Even with a set definition the question can still be asked, what does it mean to be content? What does it mean to be satisfied with what you have and the position you play in life?
I often find myself brooding over these questions and the truth is the answer will defer for everyone. I like to look at it from an external point of view, where the material things are what seem most important; and then from an internal point of view where your feelings and thoughts are what matter.
My stay here in Dakar, Senegal for the past few days has made me more aware of how culture plays a significant role in the ‘happiness’ of individuals. The uneven sidewalks are occupied by people trying to sell everything from fruits to calling cards, and taxi drivers waiting to pick someone up; ultimately leaving little to no room for its intended purpose. A stop light to regulate traffic does not exist and car exhaust is the new oxygen.
Nevertheless, despite these inconveniences you find men seated under trees enjoying random conversation, determined pedestrians navigating their own way through the streets, and children smiling as they pass you by. How you manage to stay buoyant when the conditions around you encourage the opposite is beside me. Or maybe it just seems like that from the outside looking in, and there is indeed a reason to be upbeat after all.
The man that has a family to feed is persistent in his efforts to accumulate a few francs by the end of the day, so you become his target. His goal is to make you buy what he is selling even if that means following you down the road in the sweltering heat. You reply “Non, merci” (No, thank you) or “Babeneen” (Next time) but still he follows, willing to negotiate his price and entice you. Whether or not you accept his offer at least he tried. I like to call Senegal the land of negotiations because a simple “No” is never accepted…we can always work something out.
That state of mind might actually be what keeps everyone going on a day to day basis. That hope and that belief that it worked before and it will work again. That respect for traditional methods of doing things and traditional life.
I cannot help but wonder though is it that Senegalese people are content with the way things are, or have they settled for it? Is the maid really satisfied with making money by living in another family’s home, while her presence is missed by her own family in the village? Does the little boy that begs feel confident begging or has it become his duty?