Chicago, Illinois - July 2015
I was scrolling through my Instagram over my lunch break when I saw a post that invited people to travel to Haiti to volunteer as part of a back to school program. Without thinking twice, I sent an email to the organizers and asked for more information about the cost, and the journey. As I wrote down notes from their reply, I slowly started to distance myself from the thought of its possibility.
That night as I went over my finances in my head and concluded to myself that this trip was one that I could not realistically afford. To make myself feel better, I decided that I would donate a couple hundred dollars to the foundation. And on that note I went to sleep content but still distanced from the problem at hand.
As I got ready for work the next day, the thought of travel to Haiti still haunted me. And as quickly as it resurfaced I shot it down with a motherly scorn…”you cannot afford to go on this trip.” What I didn’t realize was that paying for this trip would only be a small token for the lessons that the process and the people would teach me.
What you may not know is that later that morning, as I walked into my closet, looking for my outfit of the day. I slowly realized that I had already afforded the trip to Haiti. I had paid for it ten times over. From Fendi to Celine with a sprinkle of Chloe…my handbags that lined my top shelf were monuments of lost experiences, standing proudly almost untouched, souvenirs from a status seeking life.
That day, I made the decision to turn my souvenirs into experiences. And the first one, that trip to Haiti, fully sponsored by a Fendi bag. Now yes, I know…you might think I am crazy, but the truth is I still sometimes think the same thing too. But as I posted the bag up for sale online, I attached a simple message for the buyer…
“I am traveling to volunteer in Haiti, and I already paid for it with this bag. I just need the money back.”
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a post to convince you all to sell your possessions and travel to Haiti. But what I want to share is the life changing moment that caused me to look at life and success and emotional wealth through a different lens. See I worked hard to buy the things that lined my closet; I worked hard to afford the things that validated me as a hard worker. But what I learned was that if you can only wear your success, then you are only successful in the eyes of someone else.
Port Au Prince, Haiti, September 2015
Since landing in Haiti, I have had some of the most amazing experiences. I have met the most amazing people, and eaten more delicious food than I could even photograph. But the biggest lesson I have learned is about poverty.
The state of one who lacks a certain amount of possessions or money.
If I were to follow the true definition of Poverty, then I could proudly say I have lived a fulfilled life. But what that definition fails to point our is that poverty is a subjective disease of the mind.
On my first day, as I drove through the streets of Port Au Prince. I saw kids, women and men dancing laughing and running carelessly. I must admit, their laisse-faire approach to life made me uncomfortable. I had imagined being overwhelmed with an “I feel sorry for you” state of mind.
After all this was post-earthquake Haiti, which had to mean that they had nothing to make them happy. No home, no running water, and no shiny possessions, no money. But what I quickly learned was that, they lived a life afforded to them by a strong belief in contentment. With the contextual little they had, they were able to live a life sustained with the happiness of things that money could not buy. The true definition of poverty was their gift, but truly my curse.
The void of chasing a physical representation of what does not exist.
Here is the truth. Things don’t make you happy. Happiness is an internal feeling; a feeling that can only manifest itself emotionally. Material happiness, on the other hand, is an unsustainable addiction, which needs to be constantly fed. Material happiness is a journey of always chasing a high…the high of the next “new thing smell”.
If you ask me, I have lived a life filled with poverty. My life has bookmarked by materialistic possessions that are long forgotten when the new season approaches. We all like to laugh and joke that shopping is the best therapy, but it really isn’t. This year, I lost myself entirely, but as I started to re-mend, to rediscover and re-evaluate the person I had become…there was still a void. And I can say that the moment that filled that sense of emptiness was in the realization that nothing could actually fill that emptiness. The cure for a lost soul is to fill it up with experiences, a lost soul is only lost when it roams the same halls each day looking where there is nothing.
Now lets make one thing clear, I am a blogger. I do wear things that are on trend and in fashion. I will still have expensive things, and we are all allowed to. But the difference comes from the state of mind in which we purchase things. If your purchase is just to say you have made it, to make yourself feel better, or to one-up the other girl… that is where the problem lies. Over the next few months, I will re-consider the purchases that I made under social duress, milking them and living an experienced life through them. After all as a good friend once said to me “In 20 years, you wont remember that bag or how much it cost, but you will remember the experiences from the places you travelled to.”
To the people of Haiti, in your beauty, your strength and your immeasurable emotional wealth. I thank you for teaching me to let go, to live without boundaries, to live a life that cannot be measured on a self imposed societal defined scale. In your crowded streets, I thank you for affording me the mental space to reflect and redefine.
To those of you that have made it to the end of this post. I leave you with one thought.
Always remember that when you lose yourself, you are not lost. It simply means you are looking in a place that is all too familiar.
That Hayet Rida
Body Positive fashion and lifestyle blogger.