Tag Archives: culture

Shoes

This past semester I took one of my favorite classes ever, Intercultural Communication. Some of the themes we studied in the first part of the semester were communication, identity, and culture; later we delved into issues such as child soldiers, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and genocide. As a part of the class, we each came up with a creative project or reflection on what we had learned, since a lot of the material was heavy and dark. Since I love poetry, I took the chance to come up with my own spoken word poetry piece and performed it. I pulled from the theme of identity that we had studied in the first half and combined it with some of the issues of the second half, using the metaphor of shoes to describe how we can empathize with the oppressed. Below is the poem that I wrote and performed as spoken word. (photo credit above: pixabay.com)

 

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their feet.

But you can never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

 

My father’s boots were tall and strong

Like him

Made to stride through the mud to spread straw for cows on cold winter mornings

Or through tall prairie grasses to hunt for the stray calf lost in the wheatgrass

On sunny spring mornings when the swallow swooped over dewy meadows

 

My mother’s shoes were tiny and timid

Like her

Black and trimmed with tucked-in edges that she wore for Sunday church

Her shoes fit in with all the other women’s shoes

When lined in a row when sitting on the backless benches

Except hers couldn’t touch the floor

 

My ancestor’s shoes were rough and rugged

Like them

They trod the hill paths of Germany

Slipping through the forests silently, stealthily

Stealing through the starlight to meet in caves

By underground rivers in the dead of night to be rebaptized–

Radicals and reformers.

Their shoes took them to the courts of Zurich, preaching and persuading

And some to their deaths

To burning at stake, drowning in the Lammat River

 

My ancestor’s shoes carried them onto boats

Fleeing on boats coming across wide, wild waters

Where they became a band of bewildered immigrants

In a nation and a tongue not their own

The words they spoke became heavy on their Swiss German tongues

And their fear of facing the fires again

Closed their mouths;

The firebrands and reformers became the silent in the land

Die Stille im Land.

 

Their shoes changed from strong mountain shoes

And religious rebel shoes

To quiet and capable shoes

Plowing the land and planting corn,

Until the East became too crowded

Then they pulled on their traveling shoes,

Their plain pioneer shoes

Boarded wagons and trains and boats

And staring into the setting sun, braved the dust, and

Gritting their teeth against the drought,

They lost their children to the prairies’ grip

Grimly facing the taunts of neighbors who called them “those Germans”

When to be German was to be a Nazi

While their accents never fit in

Just like their shoes.

 

What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Some people wear ballerinas and brogues, bast shoes and brogans

Others trod in trainers, Tsarouhis, tiger head shoes, and toe shoes

Pampooties, peeptoe shoes, peranakans, peshaawaris, platform shoes, pointininis

And still others wear silver shoes, slingbacks, slip on shoes, slippers,

Sneakers, snow shoes, spool heels, stiletto heels, sailing shoes.

Moccasins and winklepickers, Mojaris and wellingtons, Mules and wedges

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Some people wear moccasins that have seen the dust of trails

And the tears of those trails where millions died while weeping and walking

A convenient quiet massacre

 

Some little girls wear red leather tarkasin on their wedding day

Feet curling with fear  while they say yes to a man three times their age

Who steals their past and their present and their future

 

Some people do not wear any shoes as they run

Panting and gasping through the jungle at night

While flames tongue the sky and gunshots pierce the silence

 

Some children wear crude heavy army boots

Whose marching beats out

Power

And plunder

And pain

And march them to destroy the ones who love them most

And themselves

 

Some children do not wear any shoes at all,

Since the explosion of the land mine that stole their father’s lives

Took their own feet as well

 

Some people took off their shoes before they stepped into the shower

The shower that stole the breaths of their shaved and shorn and shattered bodies

And all that was left was—

Shoes

 

Some babies wore tiny soft shoes, wrapped onto tiny soft feet

When under an Eastern moon their skulls were bashed against the tree

The Killing Tree, they called it

By soldiers with hearts of rubber wearing shoes of rubber tires.

Destroy them by their roots, they said.

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What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Can I wear your shoes?

 

I cannot wear your shoes

They were not made for me.

 

But I can wear my mother and my father’s shoes

I can wear my ancestors’ shoes

And when I wear their shoes, I can know a little bit

A little bit

Of what it means to be invisible on the margin, the edge

To be born inconveniently.

To dread the knock on the door in the middle of the night

To lie haggard and hungry on a boat adrift

To live in a land where tongues cannot curl around strange sounds

And the name carried is synonymous with enemy.

To have fathers turn upon daughters and sons turn upon mothers

To bury children under a scorching sky

In a strange land

 

Perhaps I can know,

A little bit

When I wear their shoes

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Lines

Even after five years, sometimes I feel like I am lost in a tangle of language, culture, traditions, national borders.

Why was I born on this side of white and you were born on that side of brown?

The river of words that runs in my heart is not the same as the river of words that runs in your heart, though there are times the rivers mingle, when languages come together.

Why are you called Vietnamese and I am called American? Why are you called Thai and I am called “Farang?” Why are you called Karen and I am called Caucasian?

Why was I born where the world was bright and hope sprang unbidden in my heart and you felt only the crushing of loneliness and the thwarting of choices from the day you were born?

Why was I born with the weight of a culture on my shoulders I feel obliged to carry, a weight that is different from the weight you carry? And perhaps you feel no obligation to carry?

Why are you the other, and I am the one? Or I am the other and you are the one?

Why are our worlds dictated by the little books in our pockets that we call passports, that identify us?

Or do they?

Where are the lines where spirit surpasses language, where kindness goes beyond cultural borders, where hope speaks across lines enforced by countries?

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

What exactly does this mean? Five years ago I had more answers than I do now.

My Love Affair with Airports*

You and I, it’s

Complicated.

 

There’s nothing like the way I feel when I hear your voice

The way it makes my stomach quiver,

The way I love how you wrap your arms around me,

And the way I feel lost in you.

We’ve loved each other for a long time;

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I remember the first day I met you

Me, a farm girl from Kansas on her first flight, giddy, naïve, excited

When I jumped past the “authorized personnel only” sign to rescue my bag

From where it was headed into the unknown

And they shouted at me.

That’s when we first met, you and I.

Me, the farm girl with starry eyes who fell hard for you,

You–so much older than me, the one who had seen every kind of person in the world

Who had traveled to the four corners of the earth

I fell for you then, and I’ve loved you since

 

I fell in love with the way you whispered poetry in my ear

Of places you wanted to take me

Things you wanted to show me

Languages you wanted me to hear

People you wanted me to meet

And I’ve been in love ever since.

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I love the way you’re always alive and moving.

The way your heart beats late at night

When I put my ear on your chest

And listen to the sound of your dreams throbbing

The way Boeing 747’s do going down the runway.

I love the way you inspire me to dream,

To wander, to explore

To go where no one else has gone before.

I love the way I see every color in you;

And how every language under the sun

Rolls alive and rich on your tongue;

And when I hear you say the words

โปรดทราบ เครื่องของสายการบิน Air Asia เที่ยวบินที่ FD 3113

พร้อมแล้วที่จะออกเดินทางไปเชียงใหม่

ขอเรียนเชินผู่ด้วยสารทุกท่านขึ้นเครื่องได้ ณ ทางออกหมายเลกสอง

ขอบคุณค่ะ **

I thrill. No one speaks to my heart like you do.

And yet… it’s so complicated.

 

I love you, but every time I see you,

You rip me away from others I love,

Tearing like the tabs tearing from boarding passes at the gate.

You make me feel at home,

Yet you take me away from home and then tease me with memories of home in the eyes of the little blonde boy sitting in front of me at Gate 29

You bring me to places that stamp themselves onto my heart

Then you block them off from me

Like visas denied at the last minute.

You send me friends that become a part of me

Then break them away while my heart crumbles

Like the hard cookies on the flight to Shanghai.

You broaden my horizons and leave me in awe

And then collapse them  like my luggage does after I’ve unpacked everything from it

You teach me things I never knew

Then change it all up, so I’m confused and can’t find my way

As if I were lost in Suvarnabhumi all over again.

And everywhere I go with you, you always, always make me pay

In tears

That are wrenched from a heart that wonders

Why I let someone do this to me

Can you see why I love you

And why I hate you?

It’s just…. complicated

 

But you’ve seen me at my lowest, my worst,

When I’ve been awake for 24 hours,

And smell like a pair of socks that were packed dirty

And left through two missed flights

While their owner slept on the hard floor.

You’ve taken me with all my baggage and dug around in it

Found all my dirty secrets, and let me into your heart anyway.

You’ve wrapped your arms around me while I sat crying

On the row of seats waiting for AA 2828 to leave Wichita

You’ve seen me alone and lonely in the masses

Yet, I feel at home when I am with you.

 

You enraptured me in Doha, where you were so quiet I too became silent

In Shanghai you taught me the beauty of doing nothing

You forced me to drink all the water in my bottle in Seoul in 25 seconds

I spent the night with you in Chicago while the snow fell and cold seeped into my bones

In Guangzhou we fought over the price of chocolate-covered blueberries

And in Bangkok I watched you, dazzled at the hundreds of different faces of you

I’ve drunk coffee with you in Tokyo, in Dallas, in Wichita

And held hands with you in Ho Chin Minh City.

In Chiang Mai you brought hundreds of people into my life—and then took them away again.

I lost my heart to you in Kunming and in Phnom Penh and in Calcutta

And when I bussed back from Laos

Every bone in my body ached from missing you.

 

And yeah, you’ve messed up.

You’ve kept me waiting and waiting without an answer

You’ve gone back on promises, let other things come first

You turned a cold shoulder to me that night in Chicago

When I was freezing and no matter how many blankets I wrapped around myself, my heart was so cold.

I lost my trust in you when you made me pay an arm and a leg

For those dumplings in China when I was starving

And I will never forget the regret that filled my heart

In O’Hara when you took that $4 chocolate chip cookie from me

While I was distracted by you….

It still haunts me

You’re just…. complicated

 

And yet, I keep on coming back to you

Over and over again.

Even when you take people from me, people I love

I love you even when I have to pay thousands of dollars just to see you

And you keep breaking my heart over and over.

I love getting lost in your embrace,

Tasting all you have to offer

Watching the grace of your movements and the vibrancy of your color

 

I love us.

Even though…

We’re complicated.

 

*This is Slam Poetry (recycled homework again) something I did for my Advanced Oral Communications class. To listen to the performance, check out this link: my love affair with airports

**This is Thai writing meaning  this: Attention please. Air Asia Flight FD 3113 to Chiang Mai is now boarding at Gate # 2. Thank you.

 

Ban Mai Samakkhi

Northern Myanmar is home to Kachin State, an ethnic group that has been entrenched in violence with the Myanmar army for several decades. However, there is one village of Kachin people in Northern Chiang Dao called Baan Mai Samakkhi.

My friend and classmate, Louise, or Louie as we call her, is Kachin. The mix of languages in her background is tangled, since her father’s stripe of Kachin actually speaks a different Kachin language than the village he lives in does. Not only this, Louise’s mother is Lisu. Add Thai and English to the mix, plus a smattering of Korean she’s picked up from living with Korean missionaries and parts of a Chinese dialect she learned from the neighboring Chinese village, and it becomes very interesting indeed.

Pan Pan, a fellow Payap student, and I decided to go see Louise at Baan Mai Samakkhi in Chiang Dao province while she was home for a Kachin holiday. Since Pan Pan didn’t have a Thai driver’s license, we decided to go with bus and songtaew (a truck with two seats on the back used for public transportation.) Traveling with a bus gives an entirely different perspective of Thailand. While I didn’t appreciate getting stuck in traffic and the heat of the bus, I also found it fascinating to observe the type of people who take public transportation , which were mostly older or middle to lower class people. I felt like I caught a better glimpse of normal life in Thailand.

I met Pan Pan at his house early on Thursday morning and we walked out to the main road where we flagged down a songtaew heading for the city. Once we reached the Gaat Luang market, we hopped aboard another songtaew to take us to the Chang Phuak bus station. Once there, we bought tickets to Muang Ngai, Chiang Dao, boarding a bus that was headed for Fang, Thailand.

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I was tired from a late night the evening before and I had also neglected to take any carsick medication. Instead I bought some gum at the station and viciously chewed it as we headed out of the city and down the mountainous roads to Chiang Dao, trying to keep myself from getting sick. Passing through the city of Chiang Dao, we stayed on the bus until we reached the Muang Ngai bus station where a yellow songtaew was waiting. We boarded the songtaew and headed to Baan Mai Samakkhi.

This, I think, was the first time I had ridden in a songtaew with a lady driver. As we shot up and around curves and precipitated down steep mountainsides, I wondered if she was trying to prove something. I briefly considered ringing the bell to ask her if I could sit in front with her, as my stomach kept on churning, but instead I stared out the back door of the songtaew and chomped gum as if my life depended on it. It didn’t work. Somewhere in the breathtaking scenery between Muang Ngai and Baan Mai Samakkhi, I lost my breakfast in a plastic bag while my embarrassed fellow passengers politely looked the other way and said nothing.

Finally, a little shaky and tired, we got to the village. Pan Pan and I then walked the half kilometer to the village gate, already hearing the echoes of thundering drumbeats. Once we got to the village, Louie came running up. “Come, come,” she called. “They’re almost finished!” She dragged us quickly to a fenced in area where the music was coming from.

I saw a sight I was not expecting. I had never seen anything like it before. It reminded me of American Indian dances, or something you would see in Tibet, not something in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Kachin people from all of the 6 different Kachin subtribes were present, with people from Myanmar, China and Thailand represented. In a circle that was fenced off, beneath triangular flags fluttering on strings above, over a hundred people marched in a line, following four leaders. They danced in 12 different patterns that were drawn on the sides of 6 poles in the middle of the clearing. Drummers stood beating drums in the middle of the clearing beside the poles, and music so deafening it shook in my chest played from speakers. They did this dance called Rom Manao two hours, twice a day for two days of the festival.

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DSC01223DSC01155We watched until the end and then went to eat noodles, before taking the afternoon off to sleep and rest. While mingling with Louie’s family, I discovered an even deeper tangle of languages. Some of the visiting Kachins could speak Burmese (and maybe Chinese?? still not sure) so Pan Pan, who is ethnic Chinese but born and raised in Burma, was able to communicate well with them. It seemed everywhere I turned, I heard a different language.

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Above: Pan Pan (left) and Louie hanging out with Louie’s dog.

In the late afternoon, the music and dancing started again, and we watched until the time came for Louie and her sister to go teach English at Arunothai, the Chinese village several kilometers down the road. Try as I might, I have not yet discovered how a Chinese village came to be nestled in these mountains about 15 minutes from the Burmese border. My guess is that they were fleeing war and immigrated to Thailand.

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Sometimes as I experience things, I get senses of color. While Louie’s village flaunted red and orange, this village was gray with an occasional splash of red. Perhaps it was the coming winter night that gave the gray atmosphere, or perhaps it was the streets and the walls of the village itself. Like Louie said, it felt like an ancient Chinese village transplanted into modern day times.

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In Arunothai the children grow up speaking Chinese, but are required to study at a Thai school in the day. In the evening, they attend a special school focusing on Chinese and English. While Louie’s sister taught an English class, I slipped away to wander along the gray courtyard and watch the sunset. Then my curiosity got the better of me and I headed to the Chinese class to listen to the Chinese teacher, an energetic, talented woman who held her young class spellbound as they practiced songs and rhymes. I sat with the students and tried to help sing along in the limited Chinese I had learned in the past year. I felt oddly like I had come home.

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In the gathering twilight, we waved goodbye to the children and left the gray village on our bikes, waving to the Chinese teacher as she too went home. Oddly, I felt like I was leaving home.

We spent the evening listening to an open air mountainside Kachin concert, something I quickly tired of since I understood nothing. I bought myself some hot cocoa and wrapped my hands around it, glad for the warmth in the mountain air and made a game of pretending to translate the Kachin words into Thai for Pan Pan. The most interesting part of the evening was the way people went up on the stage to drape garlands on the singers, while they were singing. This could be hilarious, especially when the singer was in a passionate part of the song and had to bend down to have yet another garland draped on his or her head.DSC01285.JPG

The next morning, we headed to the market at Arunothai before taking a walk, eating some avocados and catching a songtaew back to Muang Ngai again. I was reminded again of the variety of people living in Northern Thailand, as group after group boarded the songtaew and jabbered with each other in languages I could not recognize. The bus ride back to Chiang Dao was hot and tiring, but at least did not involve more meal losing. I ended up standing in the aisle with about 10 other people for part of the way since there were more people than seats. In light of this, I was amused at the sign in the front of the bus. Along with other signs, warning against smoking, the sign in the bottom right of the picture announces that a law has been passed that all passengers need to put on a seatbelt and the failure to do so will result in a penalty of 5000 baht. How are 10 people standing in the aisle supposed to wear a seatbelt?

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I was exhausted but happy when we got back to Chiang Mai. Despite being tired, the trip was well worth it.

And someday, maybe I will go back to Arunothai, the mysterious little gray village of Chinese people close to the Thai/Myanmar border.

To learn more about Kachin people in Thailand and Burma, check out this link: https://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/curse-blood-jade-neighbouring-ethnic-war-know-nothing/

December

Christmas break from school has been many things. Relaxing, no. But interesting, educational, and enlightening, yes. It’s hard to believe that I am in my third week of Christmas break already.

I had been hoping to be able to get into one of the refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border over my Christmas break. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve never had the time off long enough to do it, whether it was time off from work or from school. This didn’t work out for this break, though, so I was left with a variety of other options.

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One of my first ideas was to make donuts to sell over my Christmas break. Has it been successful? Not sure how to answer that question. Yes, I have made some money, but it’s been more tiring than I expected. However, it’s been delightfully refreshing to my brain to be able to do something with my hands while letting my brain wander, pray, or listen to poetry or music.

Then there was our Christmas party with our Thai cell group from church. We had it at our house and invited friends outside of the group, played some games, shared a short version of the Christmas story, and ate tons of amazing food.

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I also picked up several hours of teaching during the break. A friend knew of a young woman who was wanting to study English. Next one of her friends wanted to study as well. So, along with some of my regular teaching, I also had some extra one on one teaching. I have loved getting to know these students; they are young ladies who are very interested in learning English and are lots of fun.

My friend Amy is back visiting in Thailand too, after moving home last year. Getting to see her again and have some good chats with her have been fun.

There are several highlights that especially stand out from my Christmas vacation. It’s not over yet, so some more highlights might still pop out. However, in looking back, I can almost narrow it down to three main favorites: the EMA student graduation, my trip to a Kachin village in Northern Chiang Dao with a college friend, and a 4 day bike trip into the mountains that my sister and I did. I hope to blog more extensively about these in the next week or so, so look for some posts on these in the future.

But for now, here are a few peeks of photos.

EMA graduation:

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Baan Mai Samakki, the only Kachin village in Thailand:

Dten Rom Manao is a festival that happens once every several years.

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Not far from the Kachin village is a Chinese village, Arunothai, about 15 minutes from the Thai/Burmese border. While these people live in Thailand, their children’s first language is Chinese and they still practice many aspects of Chinese culture. Below is a boy from that village.

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My friend’s grandfather beside their fire.

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A sister trip from Chiang Mai city to Doi Intanon, to Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi, and from there to Mae Chaem:

Coffee made on the fire at Baan Mae Klang Luang, a Karen village on Doi Intanon.

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Drinking more coffee on Doi Intanon.

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A sister shot early in the morning as mists were rising from a valley close to Mae La Noi, Mae Hong Son.

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On a morning jaunt through the mountains of Mae Chaem at the Karen homestay on the last day of our trip.

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Kaleidoscope

Close to a year ago, I wrote a poem about my world being on my desk, here. This is a similar poem, now a year later, and this time, it’s in my backpack. 

Photo credit: Pexel

 

My world is in my backpack

Stuffed into pockets and corners and zipped compartments

Crammed until I can hardly close it.

 

Every now and long forgotten items surface

Like the chicken bones my friend found in a pocket one day

Or the little bag of sticky rice I forgot for weeks,

Not unlike the skeletons in the proverbial closet.

 

My world is in my backpack, or at least a ¾ part of it.

 

Crumpled on the bottom is the linguistics quiz

With the mysterious .5 marked off of it,

Several baht coins scattered about unceremoniously

With one lone Abraham Lincoln penny still holding its ground;

Flashcards from aforesaid linguistics prep,

Harmonica that helps release the ache on lonely moonlit nights,

And a long-forgotten packet of fisherman’s friend lozenges;

Socks for when the air-conditioning becomes too much for me

(And when I need the comfort of something cozy again).

Notes from doing a movie analysis needed for my final paper,

And my faithful Kindle which is to me what Friday was to Crusoe;

Crumpled up paper about faith with a chocolate smudge

With a list of children’s names on the back from VBS, reminding me that yes, I was at home this summer.

Breathsavers that I think must have come from my sister’s dresser drawer

From back home in that creaky second story that turns frigid on cold winter nights

(And I really should give them back to her because I completely forgot I had them.)

A crumpled-up business card for a souvenir shop that I can only think came from that Thai lady

The one I met at the airport in China when my flight home was canceled

And she made me cry with her kindness  when we heard the news at 2 AM.

My phone, my key ring that holds 7 keys (of which only 2 I use),

2 USB sticks, eyedrops for when the long drives on my bike are too much;

A receipt for a latte at Start Up café, and at the same time, one crumpled up receipt from

Dunkin Donuts at the Dwight D. Eisenhower airport in Wichita

When I bought a latte on my way back and drank it while reading the card from my mom,

And crying while I ate the cookies that the little blonde boy brought over for me

Just before I left, and he asked me matter of factly,

When the airplane was coming to pick me up?

A lone key that used to be for the old lock on the gate,

A leftover paper from English class with a list on the back

Of items I need for my residency papers.

A flashlight, a pencil a friend gave me just before exams

And a post card my Japanese friend gave to me of a cityscape from her trip to Hungary.

A scissors, a set of watercolor pencils, and a pad of watercolor paper

Just in case, you know, I ever find myself somewhere with nothing to do.

Sunglasses for those long drives to IGo at 5:15 PM,

And two energy bars to sneakily eat at coffee shops when I am too stingy to buy food with my coffee;

Two packs of cards to play games with my English students;

Crumpled and folded and fingered notes from the presentation on nonverbal communication,

When I bent and crushed the papers in my hand, no, not nervous at all.

The planner my friend gave to me at Christmas

That says “The Best Year Ever,” and I think I believe it

Even though the year has been thrown into a backpack

And juggled around through customs and airports and classes

From farm world to city world, from one life to the other.

 

My billfold with 3 different drivers licenses, 2 Thai and one American,

My blood donor card I haven’t used for years,

Along with my student ID and my Bangkok Bank card

And about 10 others I rarely use.

My little catch all bag from a Thai friend for Christmas, full of pens

And a spinner, and highlighters and pencil sharpeners and sticky notes,

With the keychain that has the word “Jesus” on it,

From my friend who has left for the cornfields of Indiana;

A paper left over from Aj. Tony’s survey about how many languages we speak

(And I still can’t decide how many it actually is);

 

Then finally the little miniature airplane I made out of the gold foil

That wrapped the chocolate my friend from Ho Chi Minh City gave me last weekend.

I finger it and lift it up, give it a whirl,

Watch it glimmer,

And wonder.

I Am From

My friend, Tina, introduced me to “I Am From” poems, which were introduced to her by her housemate, Anita, who blogs about it here.

Every Monday night, the 6 ladies I share a house with and I have our “family night.” Two weeks ago, was my turn to choose an activity, so I brought the templates for writing “I Am From” poems.

It was hard, but rewarding, and fascinating to catch a glimpse into the fabric of what my friends’ lives were made up of.

While I won’t share all of them, here is what I wrote.

(Based on the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. here)

I am From

I am from Tupperware, from muddy chore boots, and the yellow rotary phone on the wall of the kitchen.

I am from the trailer house under the Osage orange trees on the dirt road, and from the brick and wood and gables two-story house, from the aroma of fresh-baked bread and the scent of cow manure.

I am from the amber expanse of wheat in June, from frail May lilacs, and kittens on the windowsill, the scarlet maple tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from reading Luke 2 on Christmas mornings, and pancake breakfasts on the west porch on Memorial Day. I am from eating slow and arriving late, from Daniel and Verna, and Mark and Mary, and Abe and Katie. I am from books and newspapers at the breakfast table, and eating bran flakes at midnight, and popcorn and apples on Sunday afternoons.

I am from “nigh-night” and “luf ya gansi bunch” and “Gott ist die Liebe”, and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Hardy Boys. I am from Thanksgiving dinners with pumpkin pie, and aunts and uncles with whole-hearted belly laughs, and tears running from laughter.

I am from quiet and reticent, from talkative and blunt, from Hutchinson and Kalona and the Alps of Switzerland and somewhere in the northern part of Thailand, from chocolate chip cookies, and from fried cornmeal mush with cane molasses, and from sticky rice.

I am from stormy nights on the way to the hospital when labor pangs seized and trees fell across the street, from shotguns fired by curious boys while guardian angles hovered above.

I am from combine rides and Pepsi on breathless summer afternoons, from barefoot in church singing slow German hymns, from the unvarnished dry sink against the kitchen wall from Great Grandma Nettie, from cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate on snowy mornings.

I am from silent and sensitive, from noisy and hilarious, from dreamer and homebody.

I am from still summer nights, and far away train whistles.

I am from all those and more.

Impressions of a Journey

  1. Goodbyes are heart-wrenching and color my entire trip from Wichita to Dallas to Los Angeles to Guangzhao to Chiang Mai.
  2. The lady at the counter furrows her eyebrows as she searches for my visa in my passport. “We can’t let you get on the plane if you don’t have a visa and a reentry permit,” she says. I flip through the passport and find it, breathing an inner sigh of relief when she nods her head and wishes me the best.
  3. The floor of the new Wichita airport is shiny, even in the bathroom. I find it interesting that as I sit on the toilet, I can see the reflection of the person in the opposite stall. This is funny and hilarious until I remember that they can see me just as well as I can see them. I finish my business quickly and leave the room.
  4. I watch the last of Kansas soil disappear from the window of the airplane and cry. The girl beside me is heading home after a year in Ghana, working as a volunteer with agricultural projects.
  5. The plane landing in Dallas is rough. After we land the little girl in front of me loses her lunch. I offer her a bag to put in some more of her lunch, and try to hold my nose shut inconspicuously. Her mom thanks me and sighs. They have only a few minutes to catch their next flight since this flight was about 20 minutes late.
  6. In Los Angeles, I check the screen to see my flight’s schedule. Someone sneezes in the distance. An airport worker sitting close to the screen shouts out, “Bless you!” I grin at him, thinking this is probably the last time in a long time I will hear those words in relation to a sneeze. (you don’t say “bless you” when someone sneezes in Thailand. I don’t know why. You just don’t.) He grins back.
  7. 6 hours down. 8 more to go. The air is dry, the quarters are close, and I wonder if I will go crazy or not. I sleep instead.
  8. The Chinese man on the one side of me and the Vietnamese man on the other side enjoy their food with great relish and sound effects. I block it out and enjoy my food with great relish and zero sound effects.
  9. The toilet paper in the airplane bathroom has somehow unraveled several squares and is on the floor. I freshen up quickly and head back to my seat, only to look down in dismay at the foot-long trail of toilet paper that has stuck firmly to my shoe and followed me back to my seat.
  10. Someone sneezes on the plane. The Vietnamese man says, “Bless you.” I giggle inwardly.
  11. I feel good when we land in Guangzhou, China, better than I have ever felt before after a 14 hour flight. This airport and I, however, have trust issues stemming from a 17 hour layover, flight cancelations, and exorbitant food and coffee prices when I flew home in May. I begrudgingly buy a yogurt parfait since I have some Chinese yuan I have no other place to spend, but dig out my Vietnamese coffee filter I brought specially for this occasion. The airport has no cold drinking water, but hot and warm water instead. I make my coffee with the hot water and chuckle an evil chuckle to myself as I drink it and enjoy my little rebellion and protest at ridiculous coffee prices.
  12. The parfait is delicious, perfection in itself. The coffee is…. ok.
  13. I meet a Belgium man and his Thai wife. We become friends as I help him connect to airport wifi. His wife, when she learns I speak Thai, begins to ask me questions about my lifestyle and dress. Thinking I am a sister, she asks, “Can you get married?” “Yes,” I say, and wonder at her reaction. “Really?! Really?!” I don’t wonder for long. It turns out that she has very serious matrimonial designs for her 30 year old half Thai son and feels that I would fit right into that design. She goes down the checklist: I speak Thai. I speak English. I even speak some Northern Thai. I have good manners. I study at Payap, (her son is a graduate of there). She asks my age and date of birth. I fit the specifications exactly. She cannot understand why I do not jump at the chance.
  14. I still am not sure if I am ready to land in Chiang Mai yet or not, but my flight is leaving and I must board.
  15. The flight to Chiang Mai is made interesting through conversation with my backpacker seatmate. He is an intelligent conversationalist and talking with him is fun and easy. He has traveled the world extensively.
  16. The sky is beautiful. The Chinese boy in the seat behind me looks at it and says, “Hen piao liang!”
  17. Doi Sutthep greets me as we land. I feel a thrill of happiness. Eight friendly faces greet me as I come out of customs. Eight hugs make me feel welcome.
  18. I am glad to be back.

*photo credit: pixabay

Dispelling Commonly-Believed Slightly Exaggerated Myths about Young Anabaptist Females Living in and Working in a Cross-Cultural Setting in Southeast Asia

*Disclaimer: Not all of these myths or the shattering thereof are applicable to all mission workers or others in volunteer service around the globe. I speak of my own personal experience and those in my household in Asia.

*Disclaimer 2: This is not to prevent people from asking me about some of these myths. I don’t want people tiptoeing around me, afraid of saying something for fear that they voice a wrong assumption. This is only an effort to put some light on the truth of what it is like to be a young Anabaptist female living in and working in a cross-cultural setting in southeast Asia. People tend to put workers of that mold on a pedestal. Pedestals can become very lonely at times.

  1. We are strong, independent and don’t need others.

While we may appear strong and independent, it is because there may be a slight element of truth to that. We have been forced to become strong and independent or at least appear so because there are others looking to us for guidance. However, seldom a day goes by when I do not check my email, wishing for an encouraging email or a simple “hello, I am thinking of you.” I also am grateful for each and every one of the older couples on my Asian side of the world who offer me a comfortable shoulder to cry on if I need one. 28 year-olds can feel a lot like 5 year-olds at times.

  1. We don’t have personal problems or doubts

WRONG. Mission workers can be some of the most messed up people in the world. Your problems do not magically melt away the moment you step foot on foreign soil. In fact, they are usually compounded. Working in missions usually means working with people, which means the junk inside of you gets stepped on. A lot.

  1. We don’t want to get married.

This is a big one. I’ve had various friends over the years make the statement or assume that I am so focused on my work and I have so much purpose in my life that I don’t want to get married and that is why I am not married. Sure, back when I was 13 years old, I drew a picture of what my life career was going to be and it included sitting at a desk writing with cats on my shoulder and in every part of the room. I labeled it “Old Maid Writer.” While it looks like I am well on my way to that goal, I can also say that I have grown up a bit since I was 13. Yes, we are passionate about what we do, but we are also women with personal dreams and desires. While giving up work to become a wife and mother would require some refocusing of the mind, we also believe that the calling of being a wife and mother is every bit as important as being a full-time mission worker.

  1. We are living in mud huts and eating plain rice every day. We are usually scared for our lives.

Sadly, no. While I would at times prefer the mud hut to the city life I live, it’s not the case. Yes, there are some conveniences we miss about living stateside, but we really are a pampered lot. We have a microwave, internet access, mail from the other side of the world that can be delivered in about 10 days (ok yes, it does get lost at times), fast food restaurants, shopping malls bigger than anything I have ever seen in small town Kansas, coffee makers and beds to sleep in. We do experience the occasional rat or snake and food poisoning, but majority of our lives are not spent looking over our shoulder to check for a tiger or a guerilla (the human kind), and the main things that keep us up at nights are the cats fighting on the roof and the spicy Northern Thai Larb that we unscrupulously devoured at 8 PM. We even forget to lock the gate at times.

  1. We don’t get cynical or discouraged about the work we do.

Nope. See number 2.

  1. All our prayers are answered on a daily basis and we see miracles happening every day

God is the same God on that side of the world as He is in America. Sadly, we are also the same people and if we don’t let God have free rein in our lives in either place, He will not work like He wants to. Yes, sometimes more miracles may seem like they happen in foreign countries, but that usually happens when we place ourselves in situations that require a miracle. The main miracles that I see happening on a daily basis is the sun coming up and me being able to breath and live out another day without losing something or forgetting something. (ok, so that last miracle doesn’t necessarily happen on a daily basis.)

Are there any I missed?

14 Ways…

to know you’ve been living in Thailand for an extended period of time and are home on break. When….

  1. You enter a new bathroom, and you feel around on the outside of the bathroom door for the light switch, forgetting that in America they put light switches inside bathrooms.
  2. You stand in line while going through immigrations at the airport and munch chocolate, then feel bad for not sharing it with the person beside you. But you don’t want to share it because they would think you are weird.
  3. You cringe when people use their foot to motion or perform a task.
  4. You find yourself staring at dark haired people on the street, wondering if by any chance they might be Thai.
  5. You drink water out of the sink, simply enjoying the novelty of doing that again.
  6. You motion people to come with your palm down, and then feel really weird for doing it.
  7. You find yourself sitting on the floor more than on chairs, because it really is more comfortable.
  8. Just opening the fridge and looking into it is an adventure and feast for the eyes.
  9. You feel like a shadow of your old self, coming back to old haunts and realize that the haunts changed. People are fatter, thinner, older, more stooped, happier, sadder…
  10. You can sit down at the table to eat and not have to swat at mosquitoes.
  11. You feel funny when you think about the fact that you can speak another language. Like you just made up that language and no one else knows it. Or that you have some secret power inside of you that really is of no use.
  12. You realize that you actually do like Americans.
  13. You realize that since you live far away, you have become a neutral, “safe” person to others. People tell you things they never would have years ago.
  14. And you can pull off your clothes in one fell swoop instead of having to peel them off in a sweaty, sticky mess.