I Have Nothing

I once had a friend who would look knowingly at me during moments of happiness and ask, “How do you feel, Katrina?” I’d smile and always reply, “I feel infinite”. I hope you’ve felt this. It’s the feeling you get when you’re driving on the highway at dusk, night slowly falling, a song on the radio about youth or being in love. You think of nothing ahead or behind but the moment seems to stretch on indefinitely and you let out a little shriek because it feels like your soul is going to burst.

This time, I felt infinite as I perched on the helm of a long-tail boat, listening to soft Thai reggae and watching the sunrise over the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. Having somehow impressed our boat driver the previous day with my less than impressive ability to speak Thai, my friends and I had been invited to forgo dingy yet expensive accommodation on Koh Phi Phi and instead spend the night on the boat. Long-tail boats are nothing glamorous; they are essentially glorified canoes with a questionable motor strapped to the rear. We slept on the wooden floor with life jackets as pillows, lulled to sleep by the senseless Thai chatter of the drivers and the gentle rocking of the waves.

It was an unforgettable, magical experience. Certainly one that you pull out during backpacker sharing time (or brag about on your blog). Yet my ecstasy was sobered when I realized that for the drivers, this was not some rich cultural experience, this was just another night. Only as I watched them begin to boil rice over a small stove did I realize that this boat, no more than six feet wide, was their home. For months at a time their lives are packed into dry bags, and stored beneath the wooden benches they sleep upon. They crouch and climb, pack and unpack, are at the constant beck and call of the tourists, and at the end of the day have not made more than $12.

The night before we had sat on the floor of the boat wrapped in a heavy cloak of darkness, lifted only by the light of a small lantern and the thousands of stars above our heads. We sipped a mysterious drink the drivers had dubbed “coffee”, and - stumbling along in a variation of both Thai and English - asked about their lives. Ameen, our round and sprightly driver, nonchalantly explained that he sends nearly everything he makes to his mother in Bangkok. “I have nothing!” he laughed, throwing his hands in the air. “I am happy!”

And I believed him. I believed him more than I believed the obviously posed laughing pictures on social media, or the ubiquitous advertisements apparently offering a perfect life along with whatever the product may be. I believed him because I have had a closet overflowing with clothes I never wore, and a makeup bag worth more than what these drivers made in two weeks, and still I had never felt the universe inside me as acutely as I did at that moment with those who had nothing.

Easily inspired as I am, I am now endeavoring to live a simplified life, and I encourage you to do the same. To do so is an arduous process of severing the redundant and resisting the shiny things, yet in doing so not only our lives but our visions are disentangled and we are able to say, “I have nothing. I am happy”.