Travelers

                                        Hanoi by Yoshifuji

Wishing You an Un-Great Experience

Now that you’re headed to _________
And people are wishing that you’ll have a “great” experience
I hope you have a un-“great” experience

If “great” means photo-ops
Looking good with beautiful smiling native children
After distributing our used t-shirts

If “great” means doing the speaking circuit back home
To make everyone in the audience feel good
That they’ve got it so good compared to those in a country like ___________

If “great” means people exclaiming about you:
“Aren’t we Americans so capable
Skillful, and generous?”

If “great” means people saying about you
“You saw what needed to be done
And did it with record efficiency”

I hope you have an un-“great” experience
Where you are frequently confused
Questioning your purpose and presence there

When you feel totally useless
When your agenda completely dissolves in the seven short and long minutes
As it goes up against the piercing story you are told by an old woman in the village

When you don’t get what the people are saying
When you find yourself speculating how it will play back home
If you return sooner than you planned

When you reach unprecedented depths of inarticulateness
When you start crying for no reason
When you keep crying for umpteen reasons

I hope you have the best kind of un-“great” trip
Although I think they are being ironic
Don’t the Jesuits speak highly about getting “ruined”?

But it’s not so easy to do good PR for the administration and alums
With people returning ruined & despondent
Chain-smoking and their faith fractured

But know this: Many have traveled this road less traveled before you
A young sage once told us she learned how
To be OK with not being OK

I know you’ve got an out-going spirit
The toughest mind
The tenderest heart

When you get back
Look me up
I’ll be ready to sit still and listen

The Political is Personal

At a teach-in on Israel’s blockage on Gaza
Henry Nagler introduced me to Sylvia

She was very involved in the growing Liberate Gaza movement
She came from an unusually committed family

The way some people are obsessed with sports
The mother was obsessed a hundred times more with injustice

As a playwright
As a CP member

As an animator
As an instigator

14 hour days were typical
For this woman who had pushed herself hard her whole life long

Noticing the awed expression on my face
As Henry was telling me about her eighty-year-old mother

Sylvia mentioned that her mother regularly badgers her:
“So, why are you taking you so long to go back to Gaza?”

On another occasion she told her mother
She was going out dancing with some friends

Her mother glared at her and asked:
“You want to go dance while Gaza is being strangled?”

—Henry Nagler appears in Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

Email from Cameroon
by Wendy Lee

Hello! Hope this email finds you well. Classes must be well on its way and I am sure you are enlightening many other students like myself as we speak. I’ve wanted to write you this email ever since I read the first chapters of your book about Mev. But I opted to wait until the end to write it. I picked an interesting time to read the book – a time of many changes. I first begin reading it while still in training, where I was constantly surrounded by 35 other Americans, either complaining or lamenting aspects of our lives. Just as I started to lose sight of the real reasons that I am here in Africa, your words reminded me. The “bubble” that you often mentioned in our classes still exists even here in the Peace Corps. It’s easy to surround myself with other Americans (or Chinese) and not step out of my comfort zone to “be with the people”. I thought I had burst the comfort bubble when I boarded that plane for Africa in June. Even just over these few months, I have learned that bubbles and comfort zone will always exist and one has to constantly fight hard to not be in it.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. Not simply stories of Mev’s great work in the world, but stories of your love. Weeks ago, I was feeling lonely and thought to myself if I will ever have the “normal” relationship that others have due to the nature of my work and my goal to live in all continents minus Antarctica. Then I read your stories and know it can still happen. It took me a while to get through the book since lots were happening in my life. But last night, I picked it up again and began reading Part II and finished the book in a night.

It made me thinking about life and I can further understand the importance to live in the “present”. You just never know. I needed this inspiration as I am experiencing an interesting time as a Peace Corps volunteer – the first three months at post. Granted I still have yet spent a night alone since my friend Kate is having difficulty getting her house ready. But even so, I am experiencing a sudden loss of direction. I went from sleeping 4 hours a night to waking up without an alarm everyday. My French is better, but not great, so I struggle to really do much in my community.

However, round II is proving to be an excellent decision despite previous doubts. I haven’t felt so “Chinese” in a decade, thanks to the great Chinese community I stumbled upon here. Not sure how much of my blog you have been following, so I won’t repeat the stories here. I realized I have been making a clock-wise around the tour of the world, and the natural next step is going back to Asia, experiencing China. Things thus far haven’t been what I was expecting, but then I didn’t come into this with much expectation. Yesterday, I received news of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy and I thought of our chats at Starbucks. I have friends whose life has been turned upside down this weekend because they lost their fancy jobs on Wall Street. I am glad I wasn’t among them and I am happy doing what I love in Africa. Again, you just never know. Even the “safe” option isn’t so safe. My friend said in an email, “I should have joined the Peace Corps, at least they don’t fire volunteers.”

I feel I could ramble on forever. I miss our chats. Hope you are well and thank you for continue teaching the others like me not only about social justice, about liberation theology, but simply about life, about following one’s heart and stepping out of comfort zone.

Future correspondences to come.

Peace and love,

Wendy

How Do You Tell Uncle Johnny Where You’re Going?

She bought her ticket
She connected with her travel mates

They’d be two weeks there
Meeting people

In the south
In central

In the north
She was the youngest going

Many were old-timers
A couple in their forties

But she was scared
Hesitant to let her family know

Especially her Uncle Johnny
The war was 50 years ago

But he was still fuming
If he knew his favorite niece

Was going there
There where everything happened?

And what was most awful, he’d think, was
She was going with … peaceniks!

The vets who were soft on the Commies
The ones who gave comfort to the enemy

The ones who gave a pass to Jane Fonda
We’ve been going downhill

Ever since the country didn’t give 100%
To doing what was necessary

To win the war
Like we had always won wars

She’d have to let someone know
But not just yet

But soon because she might end up on TV
It was a big anniversary this year…

You Are My Hero

“… le dur désir de durer…”
–Paul Eluard

“You are my Hero”
Yes, that’s what I inscribed

In your copy of
The Book of Mev

No, I am not putting you on a pedestal
Proclaiming you a paragon

Who needs that?
Not me.

What I need from time to time
Is to look in your eyes

And see a radiant survivor
Someone still standing still feeling

For you
To live two years in Cairo

To endure eight hundred harassments and insults
To move in and out of those detention centers

To hear the stories of statelessness
(an unrecognized hell on earth)

To see irrefutable evidence of human indifference
and not finally shut down

To have your body sometimes “in”
but your heart and mind not “of” the rarefied world of academia

To recognize your hero
in a boy whom no one else cared for

To care for that one human being
stuck in multiple prisons at the same time

To recognize that what he needed was to look in your eyes
And see an ally, a friend, a sister, a human being still feeling

To become a pain-in-the-ass advocate
There in the kingdom of concrete and iron

You, who have lived intimately with affliction
You, a veteran of the long loneliness

You, 2,768 times down
You, 2, 769 times up

You are my hero

Share the Wealth with Wendy Lee & Xavier Vincent:
On China, Minimalism, and World Travel

Wendy, a Saint Louis University alum, and Xavier, a French native, met in Shanghai, a metropolis that has gained importance on the world stage over the last decade. The two met in this city while pursuing their corporate careers. After over a year of practice to live a more simplistic life, Wendy and Xavier bid farewell to both their corporate jobs and lives in China, after 6 and 14 years, respectively. They will share their insights on life in Shanghai, on their journey to pare down their life possessions to a suitcase and a backpack each, and their journey around the world, including traveling on the Trans-Siberian rail.

Join us
Sunday 11 November
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Wendy and Xavier begin sharing at 6:45
At the home of Sari Althubyani
Creve Coeur, MO
63141

Wishful Thinking

God knows we’ve been patient
First it was the emails and texts
We wondered what had gotten into her
We weren’t even sure what she was talking about:
“Structural adjustment programs”
“The preferential option”
“Systemic violence”

We were glad she was learning something
We just weren’t sure what it was
Then the spring break trip
Not to Gulf Shores
But to Appalachia
We scratched our heads over that one

And then the theology classes
Leading to a double major
In that and social work
We asked her
“Do you think you could possibly spend five minutes
Thinking about the word practical?”

And then the summer before the semester abroad
All she did was practice Spanish
To get ready for her “immersion”
We thought if she was going to study a language
She could have at least done German
Since that’s half our family

And then she came back from Latin America
And questioned everything–
The church, the government, the university–
Even us!
After a couple of months she calmed down
But she sure knew how to spoil a Sunday dinner

And then her senior year
She spent so much time in one of those neighborhoods
Rather than doing what regular college students do
We told her it wasn’t safe
And that she should use her common sense
But she’d smile and say, “Don’t worry, it’s cool”

At last she’s now finishing that year of service
Or whatever she called it, “solidarity,”
And we’re finally breathing a sigh of relief
We’re looking forward to seeing her get a job and meet a nice person
Now that she’s got this whatever out of her system

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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