The rain came down in sheets in the San Francisco Bay Area as we three Tai Chi Peace Games Ambassadors loaded up the trunk. The Peace Games manuals in Spanish were packed in several boxes and shoes and socks were in suitcases. Our goal for this 500 mile journey was to bring peace and comfort to people in need. We were picking up our fourth member at the border.
Guillermo was not only a curandero, he was also a great driver. We chatted enthusiastically as we hugged Highway 5, amidst green hills, rainbows and snowy mountains. Rafi was full of exciting stories about his Peace Corps. years, wind-surfing and his discoveries in molecular biology. I was simply grateful for their company and participation.
We were making great time and decided to get out, warm up, stretch and train. There was level ground at the truckstop but no protection from gusts of wind, so we pushed on til we spotted a motel, and sneaked into an empty dining room to practice Tai Chi.
With Tai Chi training, you have to relax, slow down, and think about timing, posture, breathing and footwork all at once. Slowing down makes you very perceptive. You feel as if you’re gliding between raindrops. If you’re even slightly off-balance, a gentle touch from a more aware opponent in push hands gives you instant feedback. A realm of infinite possibilities arise within the limitations of your own mind and body.
Flushed and renewed, we pushed on to the border-town of San Ysidro, where we met up with Michelle at a Chinese herb shop. Her expertise as an acupuncturist, herbalist and Eastern Medicine practitioner made her an invaluable member of our team. We purchased some over-the-counter medicine for the asylum-seekers.
Despite being 500 miles due South, the cold rain and wind were unrelenting. The miserable conditions made us acutely aware of those folks who had walked 2500 miles seeking refuge from conditions much more dire than bad weather. They were fleeing from countries that had been decimated by centuries of colonization and exploitation.
We stopped at a giant shopping mall and bought some two-wheeled carts to carry the donations and teaching materials. After a short walk from the parking lot to the border crossing, we filled out simple forms, showed our passports, walked through a tall turnstyle, down a covered walkway, and out into the open street. Going from America to Mexico was easier than getting through airport security, even for a domestic flight.
A steep, wide, flood control swale with chain link fences on either side demarcated Mexico from America. The constant rain exceeded the drainage, creating a narrow stream at the bottom. A lone, abandoned mattress was plastered to the Southern side of the steep, cement slope. We peered up and down the east, west borderline. Not a soul was in sight. If there had once been tents full of homeless refugees along the fence, there were now none. Perhaps the policy of separating children from their parents had discouraged them. Many asylum-seekers had been returned to their countries of origin, thrown back into situations from which they were fleeing. I had just read “When Death Awaits Deported Asylum-Seekers” about a teen aged boy who was brutally murdered by the gangs.
Maybe teaching the Peace Games and giving training manuals to soon-to-be sent back asylum-seekers, if they survived, could bring a codified method of somatic, non-violent communication to these distant, underserved communities. I had heard of Tai Chi practitioners during China’s cultural revolution sustaining themselves with their practices while imprisoned or during times of starvation. Perhaps the Tai Chi Peace Games could similarly empower these folks.
We hired a cab to take us into Tijuana. The cab driver dropped us off on a wide street with a lot of old 2 and 3 story buildings and told us to go around to the alley in back. We discovered an unmarked entrance to several semi-hidden organizations. On the ground floor was “Food, Not Bombs.” A kitchen dominated the space, with cases of produce and volunteer chefs focused on prepping huge quantities of colorful, fresh fruits and veggies. The chefs were all young and spoke English and Spanish. They had come from all over the word to help. They fed us food and drink before we could even explain our mission.
We found a childrens’ area with books and toys. This is where we left several hundred copies of our Peace Games manuals. Pushing for Peace donated $400 to Food, Not Bombs on the spot.
On the 2nd floor were lawyers working with refugees. They came between specific hours to work directly with individuals who were fleeing their countries of origin and seeking asylum in the U.S. We learned that the asylum seekers were spread out in churches throughout the city. They lined up in the alley twice-a-day for meals, ate and then disappeared, unless they had an appointment with a lawyer.
We ended up bringing our donations of clothing to one of the bigger churches that was sheltering the refugees. They lined up shyly to receive the shoes, socks, sweatshirts, etc … that we’d collected from up North. The wool socks were the biggest hit.
Once we returned to the Food, Not Bombs building, it was decided that we should teach the aid workers rather than the refugees themselves, who were terrorized. We were not allowed to take pictures because they were afraid of being recognized by the criminals they were fleeing from if the pictures appeared online. Unlike other Peace Games missions, this one is documented only in writing and not with pictures.
Aid workers gathered on the 2nd floor the next evening, after dinner and after the lawyers were finished with their appointments. The Peace Games were, as always, fun and engaging, except for one gaffe. I was constantly reminded to use the pronoun “they” instead of him or her. This broke my flow as a teacher - to be constantly corrected by a student.
Three out of 4 of us were over 50, so we laughed about it later. With time and practice, like all change, it’s actually quite easy to think of people as humans instead of identifying them by their gender. Like the Peace Games ascertain, we all have the same basic attributes - to feel connected to Earth and to each other.
The minute we arrived in Den Bosch (the home of artist Jheronimus Bosch), we dove right into work with the teachers and students of the Zonnelicht School. This Neo-Humanist based institute provides exceptional early education and after school programs for 400 students from infancy through 12 years of age.
Zonnelicht's students are nurtured by highly trained and deeply caring teachers. Inside the building were warm, sunlit, plant-filled spaces containing thoughtful hand-crafted wood toys and natural fibre napping nests, without a lick of petroleum-based mass-produced plastics. Mother Nature enveloped everyone inside and out. Many parents brought their precious bundles to school by bike, even in the light rain.
We played the Peace Games with the teachers first. They were a hoot - open-hearted, spontaneous and clearly having as much fun with each other as the kids do everyday on the playground.
Playing the Peace Games with the kids was endearing and delightful. They were very curious as to what these new games were about. Kids of differing ages and personalities engaged with each other. Even the youngest of players felt empowered through stretching and filling the space with their arms and legs.
The two to three year olds needed an adapted program. They copied simplified kung fu and yogic exercises on their own mats. They were still at the stage of learning just how to copy and follow directions.
The 4-8 year olds were able to flow from guided meditation to exuberant, yet mindful group games, displaying creative moves that surprised and delighted us.
Their big smiles and bright eyes proved that while having lots of fun, the Peace Games taught them patience, awareness, sensitivity, focus, and cooperation, even though most of these kids spoke only Dutch. These somatic lessons transcend age, gender, language, and culture, and speak to our common humanity.
Bonus: Watch GM Marilyn share profound wisdom with teachers!
We had an amazing turn out for a special workshop with Grand Master Marilyn. The Guang Ping Yang Club and other Tai Chi clubs of Paris came together to learn the intricacies of the art and to enrich their practices with Push Hands. Push hands is sparring with Tai chi that uses skill and pushes that do not cause injury to the practitioners. It deepens the form practice by including a partner, and it's fun!
Big thanks to tai chi teacher and acupuncturist Sophie Nichanian for hosting and organizing this wonderful group of practitioners. We look forward to coming back and seeing them and their friends and families for the Peace Games in Paris November 15th.
"Reflections" - Music by Carol Alban accompanied by Mads Tolling
Marilyn & Michelle on the way to Paris via Iceland. Excited to bring the Peace Games to Paris and Den Bosch.