Tag Archives: Mexico

LSS: Words of wisdom from across the world

Thursday night we had one of those gatherings of people around our dinner table that, for me, was a thing of beauty.

Of the eight folks at our table, we were born in five different countries. Four of us were born here in the United States of America. The other countries represented were Iran, Japan, Mexico and China.

After an hour or so of polite, but interesting chit-chat, we got into one of those rare and wonderful conversations that goes beyond pleasantries and gets to the heart of things. We started talking about the complexities of relationships, focusing most of our attentions on marriage, parent/child and siblings. The interesting part of the conversation was that while there were a few subtle cultural differences, we had all really come to most of the same conclusions about how to make things work or smooth things over. I asked my guests to consider their culture and offer insights regarding how to make relationships work.

The Cajun spoke first.

“Pick your battles,” my friend Debra Broussard Taghehchian said.

“Act like you want to do it — not like you have to,” said her daughter, Layla.

And then Debra’s husband, Saeed Taghehchian, who is from Iran, offered a Persian jewel of wisdom: “It’s a lot easier to change myself than trying to change you.”

With that one, we all gave a hearty, “Amen.”

Jiro Hatano, our friend visiting from Japan, had been quiet through much of the conversation, but with Saeed’s sage adage, Jiro grabbed his handy-dandy translator and started translating ideas and axioms from Japanese into English. With each, he would do his best to explain its meaning and context.

“His conduct betrayed his upbringing,” was the first translated from Japanese and prompted much discussion. Should the verb be betrayed or portrayed? Was Jiro trying to say the Japanese equivalent of, “He was raised to know better,” or, “Raised as he was, this is what you should expect”?

Jiro said it was the latter. Basically, you get out what you put in.

The second Japanese advice on making relationships work was: You’ll give yourself away every time you open your mouth.

In other words, keep your mouth closed whenever possible.

The third was the most difficult to translate. Jiro’s original version of the sentence was enigmatic:

Inscrutable are the ways of heaven.

After much discussion, he explained its meaning: We can’t predict the future. The way of life is changing always. If we have trouble now, that trouble could turn to happiness one day.

Jiro’s thoughts inspired another Persian insight from Saeed. The first, loosely translated is: Taking the high road sometimes requires keeping your mouth shut.

“Sometimes we say in Iran, if you don’t want to lose, don’t fight,” Saeed said.

My husband, originally from Mexico, agreed and decided it was time to enter the discussion.

“For me, it’s about managing the moment,” he said. “You can’t make your decision about how you’re going to react to one thing by thinking about the future or by thinking about the past. You’ve got to do the right thing based on the circumstances at hand. If you mind that, those moments become cumulative. It’s collecting the little pieces that make a long chain.”

And with that, we finished our sherbet and agreed that if the eight of us from such different backgrounds and family situations could find such common ground around a dinner table in Louisiana, global concord is surely within reach.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Locating a fellow traveler

Sometimes, complicated things come together with little doing of our own and present a surprising moment of magic.

There are several separate pieces to this story.

No. 1: My great-uncle was a foreign missionary. His family traveled to and lived in places the rest of us read about or saw in books and magazines. When I was a little girl, every four years or so, my uncle Guy and his family would come home to Mississippi on furlough, and our whole extended mega-family would stop everything and go to my great-grandmother’s house for days.

By that time, my uncle’s many brothers and sisters had families of their own — so, we’re talking about a significant crowd of folks getting together, telling stories, listening to stories and just hanging out. I will always be grateful to have been a part of a family that valued coming together, with no real plans other than to be there for each other.

Without any doubt, his family’s travels and tales of foreign places planted the seeds of travel in my own future.

No. 2: Shortly after I met the man who would eventually become my husband, I started trying to figure out his family’s story, which was a tale with a lot more twists and turns than anyone else’s I knew.

Back in the mid-1800s, my husband’s father’s family came to Mexico from different places in Europe. His great-grandfather’s family was from France. His great-grandmother’s family was from Prague. Through the years, his cousins have filled in many of other details. Along the way, I’ve gathered that one of his ancient relatives was a botanist of some renown. In fact, in Prague, there was a statue of this man, whose name was Benedikt Roezl.

No. 3: Two weeks ago I found out I would be traveling to Prague for work. I hadn’t been to Prague since 1993, the year I lived in Slovakia teaching English. Back then, friends and I made several trips to the city. It was, then, so full of unfolding beauty. Even back in 1993, though my husband and I weren’t married yet, I knew about Benedikt Roezl and his supposed statue. I spent some time looking for it — with what turned out to be the wrong spelling of his last name, I got nowhere. Still, when friends and I were in small parks around the city, I always kept my eyes peeled.

This week, armed with more information, including the right spelling of my husband’s great uncle’s name and a general idea of where the statue should be.

Shortly after I got here, my uncle Guy’s oldest daughter — also a foreign missionary whom I hadn’t seen in more than two decades — sent me a message saying that she and her husband live in Prague and I should come visit with them. My work colleagues and I had a busy week planned. I wasn’t sure a visit would work out, but on Thursday night, I was pleased to find myself at her dinner table in great conversation with her and her husband.

I told them the story of my husband’s long lost uncle and where I believed the statue to be. My cousin, Melinda Kyzar, said, “That park isn’t far from here at all. We should go after dinner.”

Even though I had seen pictures of it, there was a real possibility that this statue, which had been erected more than a hundred years ago, would not be there. After dinner, the three of us took a tram toward the park. Once there, we had to make a decision to go left or right. It was a sizable park. Melinda’s husband said, “I have a feeling that it’s this way.”

I agreed, and we started walking along a large path that twisted and turned, much like this story.

As we made our way around a curve, we saw a huge statue at the end of the park. I was amazed. This was a monumental (literally) monument.

And sure enough, it was Benedikt Roezl. Under his statue, along with his name and the dates of his birth and death was an inscription, along with two words to describe him. The first one, I could make out. It was the Czech word for “botanist.” But I couldn’t figure out the second one. It was, “Cestovateli.”

My cousin’s husband, Russell, said, “That word means traveler.”

And with that, I smiled, and felt a certain kinship with old fellow.

Email Jan at jan@janrisher.com

LSS: Mexican border a harsh reality

Living with the Mexican border in sight from my kitchen window changed me.
In 2001, after six years of living in El Paso, Texas, my family and I moved to Lafayette. Before living in El Paso, I thought of the border one dimensionally — a line drawn in the sand delineating one country from another. I didn’t realize how interconnected the lives, economies and cultures the two sides of that line were.
One experience reinforced that insight for me more than any other. On the day school started one fall, I unexpectedly ended up filling in for a third-grade teacher in one of El Paso’s small parochial schools. The school asked if I would help until they found a permanent replacement.
When I walked in the class and realized five of the nine students lived in Juarez and crossed the border every morning and afternoon, I was amazed. Even back then, crossing the border on a daily basis was not for the faint of heart.
Falling in love with that class didn’t take long. As these things happen, I happily completed the school year.
In the last decade, I lost touch with all but one of those third graders. As I’ve learned about the horrors of Juarez and its climb to become the most dangerous city in the world, I’ve thought of those sweet children.
Listening to radio stories about massacres at children’s birthday parties or the Juarez symphony playing on in the midst of so much terror, I’ve sat in my car and cried wondering about those students and their wonderful families.
I’ve comforted myself with this thought, “Surely, their families have gotten out of Juarez by now,” — without much contemplation of the fates and fear the other 1.5 million of the city must be experiencing.
Last week, via the miracle of facebook, I re-connected with all seven girls from the class. They’re all in college on this side of the border. To my shock, only one of their families has left Juarez.
For certain, at 20 years old, these girls have known more fear and heartache than I can comprehend. Here is what they have written to me this week.
In response to my sadness over Juarez, one wrote, “We have had to change our way of life quite a bit, but we are OK. It is still livable over here, so please don’t cry anymore.”
Another who attends college on the East Coast was more descriptive.
“I wouldn’t say the news is exaggerating. If I truly acknowledge how much fear is in my surroundings, I would never leave my house. …Even though our city is falling apart (because that is what is really happening), we still manage to do our daily chores.”
Some have not learned to drive because of the dangers cars pose. They rarely, if ever, answer the phone because of fake and real kidnapping threats. Fear is a part of every day existence.
“I am not saying this fear is present all the time,” one wrote. “I forget a lot when I am there, but little sounds around the house or outside still make me panic and remember that fear.”
My former students and their families have endured threats of kidnappings, homes broken into and the deaths of friends and family members at the wrong place at the wrong time.
They simply live scared and scarred these days, unsure how to proceed.
“So,” as one wrote, “that is life in Juarez.”