It is hard to emphasize enough that before the turn of the millennium no one, and I mean no one, travelled much overseas, let alone went there to work. And this was quadruply true in the 70’s and 80’s. When I mention to people today that I worked in SE Asia I often get a reply something like, Oh, yeah, I spent a year travelling through there. Did you go to xyz beach!? It was a real party! No. No I did not. Back then there was no xyz beach. When I was there the US had just pulled out of the region after absolutely destroying it with bullets, bombs, and Agent Orange. And that brings me to the second part of this overseas portion of how we became Catholic Worker farmers; my work in refugee camps.
Ex-pats of any sort were very few where I was working. A western face often brought a reaction of terror to the children in the villages in which I worked. We were not a privileged few as I learned what discrimination felt like first-hand since I was often boisterously berated as a foreigner by locals, told that I was at best just a step above an animal. Nevertheless, I was there to offer myself to the needs of these people.
After meeting an English ex-pat doctor at a social gathering a few weeks after my arrival I was approached by him and asked to assist him at a refugee camp a half hour away from where I was living. When I asked, Why me?, he responded that he thought with my animal science/biology background I would be over-qualified to assist him in his rounds compared to even the most trained locals. And so I began to travel with him when I was not needed in other areas of the agricultral aspect of the development project that I had ostensibly gone to assist. This work in the refugee camp changed my outlook on life forever.
The people with whom I worked were Hmong tribesmen from northern Laos. Where they lived had been bombed by air by the US military for a period of nine years on an average of every eight minutes over that entire time. It was and still is the largest bombing campaign in history. This campaign was secretly started under the Kennedy administration and aimed at simply destabilizing the region and is now well-documented, although it was hidden at the time. The people with whom I worked were all primitive farm families and non-combatants. These stone-age people just happened to live in that region. We treated amputations, shrapnel, phosphorus burns, napalm burns, deafness, blindness, disease, and mental disorders. In the course of the day in the camp none of the physical demands bothered me; blood and guts have never bothered me. But at night, reflecting on what these people had been through, and then cumulatively by the end of my time there, I began to realize how policy makers had inflicted themselves on beautiful, gentle people who were living peacefully on the other side of the world for their own financial benefit, ease of life, and psychological desires for ideological and physical dominance. To this the words Christ in the Gospels existed in sharp contrast.
By the end of that summer I resolved to first of all do whatever it took for me to return to this work of providing food for people whose lives had been devastated by corporate lumber interests and warmongers, and secondly to learn to personally become peacefully non-cooperative with any institution that abused and exploited the poor.
And I found this attitude to be prevalent among other workers in the camp in general as well.