After being at site for a couple of months, a group of us from the Kashkadaryo Region decided to spend the arrival of the year 2000 in Bukhara. Jang Lee, Joseph Jones, Dominic Stucker, Abigail Potter, my wife Allison, and I filled up a Damas (a small van) and headed out of town. Since it was close to New Year’s, the militia stops were checking everyone, and we were stopped leaving the Kashkadaryo Region. The militia guys would not accept our kartochkas (identification credentials) as legitimate forms of identification and called their boss to drive over from another post. We were terribly frustrated and angry that these guys wouldn’t accept our “diplomatic status” and just let us go. Dominic, Joseph, and I were particularly angry and took turns using our limited language skills to hassle and berate the militia guys. Meanwhile, Jang approached them with his pictures of San Francisco and a Peace Corps pamphlet written in Russian, very patiently explaining to them why we were in their country, answering their questions about America, and generally doing what all Peace Corps Volunteers are supposed to be doing. Even at the time, the rest of us recognized and commented upon Jang’s dedication and genuine belief in the goals of Peace Corps. While we were being ugly Americans, Jang took the opportunity for a cultural exchange.
For the past two years, I was privileged to spend a lot of time with Jang and to get to know him well. His village was close to my site, and he used to visit Allison and me often. Jang was always positive, patient, and laid back. After reading The Tao of Pooh, I deemed him the Tao Master because of his simple but deep understanding of the way things happen beyond our control. He always made the best of every situation. Jang was a dedicated English teacher, artist, great listener, and master at origami. He loved to take walks in the desert near his house in Guzor, to play chess with anyone who was willing, and to sing songs with his students. He was proud of his parents who immigrated to the states from South Korea when he was a boy and made a life for him and his brother and sister. He was adored by his host family, our host family, his students, and by his colleagues at school. His goal was to continue his work as an English teacher in both S. Korea and in Japan.
I feel blessed that Jang was a part of my life and that I was part of his. During the last two years we learned a lot from Jang’s example and will never forget him or his kindness. God Bless Jang Lee.
Blake Bickham (UZ8)
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