By whose sense of the wor(l)d
At the Kivukoni Fish Market in Dar Es Salaam, a young waiter asked me: “Are you fulfilled?” The question followed a simple but delicious lunch of rice, vegetables and smoked fish.
I quickly deflected my quarter-life crisis: was I fulfilled? He asked again: “Was I fulfilled? Had I enjoyed my meal?” I nodded eagerly, relieved that I didn’t have to qualify my achievements or locate myself in the shapeless millennial life-cycle. Because what does fulfilment look like?
The simplicity of his definition shone a harsh light on the density of mine. In that moment, I knew how different the lives we led were by our expectations. For me, to be fulfilled is to be excited, intellectually stimulated, to be “going somewhere”, and “being someone”. I can’t say what the word means, in its entirety, for him, but he was only asking if I’d eaten enough, and if I’d enjoyed my food.
Reflecting on this memory from my home in London, I have tried to identity the point at which our priorities move away from meeting the needs of our bodies to meeting the needs of our minds. Does it have to do with wealth? The signs advertising for green tea almond milk matcha lattes at £4.50 and meditation classes at £10/hour suggest that the process is not linear.
As early as 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) re-defined development as a process of “enlarging people’s choices”. Privilege was no longer confined to economics, but measured by social mobility and the liberty to choose. My expectations derive from my capacity to seize opportunities, to continually aggrandize the goals I set for myself, and to define the path by which I reach them. I am sharing this story because the interaction has stayed with me. In a society that moves too fast and achieves so much, his question is a more than a reminder to value simple fulfilment, it also identifies one important collective social responsibility: extending access.