The Road Not Taken: My reflection on field studies trip or Robert Frost’s journey?
During our field studies trip in Chiang Khong, we visited the Thai Lue village after almost three hours Cruise on the majestic Mekong River. What is unique about this village is that they grow cotton and use it to weave products, such as tablecloths, sauces, napkins, sue pat, which is a kind of a long – sleeved shirt with no buttons. This group of women working on the cotton fabrics was formed by Mrs. Sukhawadee Tiyatha in B.E 2527. The knowledge has been transferred from mothers to children over the years. They have been doing their job ‘professionally’ by producing clothes that no one can resist to buy. The combination of different colours brings energy and positive thinking when you wear them.
But what strikes me the most is the transfer of cotton fabric knowledge from the older generation to the next generation. I noticed that the job is mainly done by women and most of them are aging. When my mind was wrestling on the knowledge transfer, the poem ‘the Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost popped in my brain. The poem is about choices in life. Whether it is legitimate or not for the next generation to go with the mainstream or take another direction – it is all about the choice to be made. Yes indeed, from B.E 2527 to date, it has been a long journey. And my worry is how long the journey is going to last. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler…
I took the one less traveled by… This combined stanza kept resonating in my brain for the few hours I spent in that village. Frost talks about the choice that was not taken. But to me, I am looking at the road that probably will not be taken by the next generations in that specific village. The Thai Lue Village has been travelling one road over generations and now the road is about to diverge. Why I am saying this? Well, that day, after having a wonderful meal, the Thai Lue young and beautiful girls performed euphonious traditional songs. After the performance, everyone was approaching them – kind of running to a movie or a song star with a pen and a pad to get an autograph, or a pose for a picture, or just have a cozy conversation with the stars of the day. And I was not left behind. I was among those who approached them to get a snap shot with them.
During my conversation with them, I happen to ask them what they will do after completing high school.
Unfortunately or fortunately, all of the seven girls aspire to attend college – majoring specifically in Maths and Science and only one – mentioned language studies. From their answers, again a dozen of questions flooded my brain like: what about the cotton fabric legacy? Who will continue to work on the cotton? Are their mothers going to be buried with the knowledge? Etc.
The choice that these young girls are likely to take or have taken will affect the core value of their village that has attracted thousands of tourists who visited the village to appreciate the amazing traditional culture of making attire in a particular way. Franz Fanon once said: ‘sometimes people hold a core value that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that value, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core value, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core value.’ Frantz’s citation translates the oomph that has kept the Thai Lue village to work on the cotton for generations and I do believe they resisted changes on several occasions.
Furthermore, the same Frantz argues that: ‘each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity. By saying so, Frantz opens a leeway for the new generation of the Thai Lue girls to make a new choice.
Putting together the two quotes of Frantz Fanon, it can arguably be said that the Thai Lue village has reached a point where the road is about to diverge. And being one traveler (the next generation) – it cannot travel both.
In conclusion, following Robert Frost’s poem – if life is a journey, then during the course choices are inevitable. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Thai Lue girls are on the verge of taking the road that is off the beaten track or only they do so because they don’t fancy the road with bend in it. It means that making cotton attire is time consuming and needs a lot of attention and care to mingle the patterns in an accurate way. Let me put it that way.
And here is the question for you my readers and I would like you to make up your own mind about my emotional state on knowledge transfer between generations in Thai Lue village: is the choice of the road less travelled a positive one for the girls?
John Mugisa – Democratic Republic of Congo
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
Learning in Difference
It has been six weeks since we began our Rotary Peace Fellows’ journey and I would like to reflect on what it means to learn in an environment of difference. I talk about difference rather than about diversity. Difference acknowledges that ‘diversity’ is actually different across many dimensions. While diversity can paint a simplistic, rosy picture, difference is more of a middle path term. Difference reminds us of both the joys and the difficulties of meeting, spending time, working and learning with different people. As a group, we speak so many different languages, have different nationalities and citizenships, come from different disciplines, have different communication preferences and styles, have different faiths, as well as skills, strengths, weak points and blind spots. These make our class a thrilling space to inhabit. These same differences mean that we are constantly in a learning environment that is multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and multi-lingual – I could go on. It is a space that lends itself to creativity and lets us step outside our comfort zone.
I think this wide array of differences is one of the strongest points of the Rotary Peace Fellows Program as a learning experience. It requires effort from us to create a space where communication and understanding can flow. What does this mean in the day-to-day of our classes and other activities? First, we are called to listen. In our classes we have learnt about deep listening, the considerate and open exercise of listening until the end, having the discipline to let silence happen, without interrupting the other person’s train of thought. It is harder than it sounds, because the tendency and the temptation to respond quickly can be strong. It is a call to be compassionate with those who speak to us. Second, we must speak in ‘international English’ free of the jargon and informal terms we use in our familiar disciplinary or cultural environments. Those from specialist backgrounds are practicing this constantly. Third, we need to maintain an open and curious attitude, but balance it with respect for the boundaries of what others may be able to share or explain. This is a fine line to walk. But we have seen some of the rewards of this in our class. There are many more skills that we are practicing or acquiring to make this a rich space. So, aside from all the very relevant content we receive and the exercises we do, we also get to practice a wide range of skills that are necessary to build peace. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn this way and to contribute to building this learning experience.
Diana Arbelaez Ruiz – Australia/Colombia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
I’m Proud to be a Butterfly
THE ARMED ETHNIC CONFLICT BETWEEN HEMA AND LENDU IN ITURI, NORTHEASTERN DRC
To be a very beautiful butterfly, it needs time and many processes to transform. To be a good Peace Builder also needs a lot of time for educating, training, dedicating and self-development to qualify as well. Since I have got the fellowship from The Rotary Foundation I knew this is the big step to transform myself to be a good Peace Builder.
Is three months enough to transform? I can say that it’s enough and it’s not enough. It’s enough because everyone, who was selected to this program has worked for promoting world peace for a long time in different areas around the world. They all have great experiences before joining this program. That’s why I said three months is enough to qualify and encourage them to be even better Peace Builder. On the other hand, it’s not enough due to we still cannot find the way that everyone can work together practically to build the world peace in reality. Truly peaceful world seems to be something untouchable and idealistic because all mankind are struggling with finding peace to their families, societies and the world since the ancient time, which the countless wars happened. However, the real world peace has never happened on the Earth.
As my major is the focus on inner peace by practicing meditation, in Buddhism the root causes of all kinds of sufferings and problems are desire (greed), anger and delusions, these are defilements in human minds. These are individual inner conflicts, which occur in each one’s mind and affect each other until it becomes a problem in families, societies and the world. If we don’t know how to control these defilements in our mind to not harm others, the world peace will never happen.
Using the concept of ‘World Peace through Inner Peace’ is my journey as a Peace Builder. I strongly believe that I will be able to transform myself little by little to be a beautiful butterfly that can make changes to the world. I wish my flying wings, which only cause the gentle wind as the first time will become powerful winds that can truly drive world peace to happen.
Dr. Suchada Thongmalai – Thailand
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More