I take a bite of a sugar cookie and slowly sip my instant coffee. I feel safe and protected. We have been welcomed and given the green light to continue on our foot journey. I am grateful for the kindness we’ve been shown.
We accept friendship in whatever way it comes from whoever extends it. Today it comes in the form of friendly conversation, cookies and coffee from police and soldiers at one of the handful of border control checkpoints between Tak and Mae Sot.
With big smiles, the police invite us into their roadside tent, and, without checking our passports, offer us a few minutes of rest. They insist that we fill our metal water bottle with piping hot water so we can stay warm during the chilly morning hours in the Thai highlands. They admire our backpacks and are surprised by the weight we choose to carry. One of them asks about Lluís’ pack because he wants a new one; his colleague snaps a few pictures of him trying on Lluís’ pack. We all joke about the way the pack doesn’t quite fit the solider, who is at least head and shoulders taller than Lluís and much rounder in the middle. Our day is off to a good start.
I glance across the street to the young men and women grouped loosely in a half circle. Many of them stare down at the ground as police look at their identification cards and jot down notes. I imagine the young people being nervous and worried about will happen next, but I’m too far away to make out their expressions. Based on where we are standing – about 50 or so kilometers from the Myanmar/Burma border, I assume many of these teens and 20-something-year-olds are immigrants with roots from other side of the invented line drawn on map and without the lucky stamp to stay on this side of the boundary.
My head and heart collide. I tumble into an age-old conversation with my more idealistic 19-year-old self.
For my whole life, I have been sensitive to the notion of immigration, borders and the way in which humans impose limitations around themselves. My existence is the result of several generations of coincidences. I am the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants. I am one direct outcome of the choices, risks, challenges and opportunities taken by people who came before me, and I carry this ancestral connection as a gift and a source of strength to try to live my best life.
Logically, I can rationalize the need to define the spaces we live in with dashed lines on a map. There are lots of us living here on this planet, and order, structure and civic society are necessary foundations for a relatively peaceful co-habitation.
On a soul level, none of it makes sense to me and runs totally counter to my belief that we are all connected and rooted deeply to the Earth, regardless of where we randomly happened to be born. I’m holding hope for the day I have a one-world passport, a document that simply states my name, birthdate and current city of residence and does away with the idea that nationality identifies me.
When I was a university student, I gave serious thought to how I could be a voice for those who didn’t have a voice or felt that they didn’t have a voice. During those years, I weighed heavily the option of becoming a lawyer, someone who would defend the inherent and legally designated rights of people to speak out, believe what they choose, and live their best lives. I ultimately routed myself down a different path, without regret. But, today, my younger me wants a chance to talk, and I let her.
“It’s sad isn’t it? Here we are, white with privilege walking around like we own the planet,” my younger self chides. “Why can’t these kids do what we do? Why are they being stopped from chasing down their dream? Why don’t they deserve a chance to create a better life for themselves and their families? The whole system is screwed up.”
“We don’t know the whole story, and every single person standing there – the kids and the police – has their own world and story they live in. We only know what we see right now, this second, and passing judgement is not fair. They are being asked for identification at a police checkpoint. They aren’t being treated disrespectfully from what we can tell. They are not being yelled at or physically abused,” my older voice responds. “Yes, we are lucky today. That may not be true tomorrow or at one of the many police checkpoints we’ll encounter on this long trip. But, this is the structure the world seems to want. Rules, nationalities, passports, borders, ways to keep people out, ways to keep people in. We can’t single-handedly change the system. There is too much to change, and, right now, that is not our purpose, dear one. All we can do, in this moment, is share and connect our light and love. We can hope that all our collective light clears a safe and compassionate path for everyone on this roadside.”
I take another sip of coffee, and eat another cookie. I stand there in my confusion, happy for our safety and ripped apart by the human things I’ll never truly understand.
Lluís and I pick up our packs and walk on. We wave to the police. We send an invisible hug to those across the road. The chattering in my head and heart continues, with versions of myself getting lost in the story of global justice and injustice while I mull over the worth of my personal ideals, values, actions and lack of action.
Kilometers go slowly. We walk up, down and around curvy mountain passes. There is little traffic, but we can smell the brake fluid the trucks burned on the downhill. We listen to the birds in the few seconds when we are all alone on the road.
Two police pickup trucks pass us on the left, heading towards the border town of Mae Sot. Groups of young people huddle in the back cab. Tears roll my cheeks. I wonder what will happen to them, if they will one day be able to chase down their dreams and if their great-grandchildren will live with a one-world passport, connected to each other and rooted on an Earth without dashed lines separating people. They round the bend and I lose sight of them in the curve. I send them all the light I can imagine and wish them safe passage as they ride into the unknown.
We set off on this walking journey as a way to find and share goodness in the world.
We found incredible kindness in Thailand, a country we have long loved and have even more affection for now. When we step over the border later this week into Myanmar, we expect to fall in love with people there, too.
To show our gratitude, we intend to volunteer in as many places as possible along the way. And, we tried to do that in Mae Sot, a Thai town with many Burmese immigrants and refugees. We knocked on a couple NGO doors, but because of the way volunteer programs are set up and how field work is done outside the city in the refugee camps, many organizations like to be notified ahead of time and request a three-month volunteer commitment. Since we don’t know exactly which days we will arrive anywhere and do not have the proper visas for a long-term stay, it was difficult to match up our intention to volunteer for a couple of days with the needs of the organizations we spoke with.
So, instead, we donated a portion of the contributions we have received to Mae Sot’s branch of Right to Play. Their mission resonates with us, and think it will do the same with some of our initial donors. Right To Play uses sport and play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. The program manager in Mae Sot told us they are working with children in seven of the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border; 33,000 is a number stuck in my head, but I don’t know if that is how many children and adults they directly work with or some other reference point… I forgot to jot it down at the time, but none the less, the need for help is great and many lives are interconnected through this program.
Tomorrow, we will tour the Mae Tao Clinic, an important regional health facility primarily serving the Burmese migrant and refugee community. We plan to make a donation there as well based on the things we heard about the good work they do.
A few weeks ago, we also made a donation to the school in Pa Mok, the first school that allowed us to camp for the night and where we helped with English lessons in three classrooms. The kindness of the teachers and students touched us deeply.
Previously, in December, we donated to the Catalan TV3 fundraising marathon, which benefited diabetes research. We wanted to start our goodness walk at home, and since diabetes is a global health issue affecting people we know and love, it seemed as good as any other place to begin sharing light and love.
If you would like to make a contribution to Bangkok Barcelona On Foot and help connect your light and love to the light and love of those we meet in Asia and Europe, please click here for more information.