Many years ago I worked for an organization that required me to travel to the islands of Micronesia. My home base was Guam, where I grew up, but even as remote as that place was…the rest of Micronesia was straight out of an exotic National Geographic photo spread.
Theses islands are spread along ocean distance span larger than the United States. I would take my business trips on regular jet planes on Continental Air Micronesia from Guam. We would land on runways on these islands that seem too short with the plane in danger of falling into the ocean before braking sufficiently to a stop.
I had many adventures on these islands but I am particularly thinking about a person I met on the island of Mwan in Chuuk a group of island atolls. Mwan was caught between the encroachment of Western Society and it’s traditional culture, a simple but effective life living off the sea.
I remember saddened by a big awkward billboard with a Marlboro ad put up by an airport smaller than most McDonald’s. The island was beautiful set against a turquoise, blue ocean that extended as far as the eye could see.
Signs of pollution already were making it’s mark in a society that was used to everything being biodegradable to now dealing with unsightly trash issues in some areas from things like pampers, beer and soda cans, and other such products.
However, the hearts of the people were great. Many of us would look at their standard of living and immediately place them in a certain category in our minds. However, when we look deeper it is them that have the upper hand in many ways. This is when Happiness Ichin comes into mind.
I met Happiness because he was assisting me in doing some training with some of the people there. He earned his name because he greets you with this infectious smile with very white teeth ( a couple missing). He never stops smiling. His name is unique, but the introduction of western culture has produced new names for the people there in Mwan like “Clorox” or “Gunsmoke.” I am not kidding. I met a lot of Ronald Reagans there too.
One memory I have was walking down the dirt road to Happiness’s home of perforated tin and wood siding to pick him up for a meeting. I approached and I saw his children running around the yard with the chickens as his wife fed them grounded up coconut ( the chickens).
At that moment, I heard my named called and turned to see Happiness with his hair foamed up in shampoo, his mid section covered up by perforated tin siding standing in an outdoor shower…smiling. In his meager surroundings, he was Happy and his family was happy. They had food and did not seem to want. I would not really call him poor but just lacking in material things.
His way of life and attitude showed how to have a good life in its purest organic form. I learned so much from Happiness.
I have lost contact with him. I imagine that even as he is aged that he continues to smile way out in the middle of the Pacific reminding me that life is too short not to not be smiling. So when San Francisco life gets to hectic, I try to remember Happiness.