On that bright -but cold- September morning, in 1990, I was enjoying a short jog on a rare portion of restored Wall. Arthur, my "gift" from China's Leaders, was far behind me, struggling with
extra bags and sleepiness.
I craved privacy, especially in the early hours. I won’t deny that when Arthur lagged behind in the mornings, being all-alone felt nice.
We had plenty of time in the evening to discuss the day’s activities; more than enough time for me to answer Arthur’s endless questions about America.
Follow 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 easily 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 that 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 a few years later, when she left us to live on that big
farm in Heaven.
So many years later, I think of all goats as my pets---my babies. Directly above the Goats, the Great Wall hosted one of the most-elegant Watch Tower, so well-preserved
it looked like an oriental home, complete with windows. It was straight ahead, which meant I’d be passing through that Watch Tower in about ten minutes
Reaching the multitude of
steps that would carry me upward and inside the tower, I paused for a moment to catch my breath and, looking up, caught a quick glimpse of a slight figure wearing dark clothing. Almost hiding in the darkness, the figure was apparently the "Keeper of the Goats."
Running up the long, steep stairs, I began rehearsing my Chinese greeting and wondering what gift I might 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 and clutching a wooden handle attached to a curved steel blade! Wow! With my mask-like smile frozen in-place, I began reciting the few Chinese Greetings I knew…..yet the small
Chinese continued to stand still, continued to grasp that sinister-looking weapon so…I decide to sing what little I knew of the very old, 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 a stranger running
toward him so he’d grabbed his knife to protect himself.
Since we were unable to communicate with words, I reached for my Chinese peanuts and offered some 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 now, it seemed time to pin it on my new and special friend.
Finally able to catch up with me, Arthur was more than surprised to find me making friends with the Chinese man I 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 for us to move on.
One afternoon, almost six years later, after returning to China to teach, I received a phone call from my Chinese translator-- who helped with my hotel’s
English Classes—asking to come to my hotel room. A letter- written in Chinese- and addressed to me had arrived from a far-away Chinese province and she needed to share it with me.
my surprise when I learned the letter was from a prisoner in Northeast China. Somehow, the prisoner had seen a Chinese Magazine with my picture on the cover. The article inside told about me traveling The Great Wall and explained I was now teaching English
in Beijing. Immediately the prisoner wrote me a letter and, not knowing where I lived, 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.
The prisoner’s penmanship was impeccable. It seems, he had been beautifully educated for someone living
in a small remote village but daily life there was hard and…earning enough to keep his children from starving and his animals from dying, was almost impossible. When he was caught stealing bread from an outside vendor, he was given a sentence of life
The young man had been in prison for more than three years when he saw the magazine with my photo. He remembered his father telling the family about the day he met the tall
white lady on The Great Wall and how she had given him the Flag pin from her country. Not too long after that, his father had suffered an illness and died.
Most of all, the prisoner
wanted me to know how honored his father had been to meet me. And, he wondered if I had any photos from the day I met his father.
I want everyone’s life to have a happy ending; I try
very hard to make that happen if/when they cross my path. 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 goats.
Soon, 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 assigned
to help other prisoners improve their written Chinese and penmanship. In addition to receiving a small amount of money for teaching, his lifetime prison sentence was reduced to three years.
It was no coincidence the Goat Man and I met on The Great Wall. It was certainly no accident the Goat Man’s son saw a magazine containing my photo. Never doubt---- God works miracles every day-- even in China.