“You must speak like water,” were the words spoken to me by Rafa, my new friend from Spain. He and his girlfriend, Kristina, were trying to teach me Spanish. I was speaking too slowly for them and not flowing in my words. It was then that I realized this really should be a metaphor for our lives. We should live like water. Flowing gently, turning and twisting to form our own path but never losing that power that makes water so strong. So strong to even make rocks smooth. You must speak like water. Live like water. Shaping our own paths and influencing other peoples lives.
We had met on an excursion to Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle (the triangle of Thailand, Laos, and Burma), took a boat on the Mekong River to Laos, and went to visit a couple of hilltribes, the most famous being the Karen Longneck tribe.
My knuckles turned from white to purple as our driver raced down the streets usually in the wrong lane, many times even veering down the center of the road. He ran red lights. We all felt car sick. This was pretty scary. Rafa made fun of me for wearing my seatbelt, and I couldn’t believe of all people he was making fun of me. He had lost one of is legs in a car accident and now had a prosthetic. Still, no seatbelt.
But Rafa taught me so much yesterday as I watched him with his helpful attitude helping everyone out of the van, when he was the one who we should have helped, as he had to limp over rocks, up stairs, never complaining, not even once. He was in the best of spirits all day, making us all laugh, his disposition a huge inspiration for me. He also taught me how to negotiate at the market, never paying more than what his original offer was…400 baht, no 200 baht, no 300 baht, no 150 baht, no 250 baht, no 197 baht,…ok 200. He didn’t like the rabbit food of Thailand and instead showed me pictures of “real food”, Spanish food, crown of lamb, steaks, pork. He and Christina promised to make paella and give me the finest Rioja to drink if I would come visit them in Spain. It was a perfect blissful day as we zoomed past beautiful countryside, rice paddies, palm trees, papaya trees, and soft mountains everything green, green, green!!
My second inspiration came at the end of the day when we visited the Karen Longneck tribe. From the time they are five years old the woman are forced to wear heavy brass (they used to be gold) rings around their neck which makes their necks seem longer because they push down their shoulders. This tradition started out as a necessity as the woman kept getting bitten in the necks by tigers and so it was meant to protect them. Somehow, it evolved as a statement of beauty, the longer the neck, the more beautiful the girl. I actually had tears in my eyes when I first met them and realized how heavy these rings really were, and to imagine wearing these in this oppressive, sticky, thick heat day after day after day. They are only allowed to remove them once every 3 years and for the last two months of pregnancy, and they do this…..to look BEAUTIFUL???
I imagined not having the freedom,the freedom to move, to dance about, to feel light. I felt like a trapped animal just looking at these woman. I wanted to tell these women, “It’s OK, you can take them off, don’t you see? You are woman, and you are already beautiful.” But, I realized that this is just as much a part of their culture, their heritage as some of our funny traditions that we have of looking beautiful. And I could no more change this, than I can change the image of the starving waif supermodel that fills our magazines and is considered beautiful in our country.
I think the theme of this day for me was to be grateful for all that I have in my life. The latest thing that I have been working on in my life is not complaining. Sometimes I find myself complaining about the stupidest of things, and I catch myself later, thinking, “Really, Val, is that the best you can do?” I have it pretty lucky. So, the next time I find myself grumbling about some task that I have to do that I don’t really want to, or being too hot, or any of the other ridiculous complaints that I have, I am going to imagine doing whatever I am doing with about 25 brass rings added on to my neck. And realize that what I’m doing is really not a pain in the neck at all. To remove all the negative speaking from my lips and to speak….like water…