The other day I told Natalie "Sometimes in life it's just better to NOT know what I'm getting myself into, because then I probably wouldn't a lot of things." There is a lot of comfort in not knowing the future. I'm certain that if I had one of those 8-ball things and knew what the future held, I'd curl into the fetal position and never leave my house. I think God was smart to not allow us to know the future. After Natalie and I arrived in Kuala Lumpur a little over a week and a half ago (after traveling through east Africa and India) with a list of Burmese Refugee's phone numbers and a suitcase full of cameras, I quickly realized that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and that was really good. It ended up being one of the most challenging weeks I've had in my life, or maybe just in a long, long time. It wasn't the constant heat, severe lack of sleep, or even stress of making sure that the photography job got done well, but it was the people who were overwhelming - in the best way possible.
The first three people we met were named: Sang Hre, Sang Bawi, and Tin Bang Shwe. They are three of the top guys that work at the Centre for Chin Refugees and have such relentless work ethics, a fiery passion to see Burma operate under democracy, strategy and intelligence, organization, determination, and out-of-this-world humor, that our time was split between laughing so hard we were crying, and the other part was actually spent crying. They were so overwhelmingly welcoming, hospitable, and helpful that we simply did not know what to do with ourselves. It's one thing to have the honor of dealing with pleasant co-workers, but it takes it to an entirely new level when you become such good friends that you can't imagine how you actually got this far in life without them. They became some of our absolute best friends. Aside from the fact that they can karaoke like NOBODY'S business, throw a birthday party like a champion, know 6 languages, and never sleep, they kept us laughing until we cried. We really didn't expect to leave Kuala Lumpur having made such great friends. Not to be all dramatic and stuff, but it made it much more difficult to leave knowing we may not see them again.
More than that, the interviews with the refugees. THE INTERVIEWS. Learning about the life is a refugee is not for the faint of heart. Stories of having to flee from the Burmese army at the risk of doing forced labor; bring wrongfully arrested and tortured for two months in the dark re: water boarding, being electrocuted, beaten, and starved; waiting 9 years in limbo to be resettled; and living in the country illegally working all day every day on a farm. In all of the stories that we sat and listened to and all of the faces that we photographed, one couldn't help but notice that the Burmese refugees all stand in solidarity fighting for their country's freedom, all have relentless hope, deep resiliency, and have never once complained about having a crappy life. I almost couldn't handle it.
These past few days off have been great. It's been good to take the time to think things through and realize that the only way to be is filled with gratitude for having met such amazing people and resolve that I will not stop until their stories are told. Here are a few photos from the recent photo INDYrefugee project endeavor.