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Meagan Gruninger

Jai, A Lesson from the Heart

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

In regards to our recent journey across the world to Thailand and Laos, there is one specific experience which I wish to capture amongst all the beautiful, scary and life changing moments.

This happened after weeks of seeking something which I could not put into words until it happened. I was searching for a heart to heart* moment, a moment where I was able to glimpse into another’s world and understand for a minute, even though it may be very different from my own. A smidgen of empathy.

What I learned, though, was this is not something I can force to happen nor is it something I could buy at the market. In order to see another’s worldview, your own must be pierced, at a price.

On one of our first days in Vientiane, Laos, our group went to a museum called the COPE Centre. This centre is a memory of what happened during the Secret War on Laos, or as we know it, the Vietnam War. Little known facts faced us as we entered a room which housed bombs and stories of those affected by it.


Story after story fell upon us as the weight of this act became clear. Many, many, deaths and much suffering was inflicted upon this nation. Children, indiscriminate violence. Over two million tons of bombs dropped. The worst part: the injustice continues in that the explosives dropped still explode today, unperturbed for years until a fatal blow.

This shadow of pain was heavy upon me the next day as we attended a class taught by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) about peace and how they teach peace to their youth. The irony of it upset me. Why would Lao people need to learn about peace? Should not this class be taught in the US? Why is the value of peace so important to these people, instead of justice? As I sat in the corner and attempted to move on and process what had happened there, one of the leaders and I chatted. I mentioned to him that we went to the centre, and tears threatened to fall. Instead of being embarrassed at my crying, he too teared up.

In this moment, something was exchanged, and in a strange twist of fate, this Lao man comforted me as I considered the tragedy in his country. And I felt empathy towards him and his people.

What I learned from this was that in order to experience empathy for another, it requires one’s own suffering in order to understand. This conversation taught me that anger and bitterness would not be the way to justice, and that forgiveness, even if an act is so heinous, can be given before justice is acknowledged or granted. Peace is more important, in one’s heart and life over the value of being done right by. Forgiveness is the path to peace. And it is the only way to endure suffering, or as Madeleine L’Engle wrote:

“Peace is not placidity; peace is the power to endure the megatron of pain with joy…”

This lesson from the heart of Lao people touched my heart, and now, I hope it touches others.


*The Lao word for heart is ‘jai’


Soccer in the Rain

By | 2016, Asia | No Comments

There are so many experiences I could write about and draw with words.

But instead, I choose the simple stuff. Escaping from the bustle of Chiang Mai, the twelve of us venture in two song thaews (red trucks with two benches), loaded with ginger gravol and peppermint essential oil. Weaving through peaceful rice fields and around mountainous greenery, and then up and up the heights, we arrive.

Later, I walk beside a gentle stream beside a deep verdant forest. The ground below me is reddish like I would imagine PEI’s dirt to be like. Little streams trickle past to join the big one. I step over. Up a little knoll, I glimpse, as do my classmates, and we can see a collection of small buildings. Our guides tell us this is where the Karen’s school is and we can play games with the children in a minute. Then they say it. The ‘s’ word.


I had been groaning to one of our Thai university buddies that I had been wanting to play soccer for weeks, but I did not expect my only opportunity to be with children up to my waist. But they were good. And they kicked our butts.

All the young boys from the community sized us up as we tried to communicate if we should mix teams. None of that seemed it would happen. Us against them. The ball hit the pavement and the game was on.

Their best player was uniquely talented and most likely would have been recruited for competitive games at home. His fellow mates fed him the ball and he would attempt to break through our wall of defense.


The game is on!

The game is on!

Ah okay, one for them. I ran around giggling to myself as I had one of the best times in my life. I felt like I was fourteen again and that my hips were too wide and my limbs too long as I attempted to maneuver around so many little figures. The goalie was all in as he dove on the hard pavement to save a goal.

The glee on their faces was obvious too. Silly farang, they’re not very good. Passing was almost pointless because there were so many swarms of them. I longed to tell them how good they were and to encourage them, but I just put my thumb up and laughed with them. Even our very little Thai was no good there. We would have played for hours if the unseasonal rain would have stayed away. We were all soaked but happy until the guide shooed the children away in fear of them getting sick. Score: 5-1. For them.

Sadly, we allowed the ball to be picked up and ran to shelter. Another wonderful moment was gone. Just like climbing the hill again in our song thaews to say goodbye. Small smiling faces and waving hands soon disappeared into a blur as we journeyed away. Yet they exist on. How many beautiful places like this exist in this vast world, that I neither know about nor need me to know about them. Their existence depends on Someone else, and not me. Who knew such a simple place could fulfill my desires so aptly.

New friends in new places.

New friends in new places.