16 May 2012

The Haves and the Have Nots

Households are commonly distinguished from one another by villagers themselves into four categories: neak mean, the "people who have"; neak kue sam, the "people who have enough"; neak krâ, the "poor people"; and neak toal, the "people who are poorer than poor.

Ebihara 1968 p194

The neak mean would have many rice fields, money, jewelry, and a nice house, and the neak toal would have no rice fields and their daily subsistence would not necessarily be guaranteed. While the former lived in a house, phteah, built with wood and tiles and most likely under supervision of a carpenter, the latter survived in a palm-leaf hut, khtòm, they had built themselves.

Wooden Architecture of Cambodia: A Disappearing Heritage by Francois Tainturier

I am not happy with having many clothes - I want them to be pretty, to fit well and to not be scratchy.

I am not satisfied with my home of many rooms - I want nice furniture, woollen carpets, aircon for the warm days and heating for the cool.

My daughter would like her own iPad - she is not happy with sharing mine. (Suck it up, Princess.)

My husband is not content with driving a car that is safe and reliable- he wants...well never mind. He's not getting that either.

At times when we are not satisfied with our lot we would do well to remember the Khmer and to acknowledge that to them we are all neak mean - we are all "people who have".

And perhaps then we need to stop coveting and give thanks.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Sometimes as Christians we buy into the lie of defining our lives by the measuring sticks of the world: our material possessions, our bank balance, our home, car or iPad. I am not better than you because I have travelled to more countries than you have. You are not better because your children are perfectly behaved or because of the wonderful relationship you have with your husband.

For the Christian, Christ is our life. He is our identity and we live through Him. Because of Him, though we are all sinners, we have been saved because His work on the cross was sufficient for us.

Because of Christ and his work on the cross, we are all neak mean. We are all "people who have".

Perhaps it would do us good to remember that with gratitude and be content also with being neak kue sam - "people who have enough".


  1. We are never satisfied with our lot - we look at what someone else has and we want it!! And the more we have the more we want. Sadly we are passing on these attitudes to the developing world and they want what we have and what a mess it all makes.

  2. Thank you. Such a GOOD post!!! I just finished the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. It's a book on the slums of India. This very topic has been on my mind a lot lately.

  3. After Peace Corps I understood many things.....When I had to explain that on welfare many Americans still had air conditioning, a fridge, a stove, and could get food....well...you get the picture. "haves" and "have nots" are very different things in different places.

    I am in awe of all you are teaching Jemima with this trip.

  4. Wonderful, Jeanne. My pastor often says, "To the vast majority of the world, we (meaning those in our church) are rich." And he's right. I strive to be a woman who is happy with enough. Most of the time, I succeed. Encouraging that in my children is an ongoing process.

  5. A wonderful message. Thankyou!
    I hope you are all keeping well during your travels.

  6. Amen!
    Btw have you met someone with a perfectly behaved child ? ( joking) I certainly haven't lol.

  7. Oh and neither is mine lol. I should have added that one in the first comment !

    I've been thinking about what adventures you must be having :) Wise adventures it would seem :)

  9. Wow! After looking at your photos I am feeling very much like one of those people who "have more than enough." Thank you for sharing your trip, Jeanne. I'm enjoying getting caught up now that I'm back online with my new laptop (there it is again... more than enough!).

  10. Women in a Material World, is a book I often mentally reference when reminded of this always-timely message, thanks.


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