Thursday, April 17, 2014

700 words.


The first time I wrote about human-trafficking, someone told me he would never read my blog again.

He didn't think I'd done a good job telling the whole story, and, to be fair, he was kind of right. I wrote truthfully about little girls in aftercare facilities and young women dancing on my table, but only vaguely alluded to the war, greed, and politics that propel the victimization and impoverishment of many in South East Asia. I avoided those complexities in favor of telling the stories I felt like I'd had a small part in. I shared my tiny, two week glimpse into the world of trafficking and slavery from the only perspective I knew, and then, for a month after my trip, I labored over finding the right words, agonizing over every sentence and syllable, aching to tell the story well.

But still, he was right.

I failed to explore the intricate layers of cause and effect which come together to create and sustain the mistreatment of our fellow man. And honestly? Maybe I did that on purpose. Because I do not know what I'm talking about. I'm not educated, equipped, or experienced enough to have an intelligent discussion about the political violence, cultural oppression, subjugation of women, overt xenophobia, and abject poverty that collectively form an environment where a child can be bought and sold like a fish at market, a man can be consigned to a brick factory for the rest of his life, a woman can be purchased for sex against her will, and a government will do nothing to stop it.

I seriously don't know anything about any of that stuff.

You know what I know? I know how to tell stories in 700 words. That's what I know. They are true stories, to be sure, but they're usually touchy-feely, soul-squishy, heart-stringy stories. Basically, I have no idea how to talk about tough stuff like politics and corruption and war. That junk is scary and serious, and I didn't even take an Econ class in high school. ….So, like, what am I gonna say?

I don't know.

The truth is, when I wrote about my first trip to SE Asia and my first encounters with trafficking and the plight of underage sex workers, there are parts that I left out. In retrospect, it may have been to the detriment of the whole story. Maybe there are parts I should have told because, even in the context of my limited personal experience, they could have shed light on the bigger picture...

Like. Maybe I should have told you how, before I ever stepped foot in a brothel, I walked the blood soaked Earth of the Cambodian killing fields.

I stood where the bones of the dead are slowly making their way back into the sun and air. They rise from the ground to return to dust under the feet of gawking tourists, like me, and blow away on the whispered prayers of the Faithful who have come to pay their respects. There is a dirt path, dotted with dry bones and scraps of clothing, uncovered by the elements. Too many bones to unbury, this is what's left of the educated, the urban, and the intellectuals. I stepped on their remnants, the ribs and femurs of thinkers, innovators, engineers, and philosophers, the men and women who threatened the dream of a tyrant. And now they are all gone. I took off my shoes and passed through wisps of burning incense to stand beneath a tower of skulls. A gilded, five story shrine. An inventory of the dead. It is a place to stand face to face with the empty, un-accusing eye sockets of eight thousand people, just a small portion of the millions who were brutally murdered by Pol Pot's regime, less than 40 years ago. 

...Less than 40 years ago.

Staring into a pit where the babies were tossed, I realized I was born the year the Khmer Rouge began its mass extermination – those babies would be my age if they had been allowed to live. I thought about my earliest memory, from when I was barely three and my big brother flicked a bee at me and it stung me right in the belly button. If I had been born in Cambodia, and if I had been lucky enough to survive the Khmer Rouge, my earliest memories would be of... genocide.

I stayed there for a while, sweating and crying in the middle of the killing fields, wondering what kind of person I would be if my first memories were of death. What kind of parent would I have become? What kind of citizen would I be if I'd seen a government murder my family? Would I value human life more or less, if the ground I walked every day was littered with the bones of my neighbors? What would my country look like if all of the educated were eradicated a mere 40 years ago? And what would I be willing to do to survive?

I'm not pretending to have answers to those questions (Because, really? I can't even imagine. My early childhood trauma was a bee sting on my belly button, so I think it's safe to say that I have no idea what I'm even talking about right now.), but they do help paint a stunning picture of what could happen in the aftermath of desolation and destruction - not just the destruction of life, but of culture and history and family. The fallout would know no borders.

So, yeah, that guy was right.

Human-trafficking and slavery are symptoms of a much, much bigger disease, and those of us who feel compelled to seek Justice for the modern day slave must at least try to understand the intricate dance between history and religion, wealth and poverty, warmongers and politicians. We'll have to get uncomfortably familiar with the intersection of cheap Eastern labor and the relentless Western demand for even cheaper goods. And then there's the nuanced difference between the exploited and the truly enslaved, and the confusing circle of abuse that continues when the trafficked becomes the trafficker, which is often the case.

Gah! It's so complicated, it makes my brain want to shrivel up and die.

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, because I'm headed back to South East Asia (though, not Cambodia). 8 weeks from today, I will board a plane for a miserably long flight to visit my favorite badass mofo undercover investigators from The Exodus Road.

And this time I'm taking friends!

No, seriously. I actually convinced three whole people to go visit South East Asian strip clubs with me. ...I am not even kidding. I think I have magic... Anyway. On June 16th, I'm taking my sarcasm twin, Kristen Howerton (Rage Against the Minivan), my favorite Guatemalan-rave-twerker, Roo Ciambriello (Neon Fresh), and the one and only Heather Armstrong (Ok, fine. There are probably other Heather Armstrongs - but Dooce, you guys. DOOCE.) to the other side of the world for an unforgettable tour of bars, brothels, and pedophile hot spots. For. Real.

It's gonna be like the most awesome week long squeally girls getaway ever! (Except, like, the exact opposite. Because slavery, butt-sweat, warm light beer, and trolling for underage prostitutes in a blacked out rental car are not my idea of an awesome girls getaway. I dunno, maybe that's just me.)

Not gonna lie. I'm pretty freaked about trying to write about this stuff again. It is impossible to tell the whole story of human-trafficking and the SE Asian sex-trade in 700 words. Impossible. But I am going to try to, at least, tell a wholer story, a story that acknowledges the depth and complexity of the issues at hand. I'm excited to show you the steps The Exodus Road is taking in response to the big picture of child slavery. I want to tell you about how these cycles of abuse and enslavement are being broken. I want you to hear that corrupt governments can clean themselves up, educating villages can prevent at-risk children from falling victim to traffickers, and prosecution of perpetrators is a viable deterrent to would-be abusers.

That guy really was right, the whole story matters. There is far more to it than the “sensational” stories of little girls scooped out of brothels to be nurtured and cared for, healed of deep emotional wounds, and, if at all possible, reunited with their parents. And, yes, it goes way beyond the flashy red light districts we've come to expect when we pull up sex-trafficking documentaries on Netflix.

The story of one arrest, the story of one rescue – they do lose some of their significance when you can't see the great odds that must be overcome to get there. The story of one national worker who chooses a low paying job on an anti-trafficking task force over a big paycheck upon college graduation - because he believes in the value of a human life - is far more impressive in the context of the whole big mess. But there is still a place for their 700 word stories. We get to mourn individual losses and celebrate small victories, and fall in love with the people they belong to.

We get to say what we know, even if all we know is what we learned when our bare feet brushed the bleached bones of the dead; Every story matters.  


I can't explain how or why, but in some places my life has come to intersect with some of the world's 27,000,000 slaves. So I think I'm just gonna keep telling these stories, theirs and mine,
700 perfectly inadequate words at a time. 

....     .....     ....

It took me 1500 words to say that... *sigh*



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I worry for the Mommy Bloggers.

I really do.

Their posts roll down my Facebook feed and they pop up all over Pinterest. So many sweet pictures of backlit kids running down the beach, or they're wearing tiny aprons and stirring cookie dough in bright mixing bowls, sometimes they're flying above the playground at the apex of the swing with a sunny instagram halo behind their organic, unvaccinated heads. School lunches have become brilliant little works of art and nutrition, filled with sandwiches that look like sushi, fruit kabobs, and cheese cubes cut into three dimensional letters of the alphabet. Life is good. And some of these Mamas are working overtime to make it look even better.

Cute. But really?!
I don't know how they do it. It honestly looks exhausting. 


There are braid tutorials so complicated they make me stand up and praise God for the XY chromosome that prevailed time after time in my womb. When I was a kid there were two kinds of braids; regular or French. If you really wanted to go crazy, you could roll up a regular braid on each side of your head, like two hairy cinnamon rolls, and all the other girls would be like whoa. Now there are 8 thousand braids. And there are a gazillion “tips”. Y'know, tips? Like “10 tips for getting your toddler to eat hummus.” “5 tips for teaching your kindergartner to write a Haiku.”. “25 ways to help your baby do things it will probably learn to do on its own no matter what.”

Tips are great. When my kids were small, I could have used tips on how to get them to quit pooping in the bathwater and stop eating their boogers, and I'd have loved some tips on how to keep them in bed at night without considering psych ward restraints. Tutorials would have also been helpful: How to break promises, How to find the library book you lost over a year ago, How to get goo off stuff. ...I once called my mother-in-law to ask how to remove chewing gum from a 2 year old's penis, but she was as stumped as I was. Ice? Peanut butter? If only I'd had the internet to tell me.

Mom and Pop bloggers have changed the culture of child-rearing and opened up a world of resources for other parents. I honestly believe that today's parents are more informed, more educated, and hopefully more encouraged than we were, back in the day, when I began the journey of parenthood. That was 20 years ago, when it seemed like all mainstream Moms had to choose between was working or staying home. Now parents are wrestling with more questions – home birth vs hospital, to vaccinate or not, local vegan fare vs Quacker Oats and SpaghettiOs, home school vs somebody get these kids away from me. There's a lot of junk to think about, and Mommy Bloggers are leading the way in these good (sometimes hard) discussions.

I love that.

But still, I worry.

I worry because every last one of these darling, finger-painting, nap-loving, veggie eating babies are growing up fast. Soon they'll be awkward middle school dwellers, then they'll be high school haters. They will drive cars and get jobs. These kids are going to turn 18 and there is not damn thing their Mama can do about it. She knows it's coming, but it's still going to bite her on the ass so hard.

Trust me.

Today, they're writing a funny anecdote about how little Chevy Legend and his sister Trixie Tulip poured a whole box of cereal in the toilet and tried to eat it with a spoon. But tomorrow (Seriously, it will feel like tomorrow!), Mommy Blogger will run into Chevy buying cigarettes at Target and she'll find a condom wrapper in Trixie's waste basket. And while she'll be super happy that they're healthy eaters with good cholesterol and a low BMI and that they never died of Polio, she'll still wonder if she's parenting them well... if she's saying the right things... or not saying things at the right time... she'll speculate as to whether or not her kids will still be speaking to her in 10 years. She'll search the internet for natural remedies for acne (both for herself and her teen) and she'll find herself googling the effects of energy drinks on adolescent brains. She will have a deep internal battle over how much control to exercise over her teenager's internet usage and gnash her teeth wondering if and when and where they've looked at porn. She'll pray a hedge of protection around her kid's genitals, “Protect their junk, Lord, from pregnancy and STDs!”, because while she's hopeful that certain integral family values will reign supreme in her kids lives, it is now up to them to decide how to live. And UGH!, that is the worst. She'll anguish over their broken hearts and dashed dreams and stupid decisions.

There's a reason there aren't very many blogs from Moms of teens. It's because as they grow, they become like a magnifying glass to all your fatal flaws and the myriad ways you screwed them up as children. Who wants to read about that?! It's depressing.

Fly, baby! ...But not too far. 
When they're young, you've got it made, so I long for the days of the Mommy Blogger. How I would love to go back in time to when my kids were small and the crap they said was cute and hilarious. There are moments when I would give anything to trade arguments over poor grades and bad attitude for battles over how many bites to eat and how many books to read before bed and why the Roly Polies have to sleep outside. Some days I think it would be fun to go back to before they learned to pump their legs and jump off the swing like brave little warriors, to when they still needed their Mama to push them higher. On hard days, I wish I'd been a Mommy blogger, so I could look back at the stuff I thought was important but turned out not to be, and the stuff I ignored that was pretty crucial. 

Mommy Blogger, you are precious. You are giving life and hope to other Mamas. Keep doing your thing. I mean that!

But when your kids are big and grown, when they have exchanged their fake tattoos for real ones, and they smoke a pipe in the back yard, and they introduce you to their romantic interests, and you think you might just die because they are so huge and smart and in charge of themselves... Call me. You are going to want to talk. And your kids aren't going to want you to do it on the internet.

I'd say “Ask me how I know.”, but I can't tell you here. 

....       ....       ....


Oh, Parents of Adults, tell me you survived.... Ok. Now tell me how.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You are allowed your process.


We are in the middle of a complete backyard renovation. So that's fun. :|

It sounds like a big deal when you say it like that, “back yard renovation”, but we've hardly got any yard to renovate so it's actually not a big deal at all, except for it being super expensive and incredibly time consuming and really frustrating. But when you have a very small house and very large kids, you have to find creative ways to get away from them. You need a space to retreat. Hiding in a closet full of dirty clothes while you pray to Almighty God for the strength to not murder your offspring doesn't always sooth the nerves the way you'd hope. So, as soon as we moved back to the US, we decided to turn our tiny, boring, suburban patch of dirt into a sexy, utilitarian, sub-urban, chill out lounge... with a bit of rustic charm. And a beer garden.

It's gonna be awesome.

El Chupacabra is busting ass to get it done. He spends his day off with his hands in the ground, reshaping our little landing strip into a courtyard oasis for our family and friends (who also need to escape their children). Evenings find him googling irrigation systems or sketching plans for paths, making informed decisions about Scotch Moss or Walkable Thyme. The guy is a machine. Relentlessly hard working.

But, here's the thing: He doesn't work the same way I work, and that drives me to the brink of madness.

I mean, he's a waaaay harder worker than me, but he doesn't do things the way I would do them.

Goes out to pour cement. Builds a chair.
He'll work on, like, 25 projects at once. He'll pour some cement, then he'll go plant a fern, then he'll trim a tree and frame some more cement, then he'll change the oil in the car, and pick up some fertilizer. He'll reach up to install a new light, and four minutes later he's on the ground plumbing some little sprinkler thingies. Then, because there's obviously not enough going on, he builds a chair.

And the whole time I am standing there with my mouth hanging open, dazed and confused, because that is not at all how I would do it. NOT. AT. ALL.

His process is all wrong.

If I was going to redo the backyard, first, I would clean the kitchen. Because duh. Then I would go outside and look around and make plans. A lot of plans. I would make plans for approximately 6 years. When the plans were made, I'd create a to-do list in order, and The Order would be of the utmost importance! If you plant a fern before all the cement is done, you have broken all the laws of sanity and reason. The cement goes first. Then the dirt. Then plants. Then lights. Then furniture. Then, and only then, do you invite your friends over to pass the peace pipe around the fire pit. That is The Order. That's my process. That's how I would do it.

My process looks nothing like his.

Same patch of dirt. Same purpose. Completely different process.

And that is allowed.

In the end, the purpose will be accomplished and the yard will be transformed. Admittedly, his way is far faster than my way, probably decades faster, and my way is more organized than his – but the process is a means to an end, not the end in itself. No amount of eye rolling will make what order the yard is done matter as much as I want it to matter.

….

I don't know if you've noticed this, but living around other people is, like, really hard.

El Chupacabra and I have been living together for 20 years and we're still learning how to love and respect each other. We're still figuring out how to support one another through our very different processes.

What we've found is that, even 20 years in, our individual history and personal perspectives lead us in different directions quite often. We have differences of opinion (sometimes mistaken as indisputable facts) on just about everything. We have disagreements about parenting style, money management, furniture arrangement, laundry folding, how to drive a car, how to fill a dishwasher, how to make guacamole... even our theology diverges in certain place.

And that is allowed.

We have grown beside each other for decades, into and out of each other, like two tangled trees, both separate and together. It has taken all these years living side by side for us to realize that we can embrace and support each other through our very different processes. Though, sometimes we're still not very good at it.

See. I want him to meet me where I'm at. He wants me to be on the same page. When we don't end up in the same place at the same time, there is tension. When we see things through vastly different lenses, it can be confusing. When the place my process brings me to is in stark contrast to the place his had lead him, it can be unsettling.

All in all, respecting his process can be uncomfortable.

What it cannot be is unloving. What it cannot be is ungracious. What it cannot be is angry and condemning. Those things don't propel, they paralyze -- and one person should not be allowed to stunt another person's growth. Our job is not to drag and pull others into our space, but to love and nurture them exactly where they're at – no matter where they're at - and to accept that God may have them on a different path on a different plane on what seems like a different planet.

And that is allowed. God gets to do His thing.

I get this wrong all the time. Learning to have Grace (and even, like, basic kindness) toward people who don't think or act like I do has been a relentless part of the process for me. Very much a 2 steps forward, 1.9999 steps back kind of thing. But I'm trudging along, gratefully surrounded by people who love me and challenge me, but who also understand that God is at work here. They trust that, trust Him, enough to know when to step back and let the process of my spiritual growth just happen.

Refining faith around a fire with friends is my favorite.
I'm learning to stand in silence at the kitchen sink and just watch while my husband buzzes around our backyard project like Bob the Builder on crack cocaine, doing everything out of order. I'm learning to appreciate the creation in his chaos without wanting to hijack it to suit my program. I'm learning to save my input for when it actually matters, or when he actually wants it. This is very, very, very, very, super, exceptionally hard for me. Almost impossible.

But I'm getting there. I'm learning to trust that, just as God is walking with me through this life, He is walking with the people around me... and that their path is different than mine.

I'm learning that that is allowed. You are allowed your process.

God will see us both along the way, and, somehow, with Love and Grace (and, y'know, basic kindness) we will continue to be this tangled, inseparable mess we call the Church.

Same patch of dirt. Same purpose. Different process.

And that is allowed

Now pass the peace pipe.

.....        .....       .....


Are we free to question, challenge, change and grow? Can we let others do the same?