After lunch at the aunt’s house, we went back to visit with the grandparents again, and I tried out one of my conversation starters in B language with the grandmother, a woman in her 70s: “Have you ever been to JH?” I was shocked to hear her answer. Not only has she never been to JH, she’s never been any further away than the tiny market town at the bottom of the mountain road. In over 70 years of life, she’s never traveled more than a 90 minute drive from her home. She told me that when she was younger, she was in a tractor wreck, and she never got in another moving vehicle again after that. Amazing.
She asked me if JH was my hometown—to her (and many others) a Chinese person from JH is just as much an outsider on the mountain as a foreigner is. I told her no, I’m from America. She asked how far away that is. I told her it’s very far. She asked if you could get there in three or four days by driving a car. I told her no, it’s much further than that, and you have to fly in an airplane to get there. She asked, well, if you were to drive a car, how many days do you think it would take? I told her I guessed it would be at least more than thirty days, but there’s an ocean, so it’s really impossible. I think the concept of an ocean was more than she could comprehend, having never seen more water than the small river that runs by the New Village. So I just decided to leave it at that: America is at least more than thirty days’ drive from B Mountain.
I continue to be astounded by the fact that I can now communicate with this incredible woman who raised ten children in this small wood home. In over 70 years she’s never been off the mountain where she was born and raised, in what we would consider the middle of nowhere in SE Asia, and for the first time in over five years of living here, I had a conversation with someone like her without a translator. In the past, I would have just sat and smiled at her, and she probably would have patted her hand on my knee, and we would have taken a picture together, and I would have looked back and thought, “What a sweet little old grandmother. Wish I could talk to her.” And now I can! Only by the grace of God.
We said our goodbyes to the grandparents and headed back down the path to the main road to the New Village and Colleen’s home. She and her sister collected leaves off of vines along the way to make in a soup for dinner. She asked me if I’d ever eaten so many wild plants in my life; I assured her that no, I had never eaten as many wild berries, fruit, mushrooms, and leaves as I had at her house.
I spent the evening sitting on the porch outside her family’s home, enjoying the coolness of the air and resting my feet and my mind after the long but enjoyable day on the mountain. YGS came skipping down the road, looking up at the balcony as she approached the house and waving both her arms as she saw me sitting there. She ran up the stairs and flung herself at me in a great hug. I asked her where she was going. She said, “I came here to look for you!” She sat in my lap and told me about her day, and I tried to tell her what all we had done that day. The same as Colleen’s grandmother, YGS is another person who I had never been able to communicate with in the past on my trips to B villages. Children who haven’t been to school and can’t speak Chinese are usually very shy around me, but just being able to speak a few halting sentences in B language opened wide the door for me to have a new little friend in YGS. Throughout my two days there, I often prayed silently for her as she sat in my lap or as she led me by the hand down the village path.