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A Mayan New Beginning

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

My Christmas this year was quietly spent in Oaxaca. As with any holiday season I get many greetings from friends. But the ones from Patty are always especially rewarding.

A bit about my Mexican-American friend. She married a Mexican National in the states, left all her family there, gave up her home and moved to Mexico with Jose to begin his legalization process. This entailed a hefty fine for his being in the States as an undocumented person and a long drawn-out and expensive and bureaucratic process. It has been 6 years and they are still in Mexico with little hope of getting the money together. So they are barely making it with Patty teaching English to young folks in her home and Jose trying to get work as a mechanic even though he has a college degree in it.

Patty’s Christmas letter 2012
“Well, we’ve made it to the end of the year and despite all of the dire predictions, we partied like it was…going to be 2013 in a matter of days!

With the help of some of my 40+ past and current students and their families we celebrated with as much hope and joy as possible and in the process consumed 150 cupcakes; 400 cookies (sugary stars, frosted Christmas trees, chocolate chip and strawberry filled); 60 quarts of piping hot homemade fruit punch (guayabas, apples, whole sugarcane, tejocote, raisins, plums and piloncio boiled for about 4 hours); and bowls of mole, beans and rice, and just about anything else that happened to wander by.

Thank you all so much for the wonderful e-mails and prayers that have been great company this entire year. I always look forward to hearing from you. When things get particularly tough I gather all of your Love close to my heart, and always seem to find myself on the other side.

The Mayans didn’t predict the end of the world, but rather the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another. In this New Beginning I pray that all of your days are filled with enough Love, Joy and Laughter to get you through whatever difficulties you may encounter along the way. And, as always celebrate the good stuff and kick the junk to the side.

Patty’s “letter” on behalf of Jose:

“What Jose Roberto Did While I Was Busy Trying Not To Get Whacked By The Crazed Mob That Was Chasing Swinging Piñatas…”

“This is what happens when you leave a guy alone for way too long, with too many loose ends-or metal pieces.

Though Jose comes from a long line of stone sculptors (endless cousins and uncles with a multitude of workshops in the neighboring town of Escolasticas) most of whom make a livingselling their beautiful artistry around the world, Jose has never shown much of an interest. As most of you know he works as a mechanic alongside his brother, Carlos. Unfortunately, lately there hasn’t been as much work as we could hope for. Usually, he and his brother sell damaged car parts to a local recycler, but unexpectedly, Jose said he was bored and starting to get a little stressed-out, when he decided that he would take some of those used car parts and create something else.

As you can see he has been busy even if he hasn’t had too many cars to repair.

The first piece he made was Don Quixote which he just sold on Christmas Eve for $300 pesos-about $24 dollars. He has another request for Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza.

Jose was nice enough to create a statue of a figure seated with a book (actually a small, rustydoor hinge) in its hands, aptly named the “Student.” I raffled off the Student at our students’Christmas party. Each attendee received a ticket, including their family and friends. The interesting thing is that of the dozens of people present, the statue went to one of my younger students who really struggles to read and to retain information (I suspect he is autistic). God knew what He was doing. The little boy was beyond thrilled and was absolutely beaming with a smile that could hardly fit on his little face!

I don’t think I could be prouder of Jose, and if nothing else, he brought a bit of joy to my little student and his family.

Once again, Jose has shown me that when things look the bleakest, it’s the perfect time to do something for pure pleasure. And, within that, there might just be something more, something beyond the obvious. Something unexpected, and really sweet and good, for more than just ourselves.

I hope your Holiday Season is as Blessed and Joy-filled as ours.

My response:
I wish more people in the world were as good and unselfish as you and Jose. You are wonderful models for the Mexican people around you. As with our Latino high school drop-outs in our alternative education program, we just felt like we were planting seeds. You may not always immediately see the happy results of your labors…just know that you are indeed making a difference in people’s lives. They will think back on what you have modeled for them. It’s what makes life worthwhile.

I may have told you this. A baby sitter in LA from a Chinese family a couple doors up from us found me on FB about a year ago. She called me and told me what an influence we had on her at the age of 12. She used to go through our books and skim them while sitting the kids which she said opened up her world. She expressed such gratitude, it made tears come to my eyes. She since went to college and is now married to a pediatrician (!) and has a lovely family. We never know how we affect people. It was almost scary to me to realize why it is such a great responsibility to model healthy behavior. I get similar feedback from former CREATE students who are on FB with me. (Thanks to modern technology) It makes my life worthwhile. 🙂

And thanks for being such a good partner for each other.

Burmese Repatriation (or not)

Friday, December 14th, 2012

A couple nights ago I went to the Thailand Foreign Exchange Club in the penthouse of the Maneeya Building to sit at the bar along with all the foreign correspondents and reporters and see a documentary and listen to a panel of speakers about the repatriation (or not) of the 160,000 Burmese refugees in the camps in Thailand along the Burmese border.

As with everything else in the world, this issue is incredibly complicated too. Apparently the Burmese army didn’t get the memo about the cease-fire in a dirty war against the Shan, Karen and Mon minorities. There is no political stability or rule of law and many of the refugees either have no place to go back to because their land was confiscated and homes burned or they are petrified of violence perpetrated by the Army. With no transparency, rumors and tension abound. The UN is supposed to be coordinating this but they are kept in the dark too by the Burmese government who is calling the shots (so to speak) and no one seems to know what will happen…and killings and rapes go on with impunity.

In this information vacuum and continuing threat of violence, the minorities have issued some conditions: A nationwide ceasefire between the ethnic armed groups and the Army, rule of law and human rights improved, military bases withdrawn in the areas where they would return, landmines in areas cleared in areas where refugees would return, minority representatives must be at the table during planning and decision making and implementation. The repatriation process must conform with international principles of repatriation ensuring that refugees would return voluntarily and in safety and dignity and that those who do not wish to return to their original place can choose to live elsewhere. This last one will be particularly sticky with the Thai government. This will take years.

During the Q&A a guy stood at the microphone and started ranting loudly and vociferously about the lack of care and attention being given to the Rohingya Muslims who are native to Burma, but who are ethno-linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan peoples of India and Bangladesh (as opposed to the Sino-Tibetan people of Burma). The region of Rakhine (Arakan) was annexed and occupied by Burma in the 1700s thus bringing the Rohingya people under Burmese occupation.

As of 2012, 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma. According to the UN, they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Many Rohingya have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, and to areas along the Thai-Myanmar border.

This was all brewing of course 10 years ago (indeed for the last 30 years) when we visited Burma and found the people to be sweet and very friendly. They were hungry to talk to foreigners if they could speak some English…usually the people who had been English teachers before India left. (See my other blog entries re Burma) Now with the opening of Burma it’s all coming to a head.

In the Burma Couchsurfing group I think every backpacker in SE Asia will be there this winter…hopefully witnessing but avoiding harm if they are sensible enough to not try and sneak their way into the border areas.

Solo In Bangkok

Friday, December 14th, 2012
From rice fields to the Royal Bangkok Sport Club! Took a short cut yesterday, saved money on a taxi, and hiked a trail across the golf course of the club. On through a construction area where a guy let ... [Continue reading this entry]

Doug Brings Electricity To Samui

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
Doug, my son, flew into Bangkok yesterday from Oregon to fly out again two days later to spend his annual several months with his wife, Luk, on the island of Koh Samui. We had a bit of a scare ... [Continue reading this entry]

On A Rice Farm Korat Thailand

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
[gallery] Following our trail from Bangkok to Tak in the west of north central Thailand to Sukhothai and then east to Lop Buri and further east to Saraburi, Supaporn and I ended up at her home about 50km outside of Korat ... [Continue reading this entry]

Saraburi Thailand

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
[gallery] Buddhist legend holds that during his lifetime the Buddha left footprints in all lands where his teachings would be acknowledged. In Thailand, the most important of these "natural" footprints imbedded in rock is at Phra Phutthabat in Central Thailand ... [Continue reading this entry]

Monkeys In Lop Buri Thailand

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
Lopburi is famous for the hundreds of crab-eating macaques that overrun the Old Town, especially in the area around Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine, and there's even a monkey temple/amusement park where you ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sukhothai Historical Park

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
[gallery] We stayed in the Ban Thai Guesthouse in New Sukhothai on an old road full of backpacker guesthouses bordering the Yoh River that runs through "new town." Unfortunately during the floods of 2011 the city was inundated with water and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Loy Krathong in Tak Thailand

Saturday, December 8th, 2012
[gallery] Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November. Loi means 'to float', while krathong refers to a usually lotus-shaped container ... [Continue reading this entry]