Asian Youth Academy/Asian Theological Conference Day 1: On the way to Thailand
First dispatch from a 15-hour layover at the Dubai Airport
It’s 3am in a packed bar in a packed airport in United Arab Emirates. Not exactly what I was expecting, but fun.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” –Cesare Pavese
My plans for the Asian Youth Academy/Asian Theological Academy in Thailand took a nervous turn on Friday when I woke up and read the news on the bombings in several major tourist hubs in Thailand-Phuket, Surat Thani, Phang-Nga and several others—the three listed are the main destinations of our conference.
Joe Kruse, the young adult from Minneapolis who is also attending this trip, called me to ask about last minute-immunizations and we briefly wondered seriously if it was going to be safe to attend the conferences after all. I said let’s just see what happens the next few days. . . let’s see if there are travel advisories and what the conference coordinators have to say.
Friday was absolute nerves—the persistent ache that had been slowly taking over my head all week solidified itself in my guts—I was shaky. I couldn’t paint my nails I was so shaky. And, with the news of the bombings also came the news from our coordinators that we’d be spending two days this coming week in rural areas around Thailand, in refugee and migrant communities. We were requested to bring our own pillows and blankets. I asked if there were beds, and was told some situations had them, others we’d share a communal mattress. No indication has been given where we’ll actually be, among the regions of Phang-nga and Surat Thani.
I’ve been around a bit—I’ve done a fair share of solo night buses across the Polish/Ukranian border, backpacked solo in South America, spent a week in a refugee camp in Kenya, and, the grand-mother of travel escapades—a week in what was then the semi-autonomous region of South Sudan.
But, to even a seasoned traveler, the feeling of helplessness, of the unknown, of fear and lack of control, never loses its bite. It never loses it’s “oh crap what am I doing should I just turn around” feeling when you get to the airport.
I am currently en-route to Thailand, so we did decide it would be alright to go on with the plans. We heard from conference coordinators that they were confident in our safety, and I read the travel warning from the US—it was not severe. I feel secure enough.
As I reflect upon previous travels and my current situation I remember that it was in the aloneness of traveling the world that I started to get closer to what I now feel a comforting goodness and closeness in—a relationship with God that I see echoed in the readings of Richard Rohr.
Traveling makes it absolutely necessary to know there is someone else out there with you. I do not know how anyone travels alone in extremely unknown situations without believing that you’re not alone and you’re not in control.
Perhaps that is why I always wanted to travel abroad alone, I knew it would be really hard and I’d have to find new ways to stay sane and to grow and find the eternal goodness in the world.
Yesterday Richard Rohr’s daily meditation email was on “The Sacredness of the Present Moment.” In it he notes:
“Nondual knowing is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment.” This consciousness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves will invariably divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.”
Being abroad forces you to be in the present moment. Nothing is safe, nothing is normal, nothing is how you know it to be. So you have to pay attention, you have to let go and let live. And in that fear, in that letting to. . . there is SO much grace. And so much fun.
I am really looking forward to what awaits in Thailand. The Asian exchange conference is focused on the role of the church in ecological sustainability and the migrant/refugee crisis in Asia that is in part a result of climate change.
Joe and I will present on the work Call To Action and Catholic Worker Communities have done to—in Paul Hwang’s words, “create tolerance” in a culture that often fears the other. Joe will speak on the Catholic Worker’s solidarity with the movement for black lives and I will talk about the Catholic response to American empire and militarization, particularly in the School of the America’s Watch days of action—and their movement to the border which I’ll attend later this year.
Several of the academic papers which were provided to us to read before the conference detail the effects American imperialism and the neoliberal economic order we espouse on the world—from the mismanagement of the International Monetary Fund to the effects of dams and the privatization of water on so many communities in Asia.
Joe and I are the only Americans at the conference, and are if not the only, will be in the minority of Westerners in general. I am SO excited to learn more from these young activists, and seasoned theologians.
I will be blogging as much as I can per internet signals, and will be taking video which will come as soon as well.
Please send us prayers for safe travels!