John read something this week that he shared with me, and it stuck. I apologize for the lack of quote and the lack of reference, but it goes something like this:
After spending some time in Asia (or insert another a ‘new-to-you’ place here)…
After a week, you want to write an article to share your thoughts.
After a month, you want to write a book.
After a year, you realize how little you really know.
That’s a little of how I feel now. Whenever visitors come and make observations, or when I think back to my initial observations, I’m reminded of how little we know, and I see the grays instead of black and white. In the midst of tragedy all over the world, the recent tragedy in the U.S., and a polarizing political landscape, I keep on thinking that everyone needs to read more - myself included. We all have so much more to learn. It feels like everyone is so quick to judge - myself included. I’m trying to take a step back this year and the rest of my life - to say and judge less and be open to learning.
I have already shared some nonfiction books that were influential for me and John this year, but I want to share them all together and concisely once more…
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson - This was like filling in the gap that was missing from my history lessons. Spanning the time period from World War I through the Civil Rights Movement, it covers the migration of African Americans from the South to the rest of America - the West, the North, and the East. It explains a lot of why northern cities are the way they are, and the perhaps seemingly less apparent racial influences of how those cities generally did not welcome them.
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - This is written by an excellent lawyer who has worked to reverse unfair convictions of many incarcerated persons since the 1980’s. It’s a great follow-up to the book above, because it shows how the incarceration system has become another way to allow racial prejudice to continue.
- To move more globally, I also enjoyed Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder - It follows the life of Paul Farmer, a doctor who has done so much good in Haiti and across the world to help global health issues and poverty - especially people living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Paul Farmer co-founded Partners in Health, which does work all over the world. It gives you an idea of how much there is to do in the world, and it also explains (in an approachable way) some of the medical/logistical issues at hand.
- I Am Malala: The Girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban - by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb - This real story is completely inspiring. Malala (and her father) hugely advocated for the right of everyone to get an education in Palestine (especially for girls and young women) - and then the Taliban entered their part of Palestine. Malala explains the complex aspects of their culture and how the Taliban slowly gained power. Malala was advocating for education, speaking at events, sharing her story via media correspondents for years - as a young teen. She was shot in the head and survived, and for her and her family’s safety, can no longer live in Palestine. They live in England now, and she is still advocating for education. Oh, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize. While she was still a teenager. How’s that for some motivation?
- Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela (in case you missed the word autobiography) - This book is long but worth it. Mr. Mandela tells his story - his many years fighting an intolerant and racist government - before, during and after his imprisonment. I kept forgetting that the South African government only recently changed for the better in the 1990’s, and this book was a sobering reminder.
I feel like we (I) have so much to learn about our own American history - and how we have affected people and politics in other countries - and continue to do so. I feel like we (I) know so little about the rest of the world. I remember my high school U.S. history teacher told us that the only way for history not to repeat itself is to learn about history and previous mistakes made. And I’m grateful to begin to fill in the gaps that were missed in our history classes and books. I’m glad that there are more books and knowledgeable resources that are becoming increasingly available to fill in those many gaps.
After our travels in Southeast Asia thus far, it's thought-provoking (and saddening) to see the ongoing effects of long-past wars in other parts of the world - sadly, often wars/conflicts the U.S. was involved in.
I highly recommend the above readings to come to your own conclusions and to broaden your knowledge. For once each part is stronger, the whole becomes stronger… Once each person becomes more knowledgeable and compassionate, the world becomes a little better, a little more compassionate and filled with a little more understanding.
Finally, a quick review of the week…
As the week progressed, I finally said goodbye to my lingering and annoying cold. John and I spent much of our time with Abby, a previous volunteer, and her aunt. It was such a joy to welcome them into our lives - and talk with some more native English-speakers!
It was a busy week for me at Hands of Hope - thankfully a reprieve on the ‘sending emails & finding new customers’ marketing front, as I worked on some other projects. Namely, I am posting most of our new products on the website finally - and cleaning up the products that were posted before. I also spent a large chunk of my time creating a mini-catalog to showcase our religious/spiritual products only (please let me know if you or any organizations/churches you know would be interested in seeing it! Email me at: email@example.com or to me and Antonia at Hands of Hope: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other than that, there were lots of good conversations with Abby and her aunt as it was her aunt’s first visit to Thailand - and she had plenty of questions and observations. And many celebrations to spend time with them and the community - our weekly community dinner in the Garden (where we live), a dinner at the Convent which always proves entertaining and includes stimulating conversation - and yummy food!
We have had a lot of stress and change in this community lately, so it has been good to have a distraction with their visit. Some of the stress involved is because the staff are preparing to operate the new building and interact with more patients/residents and also because this community can be so fragile - with so many hospital stays by various members recently.
Right now, I am looking forward to a night in downtown Nongkhai this upcoming weekend (probably in effect or already happened by the time you read this!) - filled with interneting and hopefully a Thai massage. John & I will take one last mini-break before we gear up for the (hopefully) short six weeks until we’re home with all of you beautiful people.