Sunday, August 30, 2009
Monsters. There are so many in this world that they influence every human life. This week I heard on the news the case of a monster that had been captured and is now awaiting trial. He had snatched away an eleven year old girl as she walked to school and taken her home where he then locked her away for 18 years, sexually abused her and made her pregnant twice, the first time when she was 14. She had children, and they became his captives too. This monster did immense harm and the news made me sick, for I cannot help but imagine the darkness and unanswered cries for help. And this leads me to look to God. I remember my own daughter Naomi during the last two years of her life was fighting a wicked, relentless monster, called cancer. This beast gave her no rest while it tortured her. It deformed her body, isolated her, took away her youth, inflicted severe and continual pain, taunted her and made her feel powerless and eventually locked her in small room with death as her partner. Many times, while I watched helplessly as my valiant daughter struggled, I prayed and when the situation got worse not better, then asked, “How can a loving God allow this?” (See my book, A Heart Traced in Sand) I knew there was an answer but also knew that many people do not believe in God because He created a world where monsters are so powerful and do so much harm . . . even appearing to transcend the powers of good. And sometimes it appears that God creates humans that are afflicted by monsters from birth! Humans are born with two heads and one body, or so retarded that they are never able to hold a conversation their entire lives.
Monsters exist everywhere in many forms. Think of the millions, maybe billions of people whose lives have been marginalized and made hellish by corruption and greed on the part of monster men and women who wage war and command through intimidation and violence. Monsters can appear as hunger, or as the clouds that infiltrate human life and bring Alzheimer’s and a host of other infirmities that drain our happiness.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about an experience I had on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A young man approached me and immediately I knew he was in the grip of a monster. His face was horribly deformed so that it was painful and frightening to look at him. He was begging. I gave him money and asked to take his picture. I wanted him to leave the harsh sunlight and to stand in the shade of a nearby building. Just then a woman rushed from a shop and scolded him for standing close to her place of business. Her chastising froze the youth so that he could not move. So here we have it; a story of human interest that is very telling psychologically. I learned from a friend that this young man had acid thrown on his face during a gang fight. From that moment forward his life turned into a living hell. He cannot close his mouth or hide his teeth. He cannot have a satisfying public life because he is shunned and made to be an outcast. He has longings for intimacy but will never marry or be sought by the opposite sex. He is forced into a life of homelessness and wanders the streets begging for mercy and hoping people will feel sorry for a poor fellow that was beset by a monster and forever made ugly. Meanwhile, the woman that scolded him was afraid. She did not stop to think of him as a fellow human, but only saw a monster. She thought, “this monster will drive people away from my store and my business will suffer.” In other words, she had no connection to the young man except repulsion and in this, she herself became monstrous. The true monster was not the young man’s disfigurement, but the woman’s reaction. Really, what is monstrous is psychological and arises from fear, loathing, greed, anger, pride and a host of other empty emotional disconnects.
Moreover, the monster in the case of the kidnapped girl who is now a young woman retarded by years of imprisonment and torture along with her two children forced upon her by her rapist tormentor, is a bleak and ugly creature that takes its place among the many other monsters that roam our earth.
This leads me to believe that monsters exist only to test the quality of human spirit, like heat is necessary to test for the pureness of gold. The light cannot be known without darkness, and neither can humans be known without monsters, however gruesome and perplexing that can be.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
This is typically the biggest weekend of the year in my hometown of Santa Fe. From across the United States, Native Americans come to the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, where they sell their handicraft and participate in indigenous competitions. All the vendors are juried beforehand, so the quality of goods is very high. The challenge to be accepted is fierce because so many people come to see and buy. For many of the Indian artists, this is an opportunity to earn the bulk of their incomes for the year. During the event, they dress in their finest clothing to mingle, feel at one with other natives, and sell. Booths are set up around the city plaza, at the heart of Santa Fe, and each vendor has his own space with a placard indicating their name and tribe. Throngs of people converge during opening hours, some lining up from the break of dawn on the first day to be the first to buy from their favorite artist.
Some of the fun events are traditional singing and dancing, and native fashion shows. I like walking among the crowds and noticing the Indians from different tribes across the land. Usually they are brown people with jet black hair, brown eyes, broad faces and high cheekbones, who come from their home reservations; mostly rural locations.
“The world is one country, and mankind its citizens.” Baha’u’llah
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I traveled almost half way around the world to return home to Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, from Vietnam. The trip took about 24 hours—Saigon to Tokyo to Salt Lake City and then to Santa Fe. I am appreciating the clean air, majestic spaces, relative quiet, and urbane modernity of home. Yet, I miss my friends in the Far East and being in the flux of Asian life.
All humanity is coexisting simultaneously on this planet. Every human activity is occurring at the same moment somewhere: sleeping, eating, working, charity, thievery, sex, birth, death, laughter, argument, et al. Humans are a family, but have great variation in customs, language and ethnicity. Wherever I go, the warmth of a smile and loving look is universally recognized and welcome.
At times I have felt lost and bewildered, almost insane in unfamiliar surroundings. But then, I choose to enjoy the mind-bending experience of seeing life as child; vulnerable, and with innocent, fresh eyes. For example, last Sunday afternoon in Saigon, I took a long walk through the whirling streets and arrived at the city zoo. It is humble by many standards, and does not have the assortment of animals or facilities of many other zoos. I paid my entrance fee, began walking along shady pathways and came to elephants. A small crowd was gathered, and occasionally an animal extended its trunk to grab a sugar cane someone had offered. I took pictures, trying to capture both human and elephant together. Slowly, I wandered around, viewing exhibits. Seeing the hippopotamus reminded me of when I saw them in the wild on Safari in Tanzania last year. I came to a bandstand area where a crowd was gathered watching circus performers. A man onstage climbed on top of an assortment of cylinders and teetered precariously, then an assistant handed him a small sword which he held in his mouth, then took a longer sword and balanced that on the tip of the small one. Next, a beautiful young woman in a tight red costume walked a tightrope, standing on her head, doing splits, and eventually placing a ladder on the rope, climbed up two rungs, then did the sword trick with two swords balanced tip to tip from her mouth. Music played, children ran around in glee, and every time someone spoke, I could not understand a word. As I left the zoo, I had the distinct feeling of being lost in another world, but not caring. The elements played on my mind like a dream and moments flowed in a stream of consciousness that left me dizzy and euphoric.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
I have returned from Hoi An to Saigon, (Ho Chi Minh City), and been here five days now. It is not as hot; there are breezes and occasional rain pours. My hotel is near a city landmark called Ben Thanh market, a huge, bustling indoor market crammed full of merchandise stalls. Each day, I wander out in the streets observing and photographing. I cannot walk one block without repeatedly being accosted by people pleading for my business or charity. A young man came up to me whose face had been mutilated. He was missing his chin, most of his nose, he could not close his mouth and his teeth were bared, both eyes were twisted by scarring, and burns mottled most of his flesh. I gave him some money, and had him stand for a picture. Immediately, an elderly matron of the nearby jewelry shop stormed over and scolded him for standing near her shop. She figured he frightened away clients. Then there is the young beggar woman who sits in the same spot each day selling packets of chewing gum. She cannot walk because of birth defects in her twisted legs, and hobbles around on her hands, lifting and dragging her legs. Yesterday, a little girl in ragged clothes touched my arm, looked up to me and motioned to her mouth that she was hungry. She walked an entire block tugging at me and motioning she was hungry and please give her some money. When I help, I realize that my offering is so infinitesimally small that it amounts to only a symbol of caring, because suffering is everywhere in the world and will always exist. When I am in the streets, I do not put up barriers, but mingle freely in the elements—the dust and dirt no less than with the silk and marble. What matters is the message that THE DREAM brings with it, and staying positive with the flow.
As for my idea of living in Vietnam, I now realize I would not be content. Utility is valued far above aesthetics, poverty is grinding, infrastructure is lacking and the language would be nearly impossible to master. I can deal with living simply, but need access to an abundance of art and philosophy.
I have posted two albums for viewing: Vietnam images, and Thailand images
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Occasionally, the languid and hot moments in Vietnam seem woven together into an eternity. After two weeks here, a sense of interminable time, and even malaise, surprises me. It is something I have experienced as a traveler, but only in rare, fleeting instances.
Many of the local people in Hoi An stop and simply lay down on the floor where they are at mid-day, and then rest until about 2PM. The heat and jungle climate simply drags me down, and I too rest during the afternoons. My routine is that after the siesta I go to a café and drink a coffee ice shake. A few days of seeing the same people gives opportunities to make friends. The three questions Vietnamese people ask foreigners most often are: Where are you from? How old are you? Are you married?
Today I invited a young woman who works at the café to model for me. She is pretty, and in her broken English complained about her work not giving her enough, so I offered her 20.00 to pose for two hours in traditional dress, which is what she makes in four days normally. Her friend hearing this, exclaimed, “How about me?
The last two days I have been up at 5 AM and rode my bicycle to the local fish market to watch as local fishermen bring in their hauls to give over to the women gathered in throngs at the pier. It is quite a spectacle of sights, sounds, and smells. Tons of fish trade hands. I’ve seen tuna, mackerel, red snapper, shark, many varieties I do not know, crabs, squid, eel, and more. There is jostling and bickering as everyone is animated and trying to get the best deal. Other vendors are there setting up, including women selling live chickens, vegetable and fruit sellers and even ladies with baskets full of live frogs. I get in the midst of it all and take my pictures. Sometimes someone will stop and pose for me a moment, and I give them money. That can be dangerous though, because eager ladies wanting to pose can mob me. Nobody is dressed fashionably, just working women in work clothes, but what I am looking for is authenticity, not façade . . . and so this genuine place without pretense is perfect for finding what I seek.