Monday, December 4, 2017

Learning

This has been a season of growth for me- of wrestling and searching and a working through of many things. I am so thankful for my Somali friends who have become my teachers, imparting their wisdom in a variety of ways these past few months (years?).


Sometimes I receive messages thanking me (and Mark) for our work for refugees here in Bangkok. And sometimes I can feel in myself this need to be recognized, or rewarded (or at least respected) for my advocacy efforts in this crazy city. It’s true the work is hard and it’s nice to be appreciated. But it’s also true, unfortunately so, that I realized several years ago that if I’m not careful I have a bit of a hero complex.


But friends, I so don’t want you to miss who the hero is in this story- in all these stories that have intersected with mine. I, I am confident, am just the narrator- the teller (and the keeper) of these stories. I have been honored and touched and changed (and rocked to the core) by the knowing of these stories and these people- and they- these strong, brave, intelligent, persevering young men and women- they are the heroes.

A few weeks ago a sweet family sat with us as we asked their opinion about one of our videos for Zaki’s gofundme. They were away from their home for the day because immigration was raiding their apartment complex and they were hoping to avoid arrest. They cried when we all discussed the video- silently let their tears fall. And I have been thinking about things like collective/historical trauma since then. But also- I have wondered at their capacity to  mourn for their friend when their reality is so similar. I am so thankful for them and how they are teaching me about how to grieve and how to hope, anyways.


Last week I went to visit a young woman and her 9 month old baby in the IDC. The husband/father met me outside the IDC to pass me a few articles of clothing and a letter to give to his wife. He peppered me with questions I should ask his wife- about the baby and how they were both doing. He probably told me a dozen times that I should be strong- and remind her that she is strong too. While we were waiting for the visitor requests to be processed we sat chatting over coffee. We’d observed several of the large, caged vans pulling out of the parking lot earlier and so remarked that it seemed more raids were planned. I said something like, “these people are horrible” or a similar sentiment. And my friend, who has been unable to eat or sleep for worry of his wife and daughter said, “people are different- some of them are good”. And then he told me about some of his positive experiences with immigration officers. And so I am thankful for my friend who didn’t mind to reprimand me, who wouldn’t allow me to make a generalization about a large group of people. I am thankful that even though he has every reason to allow hate to rule his heart- he chooses to look for the good. Man- I want to be like that.


Earlier this week we shared a meal with another refugee friend. He told us that this month he hasn’t had many expenses and he wants to contribute to Zaki’s gofundme. He gets about $150/month and he gave half of it away. I am not sure if I’ve ever been more humbled than to accept a gift from this sweet teenaged kid who despite all the shit he has gone through still wants to do and be good. I am so thankful to know him- am so thankful for the way he has challenged me to reflect on my “generosity”, on what I sacrifice to love others.

How enriched and full and fun (and funny) my life has become because I have learned from my Somali friends. To all of you Somalis out there who have crossed paths with me- I am so thankful for the ways you have taught me, put up with me, and allowed me to be (in some small ways) a part of your story. I am better because of it. And you guys (and girls) are all my heroes!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude

Tis the season to count your blessings, and I have been faced once again with the exorbitant amount of privilege I possess.

I am thankful for my passport- which allows me easy entry to most every country in the world.
I am thankful for my freedom- for my every day walking around and doing what I want because I come from a place that people respect, have a skin color that people don’t question, and have the financial means to legally stay in or move to most any country in the world I desire.

I am thankful for my education- for the power I feel over my future because I have had far more than most the privilege to spend time learning.

I am thankful for my family- for the countless meals and traditions and laughs and guidance they have shared with me- for how they are the reason I can feel deep down within myself that I am safe and known and loved.

I am thankful for that sense of worth I have known my whole life- because I have always had my family to fall back on I have explored, taken risks. I have failed and not faded away. I have succeeded and been celebrated wildly.

I have been acutely aware the last several weeks of how “blessed” my life is, how “untouchable” I can feel, sometimes, from so many disasters that so many face. And I have lamented my privilege even while I have enjoyed it.

This week I stood with laced fingers through that awful fence again asking a young woman far braver, brighter, and beautiful than I could ever hope to be how she was. “I’m fantastic”, she laughed. I cannot fathom why she should be detained, she so much does not belong there.

Outside I comforted a family friend as he silently wept, telling me how his 8 month old daughter clung to him and cried when the officers took her and his wife away. And I can feel the weight of my own daughter in my arms and see the pain of my husband as he talks- were such a thing to be our reality too.

Then I listened to a kid who I have always wanted so badly to love as my own explain why he can’t keep up at the international school he miraculously (and independently) got a scholarship to attend. Between the hours long bus rides to  and from the school, his responsibilities to cook and clean in the studio he shares with other teenagers -he can’t complete his homework. If only, he said, someone could cook for him, or wash his clothes, or take his responsibilities that enable him to earn enough money to pay his rent- if then he could concentrate on school like any other student. And I can’t help but think- this kid is amazing- look at all that he has done without any help. And think of all the more he could do if he got a break every once in awhile.

Then we shared Thanksgiving with some lovely friends and a young man freed from arbitrary detainment. And when I looked at him from across the table, where he shyly smiled time to time I was so angry at all the meals lost to him- very suddenly acutely aware that once his world was family and meals and traditions and celebrations until it wasn’t that anymore and then he was suddenly thrust into another culture, and then again a prison, and now here he is- hopeful but heavy laden with so very much trauma from his last several years of life.

And then today I went to survey an apartment option for our temporary house guest. I’ve seen dozens of studios of various sizes and a wide range of cleanliness over the years. Though this one was fairly large and fairly clean my heart still sank. I talked with three former clients of mine who were happily prepared to welcome in a fourth roommate to their studio apartment not quite the size of my living room. Three different guys whom I had last seen some 18 months ago and for which not one damn thing had changed. Still waiting for status (what the heck UNHCR?!), one of them still literal skin and bones so obviously not receiving the medical attention he needs, still looking for jobs and trying to go to school and eeking out a living while they hideaway afraid of immigration. It was … heart- breaking and infuriating and I just can’t help but think- CAN WE NOT DO BETTER THAN THIS? Two of these guys were 15 when I met them. 15. What a shame. What a waste.

And so my gratitude has looked like angry hot tears at so much injustice I can hardly breathe, the reality that I see myself in so many of these fine young people, the confusing noun “privilege” which I have barely been able to wrap my head around, and a broken little heart that in feeble, probably misguided ways, wants to love hard enough to bring about some sort of redemption or hope anyway but which fears no amount of loving will ever see redemption for so many sweet kids.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What I'm Going to Say

Do you think babies/kids can sense things? Are more attuned than the average person? J has been out of whack all day today and I’ve been complaining and appeasing and disciplining and hugging and she is just- an emotional mess.


It’s 8:10 pm and I’ve just sat down and my heart is racing and I honest to goodness have small tremors in my hands and my stomach is twisted up into knots and I’m already crying. And, duh, I’m always the last to know, but I’ve been at a 10 all day- just busy, frantic, making myself crazy trying to fill my time and I finally figured it out- I’m avoiding. My poor girl had a bad day because I am an emotional mess.


I keep trying to picture what it’s going to be- to stand across this young man who has become like my own. Some strange mix of brother, son, friend and certainly family. What will I say? What can I possibly say?


Nothing I can say will make it okay that he’s been locked up.
There’s no certainty about his future, so I can’t make any promises.
I know that if I say I’m sorry he will say that it’s okay. And then I’ll say no, it’s not. We’ve done that song and dance a time or two before.


I know that we didn’t realize how much he’d knit himself into the fabric of our lives until he was gone, absent, snatched up.
We hadn’t realized that we often see him several times a week. That he is the person most often and most regularly invited into our daily life and our family time.
We hadn’t reflected often enough about how beautiful and heart-warming it is in this place so far from our other extended family to watch someone else spoil and love and dote on our daughter with as much love for her as we have.
We hadn’t noticed that slowly over the last year and a half all pretense had faded- we just got to be ourselves and he got to be himself- however ugly or beautiful we all were in that moment.


We just hadn’t realized. And now there are things that we do and say and routines in place that all came to be because of him and I’m so sad. Sad about all the memories we’re not going to get to make.Sad about all the things he’s going to miss out on here. Immensely sad about all the things he’s going to miss out on in his own life. Immensely sad about the realities he is currently facing.

Am I to dream up the beauty of freedom and justice- hugs and laughter and our families dining together, sharing old stories? I can spin a story we can all hold on to for hope.

But, is it right to?


Do I say, oh so very tentatively, that prospects are grim- the wait will be long and hard, and we may discover we've waited away the better years of your life in vain?



I just don’t know what I’m going to say.


In search of strength,

Alissa

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Things We're Missing Out on Here

Or, the thing we have missed out on all along. 

Several days ago contracts got sent out at Mark's work- we need to decide if we're staying or leaving. Well, we know we are staying- but we haven't decided if we will sign on for another two years, or just one (and then play it by ear). 

And- there's lots to be said about all of that (and rest assured I've probably said it all to Mark about 5,000 times). There are hundreds of ways that living here is such a blessing, I honestly think that if we were to make a pros/ cons list that the pros would far outweigh the cons. But today, I had this memory of this experience we had in Burma a few Christmas' ago (another pro- getting to travel!) and it reminds me of something we are missing here.

 I'd never done any multi-day hikes, so we signed up for a trek from Kalaw (a small wonderful village) down to Inle Lake. It was a three day, two night endeavor, and it is hands down my favorite thing we've ever done. Our whole holiday in Burma was perfect, and the trek was just icing on the cake.

Travelling in Burma (at least 4 years ago) required more planning than travel elsewhere in this region. I'd poured over guidebooks and blogs and it all said pretty much the same thing- tourism is relatively new, so book in advance as it's not uncommon to show up in a town and find every hotel fully booked. There was (is?) also really specific rules about money- what kinds of bills that were accepted (US dollars), what condition the bills were in (pristine- we're talking no folds or creases) and certain dates of currency were deemed unusable. I'm not going to lie, planning the trip was kind of intense and definitely brought out my worst anxiety-ridden, anal planning side. 

But- I guess this is the beginning of when you could say I started to chill out about travel, because I'd read somewhere that the best trekking company couldn't be booked ahead of time, and it was best to just walk into "such and such" restaurant and ask for "such and such" person and try to get in on the next trek. I was incredibly tickled when it turned out to be just as easy as that. We found ourselves (freezing cold) at the local restaurant signing up for a trek to leave the next day. We made some friends while we sat and chatted and we all agreed to sign on for the same trek. 
The next morning when we left there were 6 of us tourists (us, the two guys we'd met the day before, and an older married Israeli couple). Our guide was named Zaw and he had the biggest smile, whitest teeth, lightest laugh, biggest skip in his step of anyone you ever met. His joy and delight and wonder still cause me to pause. 

He literally laughed and sang and ran and jumped and talked and joked us over the hills and through the villages for hours upon hours. I instantly adored him. 

Often while we walked he would point things out to us- what crop/plant/flower was growing. He chatted about Burmese culture and politics, he talked of his family and ambitions. 

He stopped at one point to show us a spider's web. We sat and stared at it for minutes. I honestly have never done that before. He gingerly took the spider from the web and asked us to pull the webbing from it. He quizzed us, wanting to know if we knew how long the webbing is. By this point in the trip we had long learned that these hills were Zaw's backyard- that he was the teacher and we were the pupils-so we waited for him to tell us. I can still hear his delighted, laughter-filled exclamation- "I already spent an entire day pulling it and it NEVER ends". 

Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe it's really not that momentous. But he totally meant it when he said he sat with a spider held delicately in his hand while he curiously pulled out the webbing. for an entire day. You could just see it, because he spoke of the crops and the flowers and the seasons and the people and the animals with the same kind of reverent knowledge. Because he walked through the land with an authority and a respect that made me wonder if maybe I'd gotten it all wrong and maybe we should leave it all and move to one of those village towns. 

And days like today, when I'm wondering how long it is we might stay in this concrete jungle, I hear the call of Zaw and those villages and all the different spiders of which I've never learned of their webs. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Prayer

Hey friends,

There’s this song I like from this band I sometimes listen to, called “I Don’t Want to Pray”.

Some of the lyrics are here:

I don't wanna pray to my maker
I just wanna be feelin' free
Not like in a book, or the leaves of trees that shook
From a word that means only not a thing
Pardon god and mom, what I'm sayin' isn't fair
See I'm looking to become, not the prayer but the prayer
And now I don't want to pray
I don't wanna pray
I don't wanna pray
Who don't wanna pray

Not much good to talk, better to walk it
Not much good to take, better to give
We are gone forgiven and forgotten of our sins
And I promise you my friend all that dies will live again
Pardon god and mom, what I'm sayin' isn't fair
See I'm looking to become, not the prayer but the prayer
now I don't want to pray

Prayer has been a tricky thing for me lately. Mostly I wonder what the point is, if I’m being honest. I think that’s why I like some of these lyrics so much- they call for action. It’s one thing to pray God’s Kingdom come (food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, a friend for the loner) and then it’s actually (in my opinion) God’s intention when we (as followers of Jesus) take action to answer that prayer, BE that prayer.
But- I think there is something flawed, something incomplete in my theology. I’m sifting through some things- I’m in the midst of figuring out (a whole lotta) things. So- bear with me and say a prayer (as a pray-er or a prayer! Ha!).
On August 8th a meeting will be convened that will decide the future of someone who has come to be family to me, Mark, and Jubes. There have been similarly life altering type meetings for this individual before, and I didn’t know what to pray. I knew what had been done was done. I remember standing in the door way of our bedroom angry and teary, scoffing at the idea of prayers cast too late, even scoffing that the only thing left to pray was reminiscent of Aladdin, with God cast as a Genie of sorts.
Well, this time I have felt compelled several times to invite you to pray with and for us and our friend. We believe that God made and knows our friend- and we believe God has a plan for his life. We would like to ask you all to pray for favor and acceptance- so that he may begin to actually live his life- a life free and safe and full of many good things- a hope finally realized. We also ask for prayer for wisdom, direction, and strength regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting. Your prayers can commence henceforth, but uh, ramp ‘em up next Tuesday, please. =)

With thanks, in intercession,


The Coops