Friday, January 21, 2011

Flight Itinerary

I’m coming home. It’s going to take four days since I have the craziest, most-pieced together itinerary ever. That’s partly due to the fact that to get from India to Laos and back I chose an airline so cheap my travel agent couldn’t access their database, and partly due to the fact that Asia is predictably unpredictable and one canceled flight turned into two rebooked ones. Therefore…

7 airports
6 flights
5 countries
4 days
3 continents

from now I’ll be landing in Nebraska, hopefully to find an eager crowd of familiar little faces to fight for hugs all at the same time (one of the awesome features of my king-size family).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wet Eyes

I cry so easily now when I get overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

I’ve been sitting on Kruses porch this morning trying to summarize thoughts about India into a two-page letter while listening to “Your Love is A Song” by Switchfoot (lyrics below). And I did it again. Cried that is. What else can I do when I stand in the face of someone so powerful and so worthy, yet someone who cares to take everything he is and tend to my heart with such gentility and patience and such stubbornness to refuse to let me remain as I am?

Ooh, your love is a symphony
All around me, running through me
Ooh, your love is a melody
Underneath me, running to me

With my eyes wide open
I’ve been keeping my hopes unbroken…

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-face with Modern-day Slavery

I just finished reading this book by E. Benjamin Skinner, one journalist’s investigation into the existence of slavery still present in the 21st century. He travels in perhaps twelve countries posing as a merchant, factory owner, or just a westerner searching to satisfy his own contorted lusts, whatever it takes to answer the question: how easily, how quickly, how cheaply can I barter and trade for the life, labor, or sexual commodity of a human being? Answer: much too easily.

I won’t summarize the book. Read it for yourself. My question is what to do after you’ve read it. Skinner points out that the face of modern slavery is much easier to ignore than the Africans in chains on southern plantations. The face of modern slavery is hidden. If you don’t want to see it, you don’t have to. It’s the face of a prostitute who most will judge and assume she’s chosen the life she leads. It’s the face of factory workers and farmers who appear to be working for wages. It’s the face of an internationally adopted child who appears to have been rescued from destitution and brought to live in suburban America, but it’s all just a rouse; it’s really Cinderella pitted against the cruel stepmother, minus a fairy godmother or glass slipper, with an abusive brother thrown in for twisted measure.

Why don’t they run? Why don’t they speak? Because they are beaten into submission. Because they are illiterate and ignorant of laws regarding their freedom. Because their families might die if they squeal. Because they are afraid of deportation where home might mean death. Because they are brought to believe they are worthless.

I read their stories and I struggle with how to respond. Shouldn’t I be in tears? Shouldn’t I be screaming at injustice? And I am. Sometimes. But I can’t bawl my eyes out with every page. It takes too much emotional energy. If I fell apart at every sign of injustice I’d have to bury myself at the bottom of a tissue box and never come out. I’d be useless.

There comes a point when I have to make a choice to say I refuse to be overwhelmed by injustice. It’s everywhere. There are more slaves today than at any other time in history. That’s a lot of evil getting its way. I’m tempted to think, what can I do in the face of so much wrong? But the moment I surrender to that thought, evil has won. So I have to fight, even if I never see visible changes from my efforts; it’s the principle of never conceding the fact that darkness has won… because it hasn’t.

I still don’t know what it looks like from day to day. I know it means I keep my heart uncallused and hopeful. It means I staunch my ignorance, help others open their eyes. It means I pray, I petition governments, I keep sending money to pay for the schooling of a dalit child in India to prevent him from falling into the same trap. Maybe it means one day I open up my home to show broken women how to find life after hell.

In some sense I don’t think it matters what we do, as long as we do something, as long as we keep fighting, as long as hope stays alive. I can’t fix a problem that is millions of lives deep in countries all over the world. If I think that’s my job, I better give up now. But I can find courage to face those who come across my doorstep. If I spend my entire life fighting for the life and dignity and restoration of one human heart than my existence will be worth something. And slavery, in the world of at least one human being, will die.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thoughts of Home

It’s almost time to come home. I wasn’t ready to even think about those words a month ago, but now I’m liking the way that last one sounds in my ears—home.

Laos has been so opposite from India, but looking back I’m just starting to realize what a gift it’s been to my heart in ways I can’t fully understand. I think I’ve found my little moments of usefulness here—helping Eric in the kitchen, doing dishes for Jennie, subbing at the homeschool co-op—but if I could sum up my time here in one succinct thought it would be one great big pause. India was intense, more intense than I think I was aware while I was in the midst of it. I crashed when I got here, and Kruses gave me more than enough time in the world to sleep in and think and read. They’ve let me eat with my hand at the dinner table and wear my saris and talk about all the things I love about India while my heart takes its own slow time to process and adjust and prepare to move on.

Laos has allowed me to catch my breath before jumping into whatever race is next. So many times the fast pace of western society throws us from one thing full speed into another and our minds and hearts are forced to learn to cope and keep up whether they possess the capacity to do so or not. It makes me wonder how many things we miss because we never slow down long enough for our hearts to have time to show us what they have discovered. Laos has given me that time and I sense a deep urge to be grateful. India is pulsing so vast and multifaceted within me, I know it will take years to find all my thoughts, but I’ve gained enough distance now to articulate some of the pieces. Plus I’ve eaten enough western food and seen enough tourists to wear away half the shock-value of landing back in the United States.

So home carries a tone of welcome and warmth, brings stirrings of anticipation. There has never been a moment when I haven’t missed home, but there have been moments when I was convinced the shock of culture would clamor so loudly I feared it could blot out the joy of being with those I love. Those fears are passing, so that I believe I can look for the faces of my family beyond security checkpoint at the airport with anticipation of everything that is warm and good and right. And then, for all of you in Nebraska, I’ll be making my rounds to collect and give the most gigantuous hugs ever.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What we do for adventure in Laos

Epicness #1
2011. Day one. Four friends from three countries: Eric, Janina, Eevee, and I. We boarded a bus and traveled the only paved road in Laos running north into the mountains, disembarked outside of a city three hours later, and walked into town without knowing where we were going to stay. Eventually we ended up in a small little place on the river. Bare necessities—beds, water, and a toilet where flushing equaled ladling out buckets of water from the adjacent barrel. Six dollars per person a night. I love Asia.

Epicness #2
Second day. We rented kayaks and got dropped 10-12 kilometers upstream from town without a guide. Utter freedom and adventure rolled into one.

Two of the things that evoke the biggest sigh of contentment from that deep, deep soulish place inside my heart are mountains and water. I had both. Every so often I had to stop paddling, lean back in the kayak, drift backwards and drink it all in. It’s beautiful, Abba. With the sun on my face and my feet dipping into the water, it was a moment that echoed with gratitude at being alive and for a God who is so much bigger than myself.

Halfway down the river we stopped for lunch. The river was peppered with bars and restaurants, shaded hunts by the riverbank, and picnic tables half-submerged in the water. Each establishment blasted music and boasted swings or slides requiring varying levels of daredevilry. We of course managed to pick the highest trapeze available. By the time we got back on the river in our boats, Eric had nearly perfected his flip off the bar into the water. I contented myself with attempting the art of letting go in such as manner as to avoid landing on the water in a way that invoked pain. Janina mastered hanging on to the zip line so well it was forced to abruptly throw her off at the end of the line. Her body folded in half midair with perfect form before smacking the water back first. Eric and I winched from our perch on the platform.

The rest of the day included swimming along the river route, sunburns (have I mentioned it’s January), showers, naps, dinner Lao style around a low table with cushions, and several card games.

Epicness #3
Third day. We wanted to go hiking. Different guided hikes were advertised in town, but they cost more money than kayaking, which we all unanimously decided was ridiculous. So we ladened ourselves with water and sandwiches and trekked out hoping that a blue dotted line on a tourist map would prove worthy of being explored.

What we found first was a cave. We paid a dollar to have two young Lao girls lead us into the cave with headlamps. The stretch where we had to crawl on our stomachs ensured we were covered in mud by the time we arrived blinking back into the sunlight.

Not bad for a bit of an epic start. But we still wanted to conquer some serious mountain. The trail seemed to go further past the cave. The girls tried to tell us something, make us go back to the road, but Eric’s Lao wasn’t quite fluent enough to understand and his curiosity was insatiable. “I just want to see what’s around the corner from that machine up ahead,” he said. We laughed at that one later when we finally came back.

We followed the trail, which was actually a dried-up streambed. We crawled over rocks at one point that were closer to mini-boulders.

A handful of workers were mining rocks from the riverbed. They smiled as we passed. “Lagoon,” one of them said. “10 kilometers there is lagoon.” We all stopped and looked at each other, eyes gleaming with adventure. Our hiking took on a more determined gait.

The mountains were glorious. No picture can ever suffice to capture them. There were cliffs and trees covered in tropical growth, glens that opened up gleaming with sunlight.

A little piece of hidden Eden. We walked for hours without seeing any falang (foreigners), at least an hour without seeing anyone at all. We felt like four hobbits, trekking their way toward Mordor.

I’d like to say we found the lagoon. We didn’t. Five kilometers into our trek, the stream turned into a small gully that dwindled to something we decided was unwise to follow. Getting lost in the mountains of Laos before dark was blinking somewhere in the danger zone of foolhardy in our adventure meters. So we turned back. But the trek was worth it nonetheless.

Epicness #4
On our way back to town we thumbed a ride with six Lao students in the back of their pickup truck for the last kilometer or so. Once in town they invited us to go out with them back to the river, but we told them we had to catch our bus back to Vientiane. “We’re going to Vientiane tonight,” they said.

So the day ended by swimming in the river and having authentic Lao food with our six newfound friends.

Then the four of us falang piled into the back of their pickup truck for the three-hour drive back out of the mountains. Hitchhiking back to Vientiane. Check.

As the temperature dropped we all pulled towels and scarves out of our bags, layered ourselves down in the truck bed like Tetris cubes, and watched the sunset and then the stars thicken in the sky. We shared stories and constellations and prayed. Not a bad way to start the new year. Rather epic in our opinion.