“You can come to my house.”
She was bright-eyed with a confident and beautiful smile. Behind her neck rode a farmer’s rod, smooth and shiny from years of being held by her hands and the friction of her shoulders. At each end swung buckets from which she had carefully ladled water at the base of each plant growing in her field. On her head rested a cap of camouflaged fabric with matching shoes and knotted laces on her feet.
We had spent the last two days in a small Yunnan Province village located in a rural area of southwestern China. It was community of 140 people; a blending of Han and Miao people living side by side in a village with a name that means “unity.” The community had been created a couple of decades earlier when the government moved several groups of isolated people, living high in the mountains, to a place where services and utilities were more readily available. It was, frankly, easier to create a new village than it was to cut roads and string utilities.
Our time in the village was in support of a health advocacy project with our longtime China partners. We were conducting door to door interviews in hopes of acquiring a baseline understanding of the village’s health awareness with the goal that the project’s future steps would help to improve their quality of life, reduce the devastation of childhood dysentery, and minimize the negative impact of improperly handled agricultural pesticides.
Our recent attempt to interview an old woman, blinded by the shiny yellow-gray cataracts in her eyes, had been declined and, as we stood at the gate in front of her house discussing where to go next, up walked Mrs. Yang.
“You can come to my house.”
We followed her through the narrow streets to a house on the perimeter of the village, overlooking a small canyon through which heavy trucks rumbled in and out of a coal mine. As barking dogs announced our arrival an elderly man appeared, surprised to see a small group of Americans trailing his wife into the courtyard. After putting the buckets away, she confidently invited strangers into her home with the usual Yunnan hospitality that included tea, nuts, and fruit. She was proud of her home and excited that it was full of Americans. It was clean and tidy, in contrast to many of the places we had visited in the village. Upon sitting down on the sofa, the first thing I notice was a combination refrigerator freezer that sat proudly in the space between the living room and the kitchen – something I had never seen before in a village.
We were introduced to her husband, Mr. Li. (Chinese women don’t take their husband’s name in marriage.) Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li had been married for over 50 years and had raised three daughters who were married and now lived outside of the village with their own families and their husbands’ parents. As part of our interview we learned that Mr. Li had gone to school through 5th grade while Mrs. Yang was illiterate; she could not read or write. While they planted and maintained a field to grow what they needed to eat, they made their living off of a small herd of 40 goats.
When the interview concluded, we thanked the couple, shook hands, posed for photos, and headed back to our base. Little did we know that this simple conversation had just set the stage for something wonderful that God was about to do.
Watch for Part 2 of Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li in next week’s post.