern day Macguyver

For anyone who grew up in a developed country it’s a spin out visiting a developing one. Your eyes can hardly believe what is going on and you think to yourself “how on earth can they be doing that?” You learn that where there’s a will there is a way and if you don’t have certain things you can compromise and make something work. It opens up another part of our brain and gets us into a more creative way of thinking — opening up a lot of new possibilities.

#6. Hustle as hard as you can

Ever heard the saying that desperation is 4 times more likely to spring you into action the inspiration? A desperate person goes to many lengths to get something off the ground and this is my favourite lesson I’ve taken away from travelling the developing world. We become comfortable with what we have, our job, our living conditions that we procrastinate to infinity. If we really want something in life, then we have to go out there and get it. No excuses.

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Ryan Jonathon Mazure

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