All posts by insearchofabrook

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.

Spilled

The moon tipped over in the clouds tonight

Tipped over in the sky, in the cloud-tossed sky

It spilled down to earth, through the deep-scented dark

In the black-broken hours of the rain-drenched day.

It spilled light on the road-ribbon and light in the field

It spilled light on the tassles of the brown-headed corn

It spilled light on the river as it wound through the valley,

And I caught some, I caught some, moonlight as it spilled.

But even as I caught it, it slipped through my fingers

And glimmered to the ground, light-liquid, pulsing

For only a heartbeat; then it slipped through the ground-cracks,

Slipped down from the sky to the heart of the world.

My hands glimmered strangely all evening long

But my heart ached an ache that could not be told

The ache of a lost love, the ache of a lost dream

The ache of a lost soul gliding through the sky

Perspective

I looked at the world upside down for a bit

Just for a little, to see

How it was like and if it would right

Some of the world’s problems for me

The ground was a sea of cotton below

And the sky a green carpet on high

But the funniest sight that I saw upside down

The trees hung like chandeliers down from the sky

And ever since I righted my aching head

The strangest things have crossed my eye

Cows walking like spiders in the oddest of places

And birds swimming down in a soupy sky

Barren

Twilight stirs the empty spaces
The empty spaces drenched in drought
Drought that cracks our desert places
Desolate desert places, these empty spaces

We walk on moonlit roads with aching souls
Aching souls with hollow spaces
Hollow spaces that sing a dirge
No, not a dirge; just the song of aching souls

Dawn breaks over our empty hands
Hands cupped over our desert places
Desert places that dream of dancing rain
Dancing rain to fill our empty waiting hands

Feeding Myself

Recently someone asked me what I would say if I were accused of having a “White-Savior” complex. I told them I would reply by saying that I have received much more from Thai people than I have ever given. I have also learned much more from Thai people than I have ever taught them.

I have no way of measuring it, but living in another culture is an education in itself. I have learned hundreds of things over the past 8 years, not even counting the Thai language.

This includes things like learning how to wash dishes Thai style, eating with your spoon and your fork in each hand, cutting things with the knife turned outward (ok, I am not very good at that) and learning the nuances of communication outside of spoken word. (And I am still learning that too).

And then if you count language, I have learned even more. One thing I was reminded of recently when talking with Amy, is how much space language can take up in your brain. We were talking about how we tend to forget some of the simplest English words when speaking Thai. I remember learning about some bilingual theories at Payap from dry Dr. Saber at whose name was horribly mangled by us in both Thai and English. The theories were about bilingual children and whether or not the brain can absorb both languages at once, or if one language is absorbed at the expense of the other, or if you go into modes, like using an English mode and a Thai one.

I can’t remember which theory won out in the end, but if I examine my own brain, I would say that I have several modes. One is English. One is Thai. One is Pennsylvania Dutch. When I am in one mode, it is hard for me to switch to other modes. For example, I might be teaching a low-level English class, so I am speaking Thai. When a student asks me in Thai how to say a certain sentence in English, sometimes my brain freezes and it takes me a bit to think of how to say it in English, if I can think of it at all.

Other times when I am speaking a lot of English, my Thai starts coming out stilted. It seems as if once I am in one mode or the other, it’s hard to immediately switch. This is tremendously exhausting when you are translating for two parties in both languages. More than once, I have caught myself speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.

While I have gained so much and learned so much, a constant battle remains. That battle is to feed myself mentally from quality sources in the English language. I am not talking about a spiritual battle of making sure I get my spiritual food, but more of a battle of reading good literature. Books are scarce here, and although I have a Kindle, I do need to pay for books. Libby doesn’t work for me to borrow books since my home library does not participate. Not only that, coming home tired from a day of school, it takes discipline and energy to read. If I want to learn to write well, I must also feed myself well.

I am hungry. I am hungry to sit in a library surrounded by shelves and shelves of books, books and books. Big fat books with collections of short stories and poems. Books you can touch. I would give almost anything to study at summer term or winter term at Faith Builders and discuss what I am learning with like-minded people. I would love to join in on a book club and attend discussions from knowledgeable people fluent in English. I want to talk about the beautiful things we have read. I love my Thai friends, but our tastes in literature are as far apart as the North and South Pole and few, if any, are fluent enough in English.

But in the meantime, I make do. I read from some high school readers I brought over with me. I find books of poetry on Kindle, some of which are free. I recently discovered Spotify (yes, yes, I am wayyyy behind the times) and discovered that you can listen to poetry on Spotify. I try to follow blogs that stimulate the mind.

This hunger is one reason I like the Curator so much. The Curator is, in their own words, “an organization dedicated to developing a literary conversation with values sourced in the Christian worldview, particularly as Christianity has historically been understood by Anabaptists (but not confined to the Anabaptist community). We want to build a community of writers and readers who inform each other, a culture that recognizes quality and strives to create things of value. Our mission is to provide good content to engage in and to train writers and readers to be able to engage in it.”

I often find myself out of my league here, but I look forward to each Thursday morning when the Curator releases their weekly poem. Not only this, but they also provide the occasional short story or essay, and an annual collection of art, poetry and stories called The Leaf. Last year they had some Zoom seminars, which I actually managed to attend several times, despite the time difference.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to keep my brain mentally stimulated in English, and my mind cultivated when it comes to the arts? Any resources, books, or websites you would suggest? Let me know in the comments!

Fragile

Fragile and tentative, I find myself again

In this darkened corridor of hope

Waiting for what, I cannot rightly say.

The words are caught on my tongue as if

They are shy from the shadows on the wall.

Does hope shine brightly?

I cannot say it does,

It is a corridor long and dark

And always there is the waiting,

Waiting stretching like long, shimmering glass.

And this I wonder:

Is hope rightly hope if it does not fear?

Just Some Pictures

I realize that I haven’t been writing a lot lately.

My dad had open heart surgery on June 16 and it was excruciating to be so far away from home. During that time, I wrestled with 2 different urges. One was the urge to dump it all out, the other the urge to clam up and feel sorry for myself. And being pressed for time, I didn’t do the dumping out part.

But that time passed, and my dad is now safely recovering at home, although my sister reports that life at home is sort of like living in a nursing home, since my mom has also been to see the doctor several times recently, and my aunt has to go on a weekly basis for chemo.

But believe it or not, life goes on here in Thailand. And I realize that I take a lot of good pictures, or I like to think of them as good, but I don’t share them much.

And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

These are students from our Gifted English program that just started this year. The room is on the same floor as the teacher’s office, so some of the students like to come over in the afternoon and practice their English and play Uno. I do believe the air conditioned room is a drawing factor as well. I recently bought a tiny model house to teach vocabulary to a class, but I didn’t have time to assemble it so these students helped me. We have listened to a lot of stories during this time, such as stories about evil spirits haunting houses and the whiskey used in spirit ceremonies. (While most Karen people are Buddhist or Christian, in the past, before Christianity was introduced or before the Karen integrated more fully into Thai culture, they were mostly animistic, with practices steeped in spirit worship. This is still a huge factor today, and many nominal Karen Christians wear amulets for luck or safety.)

Some of my former Saohin students came over to make cookies after going to church with me. I found it amusing and heartwarming how they sat in front of the oven to watch their cookies bake as if they were watching a movie.

There are times I wonder about my cat…..

Our pastor finished his doctor in theology and we had a celebration at the church. Taking pictures with each other at celebrations is an important thing in Thai culture.

Jiu, one of the girls at church, with Che Che (I think that’s his name).
Prayer time for our pastor

Yes, that spider is for real, and yes we found it in our kitchen. I think that might be an egg sac it was carrying underneath?

Rainy days are plentiful in July. Most days I make my afternoon coffee at school, but some days I splurge, especially if it is a particularly rainy day that calls for a hot latte.

No matter how the world might be behaving around me, I still find rest and relaxation in making a batch of good homemade chocolate chip cookies.

And enjoying cookie making is not exclusive to women either. One evening, before my birthday, several of my former Saohin students (this time the boys, not the two girls pictured earlier) called me. Can we come make cookies at your house?

The above picture is not mine, but one I found online. At the time that I found myself driving through these waters, I was too busy trying to stay upright and moving to take any photos. The picture was taken beside the Mae Chaem River between Hot and Mae Sariang on a day when various parts of Northern Thailand flooded.

Another picture that makes me shudder when I see the brown angry river to the left.

On the evening of Amy’s birthday we went to the church to practice the song we were singing with the youth group. The sky gave us an extra special display that evening.

These people make me happy. Most of the people in this picture are students who are staying at the church while they go to high school. On Thursday evenings, I have the privilege of teaching them English at the church. They are the most dedicated group of learners and laughers I have ever taught, I think I can say.

Every morning the national anthem is played at assembly and every morning the dogs at the school howl along with it.

This was not a fire, as it might look, but a random round of mosquito spraying in hopes of cutting down on dengue fever cases. I had just gotten to my class and started teaching when we were all told to evacuate and stay out of the building for about 25 minutes while they sprayed. Mae Hong Son is highest in the nation for dengue fever.

This shirt is special to me. One of my students who is an avid football player, asked me if I wanted a football shirt for my birthday. He then let me choose a color and gave me one of his own shirts. This young man is actually half Burmese, but lives in Thailand.

It’s not often I get to eat Mexican food, but on my last visit to Chiang Mai, some of my friends took Amy and I out for our birthdays and this is what we got. It was soooo good.

Mae Toe is a local tourist attraction about 60 kilometers from here. I have now visited there 4 times, twice just recently. In the middle of June, I went up with some students and then yesterday with some teachers. Someday, I think I should like to take a book along and simply curl up and read on top of the world.

So…. yesterday, I had thought the original plan was to park our bikes on the bottom and walk the rest of the way up, but it didn’t quite work out that way since the others in our group zoomed up before me. To make a long story short, I was trying to get up this hill like the people before me, but kept on stalling my bike. I got off and then managed to dump it on its side, and it being a heavy bike, couldn’t get it up again. With the help of Amy and this kind man, we got it to a place where we could park beside the road and then walked up. Driving on these concrete tracks is complicated because if you happen to stop, you are in trouble because there is simply no place to plant your feet to keep you from falling over. It doesn’t help if you are helplessly laughing either. I still have to giggle just to look at this picture…. and the expressions on our faces. Bless that man’s heart for stopping and helping (the others in our group were out of side beyond the next hill and curve)

The view was worth the hike, though.

We parked our bikes halfway up and walked the rest of the way….but these village boys who couldn’t be more than 12 had no such intentions.

Walking down from the 360 degree lookout.

Kaning and Mint, the two student interns, and Kru Jack, one of the Chinese teachers. Kru Jack’s method of hair control always makes me grin.

Amy on the top of the lookout, dreaming of Mr. Willoughby.

And me, probably dreaming about cookies.

The Salawin River

I really wanted to write a poem about the river yesterday.

But while there were words rolling around in my head, they refused to order themselves coherently when I tried to put them on paper.

Perhaps that is because a river is already a poem. And to write a poem about a river is maybe like trying to make a poem of a poem.

Mmmmmm?? Yet Robert Louis Stevenson did it.

I don’t know. Someday I still hope to write a poem about it. But for now, I will just indulge in my fascination with this river.

Amy and I had a day off yesterday since it was the current Queen’s birthday. We took the chance to go to Mae Saam Laep, something we had wanted to do for a while.

Mae Saam Laep is a border town between Thailand and Myanmar located about 47 kilometers from Mae Sariang and is known for its trade with the other side, the other side being “Kawthoolei” ”(meaning “land without darkness) or Karen State. I had it my head that Kawthoolei was just a town in Karen state. I didn’t realize until yesterday that Kawthoolei is Karen State. Mae Saam Laep was evacuated at least once last year when the fighting on the other side came too close for comfort, and in the past shots have been fired on civilians in boats on the river. The village is built oddly, perched precariously on the mountainside above the river. Many people travel to Mae Saam Laep and from there travel by boat on the Salawin River to other more unreachable parts of Thailand and Myanmar.

I already have a fascination with rivers, probably fueled by memories I have of canoeing down the Arkansas River. But when I saw the Salawin river, and started researching more about it, it only increased my fascination.

The Salawin, as I learned from Wikipedia, has its base in the Tibetan Plateau where it is called the Naqu River, meaning “dark and deep.” It flows down through China through Yunnan province, known there as the Nujiang River and nicknamed the “Angry River”. Once it reaches Myanmar, it is called the Thanlwin River, and along the Thai border is known as the Salawin. It eventually flows into the Andaman Sea. The river provides a livelihood for millions of people.

I followed the river on Google maps from its source to where it spills into the ocean, which stirred up my dreams again for all things Tibetan and reminded me of my short trip to Pu’er and Kunming in China years ago.  The river is quite tame by the time it reaches Thailand, as most things are. I feel in my secret soul that whether its mountains or rivers or wildlife, Thailand is mostly just a shadow of China or Nepal. However, that doesn’t take away from my fascination with this river. My dream is to travel to the source in Tibet and follow it all the way down to the Andaman Sea.

But perhaps for now I will keep my teaching job here and start out first with a little boat ride here in Thailand.

A fisherman bringing in his morning catch/
Rain on the river
The sign on other side says, “Welcome to Kawthoolei”. If you look closely you can see a boat in the river, which gives you a bit of perspective on the size of the river.
Amy lost in thought
Again, notice the boat in this picture.

sources:

http://en.chinaculture.org/library/2008-01/08/content_21769.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salween_River

Heritage

And when the mists come tonight they are not unlike my thoughts.

They come, tendrilling and gray, untouchable,

Yet stirring the ache, the echo of that music unheard.  

I wonder at my own sorrow, and the sorrows the world

Has bequeathed upon me

Unasked.

For I am a dust child, born of the earth.

I wonder if Esther wept in the palace halls

If Bath-sheba ever forgot the little man child who was no more

And if Eve lay awake, in pain, counting the stars,

The stars that were so far, far away.

Image by bernswaelz from Pixabay 

Small

This is the road

It is a ribbon running through the mountains

Glistening black in the rain, fading gray in the sunlight

Checked with yellow, edged in white

Swooping and diving between and around the mountains

Like a swallow homing forever.

The road carries me down into the valley

Into the shade of forest, dusky and dark,

Curving in the lowlands, trapped and winding,

Now, suddenly it flings me arching up, up, up into the heights

Floating on a ridge on the top of the world,

A patchworked world of fields and villages

Some intricate masterpiece quilted by skillful hands;

Along the sunlit crest the road flies until we twist and turn,

Turn down dizzying curves to reach the river

The brown, brown river running swollen from the rain.

The river and the road take me away, and the sun splashes

Through the canopy of wild trees, spilling flickering light on the road

As it moves along the woodlands

Past a pregnant goat grazing by the way, and a field of buffalo,

Past smoke rising gray against the blue and green,

And mountains upholding a bluing sky until a

Sudden flood of rain; and inside my pink raincoat and visor,

I become a kingdom of myself, a muffled, moving, pink kingdom.

But the rain ceases

And a sudden orange of blossoms bursts against the sodden sky

The road is not a ribbon.

It is a gray and yellow asphalt snake, and I am a beetle riding on its back.

(Inspired by my bike trip to Mae Hong Son today (and other trips similar to it)).

A rural gas station. I love places like this to fill up since you usually can have fun conversations with the owner. Photo credit: Abby Martin
Abby Martin and I on a recent trip