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Dogs roam the streets hunting for any bit of food stuck on the wrappers littered across the ground. The smell of petrol pollutes the air. The houses around me are in shabby condition, there is nothing special. Close by 3 men are engaged in a friendly game of basketball, while a family is sitting around the front porch the men shirtless and the women are clothed in traditional garb. One of the ladies is holding a young child. This whole scene seems so normal to me right now as I write article from a mile above ground sitting in my commercial airline seat. But a week ago this would have been totally different. This summer I went on vacation to Sint Maarten/St Marten Island. It is a dual nation island that consists of Dutch and French residents. Before I continue any further let me speak a little about who I am. My name is Amaan Allana, I am a Junior from a Middle Class family. I have never experienced poverty, apart from my monthly visits to the shelter, and my occasional run-in to a roadside beggar. My life has been consisted of lavish luxuries. I have never had to worry about where my food would come from. I have never had to worry about finding a place to sleep. I live in a cookie cutter neighborhood, where the lawns are well kept, and the litter patrol comes to pick up garbage every few days. To me this is my norm. This is my safe haven. Anything away from this is strange.
When most people go to St Martin Island, they usually island hop between all the Caribbean Islands, instead of sticking to just one island. Often they stay within the most picturesque areas. The tourist destination. My family is different, whenever we go on vacation we try to immerse ourselves in the culture of the place we are visiting. We shopped at the near by Grand Mache, and attempted to navigate the entire island without the help of navigation. We spoke with local natives, and learned their culture. This was different from most of my trips. Maybe because I am a little older. I am mature enough to attempt to understand my surroundings, instead of being completely ignorant to the places around me. So instead of sticking to the picturesque parts of St Martin we went to the “road not taken
My first impression? “Wow this place sucks.”
I was totally baffled. How could some place so beautiful, have such a dark side. As we entered through the town my dad locked the doors. People were staring at our cars…and that was honestly very scary. After our first encounter we decided to go home, to contemplate what we just saw…and eat the rest of the Chicken Tikka Masala we had taken to-go from the nearby Nepali-Indian restaurant. That night however I decided I wanted to go exploring. So instead of running on the beach like I told my parents I would do…I decided to venture out a little further. A lot further. I began running on the street and had my Maroon 5 blaring in my head phones. I ran through the alleys to get to the “unseen” parts of the island. There I spoke to an old lady sitting on the porch. In full disclosure I was just lost looking for my way back to my hotel, but instead I decided to continue talking to her. I asked her how she spent her days, where she was from. The lady was very nice, she talked about how she came from Jamaica, how her sons and she came to the island. Then she said something that stuck to me.
“We live a little life…there isn’t much to it, but it is better than the life we came from”
I was incredibly surprised. The next day we went shopping at the Philipsburg Marketplace one of the places that one-day visitors do not get to see.
This is the one place you can buy a Louis Vuitton purse for under 100…obviously bootlegged. I got my first experience in bargaining, you know following my brown heritage. Anyways after I bought all my friends souvenirs, I started talking to the lady running the stall. Remembering my adventures from the night before I began speaking about her story. She told me how she was from Nigeria and was again looking for another life…a better one. This time I asked her a better question. I asked her how she could survive such poor lifestyles. How she could tolerate standing in the sun for over 12 hours a day, covered by flies and sweat.
“ Our small way of life may look different to you Americans, but that is because success here is measured in Happiness”’
That changed my perspective. I had one of the moments. You know…those moments where the world starts spinning, and you fall into a hole and you see Alice and her rabbit. Okay not really but that is how I felt. However there was a shift in my reality. All those years of brainwashing from the Southeast Asian community, which led me to believe that success was measured by money, chipped off. Happiness…over prosperity?I started looking at the city around me…and I began watching the people around me a little intently. I realized something. Everyone was happy. No it wasn’t HappyTown, but people were laughing…some were actually communicating with each other. People weren’t engrossed in their phones. The stall ladies were joking around about some guy who asked one of their daughter’s hand in marriage. This was so different then the States. It was like a reality shift. As the day went on we went to the beach. Full disclosure (again) the beaches are beautiful. And the women? Even better. And we digressed.
Any ways at the beach I was feeling very wild, and caught up in the “Hukuna Matata” vibe of the island I decided to go parasailing.
On the boat however we were waiting for the rain storm to pass, which is common because it only rains on the island for 5 minutes max. We started talking to the captains. They were extremely kind people. We asked them about their families…and they talked about how they have kids. Because their English wasn’t the best, we thought at first they were gay. However, they explained that they each have their own spouses and they each have children…which made a lot more sense. I started asking the captains about schools close by and how they lived their lives.
“ Our way of life is different, material things like cars mean nothing to us, spending time with you family, going to the beaches, and enjoying the little things is more important to us”
To me this was so different. In my family we spend a majority of our time at home. Studying, sports, and getting yelled at about grades are all things that dominated my daily life.
My family…going to the beaches…?
On a school day…?
But that is the life these people live. It is almost alien to me. It’s free…it’s like living a dream every day.
Although I could never live in the Island, because my brain is too brainwashed to just “chill”. I took a little piece of the island back. To remind me that life isn’t all about material objects like money. Life is about being happy. When you are happy everything will fall in place in the end. No amount of statistics like GDP can display that knowledge. I experienced something this summer. Something life changing, in some sorts, and somewhat refreshing. This junior year…when I am stressing out about the AP’s and SAT’s and the NMSQT’s and that whole Alphabet soup I will look back to this summer.
The summer when I learned how to live.