Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reality check, Chinese style

(sadly, making the photos vertical is beyond my capabilites, turn your monitor on its side instead)

Okay, so where was I? I was conscientious with the blog when I was waking up at 4:00 am, but I’m sleeping longer and not doing as good. I don’t think I’ve told you about our field trip on Friday morning. Our guide Matthew is the site coordinator for GGEF and that job title doesn’t really begin to describe what he does. Nine years ago, an adoptive parent, she’s a social worker in New York, created a 501(c)(3) to direct funds to under-privileged and orphan girls in Guangxi Province to help get them through school: break the poverty cycle and give them a childhood. It grew slowly and Matthew Xu, our guide in Nanning this year and last year, volunteered his services when he was not ranging all over China working as a China guide for Holt International (a big US agency). Two years ago he started working for GGEF full time but it’s still really small. They have 180 girls in the program. I think the link is So, Friday morning, we went with Matthew and his assistant to a village about 30 minutes outside of Nanning. In all of my trips to China, this is the first time I’ve made it out of the big cities we stay in to process the adoptions and hit the countryside.

We were on a really nice new two lane highway all the way until we pulled to the side to pick up Mr. Tong. Mr. Tong is just a local guy (one of many) who keeps his ears open to learn about girls who could qualify for GGEF support. Mr. Tong directed the driver to pull off on a fairly good, by Southeastern Idaho standards, dirt road and we drove for a few more miles until the road got not so good and we soon saw the local teacher by the side of the road whose only English was “Long live Chairman Mao.” He lead us the rest of the way, half-mile tops, to a clutch of homes on a little rise where we were invited into the first home. I didn’t feel right taking pictures inside, I probably should have tried, but it was pretty dismal. Open fire pit in the middle of the room, sick dog sitting in own urine at back of room, dirt floor, well, just out-building like. This is where the little six-year-old girl we were to meet lived with her paternal grandmother. Her father was killed four years ago in a car accident and her mother disappeared two years ago and if that child has smiled in the past two years, I would be very surprised.

Matthew had suggested that I bring a small gift, but I really had no idea what we were doing, where we were going, but here I stood with a stupid bag filled with hotel tooth brushes and combs, a few Mentos and strange treats YuYu’s mom had brought and I knew we couldn’t eat and they have NOTHING. I wish I had known what to expect, I would have gone better prepared. On the other hand, there would have been no preparing me, I had no frame of reference for people living in such meager circumstances like that. I had my back pack with an extra sweater for YuYu, some granola bars, some Wahaha drinks, stupid stuff, and when I walked away from her, the back pack was empty down to the last stick of Trident. Her little cousins wandered over to see what was going on and one little girl was wearing only one shoe and I gave the grandma a 100 yuan ($12 big deal) and told her to buy pretty shoes for the girls, yeah, that’s their top priority. I gave the teacher 200 yuan for a special treat for his students for Chinese New Year and Mr. Tong 100 yuan just because. I’ll sponsor this little girl through school. If she has the desire to walk 1.5 hours each way to elementary school and then off to board at middle school when she is only in fourth grade, she’s stronger and braver than I ever could imagine a child should have to be and I want to be a part of that, definitely.

We left the village and drove back into FuLi, the town where the middle school I located. We were there to meet four girls sponsored by GGEF (and me again with another stupid bag of rejected Chinese snacks and hotel tooth brushes and not even enough of those). When we entered the school yard, the little kids wanted nothing to do with me and if I looked their way, they ran the other way. That is until I took a photo and showed them there faces on the digital screen and then that was all she wrote, I was swarmed by beautiful kids trying their hardest to see their own faces in the screen. After each photo I turned the camera and they would yell in unison, WAH, and on and on, it was a hoot. I met the four girls and told them how impressed I was that they could live away at school at such a young age, completely in charge of feeding, dressing, bathing, studying on their own. They were probably thinking, yeah, what’s the big deal, we’ve been doing since we were nine, get over it.

We left the school and drove into FuLi so I could see a country market. Every three days, the vendors set up on the main drag and sell mostly produce, but there was everything edible that you could imagine. We walked down the market street and I wanted to snap pictures of everyone and everything, it was just so darned authentic. I loved it.

Then back in the bus to Nanning, where for $250 I bought a new, pretty big, Haier (they make everything, you name it and this company makes/labels it, just everything) refrigerator for the three women who live/work in the GGEF office. They don’t have a fridge. How can you have quality of life without a fridge? Well to my way of thinking, you can’t, so now they have a slick little fridge.

We had dinner with an adoptive dad who sponsors 30 girls in GGEF, wow. He just flew in from Ohio and was also staying at the Majestic. He wants to maintain ties with the small village where his oldest daughter was abandoned and has even bigger plans for a girls education program. Where do people get the vision and confidence to take these big ideas and put them in action? The Ohio dad and his wife had worked in China for three years, so he is familiar with the way things work here, but still, I’m so impressed with these parent initiated foundations that have sprung up over the past several years.

Okay, I’m tired. I’ll catch up on Nora news tomorrow. We had a good day, she let me hold her, she fed me fruit, she apologized to the woman she burned with a joss stick at a temple (and boy she didn’t want to), but on the cruise tonight, she wanted anywhere but by me, and when I had to stop her from walking away from me to the end of the boat where I couldn’t see her, she cried for mama (not me) and but mostly angry, not sad. She’s a handful. More later.


Holly said...

Marji - I am humbled by you. You have a huge heart and drive. You see yourself as having arrived with a handful of hotel toothbrushes ... but really ... you have seen and you have spoken. You have opened untold eyes. And, you have lit a fire in who knows how many hearts and wallets. You matter. Watch and see. Love,

Marcia said...

Marji - I just today found your blog, after Stefani said that you were posting some incredible posts. And, you were! My goodness! I want to help with that education fund thing, especially since our first daughter from China comes from Guangxi Province.
One question -- what is it with Chinese kids doing peace signs for the camera? Almost every time a Chinese child poses for the camera, they shoot a peace sign. Any ideas on that??

Marcia said...

Like, I mean, does it really mean "peace"?