Monday, July 6, 2015

The Quilt

I've thought long and hard about this post.  So to introduce it, I'll make my first request.  I request that you pull up One Republic's "I Lived" on youtube and have it playing in the background as you embark on reading this post.  You also have the slightly less desirable choice of Nickleback's "Photograph", in which you would then have to read this post in a very raspy, screamy tone, so I'll strongly encourage the first choice.

Great. You have your background music. Let's begin.
Somewhere along my YAGM journey, definitely early on, I had this bright idea (it's my personality, I get big ideas all the time… I'm a little dodgy on the followthrough, but more about my psych evaluation another day) to collect fabric throughout my year.  Little pieces here and there, and then once I was back state-side, enlist the help of my rockstar sewing goddess of an aunt to help me put together some sort of project.
It was a really helpful goal in the beginning.  I was at a huge loss for how to fill my time.  Coming off of 16 years of school, this was the first time in my life when I had to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing, no right or wrong answers, just figuring out what to do when I wasn't at work or church.  I started trekking into town on the weekends.  Saturday mornings, I would take the bus into the city center.  I would walk from my bus to get some roti and apple juice, then I would commence aimlessly wandering around.  I tried to pretend like this was a hugely important task, but like I said, I was at a loss for a lot of things, and this- this became my routine.  The place I usually got my roti and juice was nestled in the middle of a LOT of fabric shops.  So, I began wandering around those.  In my first weekend, I found a beautiful piece of fabric- lots of blues and purples.
This was my first purchase.  I went home and hung it in my room.  This became the backdrop of family pictures, cards, etc.  It brightened my room all year long.  Remember the wallpaper that hung in your room as a child?  I have similar feelings now when I look at this fabric.

Slowly, the pieces grew more and more.  I wouldn't always buy fabric when I went into town, but I would most definitely almost always look.  A few more pieces joined my collection from KK, my city in Malaysia- A red batik pattern, a blue polka dot with pink flowers.  These don't hold as many stories with them as they do emotions.  I can very clearly remember how I was feeling when I bought each piece in KK.  Some days I felt like I could conquer the world- I had just successfully navigated the bus system, or had managed to complete a week of work.  But other days I felt overwhelmed, probably a little hopeless, and very skeptical of this whole journey I had embarked on.  My year of service forced me to acknowledge all the emotions, and even celebrate them.  Finding ways to share it all was one of the most healing and empowering pieces of my year.  Which is a perfect transition into the next piece.

And then, there's this one… oh the minions.

You may have thought to yourself when you saw this quilt: "it would be so beautiful, but then there's minions…" But you see, this is where I think the beauty of a good story comes in.  Peter Harrits (our country coordinator), bless his soul.  I blame him.  When we got off the plane in Malaysia (which I honestly can say I remember basically nothing of that flight) Peter took a group photo to put on Facebook and inserted minions into the picture (yes, there's an app for that).

We quickly learned that minions were all the rage in Malaysia. We adopted them as our spirit-people (people? objects, animals…?) as a country group.  YAGM Malaysia became YAGMinions.  It works.  We had some programatic transitions with YAGM Malaysia, kicked off by none other than P. Harrits himself.  He took a new call a couple months into our YAGM year, making it definitely necessary to provide him with a parting gift from his people.  Delia and myself took it to the fabric shops.  Inside, we found the most perfect fabric of all: minion fabric.  We asked for a couple yards (in Malay… the first of many small victories) and headed for a tailor.  We walked into this really nice men's tailor shop.  (Mind you this conversation was taking place in Malay- Woot woot, Delia! We were 2 white girls. Holding minion fabric. In a nice men's tailor shop.)  We asked the tailor if he could make us a shirt.  He asked us what size.  It was then that we realized we did not know ol' Peter's sizes, so we looked at each other, shrugged, and said "ehh, about your size."
I went to pick it up a couple days later.  We gave it to Peter as a goodbye gift.  And it fit. Perfectly.
Though not technically a clerical shirt, the minion custom-made shirt proved to be a very versatile piece.
The minions represent the constant layer of support I had over the 9 months in Malaysia and 2ish months after.  They represent the people who have fielded my tear-filled phone calls about how everything and everyone is stupid since returning, and they have laughed really hard with me when I remember stories, characteristics, or words that only a small small group of people here in the US could ever understand.  They're my people.  And saying I am thankful is a huge understatement.  So while you may say "…but there's minions."  I say, "AND THERE'S MINIONS! Let me tell you about my friends."

So you want to talk about my friends, the minions?? Let's talk about one of the most eye-catching pieces of fabric on the quilt… for me at least.  The green and gold floral.
You know what that one is?  That's my hospital fabric.  Y'all may know I had a small stay in the orchid suite in Malaysia.  The orchid suite referring to the name of my room in the hospital.  I was in the hospital for reasons that are gross and weird, actually let's call it what it was: I had an abscess- an infection.  YAY tropical countries and growing things on your body! Alright- so we've mentioned it, let's move onto the bigger picture.  It was a 5 day stay in the orchid suite.  And you know what?  I was maybe alone for 5 hours those whole 5 days.  Friends stayed with me, watched movies with me, helped me laugh about the absurd situation I found myself in, spent the night.  And then my country coordinator (different one, his name is Chris) and his wife let me stay at their house with them for a week.  And he drove me to doctors visits.  And made me breakfast burritos.  There are a handful of times in my life when I remember being consciously aware that I was being taken care of by the Holy Spirit, and this is absolutely one of those times.  It was a beautiful, beautiful 5 days.  The way in which it came about is incredibly disgusting, but the hospitality, love and friendship still blows my mind.
When I got out of the hospital and was able to walk around semi-comfortably again, I recruited my pal Daniel (PC, Christian Ed, Lutheridge, YAGM, Malaysia, and soon-to-be-but-we-didn't-know-yet roomie in Thailand) to walk around Little India in KL with me to look for a piece of fabric to commemorate this incredibly strange milestone in my year.
As we were making the quilt, my aunt kept commenting on how difficult that particular piece of fabric was to work with.  And finally I had to tell her that its ironic that it was that piece that was giving her so much trouble- because that was my hospital fabric.

(Oh man, this is getting long.  And I'm nowhere near done.  Take a break if you need to, switch the song… might I suggest "Wake Me Up" by Avicii)

More and more, I gathered pieces for the quilt.  When Delia and I went to Kuching for school holiday, we may have gone a little crazy on the sarong shopping.  One of those made it onto the quilt.  I still have a bag full of sarongs, so maybe I should start gifting those to people.  One day, Katrina, Jenna and I had a little KK stay-cation as we called it.  We explored the city we had been living in for months.  That day I purchased the pink checkered fabric from the KK city mosque.

I got it for 2 reasons:
1.  The presence of mosques, the call to prayer, just religious diversity played a huge role in my year.  This fabric is what is worn for Friday prayer services- hence, it being sold at the mosque.
2. The more comical reason.  During orientation, I was told that if I needed a reference for where my bus stop was, that I could tell the driver "the Likas Giant".  Ok, so when I got off the bus that first time, I saw we were near the big city mosque.  Makes sense… Likas Giant, its a giant mosque.  Seemed like a kind of odd name for a place of worship, but who am I to judge?  It probably just translates weird.  MONTHS into my time in Malaysia, MONTHS of telling people that I live near the Likas Giant, that I want to go to the Likas Giant, that the Likas Giant is beautiful… I learn that the Likas Giant, is in fact, a large grocery store… like Wal-Mart.
So I had to get a little piece of the "Giant" to bring back with me.

The other piece from our stay-cation came from the Sabah State museum (I really am Mandy Derrick's daughter).  The visit to the museum wasn't so fun, and as per usual, the gift shop was my favorite part of the trip.  I bought a piece of batik.

Because it was later in my year, I could choose this piece with the understanding of what batik was and how batik is incredibly descriptive of Malaysian culture.  To me, this is the most "Malaysian" piece of fabric on the quilt, so I chose to bind the quilt with it as well.  

This quilt has more than just Malaysia stories, though.  It has stories from my travels during and after the year.  The beautiful oriental fabric came from Singapore.
I got a free calendar with the purchase because I just bought all that was left on the bolt… aka still have a ton left over of that one and have every intention of sitting next to Aunt Ann while she makes me a skirt out of it.

And then there's my Thailand fabrics.  There's one in particular I feel the need to point out.  Its a rough pink material, thicker than the others, and after I got it, I really didn't think it was that pretty.
I purchased it on the day I crossed into Burma for all of 3 minutes to renew my visa.  Y'all have probably picked up on the fact that my YAGM year had a lot of visa talk.  The whole reason I was in Thailand in the first place was because of visa complications in Malaysia.  So, I was finishing out my YAGM year in Bangkok, Thailand.  The tourist visa I received upon entering the country expired 2 weeks before I was supposed to leave Thailand for good.  Therefore, I had to leave the country and reenter to get my passport stamped.  I was up at the border with the office I worked with in Thailand, and while they went off to do a program with a local non-profit that day, I tried to make my way to the Thai-Burmese border.  Y'all I'm not even going to lie, it was absolutely one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling days of my YAGM year.  My Thai abilities are minimal.  So I was relying on a friend of my office to help me over the phone to direct the cab driver.  Once I arrived at the border, there were so many large police buses filled with people.  I don't know their stories, but I imagine it is one that isn't unfamiliar to many whose lives are very dependent upon which side of human-made boundaries they find themselves.  The cab driver took me to the immigration office at the border.  He dropped me off, but I realized I wasn't at quite the right place.  So I had to chase him down again.  Once we arrived at the border- it was ironically (to me) named the "Friendship Bridge", there was a long line of people- people who I could tell were very familiar with the system, who did this all the time- maybe daily.  The line was deep with Thai and Burmese people, there were no other tall people with fair skin.  My cab driver took me by the arm and pulled me to the front of the line, in front of all these people who had been waiting for so long.  I tried to tell him no, but he insisted.  I got my stamp out of the country, crossed the bridge into Burma (Myanmar), paid for my entrance stamp, got my exit stamp, and walked back across the bridge to reenter Thailand.  My cab was gone.  I sat down in a shop to have something to drink and figure out how the heck I was going to get back to where I was staying.  To kill time until I devised a plan, I wandered through shops.  I found a stack of fabrics, used as sarongs.  And I thought to myself, this experience absolutely warrants a piece of fabric for my quilt.  So I picked one.  And in looking at my quilt, it is my least favorite piece.  Which is fitting- immigration and visas are two words that will forever have a different meaning after my YAGM year.  It is a piece of my story that is rough, not too pretty, and doesn't feel so great to talk about and reflect upon, but exists nonetheless.

The other countries represented in the quilt are Indonesia by way of Bali and South Korea.
Bali in a sentence: Bali ate my money.
And the piece of fabric on the quilt represents just that.
Delia and I went to a beautiful temple one day. When we pulled up, there were shops lining the street that led to the temple with women selling sarongs, because you couldn't enter the temple without being properly covered.  Sure, we could have rented one before going in.  But the fabrics were beautiful.  Balinese pricing is super inflated because of all the tourism, so while I paid somewhere around 18 ringget in Malaysia (6USD) for a batik sarong, in Bali and at this temple, they were the equivalent of 30USD.  But I had to get one.  And really cool pants.  And a sash that matched the sarong.  That was the theme of our stay in Bali.  It was a fun several days, that included me learning to ride a motor bike from the top of a cliff (only one way to go… down), but it was definitely time to leave, heading to Hong Kong.
I have no proof I was ever in Hong Kong.  I didn't get a passport stamp, instead I just got a slip of paper inserted into my passport that was removed upon departure.  I took almost no pictures either time, and I didn't even buy any fabric.  But I did go… twice, and both times were incredibly filling.
Seoul was our final stop before heading back to the US.  I did manage to pick up a piece of fabric from Seoul, the fish fabric.

I went to the quilt shop a few weeks ago to get my backing before shipping the quilt off to be quilted.  When I opened it up, the ladies in the shop started asking me questions.  In that conversation, I realized that in the near year that I've been back in SC, I've grown shorter in my responses to questions about YAGM or Malaysia.  I've learned to pleasantly describe my experience in SE Asia in a neat, nondescript sentence or two.  Unfortunately for my sanity, this is often the end of the conversation, and we move on.  But with my quilt laying out raw on the cutting table, I shared a little bit more than I usually do, and it was eagerly listened to.  So I shared more.  It was so wonderfully filling to have a medium for sharing stories I hadn't verbalized maybe since I've been back in America.  Laying it all out there- beautiful stories as well as weird/disgusting/unsettling ones, are all parts of what make up my personal story as a YAGM.  Would this quilt be more aesthetically pleasing if I had left out the Minions, maybe gone with some sort of color scheme, maybe even used fabric that was all the same weight and texture?  Maybe.  But it wouldn't tell the whole story, and it certainly wouldn't be my story.  The minions, the rough pieces, the hard to work with patches (you can see I'm talking about more than just fabric here) are all necessary to understand the story in its fullest form.
We all have our quilts- the stories of our lives that have molded and shaped us, that have challenged us and brought us great joy.  And maybe we are the only ones who will ever fully understand who we are through our stories, but we have chances to take ownership of the stories that have molded us.  And hopefully through recognizing the complexity of our own stories, we can recognize and appreciate with grace the beautifully messy stories we encounter each day.

Name your pieces, even the ones that are ugly.  Find your table, find people who are eager to listen.  Lay it out there, raw and unfinished.  Laugh and cry when you need to.  Be unapologetic in claiming your story.

Listen to the stories.  Be ever aware of people who are seeking ears to listen.  Ask good questions.  Appreciate the journey.  Know that it is not your story, not your journey, but one that you have the privilege of knowing pieces and patches of.  Be open to recognizing beauty.

Share the stories.  Never stop sharing the stories.  

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