They want to steal your happiness, and they place themselves everywhere happy. They will find you by gelaterias, just as you are about to enjoy your praline sundae. They wait for you by hotels, just when you are feeling the contentment of a good night’s sleep. You are not safe in your automobile—they can see through windows.
They are the beggars, and in the cities they are everywhere. You walk a block and encounter six. You your house and find that they were waiting for you. They are aggressive. They will follow you down the street. They will stand in your path and sometimes grab your arm. They use dust-encrusted children and limb-twisted cripples to do their dirty work. They understand, “Monsieur! Monsieur! Monsieur! Monsieur…” but they do not understand, “I’m sorry, no.” But if you stand hard and strong and keep walking, eventually, you will win. They may have stolen your moment of happy, but all your possessions will be in tact…
Victor and I sat down at a crowded restaurant counter for dinner after an exciting day exploring the bustling streets of Ansirabe, one of Madagascar’s largest cities. We had discovered an eating district where the locals flock to eat the overflowing bowls of rice and laoka. After devouring my own bowl, the laoka consisting of stewed pork and carrots, I sat back on our little bench at the counter, sighing happily and ready for a good night’s sl– “Monsieur. Pardon monsieur. Monsieur. Monsieur…”
I turned around on the bench to discover the little brown-eyed boy who was chanting this pitiable plea. I was prepared. My defenses were up, and I would not cave. Victor and I had already spent the day navigating through the seas of solicitors. The first several were difficult to ignore, but soon the sheer number of men, women, and children imploring me for my money overwhelmed the nerves, and reason gained victory over emotion. There are of course, innumerable, impenetrable arguments why I not only need not, but ought not give handouts to the multitudes. It would, obviously, just create problems.
But at this moment, on a crowded restaurant bench, this brown-eyed boy broke through my hardened defenses. He won. “Victor,” I asked, motioning for the boy to take a seat on the bench, “how much would it be for another bowl of rice and some chicken?” And for the next several minutes, in the midst of my defeat, I watched as the boy, who had probably never sat on a restaurant bench, bounced up and down having composed a new chant. “Akoho! Akoho! Akoho! Akoho!” I have never seen a smile so big over a piece of chicken.
And in losing, I realized that I had not lost one ounce of happiness. And perhaps this new, deep happy had been the only true happy I had felt all day long. And maybe it wasn’t a cruel joke when he said that it is happier to give than to receive.
And maybe, just maybe, far greater happiness awaits those who stop defending, and simply believe.