MY HEART THE SUN: A Book Excerpt – by Guest Trekker Cat Kurtz

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I’m excited to introduce you to a writer and adventurer who has witnessed a unique battle for women’s rights in Thailand, specifically, the rights of Buddhist nuns. Cat Kurtz is the author of My Heart the Sun, a non-fiction account of Buddhist Theravada nuns’ fight for the right to become bhikkunis, fully ordained Buddhist monastics.

Bhikkunis are fully ordained Theravada Buddhist monastics. These nuns were ordained in Sri Lanka.

Cat has been a witness to this Southeast Asian women’s movement and spiritual revolution since its beginnings in 2002 and she still communicates regularly with nuns in Thailand. Her hope is to keep her promise to give voice to their untold story. Here is a piece of that promise:

Excerpt from

My Heart the Sun
By Cat Kurtz
©2010

Chapter 2

As soon as I walked through Passport Control, I sensed that something wasn’t right.

Sister Lee had written that our home base would be the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women – a women’s shelter, orphanage, college for Buddhist nuns, AIDS hospice, jobs skill training center, and international hostel. It was more than I could imagine under one roof. But, according to Lee, two women managed the entire operation. These women, she wrote, were two of the most powerful people in the fledgling women’s movement in Thailand. Dr. Suteera, president of the APSW, and Dr. Corner, the director of UNIFEM, had both been informed of my coming arrival. Lee explained that writing them would “unlock some very large doors,” and assist us in interviewing women throughout Southeast Asia about the spreading AIDS and prostitution epidemic.

In my daydreams, I pictured myself meeting eager women and their families, Lee translating as we wound slowly down the coast of Thailand. I knew this trip was about struggle and the stories would be hard to hear, but in my imagination the pictures were lovely — the journey this happy trail through tall grass and sunshine, far away from break-up fights and crowded bars and anyone I knew. On the plane, I’d gotten increasingly excited about the prospect of recording women’s survival tales under the supportive gaze of the Thai community. I practically ran through Passport Control.

Lee had told me how to spot her in the letters. “Orange robes, bald head, hard to miss,” she’d said.

Lee had told me how to spot her in the letters. “Orange robes, bald head, hard to miss,” she’d said. And there she was – sitting still as stone, all alone, hands folded in her lap. Her solitary figure threw me for a loop. No crowds, no posse of nuns waving and holding up a banner, little orphan children darting from behind their skirts. Lee didn’t even get up. I don’t know how I’d expected her to greet me. Buddhist nuns can’t hug. But I wasn’t used to seeing Lee as a nun. I was used to seeing Lee as a nurse. Now she was bald and dressed all in orange. In the bustling airport, she seemed hyper-serene. I stood there with my baggage and my camera gear unsure whether to bow, or wave, or try for a small embrace.

“Hey Lee,” I said. “Long time no see.”

“They are watching us,” she said, “because they think I’m a man. This is why they let me wait for you outside the rope. Monks are not allowed to sit with women. There is too much risk of stirring up impure thoughts and distracting from meditation.”

I looked around, but every face I searched averted my stare, heads darting down at their shoes. Perhaps, as Lee said, they were looking to see the strange woman with the cross-dressing nun, or they might have thought I was a tourist illegally standing beside a Theravada monk. More likely the folks in the airport were staring at Lee. At the time, I had no idea that she was leading the fight to legalize ordainment for Buddhist nuns. Just associating with her put me under threat of arrest.

“You are probably tired from your long travels,” Lee said. “We can sit here a moment and rest. But we should go back to the Center soon before someone approaches us – an angry man, the police – anyone who has not seen a Buddhist nun.”

Lee’s letters had made Buddhist nuns sound pretty commonplace, but even during those first moments in the country I sensed that airports weren’t the only places they were rare.

“I think you will like the Center.”

I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t like the name of any place called the Center. It sounded like some kind of mental ward.

“There are other nuns there, but not like me. The nuns at the Center all wear white.”

“Why?”

“They are novice nuns. Maechees.”

She spoke in stilted English as if she was struggling to remember the language, and I suddenly realized how long it had been since I last saw Lee and what a stranger she was to me then. In Colorado, where our conversations were confined to the nursing home where she worked, the relationship felt comfortable. Something about this new Lee, this spiritually elevated, culturally unbounded Lee, scared me.

I didn’t understand what these levels of nun meant and what about them might get us arrested in Bangkok International Airport, but I was too tired to ask.

“Do you feel rested and ready to go now?” she asked.

I nodded, then followed her through the sliding airport doors and into Bangkok, where it was night.

(more to come…)

***

Cat Kurtz teaches writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Seeds of Peace, Eastern Horizons, terrain.org and Punk Planet. She is an avid adventurer, Write Life Coach and proud new mom. If you’d like to read more of her story, My Heart the Sun, check back here for another excerpt on Thursday, November 11.

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32 thoughts on “MY HEART THE SUN: A Book Excerpt – by Guest Trekker Cat Kurtz

  1. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thanks for visiting, Gloria. I’m glad you found the chat useful. I had a lot of fun.

    Consider yourself entered for my book drawing. I’ll contact the winner next Sunday afternoon.

    Reply
  2. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    I got to hear Cat read this section aloud up in Boulder, plus a bit more. I think you’re right, she really knows how to weave an engaging tale. I hope this book gets published. I really want to read the whole thing.

    I believe she didn’t know quite what she was getting into when she went to Thailand to learn more about Lee and her cause. She ended up having an adventure the likes of which few of us will ever experience.

    Reply
  3. Kathryn Grace

    I was hooked immediately. Transported. As my two year old granddaughter says, “I want mo!”

    Thank you for the love, heart and courage it took to research and write this book. It is difficult to fathom, no matter which religion I am studying, the injustice and lack of love in the name of whatever god or gods the religion practices. But then I remember that it is not our gods who make religion, but men, and usually to serve themselves. As more and more of the disenfranchised demand entrance, acceptance and an equal voice, the more god-like our religions and spiritual practices can become. But that’s a whole other topic. : )

    Reply
  4. Cat Kurtz

    Hi Kathryn,
    Thanks so much for your kind words. They are particularly encouraging because, while I am a woman, I am an American woman telling another culture’s story and telling it responsibly so that SE Asian women’s voices are accurately represented is challenging. I’m happy that you found chapter 2 enaging. I plan to send another excerpt next month and look forward to hearing what you think!

    Reply
  5. Claudia Mills

    Nobody weaves a spell with her writing better than Cat. I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and plunge myself into Thailand with Cat as my ever wise, intrepid, funny, and compassionate guide.

    Reply
  6. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thanks for visiting, Claudia. When I heard Cat read from this story, first it tickled me and then it made my jaw drop, the way she expressed in such an off-hand, humble way the incredible adventure in which she found herself. I’m eager to read the segment she shares next month.

    Reply
  7. Robert Altman

    This seems to be a unique, interesting and well written tale. I can’t wait to read more and I hope it will be published.

    Reply
  8. Susie Kosach

    Sounds like an absolutely fascinating story. I am eager to hear what happens to Cat after she goes off into the Bangkok night. Please keep me posted on when more chapters will be available.

    Reply
  9. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    I just knew readers would have that question, Susie. That’s why I asked her to provide another excerpt. I plan to post that on Thursday, November 11th. Thanks so much for your interest.

    Reply
  10. Debbie Kurtz

    I’m glad we finally get to read some of your story, Cat! Looking forward to the next chapter.

    Reply
  11. Kurt Schaefer

    Great excerpt – I think you have the teaser that goes on the inside front cover of the book…are you finished editing yet?

    Reply
  12. Julie Pelaez

    Wow Cat! This is a gripping story! I feel like this story NEEDS to be told. This is the first time I’m hearing of their struggle. Thanks for shining the light. Can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

    Reply
  13. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    I agree, Nancy. Cat, It looks like you will have an eager audience for this book. I hope this response energizes you as you start the search for a publisher. Some smart editor is bound to pick this up.

    Reply
  14. Tim Foss

    Great excerpt, Cat! So nice to finally hear the prose after hearing so much about it from you directly. What an experience. The sense of urgency is so potent. I’m glad for your work here and am sure it will find a home! Good luck!

    Reply
  15. Cat Kurtz

    Thanks, Tim. I’m really thrilled to be a part of Cara’s blog too. The mission is inspiring and the all of the stories are so well-told. It’s an honor to share a chapter here. thanks for checking it out!

    Reply
  16. Ellen Orleans

    Cat — I really like how you balance the visual details of the moment with your thoughts and fears about the future. Thanks for sharing this.

    Cara, so good to hear you read last night. I look forward to reading your book next month.

    Reply
  17. C. Howe

    Dear Cat,

    Reading along, I found myself taking this fascinating journey with you, mentally trying to protect you, and upset that you had not been forewarned of danger ahead.

    Immediately hooked and holding my breath,

    Constance

    Reply
  18. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thank you for the opportunity, Ellen. I really enjoyed reading at “Snapshot,” and listening to the many different ways writers react to the same stimulus. I’m gratified to hear that you plan to read “They Only Eat Their Husbands.” I hope you like it!

    Reply
  19. Finnegan T Lake

    Hi Cat,

    Your writing is so vivid and creative and engaging and informative! I can’t wait to read more of your adventures in Thailand–and it’s obvious from the feedback you’ve gotten that there are plenty of others out there who feel the same way. If there are any agents or publishers out there reading these excerpts, they’d be smart to snatch you up while they still can.

    Reply
  20. Zee

    Thailand is such a beautiful country. I hope the Buddhist nuns get the recognition and acceptance they deserve. Thank you Cat for bringing this issue into the light. I had no idea there was such a problem in SE Asia.

    I sincerely hope you do get published.

    Reply
  21. Isabel

    Cat, thank you for bringing these vivid portraits to us outsiders. I commend you, your travels and compassion.

    Reply
  22. Cat Kurtz

    Thank you Zee and Isabel. I’ve been working on this project for such a long time and your words make me feel encouraged to push through and finish!

    Reply

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