Kan Yan

Kan Yan (Backward Society Education – BASE): Kan graduated with a BA in Plan II from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006. During this time, Kan conducted research on the education of Turkish students in Berlin, interned for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former-Yugoslavia, interned for the Texas Speaker of the House on state education, and worked part-time for an anti-private prison campaign. After he graduated, Kan undertook a year of exploring, teaching, traveling, and learning languages. He then enrolled in Harvard Law School where he studying for a joint degree (with the Fletcher School) when he undertook his AP fellowship. In 2008, Kan advised a Karen NGO working on land issues within Burma. After his fellowship, Kan wrote: “It was really nourishing in a way I can't quite put into words.”

Stuck to my seat.

01 Jun

“The Garuwa can make you stick to your seat.” Sitting among the medicine men, the spiritual keepers of this culture, my mind churned this phrase over. I do feel somewhat stuck to my seat, grounded here in the lushest plot of land in Dang district. Dusk among the bounteous small farming plots comes with a gentle ease—the same ease the farmers exude in tending their plots. They harvest with a sagacious certainty, unperturbed by the stranger with a camera.

The children washing in the stream are framed by cobalt mountains quietly whispering majesty. I walk arm in arm, hand in hand, with my coworker and new friend Birbal. I love holding hands with men I respect and adore. He holds my hand with the same sureness the farmers bring to their toil. When it’s time to release, he simply flicks his wrist. It’s simpler than the sticky release to all my past romantic hand holds. The simple joy of physical affection reminds me of Austin, the only place I’ve lived in America where physical affection among friends is as it should be—normal.

Stars give background to a dusk sky textured with a flow of bats coming out to greet the recent swarm of night insects. As they disappear the fireflies appear. We dine in a triangle on hand-woven mats behind Birbal’s family home. The electricity cuts out and a lamp appears in the center of the triangle. The night is meditative by candlelight. At this ceremonial feast, the men sit together to discuss their cosmology, their happiness, their future plans. The food is the most delicious I’ve had in a long time. It tastes like the end of a good day’s work. The rice wine further plants me firmly to my seat. Birbal holds my hand as he tells the shamans of my purpose here, of my culture. Night flowers bloom, giving the air a sweet, purple fragrance. Piglets scurry in the shadows behind the row of men.

The assembly asks me how people live in America. I take a few breaths pondering whether I can find something positive to say regarding the rule rather than the exceptions. The Tharu keep telling me they’re a backward people. As poor people keep sharing their best and rarest goods with me without hesitation, it becomes more and more apparent every time I am asked about American culture that we are the backward people—despite and perhaps because of our wealth. We have diluted all our relationships that maintain our goodness, distanced ourselves from the rituals that keep us grounded to life. We are alone, anxious, depressed and trying to buy and medicate our way out of a deep dissatisfaction. If that’s cliché to say, all the sadder: we are a people unable to solve what we recognize as our most obvious and fundamental problem.

And the rest of the world seeks to follow in our footsteps, blind leading the blind. During a walk the next morning with my 21 year-old friend Balu, he tells me that they are aware that modernization will dissolve their culture—it already has begun. He says it’s a worthwhile trade-off because they are so poor and backward. The grass is so dewy green and sweet on the other side of the fence. When we return one of the shamans performs a blessing ritual behind the house for a newly born child. I find myself desperately wanting a ritual to tell me that this life will turn out healthy, that I will cultivate a life full of family, friends, and community worth blessing. I realize these are choices I can make. Some of them will require a rejection of the culture I live in. I find myself stuck to my seat.

Posted By Kan Yan

Posted Jun 1st, 2009


  • Evelina Gueorguieva

    June 5, 2009


    Hello, Kan,

    I just wanted to say that I’ve been following your blog, and I love it. Keep up the good work!!


  • Karen A

    June 7, 2009



  • Luna Liu

    June 9, 2009


    Hey, This is Luna here, another fellow who is going to Kenya soon. It was a pity that we did not have a chance to meet during the training since you were there already. I was curious that whether your name is Chinese or your family came from China and how you feel about studying law–as I am from China and I studied law.

    I went to Nepal for twice and it is still one of my favorite country. I hope you enjoy your work there!

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