In my mom's weekly letters from Africa she sometimes highlights the people they meet, occasionally focusing on those who have gone through devastating experiences and how they must adapt to the world as they know it. I was reminded of that today (and also reminded of how blessed my life has been) when Margaret and I went to get a pedicure, of all things. We are heading to Thailand later this week and I thought it would be fun to get pedicures and have cute toes since we'll be barefoot on the beach all week. Going to salons of this type are fairly inexpensive (case in point, we ended up getting manicures and pedicures and it cost us about $30 each) so we left the kids with Michael and went to enjoy our pampering. There were 2 girls helping us, one from India and the other from Sri Lanka, both of whom were outlandishly solicitous and good at their jobs. Both missed their homes, missed their families, their native food, other comforts of home, but the one from Sri Lanka has no hope of ever returning. At least, she hopes never to return. She is here under refugee status because of the intensifying civil war in Sri Lanka. I knew the atmosphere there was unstable, but I was sadly unaware of the danger faced by even civilians because of the fighting going on. Only a few weeks ago there was a bombing that killed several police officers as well as civilians near the capitol. I wondered, initially, about the sometimes ridiculous media that we cling to in the US, the biased slants either toward or against the political party of the day, the microscopic focus that is given to areas of the world where we have a political interest, and the utter neglect that is shown to others simply because it doesn't seem to be the trendy thing to do. (HOW many years has there been repression in Tibet and it's only recently come out on the forefront again because of the Olympics coming up???)
Anyway, my other thoughts lingered on this woman and her prospects in life. Her refugee status will possibly be only good for another year or so, and then the Malaysian government may decide they want her to go back to her home country. What then? She can't go back and she never wants to (although she left her only surviving sister there-- the rest of her family was killed by a bomb when she was 11 years old) but where will she go? Her options are to wander around from country to country, completely destitute and without connections, hoping to achieve refugee status; or she can stay in Malaysia and pray that she never gets picked up by police-- or that if she does, she has enough cash on her to bribe them (usually hundreds of ringgit at a time--the amount she shelled out regularly for 8 months before she was able to secure her refugee status) so they won't send her to jail or, worse, a citizen-run work camp where people are abused or killed indiscriminately and never given their promised reward for the labor they are forced to perform.
Suddenly I felt very small, sitting in my throne-like chair, being waited on by these beautiful women massaging my hands and feet, and I was almost tempted to ask them to sit down, to let us serve them instead. We left them a larger-than-usual tip, but it felt like such a ridiculously tiny thing to do, an inadequate way to show concern for our sisters on this earth. So I came away with cute nails and soft feet, but a slightly guilty heart because of my inability to make life better for this woman. Is a little extra cash, a smile and a concerned heart enough to help someone carry a heavy load? Unfortunately, I don't think so. And there are so many with stories like that, people who are fighting to triumph over incredibly odds, and yet most of them keep trying & fighting, showing unconquerable spirit and determination to survive and even thrive under these circumstances. I have to wonder...would I do the same? Would you?