I was born to Hmong refugees of Thailand in the early summer of 1995 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I had four older sisters at the time and a grandma who watched over us as my parents began their new life as factory workers. While my parents and three older sisters were gone during the day, my fourth older sister and I stayed at home with my grandma who usually sat on her usual spot on the couch, watching her Hmong-dubbed Thai lakorns or listened to traditional Hmong song-poetries. Though, what I would remember most about her was her herbal medicine.
Before my family came to the United States and before they left Thailand, they lived in Laos. In the mountainous terrain of their home country, my grandma traveled around the mountains and jungles in search of special types of plants, leaves, and barks she would collect to prepare for her family, relatives, friends, or other Hmong and Laotian people. My grandma, or pog, was very well known for her medicine. In fact, many Hmong and Laotian men and women from all over the country would travel the distance to find this old, short, brown-skinned Hmong woman with long hair wrapped in a purple, green, and pink cloth, who provided them with special herbal medicine to either cure them or their loved one(s). However, after the war in Laos broke out, my family had to flee for their lives, in which my grandma had to leave her special herbs behind.
Pog thought she would never be able to find her special herbs here in the new country. But as the days, weeks, months, and years pass, she found substitutes. I don’t know how she does it, but she would walk into a park or forest and wander around for an hour, picking green plants that all looked the same to me. I questioned her one time, “Pog, how do you know that plant is for stomach aches?” She answered, “I have a good memory”, then continued searching for her special plants. I tried to help pog look for them, observing the shapes and sizes of each green bush and shrub, although after five minutes, I became impatient and frustrated.
On days she wasn’t out looking for plants, leaves, or barks, she had visitors. Similar to her life back in Laos, many people went to her for medicinal purposes. I remember sitting close by her, listening to her describe what the herbal medicine was for and how it should be prepared and taken. I always thought to myself why her customers would want to eat and drink the twigs and green leaves she collected when they can find them out in their own yard. I was oblivious to my pog’s unique medicine and what they can do. However, I always knew I wanted to be like her – have a good memory.
**I was assigned to write about my first encounter with science for my LSC 212 class. I thought of writing about my boring and annoying experiences I had with biology and chemistry, but then some how I thought of my grandma and decided to write about her. My grandma, as stated above, was an herbalist (I think that’s what they call them) who was busy traveling around looking for her tshuaj (medicine). There were many times, my father recalled, when she had to leave her children behind for a few days or weeks to look for her special tshuaj, while they stayed back to farm or take care of the house. Some may say that she’s selfish and is an irresponsible mother who neglected her children, but I say she’s an intelligent woman who used her knowledge in horticulture to make a living for her family and a cure for others.
Now that I think about it, my pog not only introduced me to science but she inspired me to be a woman of knowledge, love, kindness, and selflessness.
I hope you were able to see why my grandma plays such a big role in my life.