I MADE A MOST- MEMORABLE FRIENDSHIP ON MY GREAT WALL JOURNEY.
I well-remember that September morning, in 1990, when I was enjoying a short jog on a restored section of The Great Wall. Arthur, my helpful companion-- was far behind me--- struggling with all the baggage. I craved privacy, especially in the early morning hours. I won’t deny---those times when Arthur lagged behind--- felt nice. We had plenty of time each evening to discuss the day’s activities. Also, there were numerous times during the day when I could answer Arthur’s endless questions about America.
Following the Wall’s sharp curve, I glanced over the edge and saw, from a distance of about two blocks, a group of black and white angora goats, grazing on a steep hillside. I recognized them as angora goats because I once-loved an angora goat named Nanny.
Leaving for school one morning in 1956 (I was a senior at Pine Bluff High School) I spotted a fluffy white goat caught in a neighbor’s broken wire fence. The sight of the poor little goat trying to chew his way out of his wire trap was heartbreaking and I had to get help. Lucky, my father was home. After freeing the beautiful animal, my father approached the goat’s owner about fixing his fence so more of his goats didn’t suffer the same fate. Learning I was the one who instigated the rescue, the neighbor decided to give me the goat as a present! I named my new pet, Nannie, and she lived in our backyard until, years later, she left us to live on that great-big-farm--- in Heaven.
SO—all these years later-- I think of goats as my pets---my babies. Directly above the Goats, the Great Wall “hosted” one of the most-elegant Watch Towers-- ever. It was so well-preserved-- it looked like an Oriental Mansion, complete with windows. It was straight ahead, which meant I’d be passing through that Watch Tower in about ten minutes. Spotting the multiple ladder-like steps that would carry me straight- up and inside the tower, I paused for a moment to catch my breath. It was then that I caught a quick glimpse of a slight figure sitting in one of the “high-up” windows. Almost hidden in the darkness, I decided the figure was the "Keeper of the Goats."
Running up the steep stairs, I began rehearsing my Chinese greeting and wondering what gift I could offer my new friend. Reaching the last step, I hurried through the doorway and came face to face with a tiny, leather-faced Chinese man in a straw hat, clutching a wooden handle attached to a curved steel blade! Wow! With my friendly smile--- suddenly- frozen-in-place--- I began reciting the few Chinese Greetings I knew--yet the small Chinese continued to stand deadly- still, grasping that sinister-looking weapon so---I started singing what little I knew of the ancient Great Wall Ballad--in Chinese. That did the trick! “The Goat man” dropped his curved knife, broke into a huge smile, and began jumping around the tower like an acrobat--while jabbering—excitedly-- in Chinese. I realized my tiny friend had been frightened when he saw me-- a stranger-- running toward him so-- he’d grabbed his Sickle to protect himself. Unable to communicate in Chinese, I reached for my Chinese peanuts and offered the packet to him. He was fascinated with my American Flag pin and kept pointing to it. I’d faithfully worn my flag pin every day of my Great Wall Journey but, at that moment, it seemed like "the right- time" to pin it on my new friend.
Finally-able to catch up with me, Arthur was more than surprised to find me making friends with the Chinese man I now-referred to as the Goat Man. After finishing the peanuts, my new friend shared his boiled water with Arthur and me and then-- it was time to continue our long journey.
One afternoon, more than six years later, having returned to China to teach English, I received a phone call from Starr-- my Chinese translator-- who helped me with my hotel’s English Classes. Sounding extremely- excited, Starr asked if she could come to my hotel room, immediately. It seems a letter- written in Chinese- and addressed to me--- had arrived from a far-away Chinese Province and Star needed to share it with me.
Imagine my surprise when I learned the letter was from a Prisoner, in a remote prison, in Northeast China. Somehow, the prisoner had seen an older Chinese Magazine with my picture on the cover. The article inside told about my Journey of The Great Wall and explained I was now teaching English in Beijing. The prisoner was inspired to write me a letter and, not knowing my exact address, mailed it to the Magazine. Of course my letter passed through many hands before finally reaching me but---the prisoner’s story impressed everyone who read it. No one would have dared keep such an important letter from the American Woman.
Everyone who saw the prisoner’s letter was stunned with the prisoner’s impeccable penmanship. Apparently, the young man had been beautifully-educated although he was raised in an extremely- poor and remote village. Daily life was hard in most-all of China’s small villages. Earning enough to keep his children from starving--- and his animals from dying-- was almost-impossible for this young man. When he was caught stealing bread from an outside vendor, he was given a life-sentence in Prison. The young man had been in prison for more than five years-- when he saw the magazine with my story and my photo.
He instantly- remembered his father telling the family about the day he met the tall white lady on The Great Wall. His father proudly-showed everyone the Flag pin the lady had given him—from her country, America. Not long after our Great Wall Meeting, his father had suffered a fatal illness--then died. Most of all, the prisoner wanted me to know how honored his father had been to meet me. At the end of the letter, the young man asked if I had any photos from the day I’d met his father.
I want everyone’s life to have a happy ending. Not only did I send copies of every photo I had of his father and-- the two of us together, I also included photos of his father’s beautiful angora goats.
In an effort to help the young man, I visited the Chinese Government’s Director of Prisons to share the prisoner’s letter and my story. After several meetings and some-serious persuasion, the Goat Man’s Son was invited to teach other prisoners to improve their written Chinese and penmanship. In addition to receiving a small amount of money for teaching, the young man’s lifetime prison sentence was reduced to just-- three more years.
It was no coincidence the Goat Man and I met on The Great Wall. I also KNOW it was no accident-- the Goat Man’s son saw an old magazine containing my photo and read--my story. God works miracles every day—all around us—and, yes--God works miracles--- in China.