Kelsi James shares her video poem "[REDacted]," as a reflection on her experience serving as United Church oversea personnel in China.
So there’s this little alley
Where you can buy vegetables and fruits
And nuts and seeds and sprouts and shoots
and you can ask for the price with your hands
and somehow, everybody understands
You’re not told how people get concerned you’re alone
And offer you shelter inside their homes
You’re not told how they’ll cook you plate after plate of food
And ask of your mood
And tell you that you’re skinny,
But we can fix it.
You’re not told that the rich and the poor live side by side
And still decide
On wide-eyed communal pride
For their children
Their beautiful children, who have no time to sleep
But who still keep up to the steep pace of industrialism
You don’t see the schism
between the proudly political country
and the people grinding under pressurized productivity
You don’t see
The people, who, regardless, hold my hands, and tell me
The future is pure hope.
The teachers, who won’t be cowed, do what’s not allowed,
And research what they shouldn’t
So students have info they otherwise wouldn’t.
The parents who pay for their children to learn languages
They themselves don’t know,
So that they will be safe and included
anywhere they go.
We can’t know
The teens who cross the street with elders in hand
Folding their dreams into the shape of their motherland
The strangers who don’t cat-call
Or touch me
Or make me feel small
The strangers who stop me because:
I dropped my phone, or
don’t know my way home, or
haven’t tied my shoe, or
can’t read the menu, and stop me because
They want to help me through.
The new friends, who say
Let’s share this tea,
And if you want more,
You just ask me.
Do you miss home? Let’s go to the movies
Let’s eat pizza with way too much cheese.
The new friends who are tired and hopeful,
And still so proud
The friends who say,
Let me lead you into our crowd
For we are a people, but more than our sum
We are billions of one and one and one and one.
But I call you, and I tell you, and you say:
Are you okay? Did you keep yourself safe today?
And I tell you, I’m happy, and I’m well,
And I am so very [REDACTED].
And I tell you, turn on the news,
And choose something new to learn,
But the anchors’ pages turn,
And my truth is [REDACTED].
I want to say, yes, that exists and it’s scary
And yes, that is happening, and I have to be wary,
And no, we cannot turn a blind eye
But try, would you just try, to wonder why
We are so quick to generalize and demonize
And nod our heads and turn our eyes
On someone else’s propaganda,
When we ourselves still don’t talk about [REDACTED]
And have not attempted to even solve our [REDACTED]
How can we speak the way we do,
When we have a hurting history of [REDACTED].
How can we say we know what’s true,
When we have political feuds that make us
So quick to fire,
And so slow to admire.
What if I told you that I believe [REDACTED],
And that I am not [REDACTED],
And I wish you could see all the [REDACTED]
That’s here to see.
I wish you weren’t [REDACTED],
And that I [REDACTED],
And I know it’s inconvenient to change,
But what if we just [REDACTED].
Would you think about it? For me?
– Kelsi James is United Church of Canada Overseas Personnel, currently serving as an English teacher in Lanzhou, China. Read more about her experience in China.