Giving thanks for my vivacious sojourners

I love this photo and I love the memory of this moment. Mae Sot, Thailand may be a small town (developing and growing fast) on the Thailand – Burma border where tourists go for border crossing and locals for shopping and business, but for me it is “home away from home”.

These kids from Mae Sot are my sojourners in life and part of my story of “peaceroads” and I am very thankful for them. I am not thankful that they were always on the streets begging or collecting plastic bottles. I am not thankful that they were not attending school or that they had to carry small babies to attract the foreigner’s compassion. I am not thankful that they were bathing in the dirty and smelly town canals.

No, my heart was sad and angry that these beautiful, smart kids were so adopted to the life on the streets that they thought this is normal and even kind of fun. Of course, it was not fun when they had to be out at dark or when their parents told them not to come home until they had collected a certain amount of money. It was not fun when they were hungry or yelled at or treated like some stray animals.

A little comfort but I was grateful that at least they were in a small community like Mae Sot where people tend to watch out for each other more than in the big cities like Bangkok or Manila with too many children-at-risk to count.

This photo was taken at one of my favorite tea shops “Borderline” which is a cooperative for women in refugee camps making handy crafts. Borderline also serves delicious vegetarian food and refreshing drinks. Whenever we could, we would buy the children something to eat and Borderline was one of their favorite places to go. It had a nice garden and calming atmosphere. An oasis of peace on a busy, dusty, noisy street.

The kids were so energetic, funny and savvy. They perceived things differently and they always looked out for each other. I realized that they did not like to be patronized (don’t we all) and they didn’t like to be pitied (don’t we all). But they wanted to be loved (don’t we all).

We communicated in beginner Thai and lots of signs and body language. The universal language of hugs, smiles, welcome, concern, pointing, nodding or shaking head… Sometimes I went home exhausted because in the West we are much less concerned with body language and much more concerned with the exact words. In Thailand and Burma it is the opposite and my brain was slow to adjust.

They read me. They read my walk. They read my talk. They read my eyes. They read my mouth. They read my hands.

However imperfectly, I hope that I was able to communicate the most important thing: ” I see you and I know that you see me. I am here because you are here. I am your teacher but you are teaching me things, too. I love you because I am loved. The image of God in you is the image of God in me.” Thank you for being you!

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Smile that spoke volumes (photos from personal archive)

Rwanda’s road of thankfulness…

Few days ago our friend tagged me in his post #TURASHIMA. It is a Kinyarwanda word that means “We are thankful”. Rwandans and friends of Rwanda are invited to reflect on Rwanda’s last 21 years and express why they are thankful. My friend invited me to join this campaign!

I feel blessed to be considered a friend of Rwanda, ‘Land of a thousand hills’ even though I have not had the chance to visit this beautiful country yet. I met my amazing Rwandan friends during our reconciliation studies in England and they have impacted my life in so many ways. It is April and it is the time of the year when Rwanda grieves the terrible tragedy of 1994. My friends survived the genocide and each has an incredible story.

DSCF0467With their permission I hope to share some of their stories in the future. But they are not ‘survivors’… they are artists, story tellers, peacemakers, leaders, advocates, truth seekers, brothers, sisters and dear friends and simply beautiful people.

Olivier is Olivier! Just like his famous saying, “Life is life”. He is very wise and deep thinker and a good leader. He is a true advocate for the voiceless and becoming a very thoughtful filmmaker. His experience of surviving the genocide as a street kid gives him great compassion for the fatherless. He encourages me when the hard questions of life get too heavy. I will insert the link to his short video #Turashima

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Antoinette is too much fun. She is beautiful inside and out, strong and passionate. Her laugh is contagious and she knows how to celebrate life. She is a great dancer (well, all Rwandans are great dancers) and she gives the best hugs. I know Anto gets very sad in April, missing her loved ones who were killed in 1994. I am so thankful for the way she loves God and people.

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Noel is a man of so many talents. Artist, filmmaker, songwriter, worshiper… and a smooth dancer, too. He even tried to teach Gary some moves with no success but we had great fun. He can get anyone to join, to sing and to smile. But he also likes to dig deep and ask provoking questions others are afraid to ask. And guess when is Noel’s birthday? Christmas, of course!

Then there is Immaculee, Michael, Fidel, Innocent and Godfrey. Everyone has taught me so much about life, relationships, God’s faithfulness, joy, pain, forgiveness and hope against all hope. These things you cannot learn from the books or lectures.

‘Murakoze’ (thank you!) for being who you are! ‘Murakoze’ for being a part of these ‘peaceroads’! Cannot wait to dance with you, my friends, again and have some great celebrations. Bring out that African drum… because there is so much to be thankful for!  #Turashima