Chonny doesn’t like Chokes

( I wrote this two weeks ago around the time that my sister was leaving. After that, life showed up and got busy when I started my online teaching prep program. When I found this today, I decided to finish it up.)

When my sister Sara came to visit me last month, we needed a way for her to travel to Mae Sariang after landing in Chiang Mai. I also wanted her to have a bike for transportation for times I would be in school and unable to drive her around. 

Enter Chonny. 

Invest has several vehicles for staff use. One of them is Jimmy, (also called Chimmy) a manual truck that is known for his temperamental behavior. Recently, a former IGo staff donated his old bike to the cause as well. This bike has now been christened Johnny, or Chonny. (PA Dutch speakers will understand the need to add the CH). I thought about calling him Eli, but my sister protested vehemently. So, instead we called him Chonny, since he made a very good partner for Chimmy.

Chonny managed to make it to Mae Sariang intact. He is aged and slightly stiff, but we took it slowly and managed to make it without mishap. Sara got along with him superbly, even with his quirks, or perhaps because of them. 

Before I begin my story, there are several things that you need to know. Chonny only starts via kickstarting. Not only that, there are times when Chonny is loathe to start on cool mornings, and then you have to choke him to start him. Chonny also has only 100 cc’s of “oomph” to get him up mountains. 

Sara drove him around in Mae Sariang for a few weeks, and then before she headed back to the States, she wanted to go back to Chiang Mai to visit our friend Amanda. Our original plans changed several times so instead of both of us driving to Chiang Mai, she took the bus to Chiang Mai and left Chonny sitting forlornly at our house. 

My friend Max was getting married in Omkoi on Saturday. Max was a police officer I had met at the station in Chiang Mai years ago when I was working as a translator. Max is also a Christian from a Karen village in Omkoi. Sara really wanted to attend a Karen wedding, so she planned to bring the bus back from Chiang Mai halfway, meet us at the Suan Son pine forest for the night and then we would drive to the wedding in the morning. We would then drive to Chiang Mai doubling up on Chonny. Sara would then board the plane on Sunday night, leaving for home. 

At first, I was leery of the plan. Driving to Chiang Mai on my well-maintained 150 cc bike is a long drive. Driving to Chiang Mai double on Chonny, who sounds like he is going to fall to pieces when you hit 80kmh sounded dubious. Not only that, I am attached to my bike and prefer to drive that. It irks me slightly to have to drive another one. (Don’t tell my sister).

But it made sense, and I needed to get Chonny back to Chiang Mai anyway. And it would be an adventure, I told my friend Abby, when trying to decide if we wanted to risk it. If you make something tedious an adventure with sisters, then it’s all good. 

Amy and I left for Suan Son after school on Friday night.  Before then, we stopped at the gas station to fill up with gas and fill our tires with air. At the air pump, a kind man offered to fill up my tires. He checked the front tire and was like, “Oh this doesn’t need any air. But…” his voice trailed off. “This tire is really worn. How far are you going?”

“Oh, to Suan Son,” I said airily. I didn’t mention Omkoi or Chiang Mai.  I tend to downplay my travel with Thai people because many people get worried when they see this farang driving that far. 

He got this funny look on his face. I thought maybe he hadn’t understood me correctly, but I was in a hurry and didn’t feel like I needed to clarify myself.

“The tire is very worn,” he said again. 

“Ok,” I said, “It’s not my bike. I will tell the owner.” Somehow I felt like I had to make sure he knew it was not my bike. 

I mulled over the meaning of the look on his face as Amy and I left for Suan Son, driving through the chilly mountains with the sun setting in resplendence on the right and a full moon rising over the mountains on the right. I was so distracted with the sun and the moon and keeping Chonny on the road that I forgot about the man with the funny look.

We arrived at our little homestay and then I left to pick up Sara at the Suan Son forest since that was where I had told the bus driver to leave her. I planned to pick her up there and drive back to our homestay.

But both Chonny and the bus driver had different plans. Just as I reached Suan Son, Chonny started limping and suddenly the look on the man’s face made sense. Chonny’s front tire was flat. Very flat.

Just like that my phone rang. It was Sara. “I don’t know where I am,” she said. “The driver didn’t let me off at the right place!”

Since Chonny was out of the running, there was no way I could go find her. And, it was rapidly getting dark. I figured out where she was and called Amy and Amy went to pick her up. 

Chonny had graciously decided to go flat right in front of the police checkpoint and the policemen just as graciously loaded up my bike on the back of the police truck and drove me to the nearest bike shop which was the only one close along miles of wilderness. I was very, very grateful.

That was episode one with Chonny. Now, with a new front tire I was a bit more confident that we would reach Chiang Mai in one piece the next day. 

The next morning came the test. It was cold so Sara offered to start Chonny up while I went to pay for the homestay. And then we started off for the wedding in Omkoi which was 55 kilometers away, with Sara riding behind me on Chonny and Amy driving behind us. The first hill we came to, Chonny groaned. 

I did too. 

If it took us this long to get up one hill, it was going to be a long drive to Chiang Mai.

We turned off towards Omkoi and I experienced a sinking feeling that sunk lower and lower the further and higher we went. Just before we got to a major pass, Chonny started going slower and slower. It felt like the more gas I gave him, the slower he went. Finally, I stopped. There was no way that we could make it up that hill in this condition. Sara jumped on the back of Amy’s bike and I decided to go up with Chonny by myself, but as I started off, I realized something was majorly wrong. Even with one rider, Chonny was struggling. 

The wedding was supposed to start at 10. This was a little before 9. What on earth should we do?

We went back and looked for a bike shop. The first person said, “That way,” so we went “that way” and the next one said, “that way,” too so we went “that way”, and then the next one said, “this way.” 

Our heads were spinning. I messaged P Tob, one of Max’s police officer friends who was coming to the wedding. 

“How far  have you come yet?” I asked. “If we leave the bike here, can you pick us up?” 

“Send me a location,” he said. I will, as soon as I have one. The last guy sent us up over the hill, saying there should be an open shop past the hill. I held my breath and gave Chonny as much gas as I could and even put my feet on the ground to help him up. We got over, just like the little engine that could.

“Hmm, “ I thought to myself. Maybe we could get to the wedding. If we would just drive slowly and at least make it to Omkoi, we could leave the bike there at a shop and at least attend the wedding. 

So, I told P Tob that he didn’t need to stop and pick us up after all. “But,” I said, “Just keep an eye out if you see us beside the road somewhere.” 

About 2 hills later, I changed my mind. Saying “I think I can, I think I can,” may work in certain circumstances, but not in this one. We were not going to make it like this. It seemed every time I stopped Chonny, he did a bit better, but not for long. We decided that Amy and Sara would drive on. I would get Chonny checked out and then get P Tob to pick me up and  try to at least come for the last part of the wedding. I drove him back to the shop. 

As I drove in, there was the usual fearful apprehension about a foreigner coming into the shop. I spoke in Thai to one of the little Karen boys sitting in front and tried to explain what was wrong. I didn’t know how to say it, other than that it seemed Chonny had no power. He called the head guy. I went off to the side to figure out where I was and send the location to P Tob. 

The man came over. He went to start the bike, and then said, “Oh, the choke’s on!”

The little Karen boys in front of the shop went into spasms of laughter. 

I looked and couldn’t believe my eyes. I guess when Sara went out to start him in the morning, she forgot to turn off the choke and I never thought to check since the only thing I have ever driven with a choke was a lawn mower. It seemed like magic. Chonny was fixed. And I was escalating the embarrassment scale rapidly. I

I didn’t look at the Karen boys, who I am sure were absolutely splitting their sides with laughter. Instead, I got on the bike and raced away with surprising rapidity, howling and screaming with laughter myself. For the next 10 kilometers, I laughed out loud. And laughed and laughed. 

We made it to the wedding a little late, but it was fine. And after the wedding, we drove to Chiang Mai on Chonny without incident, making chokes about Chonny not enjoying chokes. 

And I am sure that evening several little boys went home and regaled their families around the supper table about the foreigner who came with the bike that “didn’t work.”

Above: Chonny safely in Chiang Mai

Kawthoolei Christmas

December 14, 2022

Dawn slips over the river, sending silver light over the glassy surface of the River Salawin*. We walk down to the shore in the half-light, while another row of unrecognizable shapes moves down the bank a few hundred meters ahead. The boats are waiting. A few people wave their hands in a good morning, but for the most part we move silently. We climb carefully onto the boats. The three of us with long noses and white skin and lighter hair deck ourselves with long sleeves and hats and facial coverings.

The gray silence is broken by the roar of a boat starting. A man nimbly climbs from the front of the boat to the back, walking alongside the edge of the boat. The prow of the boat cuts through the water to middle of the river, going against the current of the water that used to be a frozen glacier in Tibet.

A ten-minute ride and we are there on the other side, the side that I have heard so much about, but never visited. Kawthoolei**, which in Karen means “the land without darkness.” The place where villages are looted and plundered day after day even now after decades of fighting and unrest.

There, on the other side, we are told to not take any pictures of immediate checkpoint. We climb the steep bluff. A Karen soldier is sweeping the ground around the checkpoint. He nods to us.

“Ghaw luh a ghay,” he greets us with the traditional Karen greeting.

We walk on, past a small hospital which currently has no patients. The patients are in a house closer to caves for when evacuations are needed when the Burma army flies overhead with planes, bombing the area. Recently, we are told, there were drones scouting in the area, which means that the residents of the area need to be extra careful.

The area is a medical training center where trainees come for 6 months and then leave. It is small, carved from the growth of the jungle, with a few spaces wide enough for a game of Takraw (a game similar to volleyball, using only feet and heads, and a smaller ball).  Passersby on the river would scarcely know that it exists. Surrounded by mountains on either side, we walk down to the makeshift church for the Christmas service.

The simplicity, not of the service or the church or even the hospital area, stuns me. What stuns me is how simple the line is that the River Salawin draws between two countries. Karen people inhabit both sides of the river. On the one side, they live in constant tension, not knowing when the airplanes might choose to sweep overhead, dropping their lethal cargo, or when a troupe of Burmese soldiers might come looting and raping and burning. Perhaps the worst of it is the not knowing. On the other side of the river, in the village Thatafang, they live in peace, under the protection of the Thai government. They travel freely without travel passes. When planes pass overhead, they may watch, but they do not run. They have identification and citizenship and rights.

None of the people on either side chose what side they wanted to be born on. None of them even chose to be born.

The River Salawin flows on serenely through the middle, unchanging in the conflict over the past seventy-three years, ten months and three days.***

Then in that slice of clearing, shaped uncannily like a slice of pie, we celebrate the coming of a Savior who left his life in heaven to be born in a stable, to become flesh among a tribe of people who were caught under the tyranny of foreign rule. Our worship rises in the early morning air, up from the campfires and forests of the Burmese jungle, calling out to the God who became man and lived among us. The God who was light who came to give light to us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.

The God who is Immanuel. The God who is with us.

*There are two common spellings for the Salawin River, Salawin and Salween. I prefer Salawin, to match with the Thai pronunciation.

**Kawthoolei is the name that Karen people call their own country, hopefully named “land without darkness.” However, it is more commonly known as Karen State, Myanmar.

***According to Wikipedia (take it with a grain of salt) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_conflict

Dustbeams (Print Version) Released!

I am happy to announce that (drumroll) ……

The printed version of Dustbeams is now available!!

For those who might have missed the announcement about the Kindle version here, Dustbeams is a compilation of poems and stories or essays about my experiences in Thailand. It also has a section dedicated to life in Kansas, called “Roots.” Most of the poems and essays were written in the past four years, with the last section, “Saohin,” written about the village of that name that I lived in while on my college internship. Examples of some of the poems and stories included in the book are, “Mommi,” “Spilled, ” “Interlude,” and “The Road to Saohin.”

The print version is 99 pages long.

Currently, it is only available to order on Amazon, but I am working on getting copies available in my home area. Sadly, I can order a book at the full list price and have it printed and sent to my home in 2 days’ time, but when I go to order author copies (which are available to the author at print price), Amazon says it will take 2 to 3 weeks to have them printed and delivered. Excuse me, Amazon? Maybe this naïve author is missing something here.

To avoid adding extra work to my family, since I am not at home to help distribute and ship books, I will not be shipping books to customers directly, with a few exceptions. (These exceptions are for Amish family and friends who do not have access to Amazon, or anyone else with a good reason who asks nicely.). If you would like to order a book, you can order it right here for $7.99 directly on Amazon.

Click here to order: https://a.co/d/0cinI2Y

For those in the Hutchinson, Kansas area, you have two options. If you would like to have a copy within this week or the next or maybe even the next, or if it’s just easier for you, you can order the book on Amazon as well. But if you want to wait until later, then you can wait until I have a definite date on when the author copies will reach Kansas. Friends from my support group will be in charge of the local distribution in Hutchinson. Dates and people to contact to get a copy will be released later.

If you are from Hutchinson and would like to be sure to reserve a copy, leave a comment below.

And, if you get a book and enjoy it, it would make me very happy if you would leave a review on Amazon, share it with a friend, or share it on social media. 😊

Merry Christmas!

(Below are a few screenshots of what the book will look like. Since I live on the other side of the world, I do not yet have a physical copy in my hands.)

Dustbeams is Released!

November wasn’t the kindest month of this year, with deaths, busyness, stress, and lots of cancelled plans. At the end, it threw the Covid bug at me, but I am grateful that I got Covid since it enabled me to spend hours finishing up my latest project. (Even though a large portion of the edits were done lying on my back.)

But now I am ecstatic to announce that my latest book, Dustbeams, is available on Kindle! Victory dance around the room while no one is looking!!! (No one should be looking because I am still in isolation).

The print version should be available on Amazon before too long, although I can’t give an exact date. I will send out another update when that is available. That will be available only on Amazon, but for those in the Hutchinson, Kansas area, there will be physical copies available in a few weeks from Blurb as well.

But for now, Kindle is available!! And because I love my Kindle and because this is my first book on Kindle, this makes me really excited (in case you haven’t noticed the surplus of exclamation points I am using. Normally I ration my exclamation points out quite conservatively).

!!!!

Dustbeams is similar to my last book, Through a Glass Darkly. It contains a mix of poetry and prose written over the past four years or so, with stories drawn from my experience in Thailand, especially in Saohin. One difference between the two books is the section dedicated to Kansas and home, called “Roots,” at the beginning of the book. The Kindle version contains 93 pages.

The edition is available here for $5.99. Below are some pictures of the book in Kindle version. Stay tuned to hear of the print release!

One of the main reasons I put Dustbeams together was as a fundraiser to help pay for my online course for teacher’s training that is coming up in January with Moreland University. After studying the course for nine months, I should, Lord Willing, be able to take the test to get my US teaching license, and then use that to finally get my Thai teaching license. So if you enjoy the book, be sure to leave a review and let friends know!

Feel free to share on social media!

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

The Road from Chiang Mai

Bright as the day through darkest night

From valleys low to mountains high

You go before me, you go behind me

Untroubled under a troubled sky

Through clouds that unleash stinging rain

On roads under sunfire in aching blue

Where fog shrouds the road in wraithing white

Yet still, still, I am with you.

Only a sojourner in a transient world

Weary on a road ever so long

Only a speck on a river passing,

Only an echo, a fragment of song

Yet your heart yearns for me from the brooding sky

As I crest the mountain in rain-washed hue

All through the winding journey home

Still, oh still, I am with you.

I am not sure how often and how long I have tried to write this poem, but each time, my words failed me. (This is the Purple Poem I wrote about in an earlier blog post). How to explain that feeling of God hand cupping over me as I do the monthly trip from Mae Sariang to Chiang Mai and back on my bike? How to weave into a poem the different emotions of the ride, the different scenes and backdrops? Finally, this morning I was able to somewhat put a tongue to it. Besides the obvious inspiration of those drives, Psalms 139 and James 4:5 were also inspirations for the poem.

I am also currently working on a new book of poetry and essays. I think it’s far enough along that I can say it’s going to happen, but it’s impossible to give any release date right now. I do, however, want to get it finished before I start my online course for my teacher’s license in January, which will take up all my spare time.

Stay tuned! 🙂

Where the South Wind Blows

Oh, give me the gray autumn winds of Kansas

That steal across the burnt sienna of tallgrass,

Down over rolling plains, close by the Ninnescah,

In November, in November, in gray November’s day.

I wonder if they would know me, those November winds

That ghost from river to prairie to grove,

Where dying Texas sunflowers await the dawning winter,

And Osage orange trees pencil black against the sky.

Oh, give me gray winds haunting shorn fields

And over the umber colors of the riverland grass,

When the sky cups over the brooding prairie world

On a day in November where the south wind dwells.

Gold and Green

A unique thing about life is the various shades that seem to color different periods of life. Some seasons in life are gray and blue, misty and melancholy. Others, for instance the last month I spent in Saohin, are characterized by browns and reds. This past season has been a rich mix of golds and greens, framed with wild blue skies and crimson sunsets.

October 7 was officially my last day of work before school break, although I took on some tutoring over our time off. On the evening of the 12th, on one a day when the air held a crisp hint of autumn, I set off for Chiang Mai where I met up with Amy and the rest of our INVEST team for our annual retreat as a team. Amy’s parents, Paul and Dorcas, served as speakers for our retreat. I felt like our activities and input at retreat were like a well-rounded meal, with a good amount of personal growth mixed with relaxation. It was an easily digestible meal: some meat, a lot of vegetables and light food, with a little bit of sweetness added.

This is our INVEST team, a ministry under IGo. INVEST stands for Igo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand. Missing in the photo is our team leader Phil’s wife, Jolene, and their sons, Chris and Clark, since they were sick with Covid.

Monday after retreat Amy and I headed off for Doi Chang with three other friends, Abby, Nancy and Glenda. We drove our motorbikes up the soaring heights of Doi Chang and among Akha villages, sipped coffee at coffee shops way up in the mountains, ate pizza while watching the sun set over a pond, woke up early to see the glory of the sunrise and feel the wind blow in our hair, and then made our way down again.

coffee beans

I left the others and headed to Chiang Dao to stay the night at my friend Louie’s house, taking the road through Doi Ang Khang National Park. I had been to this park years ago with Louie, but I had never come in from the east side. The heights were stunning. While Doi Chang had roads that were built high above patchworked fields, Doi Ang Khang was full of hairpin curves on roads that hugged cliffs and required me to drive in first gear. Every now and then, I stopped to savor the view and listen to the absolute silence of the mountain.

I spent the night with Louie and her hilarious sister in Baan Mai Samakkhi (which I wrote about visiting here 4 years ago), laughing over old jokes from bygone school days and making new ones. We talked about the time our instructor forgot to close the zipper on his pants and how I once accidentally hit a stranger over the head with a sweatshirt. Louie and her sister needed to leave early in the morning for a youth camp, so I spent the next morning with her mom and her younger brother. Louie’s younger brother, who reminded me of my high school students, took me to buy coffee, and to get the chain on my bike fixed. Her mom then loaded me up with avocados and a vegetable I don’t know the name for, then off I headed for Pai and Pang Mapha. I had already reserved a room in Pang Mapha since I knew if I took that way back to Mae Sariang, I wouldn’t be able to make it back to in one day without exhausting myself.

A blurry photo of Louie cooking. I chose a blurry one because she would prefer it.
The temple in Arunothai, the Chinese village right next to Louie’s and right next to the border. I wrote about Arunothai here
Nadech, the cat named after a movie star

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai and from then on to Mae Hong Son is renowned for curves, steep slopes, and the foreign, accident-prone tourists that drive them. I drove behind a motorbike with the typical long-legged, white foreigner look for a while, and thought to myself that it looked like one I might later see in the ditch. I stopped for lunch and about 45 minutes later I rounded a curve and encountered this very bike in a ditch with two bewildered foreigners standing beside it. I stopped, and we examined the situation, and I poured water over the young, excited man’s cuts. Whereupon, he sat down on a mile marker and then promptly pitched backwards into the ditch in a dead faint while I frantically tried to call 191. He then awoke and lifted one of the aforementioned long white legs and gravely stared at it as if trying to figure out how it was attached to him.

“Pound sign,” he blustered. “Exclamation mark, percent sign, pound sign, asterisk, pound sign!” I ignored the language and upon examining him further, we decided we didn’t need an ambulance after all.

He then asked for something sugary to eat and I was grateful to be able to pull from my backpack mentos that had been gifted to us on retreat. He gulped them down like a starving man.

I ended up going with them and a helpful Thai guy to the next police checkpoint to look at the wounds a bit more, and then went with them to the hospital and stayed until they were looked at by a doctor and feeling less emotionally traumatized. Then I headed on to Pang Maphaa, racing the sun in order to get to my guesthouse before dark.

The last time I had made this trip, I drove through chilling rain and mist. The wet road had made me very nervous then, but I remembered the thrill of cresting a hill and the gorgeous views below. This time the road was half as treacherous, and I made good time, even stopping now and then to snap a picture. The sun was dying, shafting gleams of golden light over the mountains, nectar for the soul.

I feel like this picture and the two above it characterize the entire trip the most.

My guesthouse was adorable, and its price just as adorable at less than 8 dollars USD. There was one window and I kept it closed since it didn’t have a screen, so when I woke up to a dark room the next morning, I figured it was about 6:30. It wasn’t until I looked at my phone that I realized it was close to 9 instead.

As I sipped my coffee, I Googled Pang Maphaa and started looking at my maps in anticipation of the route home. As I studied the maps, I realized there was a road leading to the border, and that the border was only about 30 kilometers from my location. It didn’t take long to make my decision, and about half an hour later, I was at Baan JaBo on my way to the border. JaBo is a small tribal village, known for its restaurant where people can eat noodles while dangling their feet over the side of the mountain. (I thought it was a Lisu village, but I am seeing other sources saying Lahu)

Several times past Ja Bow, as I drove on towards the border, I was tempted to turn back. With the roads I have traveled on in the past, you would think I would have no fear of driving, but somehow the unknown road ahead struck a deep fear in me. They might be incredibly steep and stony, for all I knew. I kept on telling myself that I had driven worse than this, and that this was my only chance in a long time to do this. I knew if I turned back, I would always live with a feeling of regret.

About 3 kilometers away from the border, I came onto a lookout. I stopped to take a picture and ended up talking a while with the old man there. His gray hair was wild and unkempt, and he chewed on red betelnut as we talked, but he told me a lot about the village and surrounding areas. He pointed out a mountain in the distance. That’s Myanmar, he said.

I started off for the border checkpoint. The road ahead looked steep again, and I stopped again and almost turned back. No, I told myself. I won’t. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as steep as I thought at first.

I still feel disappointment when I think about what happened next. When I came to the checkpoint, the soldiers came out. I stopped my bike to talk to them and see if I could cross. I was a bit flustered, not having rehearsed what I should say, so I asked, “This road goes to Myanmar, right?” The soldier, looking equally flustered at having to talk with this strange foreigner who came chugging along, said, “Umm you can’t go.”

It was one of those moments where I looked back later and wished I had asked for more clarification. Did he mean the road didn’t lead to Myanmar? Did he mean, I as a foreigner couldn’t get across? Did he realize that I wasn’t going over to stay, but only to hop across to say I was in Myanmar? I still don’t know, and I should have asked, but I am someone who hates to cause a fuss or make a scene, so instead, I swallowed my bitter disappointment and meekly turned around with an odd, heavy feeling in my stomach, even shedding a tear as I left.

View of the checkpoint

The heavy feeling had lifted by the time I got to JaBo. I ate some noodles like a good tourist, and then faced the long drive to Mae Sariang.

About 6 hours later, by the time I crested the bridge over the Yuam River in Mae Sariang, the last of the pink sky behind the mountains was rapidly disappearing into pitch darkness.

I was home. And I had this odd feeling that God had given me a tour package designed especially for me.

*A note of clarification in case you are thinking I am crazy in even attempting to cross the border: in many parts of western and northern Thailand, it is possible to cross over into Myanmar by simply leaving your identification card at the border checkpoint as proof that you will come back. I did this in Saohin with Thai friends the first time I visited. However, I think it is easier for Thai people to do than foreigners.

**Secondly, as I looked at the map later, I noticed that the road doesn’t really seem to connect to other roads within Myanmar, but instead runs along the border, twisting in and out of the border line. It does lead to another village in Thailand, though, eventually. I am still unsure of the exact meaning of the soldier’s words and if I could have crossed if I would have argued my case.

An Oddly Restful Week

Life is strange nowadays, but strange in a nice twisty kind of way.

It is nice to meet Amy’s mom and dad again when they come to see her and we go together on Monday night to eat dinner at the church so that they can meet our Thai pastor and his delightful family.  We eat crabs and talk about jobs and places to visit in Mae Hong Son. Later that evening, I find out that some IGo friends are traveling through on their way to the border and stop in to say hi to them and chat for a while.

The next day we go out to eat again with Amy’s parents. Amy and I need some photos for the IGo newsletter so we take shots in a rice field as the sun goes down. Coming home, I find a nice, jolly toad posing perfectly in front of the house.

Wednesday is quite normal. Amy’s dad goes to Chiang Mai. In the evening, I check out the walking street that is open because of the Aukwa festival that is just starting in Mae Sariang and then go home to enjoy my supper with Amy and her mom.

The next morning, I wake up to a message from Amy, who has gone over to where her mom is staying, “My parents both have Covid.”

I try to shake the sleep from my eyes. Surely, she must be kidding. “I wish,” she replies.

And so begins another Covid whirlwind. Thankfully, the restrictions are not nearly what they were a year ago. Amy and I isolate, but we still leave the house for supplies. Amy brings food to her mom in her rooms and buys a huge box of Covid tests. We make plans and then change them, and make them again and then change them. Finally, Amy and her mom leave on Saturday for Chiang Mai to see a doctor there.

In the meantime, I bake and read and study Karen and play my ocarina and watch the moon rise over the valley and call my mom and watch the ants climb up the papaya tree behind the house and eat pumpkin pie for breakfast since I made two and I am the only one who eats them. Is there something like eating too much pumpkin pie, I wonder?

Isolating can be difficult, but it can also be just what the doctor ordered. Especially when it includes pumpkin pie.  

On Sunday, after taking my 4th Covid test, I go to church. This too, is just what the Doctor ordered. We sing worship songs in Thai that were some of the first songs I learned in Thailand and the words cut to my heart and pull tears from an aching part inside of me. Our pastor preaches on Matthew 11:28 and 29, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He talks about different kinds of burdens and the need to rest. I feel God speaking to that aching part of my soul again and the words I hear are beautiful.

In the evening, I don my mask and go to see what Aukwa is like by now. Aukwa is a festival celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent, but it is uniquely Mae Sariang. During Aukwa, the streets are lit up with lanterns, hundreds of small shops selling food and other items pop up beside the road, and there are musical competitions, shows and dances, a mini marathon and hundreds of other activities. It is sort of like Yoder Heritage Day at home. But different. Aukwa lasts for about 9 days, with the main activities happening the last three days.

It is colorful and bright and sparkling.

One of my students, Happy, sings in the competition, so I sit on the front steps of the police station beside another student, Achira, and wait for Happy’s song. Achira’s dad has a big bag of peanuts. Here, he says, holding out the bag. Have some.

So, I painstakingly crack open boiled peanuts and munch on them as I wait. Soon they move on, kindly leaving the bag of peanuts with me. An hour later, I see a friend I haven’t seen for over a year. He is with another friend and has moved back to the area after living in Chiang Mai for a year. They sit down and we try to chat for a while over the blare of the singing.

I don’t get home until close to 11. This is a Mae Sariang that I have never seen before. The quiet, sleepy town nestled in the valley has suddenly become a buzz of activity and late-night revelry. Even from my home 3 kilometers away from the city center, I can hear the music throbbing into the wee hours.

The next day I munch on more pumpkin pie before leaving to tutor some students.

I feel rested and at peace. Rest for me isn’t always just flopping down on a bed and doing nothing. Sometimes it means doing something different for a while. Sometimes it means fleeing into the mountains for a time to savor the silence and the cool air. Sometimes it might mean walking aimlessly by yourself through crowds or finding a seat and watching the throngs of people around you. Sometimes it means squatting down and watching ants for a while, or baking something just for fun.

Especially when its pumpkin pie.

Fried mush with sorghum molasses. This is NOT cultural Thai food, in case you are wondering. More like redneck Kansas food
geckoes on the screen door

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Sparrows in their nests lie down

Their heads beneath their wings

The night around them deepens, crouches

Oh Lord, the evil darkness brings!

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep….

Lord, we have seen your sparrows falling

They have fallen from their nest

Limp and torn, with tattered wings

No heartbeat flutters in their breast

If I should die before I wake…

This shadow of death groans dark with fear

These tiny ones are walking through

God of the Valley, Father of Sparrows,

Bring these little ones home to You

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take…

Gather these fledglings close to your heart

Gather them to You, drive fear away

Give them a wide, green, sweet meadow

And new wings to fly in a brighter day

 Lord, we have seen your sparrows falling,

And we cannot bear the pain.

Our hearts are numbed by the news of the shootings yesterday in Nong Bua Lomphuu province. A man walked into a nursery and using guns and a knife, killed over 20 children as they lay sleeping during their afternoon nap time. Having once worked at a daycare in Chiang Mai, I can easily visualize everything, and tears have pushed my eyelids all day. Our hearts are heavy with grief at this senseless murder of children, not to mention all the adults that were killed as well.

Lord, have mercy.

A Purple Poem

I don’t know what happened to it

That poem I was going to write

Instead of trickling through my pen

It slipped into my soul, out of sight

I tried to coax it out with words

Like bribing a puppy with a treat

Yet it was not a puppy, but an elusive elf

It danced away shyly on soundless feet.

And now I live each sacred day

With a purple poem tucked in my soul;

Glimmering, changing, throbbing, alive

Aching, calling, bleeding and full.