Pilgrimage, part 2: The Great Holding In

Tomatoes brought me back to blogging…


It’s been almost nine months since I returned from my pilgrimage to Thailand and Myanmar (and since my last blog post). This length of time is not lost on me since so many times I have sat down to write but just couldn’t get the words out because all of my experiences were still gestating inside me.

Today, though, I decided that it’s time. Counting out months on my fingers, I find it humorous that it’s been nine months. My thoughts about my pilgrimage have become full-term.

The pilgrimage was wonderful (an understatement); the returning home, not so much. While I had a healthy appetite in Asia, upon my return American food held no appeal. The sight of fast food restaurants would make me cringe and my stomach turn. My energy level plummeted so much so that my 10 year-old son would say that he hated me being “travel tired”, a term he came up with because he (for some unknown reason) hated the phrase “jet lag”. It took me months to bounce back.

More than just food differences and time change had to have contributed to my chronic case of “travel tired”. I know that I was also processing my experience, people I met, and the stark contrast between über urban and chic Bangkok, Thailand, and the very poor and worn Yangon, Myanmar. Where Bangkok had fast, new cars and zipping motorcycles Yangon had trucks on their last leg and rusty bicycles. For days I would lay in bed (again blaming “travel tired”) and think of how starkly different their churches were to my own (hip former bar in the heart of my city). I would look at the pictures I took at a Buddhist monastery located 50 miles outside on Yangon over and over again as I internally wrestled with the joy and love I saw there and the struggle I felt planning even more PTA events and having to practically pull teeth to get volunteers and money.

Did I come back jaded?

For the last nine months I have spent huge chunks of time (more than I would like to admit) wondering how this pilgrimage changed me, made me better, made me more aware…or if it made me jaded. And all I could think of was how disgusted I am with American greed because I witnessed true poverty for the first time with my own eyes (and not just from a magazine or an online clip that I spent all of 3 seconds reading). Or, how frustrated I was with the lack of volunteers or support in the PTA at my son’s school because I saw orphans being taught in open-air huts who had one piece of paper used as a poster, a chalkboard, and very few books. Or, how I gross I feel every time I see long lines at fast food places because we have sold ourselves a lie about its convenience.

This all changed last month. 

Wanting to have something that reminded me of my pilgrimage I made my way down to our city market. While wandering the stalls and looking at all the early fall harvest I came upon a table that had a banner indicating that this food was grown by refugees.

I stopped. 

I stopped and talked to the woman selling her produce. Asking where she was from she replied that she was from Thailand. “Oh! I have been to Thailand! I have also been to Myanmar.”

“Myanmar?” she questions me. I can tell she doesn’t believe me. 

“Yes,” I reply. “I have been to Myanmar.”

Quietly, she tells me that she is from Myanmar. I want to ask her why she didn’t tell me the truth at first. I want to ask her which state in Myanmar she’s from. I want to ask her so many questions, but her hesitancy and the fact that she’s obviously a refugee keeps me from asking my probing questions.

Instead, I buy 8 pounds of tomatoes (more than I need) and she adds an extra bundle of rainbow chard to the two I am already purchasing. 

My produce haul from the City Market in Kansas City.

My produce haul from the City Market in Kansas City.

I can tell she is relieved to know that someone in Kansas City knows her homeland, her heritage, her people.

On my way home I texted my best friend:

My car now smells of basil and rainbow chard, red potatoes and tomatoes. And, if the smalls from the spaghetti, gremlin, and delicata squashes could escape their hard rinds then I would be smelling those, too. But those squashes still caked with dirt…they smell like sun and rain and the sweat of those who planted and harvested. Blessed are the growers for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.



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