Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One year of blogging...

who would have thought it? Certainly not me... I wrote my first blog entry... because of an event that was so funny... that only writing it down could give it justice... When this 'event' first happened, I was just bursting to tell someone. Of all the people that I knew- I thought of my best friend from High School- and called the states to tell her what had happened. Even though we haven't seen each other in years, after I shared the story with her, we were both in tears; laughing so hard that we couldn't talk. You know that type of laugh, squeaking sounds and a gasping of breath are the only sounds that you can make.

Pam was the perfect person to tell the story too because we have had our share of many funny/silly/stupid events happen to us through the years. When something this funny happens... you need to share it with someone who can 'laugh until the tears fall'... after all, funny events deserve a full belly laugh. We all deserve a friend that you can share 'belly laughs' with and I hope you are blessed in that area.

In case you don't know the story that I'm referring to... it's the first blog entry: Mystery Spice written October 8, 2007. http://iwouldratherbeknitting.blogspot.com/2007/10/do-you-have-mystery-spice-that-you-use.html

It's amazing how time can change and seem to stand still at the same time. Last year, I was living in Seoul, Korea a city of 16 million people. My laptop was in the living room and my view was of the Han River. (many photos of the river and Seoul can be found on my blog) I'd often look out onto the city onto the endless skyscraper after skyscraper views and wonder about the people living inside those cement walls and wonder about their stories.

We all have stories to tell. All of us. Most of the time, we are so busy that we forget to look past the 'to do lists', running errands, and daily routines to see our own lives... the life that is happening daily minute by minute. Not much seems to happen day by day... but it is exactly the day by day... that produces your life. Life really is in the little moments; the connections with others.

I often think back to one particular person that I met in April, 2008. I had gone with some friends and acquaintances to Cambodia and Vietnam during Spring Break. I had resisted many offers to go to either place during the other three previous times that I had lived in Korea. For a total of 9 years I had opted not to visit either country. I just wasn't interested in seeing places of such pain and recent destruction. However, my job was now taking me to Germany, and finally, I decided to make the trip, since I had no plans of returning to Asia.

The last day that we were in Cambodia, others in my group decided to go to one of the museums about the KILLING FIELDS. I am very sensitive about those sort of places. I realize that horrible events have happened in history and the Killing Fields was one of worst in modern times... I just don't need to see any displays, photos, or museums about these harsh events with my own eyes. I didn't need to stir up emotions by visiting actual places or museums to see torture devices or other items on display as a haunting and constant reminder about man's inhumanity against man. I also knew that IF I did go into the museum; that I would have those images in my mind for a very long time.

One of the other ladies also decided not to go into this museum. She was a genteel southern lady... of a certain age. We two southern ladies decided that we'd seek out a place to find something cold and refreshing to drink- because after all, it is hot and humid in Cambodia. We started walking down the street for several blocks but we never found a place selling bottled water or even canned soft-drinks. After about 30 minutes of searching, becoming hotter than we were before we started out, we finally gave up and decided to return to where the 'driver's van' was located at the entrance to the museum. That way, we'd be able to easily find the others when it was time to depart for our final stop to the airport.

When we walked back to the area- we noticed that all along there had been a little open air shop selling water and soft drinks... right across the street from the museum. We stopped inside and I purchased a drink for us both. I noticed that the lady had a table with 3 plastic chairs of various styles in her tiny shop. I asked her if we could sit down... since, we were quite hot after our walk and didn't know how long the others would be in the museum. The chairs were in direct view of the van and it would be nice to rest and have a chance to cool down.

The lady running the shop asked us if we'd gone into the museum. I had told her that we hadn't. I pointed to my heart and told her that I just couldn't handle it- that I was aware that it had happened- but, I didn't need any visual reminders to haunt me. She asked where we had visited in Cambodia and where we were from in America. We had shared that we were teachers and a few of the usual pleasantries that one shares when meeting strangers. It was just your typical 'tourist or stranger chit-chat.'

After about 20 minutes, the mood changed on that quiet, still, hot afternoon and she softly began sharing her story.

She was 53 years old and had only been 16 when her life would forever be changed. Her father had been an officer in the military; he had trained in Paris, France. She told us with pride that he had spoke French fluently. She told us that one day- someone came to the door asking for him and took him away; he was never to be seen again. Soon many other neighbors became 'missing'..

She shared how all the teachers, military, doctors, those who knew the dances of the past, the artists, those with a history knowledge of the past, and professional people were rounded up first. The plan was to take away the leaders and to remove the history of the people left behind. A way to take control, to remove their identity, and of course to remove natural leaders. She was eventually sent to the rice fields--- that long term and failed attempt to grow rice of a great magnitude and where the name: THE KILLING FIELDS comes from.

She was all alone, no family, everyone that she knew was missing, she had walked miles, and months.

She said that food was scarce and that her food source consisted mostly of uncooked rice grains that she had hid in a piece of cloth. She described how she had folded a piece of fabric like a pocket and she had sewn it to her shirt on the inside. To anyone looking from the outside, because of her baggy clothing, it wasn't apparent that she had this secret pocket. She said that the soldiers would have killed her if they'd found the rice that she had hidden away. Many times she and others were searched for hidden food.

Many people were just shot and killed standing next to her- she said that those forced to work in the fields learned not to re-act or they'd be shot too. She said that you were in constant fear. One day, a soldier held a gun to her head and searched for hidden food. She told us that these horrible people could take her family away, her life- but, pointing to her heart--that they couldn't take God away from her.

They had to eat the uncooked rice, because... people working in the fields and those hiding couldn't light a fire to cook food because the smoke would give them away.

Food was in limited supply, so she ate the only food that was available to her... the hard, uncooked rice. This was her diet for years... so much that both rows of her teeth are worn to the gums in the front... 'like a cow' she told her with tears in her eyes.

My heart reached out to her... we hugged, both crying, for her loss, and the loss of all people who have had their dignity, love, shelter, sense of belonging taken from them.

I wanted to give her a simple memento for sharing her heart, story, and life with us. All my bags were packed and waiting at the hotel for our airport departure. She wasn't asking for money- and, I didn't have any money to give anyway- I only had enough $ to pay the airport departure tax. If I'd had some money with me-- I would have found a way to have hidden it in her shop-because... I know that she wouldn't have taken it from me if I'd openingly offered it to her.

The only thing that I had on me that I could give her was this:
I had made others like this and had sent them to my teacher friends... for holding those small tissue packages. One side tiny Sock Monkeys and on the inside: Dick and Jane fabric.

They are especially handy to carry in Asia since... most bathrooms don't have toilet tissue.

I took my well worn, now a little dirty and empty (I'd just used the last tissue earlier in the day) tissue holder out of my backpack and gave it to the lady in Cambodia. I told her that I had made one like it for my friends and one for myself and that I wanted her to have mine. She asked me again if I had made it and when I nodded 'yes' she held it to her heart and accepted it with fresh tears falling down her face.

She told us that she had returned to this place, the place of her birth and childhood, in the hopes that someday she'd find a relative.   She never did. 

I did not ask her name and I didn't take any photos... I didn't think about it, nor was it the appropriate time to do so. I didn't need a photo, because I knew that the moment would always stay with me no matter what.

I like to think that she carries the tissue holder to this day. I still carry the extra one that I had at home, all the time, and when I see it in my purse or backpack, I'm often reminded of her and I say a prayer for her life and health.

We learned more from her... than we would have learned if we had walked around in that museum for hours.

I wonder for how many months or years, how many people have stopped to buy something to drink in this same little shop, before or after entering the Killing Field Museum, without realizing that right there- taking their money or giving them change... was someone who had experienced the Killing Fields first hand at the tender age of 16 until just a few short years ago.

We all have a story... share yours and listen to others... people try to tell us their stories all the time and most of the time we are too busy, too pre-occupied, too busy looking for tomorrow. We carry our stories with us in our hearts and our stories are worthy of telling and hearing.

I often think about being in this city/town in Cambodia whose name I can't even remember... in a shop- much smaller than a typical American bathroom, just simply looking for something cool to drink while waiting for a ride to the airport. I found more than I ever expected that day. I could have simply purchased my drink, talked only to my friend, or walked away to wait elsewhere... instead I was blessed to have the opportunity to meet this amazing woman. To hear her story. It was the best part of my trip, totally unexpected, and I'm better for my visit with her.

I doubt if I could have been as brave as she was either- I just know that after hearing her story... I only hope that I would have it in me to be as brave.

What is your story?

Share it today or let someone tell their story to you.

You just never know what you'll find out... if you just listen with your heart.


Renna said...

I am so thankful that you forewent touring the museum that day, so you could share us this heartfelt story with us now.

I sometimes think of stories I'd like to share on my blog (tho none as impacting as that one), but I get overwhelmed at all the typing and telling of the story that I get lazy and think it's too much trouble. I am grateful you took the time to share this story with us.

Renna said...

I forgot to say, happy blogiversary!

Andres said...

Wow, She's a brave woman. Thanks for sharing this story...

and... Happy "blogiversary"!


Susan said...

That's such a good story, thank you for sharing it. And Happy Blogiversary!

Christine said...

I am touched - deeply touched - by this story. You have an amazing capacity to join in other people's "stories" and to share the stories of the people who touch your life. It is so true that we learn more from simple conversations with people than we ever could in museums.

Don't think I'll ever look at a tissue holder the same way again.

So (very, very) glad to see you blogging again and happy blogiversary!

iwouldratherbeknitting said...

Thanks all...

It means so much to me- that what I wrote 'touched' you... after all, it is quite difficult to cause emotion to be felt from the written word... the story just flowed as I typed it.

Now go out there and let someone tell their story to you...

Heartsapocolypse said...

Beautifully done... and Happy Blogiversary...

Miss Hannah said...

You have such a way with words, I'm glad you could share her story with the world. An apt post for your blogiversary. Good luck for the next year

katherine said...

What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing. Happy Blogversary!


good story, good lesson.

i don't think people think about being brave...they think about surviving.and that desire is stong in most of us...just how strong, you never know until are...and then comes the surprise. you would survive.