Experience from Mekong Peace Journey (MPJ) 2012

by Nguyen Thi Anh Thu (Apple), Vietnamese


The Flows of Water, Peace, Insight, Life, Inspiration, Friendship and River are flowing within Me!

I heard the Mekong before I saw it. Yes, I heard the Mekong so many times in geography class since I was young. I saw the Mekong before I felt it. Yes, I used to view the Mekong from the perception of learner. The fact is that the most beautiful thing in the world must be felt, neither heard nor seen… Lucky me, after 22 days in MPJ 2012, I finally could feel the Mekong with all its beauty, abundance, meaning, and life. The feeling when you can feel something strong inside you, something sweeps freely and deeply into your mind and your heart, it should be a moment of illumination and epiphany. I name that moment as the title goes “the Mekong River Flows Within Me”.

 The Flows of Water
I already know that the Chinese government has begun building a series of eight dams on its part of the Mekong. Nevertheless, there is one thing that I did not recognize until I was here in our MPJ discussion over dam construction is that the discussion could get hotter and hotter. Participants together can easily provide a long list of clues in defense of dam construction. Deterioration in environmental landscape and local livelihood are often come first in the list. Things become worse when I actually witnessed, in the community visit, a similar construction works of a bridge across the Mekong River between the border of Thailand and Laos to facilitate the cargo transportation.  I am not sure how much money generated from this project, but it was displeasure to see a Chinese company exploiting the local resources while the indigenous people are not aware of what they are losing. I do not dare to think of someday when the Mekong runs out of fish, and suffers from the changing currents. They are actually creating conflict over the flows that we shared in the Mekong Sub-region, aren’t they? When we consider the pluralism in Mekong lives, we will agree that the impacts will not be small. Is this interference a sign of future sustainable prosperity or the new imperialism in the heart of the “Mother of Water?”.

The fighting of local people and NGO against the construction of damps over the Mekong River has often been ignored due to the absence of media or the lost of the interests from people. We, participants are lucky to hear something of that voice, largely thanks to the persistence of Mrs. Kru Tee (from current Natural Resources Protection Network, or previous Love Chiangkhong Group). It’s really great to know that someone tries to do something on his capacity to protect the Mekong. It’s really true that the Mekong and her people are facing a serious situation “prosperity or destruction”? We need more people like him working to stop destructive developments for the Mekong’s sustainability. Change for peace is that we need as soon as we realize “the flows of Mekong” is under conflict.

The Flows of Peace
In my mind, Peace concept used to be considered in the macro degree of the whole region or the world which embraces the absence of physical violence. In this sense, peace comes from political perspectives and stay far from my life experiences. It was until the game of life mapping that I came to see the light. The creation of my life line not only gave me a chance to look at my life in retrospect, but also a mindful practice to analyze the substance of my inner peace as well as the inmost conflicts. This kind of self-dialogue kept me focused on the question what personal peace actually meant to me, and how to achieve the peace in me. In a mixed group, though different member from different background in different countries owns different life map, we still found it easy to fill in the form of Conflict Transformation for Self-Peace and for holistic Peace. This is to say that in spite of diversified life experiences among us, we, human, are in search of the same kind of peace in mind. Life is made up with sob, sniffles, smile, conflict and peace; however, peace predominates – that is what we all want to make sure in every stage of our life.

Taking Life Experience as a Case Study in the game of Life MappingTaking Life Experience as a Case Study in the game of Life Mapping

Then, it downed on my mind that if conflict is an ongoing evolution of human life, why do we need to resolve it? Of course, peace and conflict are like black and white in the kaleidoscope of our life; for they create the motivation for change in our life. Thus, without personal conflict, life would be easier without challenge but probably less advanced and interesting. If we consider the upward and downward points as peace and conflicts in our life line, just through conflict transformation, we are able to create the next HAPPIER Ups and Downs than previous ones. Therefore, what we can learn from a miserable life experiences is that way to transform the conflict it involves into what we consider peace in our mind. Life, what is it? Is it a lesson of conflict transformation toward the peace in mind? Ecstasy of life, what is it? Is it the road of conflict transformation? Peace in mind, how to achieve it? Does it starts by self-awareness, self-reflection, by knowing your own inmost conflicts, or in other words, to be aware of how different your expected life goals and the current situation is… and compromise it.

Picture2Conflict Transformation for Self-Peace by a Mixed Group

This is the resulting model in the Activity of Life Mapping in which participants had the chance to reflect on their personal journey, share their own life stories, used their self-experience as a case study to apply the above model to achieve personal peace. By knowing the characteristics of personal peace, conflict conditions in their life, participants were familiarized with how to transform these conflicts into peace to create the inner peace.

My learning buddy impressed me with the idea of Monkey mind. People are easily distracted by a bunch of work they need to fulfill at the same time. At some point in life, the burdens of workload are so heavy which we react the situation without control. What shall we need? The answer is: “BE IN PRESENT”. That means staying devote yourself to one thing; focus on everything you are doing, on every step you are making, on every goal you are planning. Also, appreciating what you possess, especially emotionally. Instead of hiding yourself from conflict, bravely face it by stepping back initially, rationally considering the problem, making the best choice to respond to the situation carefully and responsibly, and saving a silent meditation period for yourself to listen to your own feeling to learn from the experience without self-criticizing. Be true to myself in silence sometimes speaks more than words about my life. In this sense, peace, for me, is gained when I can recognize that I can make me a better Me than who I was yesterday. With the flows of Peace within me, I will find myself slipping in the mind set of deep listening, dialogue, without the trap of prejudice.

The Flows of Insight
Most of the workshops came as the re-awakening; a moment of enlightenment for me. Lessons did touch my heart to get to know what real meaning of Dialogue, Deep Listening, inter-religion, Reconciliation, Culture of Peace and Global Ethics. I used to be a kind of person who are eager to know the outside world, but the session directs me to Dialogue with myself, read myself, and appreciate the inmost world in myself because the most beautiful learning is not from outside world, it will start from within self-understanding. What I’ll never forget is the sound of Noble Silent to understand our friends in the sessions of Dialogue, Deep listening and Inner peace.

Picture3In memory of the session of Dialogue, Deep Listening and Inner Peace

I also love the conclusion of the resource person that once you understand yourselves, never give up to engage people in dialogue to solve conflict because nobody know how to do until they involve in dialogue. In all cases, you can keep your position but try to listen to others and be open-minded, and sometimes you need to think outside of the box in a certain circumstance to get the holistic view of PEACE. Sometimes, you will realize that the resulting change appears from the little thing in the bottom level. When we are shown the story of a child in the video “You Move Country Move”, participants totally agree with that everyone who has a value, and wants to contribute to the community, the connectedness in the Culture of Peace will facilitate the dialogue among related people and enable to carry out the initiative to make a CHANGE. It is the youth spirit that I was able to see it as my Identity after the session of Hannah and I feel that everyone, no matter how old they are, still possess such spirit to change our world to become better, it is how we encourage Dialogue will decide. Then what I need to do is to apply the secret of 3 stages in conduct Dialogue in daily life by the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, change will come with violence diminished.

There is one thing never change that peace and its undesired company – conflict are such the inevitability of my life. Yet, for one thing that I am sure that my capacity to learn about people and embrace new ideas will be a valuable set of personal tools as I continue my life. “The Flows of Mekong within me” obviously enriches and opens my mind by being able to derive a lot insight into human psyche and embrace the spirit of friendship during MPJ 2012.

The Flows of Life
For most Americans, Mekong region is merely a place name that evokes painful memories of the Vietnam War, but for the 60 million people who live in the river’s floodplain, it is the source of life. A silent observation of the mobile traders making business in the ship along the border of Thailand and Laos, I came to understand that the Mekong environment is significant in terms of the relations and bonds it create among traders in economic, social and cultural activities along the course of the flowing river, rather than merely a location. And I know why people are called Mekong people, how they are keeping an unconditional love of the Mekong River. At the point when I see the life that the Mekong supports on every page of the community visit, of course my life included, I wonder if we have done something to prove our identity as Mekong generation…

Travelogue, the word I name the small talk with local people on visiting, tells me the picture of daily life. It came as a surprise to see that my host mother, who came to Thailand from Laos because of the war, is still keeping her Lao culture in every little way of cooking, eating, language and worshiping. It is great to see one of my friends, Mr. Northernman from Laos, who drew the picture in the theme of the Laos culture in a Non-Lao State as I come to my conclusion about my host family. It is possible to take people out of their country, but it is impossible to take the country out of their heart. When I stood on the top of a canon in Laos, looking towards Thailand, all I noticed then was the roofs of the 2 temples, one in Thailand, and the other in Laos. What is the difference between them? I could hardly tell then. Such a cultural diversity does not seem to lie in things themselves but along the Mekong, along the border community, a place where nationalism meet pluralism.  Throughout the passage of time, the Mekong has been supporting and carrying its flows of multiple lives, my life included, hard but rich and diverse…

The Flows of Inspiration
The intensive sessions in MPJ 2012 may also surprise those who know little about the complex and hidden regional conflicts like me. I come to realize that what History called is not something written in the books but in the mind of people who experienced. Hence, every conversation I carry with friends from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar help me to enrich the history by examining it in a new perspective and shape my attitude based on dialogues without judgment but with empathy instead. We actually had a free forum to express our views and concerns pertaining to the issues which are vital to us i.e. the Mekong.

Talking to RST is an important learning experience for me. This was the Eureka moment. It dawned on us that there was so much to be learned by moving, discovering, and volunteering, and sharing.  MPJ would be only an idea if it had not been for a group of pioneering people who shared the same passion working for peace came together and carried out the initiative. Hardship in the beginning, sense of lost sometimes along the way, a feeling of disappointment when they face a problem were counted. Above all, it is the faith that we all are on the journey of positive changes in our global village that can keep them strong and committed and able to rock the peace. The RST are human being, a nonstop and tireless human being who prove to me that small idea for the community can come true if you dream together, voluntarily and inspiringly. A short gossip with Netting to share her dream life of working for NGO just for traveling, writing and photography is a new blue sky to me. It is not merely traveling for pleasure, but to see peace and conflicts in multiple lives from any walks. It is not merely writing for her but to inspire other see the impact and become willing join the movement. It is not merely photography for fun but to share the meaningful moments to keep audience alive and deliver an educational message to the public in a simple but powerful language of image. I feel happy to cross the border, river, and mountain, to go through the rain to meet and be inspired by the hardworking staff- Katae, Netting, Hoya, Porn, Ben, Munny, Rithy, Sang, Sai, Long, Linh, Nhung, Mint etc. Never before have. They showed me it’s high time for us to come together and make positive impact on our community and grow together under ONE MEKONG REGION, ONE ASEAN. With the flows of enlightenment in mind, never before have I felt a stronger motivation to start to do something to the people in my community like this.

The Flows of Friendship
It was bliss for me to have 25 friends around to share experiences of a happy bond in Mekong River. For me, 22 days passed without even passing because every single moment from the beginning of MPJ 2012 is still crystal clear in my memory. On some days in our room 302, Nan-E kept clicking on her head and wildly laughed at me “Oh my God, Apple, haha” when I seemed to be over excitedly discussing with her about the complicated political conflict between Government Military and the Kachin Independent Army in Myanmar. Other days, it’s the feel of the sound of a guitar being strummed slow and easy, sharing a laugh or two with good friend Ushio and others after lunch, a feeling of a hug from my baby sister in Vietnam Team Pumpkin, and a feeling of being trust when brother Northernman told me the story of his life.  Sometimes, it’s the touch of mysterious eyes from my closest friend from Myanmar just to show I am cared, or it is the surprising ecstasy when my brother Team uphold me and swing me in the air just to wake me up in the middle of a tiring moment, or the loving attempt of a sleepy translator Areeya to successfully bridge our conversation with our writer P Jeap until a new day has started for 4 hours that we came to bed, though we all know we all want to continue if tomorrow we do not need to go to class J), much much more feeling with other participants are still with me until now. You guys prove to me that friendship does not mean who you know for long but who made impression and sweet memories on you. Growing in trust and cooperation, most of our memories, laughing, dancing, singing, party, sleeping, travelling, and group meeting for recap and ice-breaking even tiredness and crying, are beautiful. I recall our memories with amazement. In this way, I had let the Mekong carry me down much of its flows of friendship, a friendship in 22 days but counts in a life time of mine and others participants’.

The River Flows Within Me
If the Mekong has its flows to save them from ruin, these flows of water, insight, life, inspiration, peace, friendship and love will continually keep me alive in the journey of this short but meaningful life. Just a 22-day walking down to the “mother of all waters” in “the road less travelled” (Netting’s word), now I feel I wish to live up to the “Spirit of the Mekong” encompassing the “Culture of Peace”, rejecting extreme nationalism but keeping identity at the same time to stay strong in the beauty of cultural diversity, and I am confident to head to my way. I know MPJ is where my passion stays.

These are the little things in life that make man happy. You can’t wait for everything to be perfect to start enjoying life. It is not the destination that matter, happiness lies along the way. “Don’t just drink your coffee in the morning. Enjoy it – smell it – taste it – let the smoke curl around your face and into your nose – experience it.” That’s how life is supposed to be. Moving, Updating, Sharing, and Inspiring!

          Peace Building Training in Mekong Peace Journey in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar from 7 to 28 July, 2012, happily, was the road that I took and was not walking alone. I am young? Yes, but I know that the Mekong River flows within me. I am young? , Yes, but I know I grows in such flows. Just because of you, MPJ 2012!

“The Rivers have a name for the mysterious presence that continually saves them from ruin. They call it the flow.”  — Jim Ainsworth, the River series


About young peace messenger

Volunteer for myself, for you and the world for Peace
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