Kru Paeng no longer shrieks as she showers in the evening.
That means hot season is here. The dust and smoke have arrived as well. Mae Hong Son province issued a no burning order for the first week of March, but it doesn’t seem to have made any difference. The resulting smog makes for a surreal world, with smoke hanging low over the mountains at all times of the day.
We came back to Saohin on Sunday the 7th. I followed Kru Mii up the mountain since it is best not to make the trip by yourself. I guess maybe I shouldn’t say followed since I pulled off an embarrassing one. As we pulled out onto the road from the place where I met Kru Mii, he motioned to me to go, saying, “You lead the way.” He then pulled out his phone and proceeded to do something with it. I was a bit confused. I knew he wanted me to lead the way, but did he want me to wait until he was finished with his phone, or should I just go? I decided that he probably thought that I would be a slower driver than him, so he decided to let me get a bit of a start so he would not have to putter up behind me.
So off I went, and I must admit, a part of me said, “Let’s go a little fast and see if he actually can catch up.”
The world was a world of smoke as I left. I felt like I was in some kind of fantastic dream of curtained mountains and choking, stinging smoke. The curves of the first good stretch of 67 kilometers of road felt more familiar than last time and I made good time. Kru Mii never caught up. Rounding Poo Saw, the paved road disappeared and not long after that, coming around one corner, I met Lung Don (Lung means uncle), one of the police officers at the station that touches the school. As you do whenever you meet someone on the road that you know, you stop and talk with them. He was leaving for a few days and was complaining of the smoke. It stung his eyes, and he could barely keep them open. A few kilometers later, I came to Mae Je, the “rest station” that we always stop at on the way to Saohin. About 5 minutes later, Kru Mii came flying up on his rickety, rattling motorbike. The first words out of his mouth were, “Lori! You didn’t wait!” He said he meant for me to just take the lead but to wait until he was finished with whatever he was doing on his phone. “Several times I turned a corner and I saw you out there ahead of me and I thought, now I can catch up with her, but the next thing I knew you had disappeared.” I felt very foolish. The proper part of me hung its head and felt embarrassed. At the same time, the impish part of me that had whispered, “Let’s see if we can stay ahead of Kru Mii” found this extremely hilarious. At the rate that Kru Mii was telling others about it when we arrived in Saohin, I imagine that most of the village knows it by now.
Patchamai (also known as Tukkata) had a birthday yesterday. She celebrated it, which is a bit unusual for the Karen people in Saohin, but seems to be becoming more of a custom. Patchamai is in the 6th grade and is tall for her age. She is lithe and strong, with bright black eyes and beautifully tinted skin. When we go on walks together, she is constantly on the move and discovering new things. She never seems to get tired. She celebrated her birthday with mukata, inviting the rest of the 6th graders over as well as some of the teachers. Kru Paeng and I went.
Lately, I have started joining in the evening football games on the school football field with the children, villagers, teachers, policemen and rangers/soldiers. (When I say football, I mean soccer. It seems ridiculous for me to call it soccer when most of the world calls it football and it seems like “football” is the most obvious word choice). I’ve wanted to play for quite a while, but always felt a little awkward. Then one evening, some of the children were playing while I was sitting under the gazebo working, and they shouted out for me to join them. It being just a small group, I went ahead and jumped in, and it was so much fun that I did it again the next evening. When there are only a few of us, we set up a small field, with chairs at the end as goals. Tonight, was the first night that I played in a large game, and it was very different playing with adults rather than children. Patchamai also joined in. I was glad, because I was no longer the only girl, and also glad for her sake since she had wanted to play for a long time, but didn’t want to be the only girl either. One of the funniest happenings of the evening was when one of the rangers, a heavily built young man who always wears a wide beaming smile on his face, wiped out on his back on the middle of sooty spot where obviously a campfire had been once. His already dark skin was stained almost black, but he jumped up beaming and laughing as usual. I am still trying to figure out if his happy mood was entirely because of his already sunny personality or if it was connected with the green cans that appeared on the table under the gazebo.
The beginning of the week was hard. One of these hard moments came because of a conversation I overheard from the other teachers, and totally misunderstood. It concerned the name of a friend of mine here in Saohin and a girl in the 6th grade in some school somewhere that became pregnant. I was devastated. I had trusted this friend, and the thought that he might have done this was sickening. What also bothered me was why it seemed like everyone was so unconcerned about this. I spent one restless, nightmarish night and part of a day in which I felt like some robot, except for the spot in my stomach that felt like it had been kicked. I am sure robots never feel anything like that. It wasn’t until I talked with Kru Tom, the English teacher, that I found out the truth. Seldom have I felt so relieved and freed. The incident happened 15 years ago, and my friend had nothing to do with it. I don’t think I have ever felt so glad to misunderstand something in Thai. I really did feel like it was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, since the darkness I felt that evening was very heavy.
I met a Christian! In the most unexpected place. Tonight, as we were playing football, I switched from playing up front to playing back as a guard. The other person playing back was a young soldier, who started talking with me. He said he had a friend who was doing ministry in Doi Saket, who had gone to Australia and gotten married there, then moved back to Thailand to work in a children’s home. He also knew quite a people who had studied at a Christian center in Chiang Mai, and at Payap University (my university). We tried to figure out if we knew anyone in common but failed.
Looking back at the football game tonight, I am struck again by the amount of respect that I feel from the men here. With a police station just across the road and a heavy army presence, there are a lot of men around the village area. Ask me how I felt being one of the only girls in the game, and I think I can say that it didn’t bother me at all. To be honest, many Thai men have a reputation of being a “jaochu” which means basically means being philanderers. However, the men I meet here are very respectful, sometimes perhaps too respectful and in awe of this odd foreign woman, like I am on a pedestal or I might break if they crash into me during a game. This, however, does not bother me. Respect is one of my highest core values, I have discovered, and if I feel like I have a man’s respect, I feel safe. It is something that I am very grateful for here.