“The Key to Happiness” by Qiuyu Tian

 

This is sooo not going to work on me, Elise thought.

She sighed as the butler carried her tenth suitcase down the living room stairs of her parents’ villa on the beach of Malibu, CA.

“Do I seriously have to do this?” Elise whined while adjusting her hair in front of the mirror for the last time.

“Yes sweetheart,” her dad assured her, “this is the only way you’ll be able to graduate high school.”

“But did they really have to send me to a rotten village in the middle of Asia?” Elise exclaimed. “Couldn’t they send me to Paris like Marina?”

“You were the last one to sign up for the travelling to a different country program though…” her dad answered sheepishly.

“Whatever,” Elise muttered. “See you in two months!”

“Love you too, sweetie!” Her dad waved as the limo left the driveway on its way to the airport.

20 Hours Later

 

“Ew! My Miu Miu heels are ruined!” Elise had tried to jump over the mud. Three hours before she was relaxing in the airport waiting for the luxury driver to pick her up. Turns out, there was no such thing as a luxury driver at Simao Airport. A stinky van with chickens in the backseat picked her up and dropped her off in the middle of nowhere. She screamed at the driver to bring her back to the airport, but he just zoomed off and left her in the dust. And, her purse was gone too.

“Hi, I’m Shu Chang,” said a girl about her age as she approached. “Are you from the travelling to a different country program?”

“Uh… Yes?” Elise answered hesitantly. She was aware that she looked like a complete mess. But it was better than that girl, who was wearing a rather dirty soccer shirt, khakis, and flip-flops that looked like they had been chewed up by a dog.

Shu Chang led her up a steep hill to a small village at the top of a mountain. Elise looked around, and there was a dirty little kid looking at her adoringly, probably wondering where she got all her bracelets. Elise wanted to tell the little kid to stop staring at her, but then saw the child run to his mother, who was trying to pump water out of a water pump. Water came out, but it wasn’t even clean. A man walked over and gave her a jug of water that was actually clean. The woman thanked him dearly and gave to jug to the little kid, who took a sip. Elise felt tears come to her eyes. This place was her worst nightmare, and these poor people lived here everyday and probably never had been down the mountain. She realized that these people definitely didn’t have what she took for granted. She took out a crunch bar that she had saved and walked over to the little kid. He took it generously and ran happily to his mother, who bowed in thanks.

Over the next few weeks Elise got to know the people in the village, and even helped them harvest the rice, and played with the children until her clothes got dirty. She laughed a lot, and learned a lot of new skills that she wanted to show everyone back at home. But the day she dreaded finally came. It was time for her to leave. She tearfully bid goodbye to the villagers who treated her like family and packed up to leave. She took one last look at the landscape and vowed to come back one day, for she knew she would come back to finish what she had started: her path to real happiness.

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