by Allison S. '21
Reflection lies at the foundation of every GSL trip. It is the heart of our purpose for journeying over land and sea. We travel across the globe to experience, to reflect, and to learn. I don’t think I’ve ever learned before like the way I’ve learned on this trip. I’m sure I am not the only one when I say I’ve had to push my boundaries. At the village, our group has encountered many uncomfortable and challenging situations that have stretched us physically and mentally. We have to come face to face with big questions. Questions that make us think. Questions that make us uncomfortable.
Vi-vi means flower in Lahu. It’s a word people wouldn’t really bother to learn, however, even when the words and meaning of every other word has faded, the word vi-vi will stay etched in my heart. One day, work had gone a little over time. I was home almost an hour after I usually am. When I arrived home, my mom looked flustered. She made dinner in a rush, moving around the kitchen in 4x speed. While we ate, my mom asked me to come with her to the “vi-vi”. Sure, I thought.
After dinner, we walked through the village to the bottom of the valley. Here laid fields and fields of flowers, covered by tarps. My mom rushed over to her boss to explain why she was late, motioning to me while saying “America.” He stood there, nodded and motioned her to work. I followed her closely. Inside the tarp, laid rows and rows of holes in soil, ready to be filled with plants. My mom sat down next to me, showed my how they wanted the flowers to be planted, and then rushed over to her own patch of soil.
From the outside, that little tent didn’t seem like much, but a single tent requires 6,912 flowers to be planted (six large rows of 6x192 and yes, I did count). You read that correctly, six THOUSAND, nine HUNDRED and twelve flowers. That’s almost seven thousand flowers. Now guess how many people were working in that tarp. Nine (not including me). We finished planting that field in a little over an hour.
That night, I came home and thought. My mom leaves before 8 to work in the fields. She comes back a little after 4 to cook me dinner and then leaves again before 6 to work until 8. She plants thousands and thousands of flowers in very uncomfortable positions (standing and squatting). She works day in and day out, likely receiving very little for her work. This is her reality. I made a choice to come with her, but she doesn’t get that same privilege. This job puts food on the table and gives her kids an education.
How many times have I walked through a store and thought about where the flowers I buy come from? The “bargain deal” flowers I buy are only so cheap because they take the money out of the pockets of someone else. When I buy flowers from corporations, I’m supporting the exploitation of workers. Seeing and working with the people has made me see that I have to face the reality. I can’t pretend that my actions don’t have consequences. I also realize that I have the power to use my voice, to make conscious choices and to support companies who help, not hurt. Working here made me think about my choices, their effects, and their consequences. I hope this story does the same for you.