Thursday, September 12, 2013

Under the open sky

On my eighteenth birthday

I love adventures.

When I was eighteen, I went on a medical service trip in the jungles of Borneo. My dad came home one evening and informed me that some of his acquaintances, a group of doctors and nurses, had just arrived from Singapore. They were scheduled to leave for the rainforests the next morning. And he asked me whether I wanted to go. (I know, I have the coolest dad ever.)

I said yes. A thousand times yes.

I left the next day, with a bag pack across my shoulder, and a heart so full I thought it would burst.

I drank it all in. I, the city girl, sat in the back of a pick-up truck, with no hood, the wind in my hair and sun on my face. We traveled on twisty, gravel roads the first day, and on narrow boats in a rushing, yellow river the second day. It was legitimately dangerous.

There was no electricity and no running water. The nights were dark. The sky was navy blue, dotted with a billion stars. While the others slept, I watched the fireflies and the shadow of a pig roaming for food. We slept on the ground. I washed myself under the open sky (with clothes on).

The entire village was a long, long house divided into about 40 narrow sections. Each family lived in one section. The villagers were poor, but generous. They fed us well, with tapioca starch from the trees. It tasted like glue, with sides of meat and vegetables. We were all very hungry. We drank coconut water straight from the trees.

The doctors examined and treated people all day. They assigned me to dispense the medications because I spoke Malay. Most people's teeth had rotted to the roots. The dentist who came with us plucked hundreds of teeth per day while we were there. We gave away toothbrushes and sang with the children.

I was enthralled. The week was magical. I was eighteen and life was just beginning. I wanted that week to last for a long, long time.

I fell asleep last night remembering that girl. It all seemed so far away. "Adventurous" would be one of the last adjectives I would use to describe the life of a stay-at-home mom. "Dangerous" would not be a good word either. In fact, I spend most of the day keeping the three boys away from danger.

But last night, I sat with the eighteen-year-old me. We chatted under the open sky, dotted with a billion stars. I showed her what her life would look like in thirteen years. I introduced her to her three boys, and to Hans, who would be the love of her life.

She cried. She didn't flinch at the thought of being a boy mom, or at the knowledge of her unsuccessful potty-training, or being a novice at homeschooling (probably because she was completely clueless). She was braver than me, to be sure, and so happy to be alive. She thought my life as a mom was pretty adventurous, and legitimately dangerous.

And so it is.


Catherine said...

:) you always have a way with your stories. love! :)

"legitimately dangerous" hehe :)
i love you!

Thomas.Laura Tsen said...

Wow! Pa didn't think that adventurous rain-forest experience can have such a deep impact in Ling's life, even after 13 years!! Praise the Lord!! Thanks for sharing this nicely written beautiful life story.:)!! :-) By the way, you've a coolest dad is because you have the most coolest mom on earth who have made all of you the coolest girls at pama's home!!;-) haha...:-)

Jean Tsen said...

I laughed and then almost cried with you at the end. You are still pretty adventurous to me, except with more wit and mindfulness of others you are now responsible for. :) Love you!

Jean Tsen said...

Lol papa's comment! Awww....!

Laura Z. Sowers said...

Wonderful story--beautifully written

Jean Tsen said...

Ohh...mmmmmm...lao po piang

Anonymous said...

Refreshingly insightful. Thank you, Christie Mun

E! said...


Boxed coconut water never could compare.

E! said...

p.s. i keep imagining you bopping to the tune of your conversation with yourself...

"Do you hear me? I'm talking to you across the water across the deep blue ocean under the open sky, oh my..."

Irene Sun said...

Esther, You note is full of new things! Thank you for forwarding that article on Congo's mothers to me. Very sobering. I've never heard of the song "Lucky" -- very pleasant to the ears! Catchy. =) Lastly, I have never tried boxed coconut water. Are they any good?

Ruth@GraceLaced said...

Love this, Irene! "legitimately dangerous"...yup, full of adventure. Thankful the Lord gives us new desires of the heart.

E! said...

Zico is a good brand to try of coconut water. It is cheaper at Trader Joes than elsewhere. And high in potassium and isotonic goodness.

I love your papas comment.