Longing

You are never really sure what you will miss until it is gone. I have less then fifty days left to my YAV year and each day I am struggling to hold two feelings simultaneously. 

A sadness to departing from a country that is becoming my home and friends who have made their way into my life. A sadness that I know the possibility and perhaps reality that we may never meet again. And an immense excitement to return to what is familiar, what I left behind.

As the months have gone by, the feelings of being far from home have ebbed and become little more then a distant memory. A slight tug at the heart, a small yearning. As things have become more comfortable here I have thought of home less. Consciously.

The days are quickly passing by and my longing has begun to increase. I am finding the things I took for granted and thought so mundane are what I yearn for most of all. I miss my porch, facing into the forest, birds swooping and munching at the feeder in front. I miss spending mornings and evenings on the hammock, listing to the sounds of the earth. I miss my dog, and snuggling before bed, or rambling walks through the woods, never encountering anyone but ourselves. 

 Most of all I miss the solitude. Here I have realized that solitude is a luxury and a culture thing, but also a need of mine. There has been very little here. Living in a city I have surrounded by people. Everywhere I go, I see them. The sounds of life, traffic and people often drown out the soft bird calls through my window. I share a house with three others, and have a roommate. 

Even then campus forests are filled with Grandmothers and Grandfathers out for strolls. The only time they are empty is at night, but the sounds and lights of the city penetrate the thin canopies.

I didn’t realize I was missing the stars until last night. Staring and losing myself in their vastness is something I cannot do here. I miss the the loud silence of the country. The rumble of traffic reduced to a single car a distances away.  Growing up in the country, and the country that has the space to be far from cities has shaped me more then I knew. 

I have loved living in a city, the connivence and proximity of everything completely trumps the 45 minute drive to the grocery store. But there are days, cramped on a bus with 60 other people that I miss driving in a car, alone, with the radio blaring.

I have found ways though. Places where silence is prevails. Moments of  solitude.

You never know what you will miss until it is gone. In fifty days I will be home. Another fifty and I will begin to feel the pangs of the Korea I left behind. Sad, but beautiful pangs. To long for something is to have loved something. I’d rather yearn for what is no more, then to not know it exists at all. But be excited for what is to come. Simultaneously, two feelings as one. That is life.

 

A few shots from a trip to an arboretum earlier this month. A reminder that nature and beauty is everywhere.  

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Peace from Bullets

IMG_8028.JPG(The Bridge of No Gun Ri) 

The May afternoon is hot and bright, summer is coming. I am standing, staring at a railroad bridge, it’s M shaped arches supporting a track across a small river, a single cement road running through the left side. The walls of the bridge are covered in spray paint, hundreds of white circle and triangles. Each mark a bullet hole. Evidence.  If I close my eyes I can almost hear the sound of gunshots echoing off the valley walls triggers pulled by scared young Americans. The sounds of screams turned to silent sobs of men, women and children trapped under the bridge, waiting to die.

IMG_8036.JPG(The Circles are bullet holes and the triangles are actual bullets. )

This place is called No Gun Ri. A small insignificant area of Korea that suffered a devastating consequence during the Korean War. Between the days of July 26–29, 1950 several hundred civilians, mostly women, children  and elderly were trapped and fired upon until dead.

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They were farmers evacuated from a local village and rerouted. Their military patrol pulling out, they continued South until the came to another Military Unit. Rerouted again to the train tracks they were shortly strafed by airplane gunfire. Seeking cover they hid under the tracks under a bridge where firing from both directions continued for four days and three nights. The event was covered up and forgotten about. Except by survivors.

18118538_1333651850054137_8826768640648544833_n.jpg(Inside the peace park museum. There are testimonies, documents and the exposure history inside.) 

Chung, Eun-Yong, who lost two children under the age of six, and whose wife suffered major injury worked tirelessly to expose the massacre. During the Korean Dictatorial  regime it was illegal to talk about anything bad that the USA had done. So it wasn’t until The Democracy Movement in the 1980s that he was able to publish a fictional book about the event.

18893157_1689393031088404_2358004985181630118_n.jpg( The woman standing  is the daughter of the mother depicted in the statue, holding her younger sister.)

This gained the attention of international reporters who researched further into the story, finding US veterans who were at the event willing to talk. In 1999 an AP report was published leading both The United State and South Korea to conduct reports into the matter. Although no longer denying that it happened, the United States has yet to issue an apology for the massacre.

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The Korean War has become something of the Forgotten War. I will be the first to admit that my understanding of it was entirely based upon a few meager paragraph in texts books describing a stalemate and the TV show M.A.S.H. A show which focuses on the events of American Military Personal and not the devastating consequences of the Korean people and infrastructure.

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(Stock Korean War Photo)

The Korean War officially broke out 25 June 1950 with the North Korean Army Crossing the newly made bordered between the recently divided countries. It was shortly after the USA held a separate presidential election in the South, officially separating the two countries.

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(Photo of Korean Air Bombings During War)

Acting on fears of a second Occupation, Only 5 years earlier The Korean Peninsula had been freed from Japanese Occupation which lasted from 1910-1945, The North hoped to remove the new President and reunite Korea, free from all foreign powers.

The next three years were a bloody mess. The Causality numbers vary. The death count ranges and numbers change as the years pass and countries are forced to reveal more accurate numbers.

A CNN article places the Korean death toll at

US Casualties: (Hostile: 33,739 Non-Hostile: 2,835)

South Korea: (217,000 military, 1,000,000 civilian)

North Korea: (406,000 military, 600,000 civilian)

Bruce Cumings, a Korean War Historian states an entirely different, much higher number. There is controversy over the among of North Korean Casualties and is debated wether or not the numbers are higher then the US reports give.

US Casualties: 33,665 (3,275 non-hostile deaths)

South Korea Casualties: 1,312,836 (Civilian and Military )

North Korea Casualties: 2,000,000 (Civilian and Military)

535781681.jpg(Photo of Korean Child During the War)

By 1953 a stalemate had been reached and a cease fire orchestrated. To this day peace has never officially been stated and the Two Koreas are still technically at war. The largest standing army lies on the South side of the DMZ line comprised of Korea’s Youngest Soldiers and American Troops.

3366.jpg(Photo of Young Mother and Child ) 

The site of No Gun Ri has been turned into a peace park where visitors can learn about the event and the seeds of hope and peace are planted. I have visited twice. The second time we were invited to attended a memorial service. It was touching.

18835813_1689393027755071_8786199011596631420_n.jpg(The man in the middle is the son of Yang Hae Chan. On either side are a few of the remaining survivors of the massacre who were children at the time. ) 

It was personal. In attendance was the AP reporter responsible for the report in 1999. I had a chance to hear her story. I also had the honor to meet survivors of the massacre, men and women, now well into their later years who were children during the time. The director of the park, the son ofChung, Eun-Yong, Chung, Koo-Do was there. On the wall of the listed dead he pointed out aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. So many dead.

18835961_1689393117755062_7378684939370038878_n.jpg(A list of the 226 confirmed dead at No Gun Ri. Many of them very young, very old and women. )

No Gun Ri has become a place for peace. They work on  humanitarian causes and justice. One of their programs is a international youth peace conference held yearly. Students learn about human rights and peace.

Out of tragedy comes hope and peace. Lives shattered and rebuilt become a force for change in the world with zeal. Listening to the stories of No Gun Ri I am struck by a thought. Here are men and women whose lives were completely broken. As they spend decade after decade wanting answers and healing, their children are seeking truth and justice and simultaneously build peace around them. Their tragedy and suffering does not begin and end with their story.  They see it again and again happening all around and their efforts have become not only for their own healing and peace but for the sadness and peace of the world.  The strength to tell their stories of pain and use their empathy to create seeds of peace and justice in the world beyond themselves is reshaping my understanding of hope. 

IMG_8057.JPGThis mother actually gave birth to a baby under the bridge during the attack. The mother died. The trapped villagers  thought  the crying baby was causing the soldiers to continue firing so they convinced the father to drown the baby but the firing didn’t stop) 

Simply a Moment; Not Meant To Last

Something magical happened. Spring has come in all of its glory. After a few days of rain the blossoms on the trees sprang to life, covering them in a soft spring snow. The petals drifted from the flowers down to the ground, covering in a blanket of white. It was beautiful! If the thousands of petals practically floating, arranged on each tree forming delicate flowers is not a testament to the greater life and breath of the universe, then I am baffled.

IMG_2987.jpg(All the trees alight with blooms along the walk ways near my house.)

The most awe inspiring reality of these flowers is their immaculate beauty that vanishes within days; simply a moment not meant to last. The petals drawn of by rushing April Winds, fell to the ground like snow, the tree left stalky and plain, only the small green buds as a reminder its not the same tree as during winter.

Again magic happened and almost over night every bud on all the trees opened in to tiny adorable leaves. Their brilliant green color glistening in the warm sun, the trees seemed to sing, the petals just a prelude to the greater symphony of spring. Each day something new has arrived, some new flower or bird. I even saw a different cat fighting with our Alley Cat in Resident Dimitri. (He’s the orange one with a squashed face and missing his tail)IMG_2759

Like the thousands of petals spring seems to be made up of thousands of moments, delicately shaped together to create the vision of spring; each moment only lasting for a breath. Inhale into the the moment and exhale as it drifts by. KakaoTalk_Photo_2017-04-10-08-01-35-41

That is the case with my YAV year. It is simply moments followed by moments to compose a reality. Moments that drift on the wind to fall into memory.

There have been some beautiful moments here in Korea, and there have been some ugly ones.  A real rawness. Like holding up a mirror and really looking at yourself, blemishes and all. Realizing how you contribute to any given moment.  There have been moments composed of feelings, wanted and unwanted. They drift by like clouds. I am learning to let them come and go. Moments of words, soft and encouraging, harsh and hurtful. Sometimes these moments lead to other moments, moments of restoration, forgiveness and more words, sometimes they don’t.  KakaoTalk_Photo_2017-04-10-07-46-03-25(My friends and I took a trip to photograph the flowers…we were very silly about it) 

And moments with friends. The most invigorating and simultaneously hardest part is building friendships and knowing that within a few months I will be separated by thousands of miles and waters. And yet, that can not take away from the beauty of right now and the moments I can share. Knowing that something doesn’t last doesn’t make the cherry tree any less worthy or beautiful. I am not less inclined to enjoy my time with them knowing that in a few days they will be but a feint memory.  I am eager to share our moment together.  KakaoTalk_Photo_2017-04-10-08-01-35-67(These three ladies have made my time in Korea beautiful) 

As I write this, it is Easter Sunday. I can hear the birds chirp, the view outside my window is alive with the colors of life. I always forget how green it becomes when living in Winter. Easter always reminds me that whatever is happening that knowing that “this too shall pass.” Nothing lasts forever. Moments of hardship give way to joy. Moments of joy can be followed by despair. Always changing. Always moving. I am learning to observe the moment.

Breath, Trust and Be.

Just Keep Eating

You just watched a video I made while visiting a family for the Lunar New Year.

Korea recently celebrated the Lunar New Year, 설날, Seollal. It is the first day of the Lunar Holiday. People back home probably know of it as the Chinese New Year. 

Given the close historical ties between Korea and China through the centuries and the passage of ideas and culture, it is clear that much of the same traditional exist between the two. This year is the Year of the Roster. 

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It is one of the two large celebrations in Korea.  Families typically gather at the eldest son’s house with the grandparents. Many wear the traditional clothing Hanbok and partake in a bowing ceremony to honor the grandparents. Afterwards the children of the family receive money as gifts for the New Year.  Then there is a lot food, family activity, perhaps a visit the family ancestral burial ground to honor the ancestors and more food!

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I was invited by a friend of mine, Areum, to spend the weekend with her and her family in the Southern Ocean City of Ulsan. We got to ride the fastest train in Korea, the KTX. It went around 170 mph!

While visiting I got to meet the members of her very large family and extended family.  I ate so much I thought I was going to burst on multiple occasions.

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For all the subtle differences there was so much in common with family gatherings back home. We ate together, laughed together and shared stories about what had happened over the year.  It really was a beautiful time spent.

img_4602(Areum’s family. Her other sister took the picture and her older brother was in the Czech Republic and couldn’t come. )

Besides the main festivities on Saturday, Areum and her family took me on mini vacations as documented in the photos below. 

img_4378Exercising before all the food! 

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Taehwa River Seepri Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Forest – 대나무숲 –

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Taehwa River –

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img_4629This is the whale bridge. Ulsan has a special attachment to Whales. There are prehistorical drawings of them and they have a Whale festival every year. 

Oegosan Onggi Village (외고산옹기마을)

Onggi Potts are the traditional kimchi and sauce pots. Onggi Village is famous for its tradition of making the clay pots.

img_1829Broken Shards of pottery. 

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img_4599Just chilling in a kiln with Dream, Areum’s little sister. 

img_4628Who has the best face?

img_1838Magpies 까치 kkachi are everywhere in Korea!

Ganjeolgot – The Ocean at Ulsan 

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img_4789Maybe my packages won’t get lost! 

img_1852There are many myths and legends surrounding the sea and dragons. 

I feel very blessed that I was invited and welcomed into the family to celebrate a pretty intimate family holiday. Thank You Areum!

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Creating Happiness

Creating Happiness

Friends, as December and January comes to a close, the days have dwindled into darkness and then, slowly they’ve begun to grow longer with the returning light. Cold winds have swept through, even once, bringing with them snow! We light candles in the house and have left our christmas lights up to keep out the winter and chase away the cold. img_3229

I write to share of my holiday season and the moments of joy and happiness I’ve had.  That’s not to say that everything has been easy or filled with positive feelings. Rather, I have been coming to understand that happiness is created from within and shared outward. There have been many moments of hardship. We’ve learned about dark and troublesome histories and stories. There have been tears and questions, but there has also been hope.

The funny thing about hope, peace and happiness is it doesn’t come from the lack of negative, contrary, a recognition of those unpleasant things and their acknowledgment, owning them and holding them together as one with the good. If we sit quietly with it all  let them be, but not rule, we are able to begin creating the space for happiness, peace and hope.

Its a lot of work. It is not an easy process.  Sitting in discomfort never is, but it’s one I am willing working at and learning what it means to create my peace in the world.

Now enjoy some pictures of my happy moments!

Blessings,

img_3383My Christmas Selfie! Although I wasn’t home in the States with my family, I felt very welcomed and loved in Korea. 

img_3482Some bus drivers went all out with decorations! There is nothing like christmas bells being thrown from side to side as the buses hurdle around corners. 

 

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One of the actives that we did at our sites was to make Christmas Cards with the Children. Some of them got really into it. Others were more interested in cutting paper into tiny pieces and sprinkling it on the floor. 

img_1252But we made some mighty fine cards! 

img_3473Our Christmas day night activity was binge watching our favorite Korean Drama, “Second to Last Love” Don’t tell anyone, but apparently it is a show for Moms. We like it anyway. Besides, Chief Ko is our favorite. 

img_3365The Sunday School class I work with all decked out for Christmas Sunday 

img_3589You know. Just pushing larger bell ringers…

This is Woori. She is awesome. She works with me. We like to take really silly photos together. 

img_3086Another site I work at is a Homeless Support Center. That day is always an adventure and I’m never sure what we will be doing. On this particular day we trimmed hundreds of red peppers…then sang songs. 

img_3109A glimpse of the food ready to have rice scooped and served at a local soup kitchen we work at. It’s a really face paced excursion where you learn on the go. If you don’t keep up,  or know what to do the older woman who run the show just shove you to where you need to be and you keep going. I am really grateful for this site. 

img_3535Meet Grandfather. He’s pretty cool. I like him. 

 

A Glimpse of Fall

With the dawning of morning November has come and gone like colored leaves ripped from the the trees and ran rampant on the wind. Frankly much of November has blurred together in memories of reds, oranges and yellows. The days were, at first, filled with Korean class, study trips and volunteer work. After a very stressful week, and tests in Korean where I affirmed I was barely a beginner I am proud to say I passed level one of Korean.

The last week of November itself was a whirlwind adventure to Seoul where we started to unpack the history and pain of the Korean peninsula over the last one hundred years. That however, will be a series of other blogs over the next while.

November was busy. Let the pictures tell the story.

For more pictures and stories visit —

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/KoreaYAV/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lgriffit10/?hl=en)

 

img_2510The leaves lasted well into November, the colors getting only brighter and more diverse. 

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Reeds in the Fallimg_2286
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my city,  Daejeon
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Band Album:Sauem Kids
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Shadow Squad Unite!
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When neither one wants to do anything

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The leaf is the size of my shoe!
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Traditional Drums (Buk)
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Biggest Drum in the World!
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I’d die is it rolled over me.
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Trying to play Gayageum
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We passed class!
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Doctor Strange was Epic! 
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Coffee time with Woori
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I made this bird!
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I let the kids take pictures on my big camera. Not bad.

a language without words:

a language without words:

I crouch down to be eye level with a small girl. For the thousand time I attempt to say her name 열완 (Ryeo-won). It comes out a mess of vowels and sounds, tumbling over my tongue, expelled in chaos and very far from how you say her name. 열완 stares at me, blinking several times in exasperation before slowly and loudly saying each syllable. If she could roll her eyes  she would, but I think my title as teacher is the only thing saving me from her letting loose the full barrage of attitude. I repeat after her, painful slow. “Okay.” She responds equally as slow and loud as before, giving me her approval of her butchered name, her disbelief at my struggles plain displayed on her face. Our interaction ends and she goes back to the other children. I once again schooled by a 8 year old child.

IMG_1802 (1).jpg(The feeling or 기분 (Gi-boon) chat. How are you feeling today?) 

This is a daily occurrence at my work site. I am constantly in awe of the children’s use of simple English sentences to communicate with me, when I can barely manage to say their two syllable name the same way twice, let alone a full thought. Mostly they speak quickly in Korean at me, not waiting for my struggling brain to catch up. Alternatively they snicker openly at my poor attempts of piecing together a sentence.

fullsizerender-1(What did you do last week? Did it involve butterflies and rivers? )

I am volunteering at a Children’s Center called Saeum. It is on the outskirts of Deajeon, a  mere 50 minute bus ride for me. The site provides  homework help, extracurricular activities and a hot meal after school to children living on or below the poverty line. All the children family’s receive welfare and make less then a certain income.  The center is run by a pastor, 목사님 (pastor in Korean, Mok-sa-neem) and his wife 사모님 (Soe-sa-neem). The two of them have such love and passion for the work that they do, that I am constantly finding myself honored to be a part of their organization.  I think caring for members of one’s own community  is such important work; work that is frequently overlooked. Often when people think of helping poverty they ignore their own communities and backdoor poverty,  instead look to far off countries to “save”. Ironic then that I have fallen into this same paradox, serving communities outside of my home and country. Living and working in Korea, has made me begin to think of ways that I can continue to serve whatever community I am living in.

img_1814(What starts out as a meaningful activity pretty quickly turns silliness.) 

Some days the language gap between the children and I  is less. The days in which a Korean “Buddy” Volunteers with me. On those days we lead games and lessons together, hoping to make the children laugh. Other days, it is just me and we end up playing games that take little language to communicate or tried and true favorites.  My children’s favorite words are “Outside” and “Poor Kitty” (a game in which you pretend to be a cat, and attempt to make other laugh.)

img_1808(Sometimes is really fun to draw silly pictures together!) 

Laughter is universal. People are born knowing in their heart how to laugh. Its the small moments of watching a ten year old crawl around meowing while the seven other children roll on the floor laughing that reminds me the spoken language is but one of many ways we build relationships. A helpful and convenient way, but not always required.

We have also been playing theatre games and music. Recently we have been miming extraordinary adventures with balloons, bikes and ladders and creating rhythms with our bodies. I am discovering each day the joy of learning to express one’s self without spoken word.

img_0295(Music is one of the most universal languages!) 

I get to spend time with three different groups, a younger, lower elementary group of roughly 7 children, an upper elementary group of 8 and 3 lovely middle school girls.  The younger children have taken it upon themselves to teach me all the outside games that are the most enjoyable. Using over exasperated motions, cutting over top of each other they explain.

img_1297(My Monday Buddy 수휘. We spend a lot of time laughing on the bus together, or just waiting for the bus that we missed…..)

As weeks go by,I have begun to realize that its not just games they are teaching. All the children are teaching me about Korean life.  They are teaching me the rules; the expected behaviors and customs of their life and world. ( I was loudly corrected for putting the wrong piece of recycling in the wrong bin by one of the youngest students.) I am a stranger in their land and they have graciously taken me in. At times I see them look at me in confusion, wondering how I ever managed to get so big and still have so little understanding of the basic things.

I have entered their world; I am more of their student then they are mine.