All posts by insearchofabrook

Visiting Saohin

I drove up to Saohin for Children’s Day. Along with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Thailand also celebrates Children’s Day.

All last year, I had hoped to find a time and way to go visit Saohin again, but during the rainy season, it is very unwise to travel up alone on a motorbike and it was difficult to find a truck going up on Friday and coming down on Sunday, over the time I wouldn’t be working. Most people come down on Friday and go back up on Sunday.

So, when the invitation came to join in the Children’s Day activities on January 8, I jumped at the chance. Since it hadn’t rained for about 2 months, there was no flood danger and the creeks had returned to safe levels.

I learned and relearned many things about myself on this trip. I learned that when you are used to something it automatically looks much more doable. Like taking cold showers. And crossing creeks on a 110cc Honda Wave motorbike. And going up and down steep, stony hills. When I first came off the blacktop and got to that first frightfully steep hill, and the first stony part, and then the first creek, inside I thought, “This is worse than before.” But when I drove back 2 days later after over 30 kilometers of driving, I thought, “This is not so bad.”

I rediscovered the beauty of driving in first gear. There is something deeply satisfying about coming to an obstacle that gives you that jolt of fear— a deep creek, a steep hill- and then knowing deep inside yourself that you can do it. You can climb this hill, you can cross this creek. Especially when you put your bike into first gear. When you put your bike in first gear, you can do anything. Well,… ok, not quite. But going down some hills it is unwise to brake much because of the loose gravel and stones. Instead, you drop into first gear and ride your bucking bronco to the bottom. And the next day, as you rub your aching muscles, you wonder if you really had to get to the bottom quite that fast.

Different people find different things therapeutic. For my mom, it’s the garden. For some of my friends, it’s coloring and watercolors. For others, it’s creating. Horseback riding used to be my choice of therapy at home. I think that’s why I find that driving my motorbike in the mountains is therapy for me. That and writing.

I rediscovered how much fear can have an impact on my abilities. If I focused on not falling, or not getting wet, or not getting my bike stuck in the creek, I lost my sense of balance, and my sharpness of mind. But when I told myself that falling was not the worse thing in the world, or getting wet wasn’t really that bad, and if I got stuck then I would surely find a way out, things really went much better. I also realized how important it is to know your limits.

Arriving at Saohin brought a surge of grief for me. You would think I would only feel a surge of joy, but I felt more grief than joy. After poking the feeling a bit, I realized it was because I was coming as a visitor. I could no longer claim this place as my home. I was not going to stay there the next week and the next week and be a part of the flow of life and the daily routine. I was a visitor.

I woke up Saturday morning, aching and sore from the drive. Children’s Day was limited to only students and teachers, (and me) because of Covid restrictions. The children were glad to see me, but shy. I missed the 6th graders, who I had gotten to know the best. Towards the end of the day, they were warming up and not quite so shy.

The festivities were over by early afternoon so I took a nap and tried to get rid of a headache and then visited a former 6th grader.

The evening consisted of a campfire at the teacher’s house and making bamboo rice over the fire, doing some target practice with a 22, and some other activities that I did not participate in. Anyone who has had any experience with Thai mountain culture will be familiar with the drinking that happens nearly every evening. I went to bed around 10, but the sounds continued until midnight.

Sunday, I traveled down again. As I traveled down again, I felt an unsettled, unfinished feeling. I wished I could have stayed a little longer. I think I would have found more closure. I wanted to be a part of life there again, not just some visitor. Fragments of faces and places clung to the edges of my mind, even as I focused on the road ahead of me.

There was PaunSawan and her hair cropped close because of lice.

Pongsatorn, a tall, thickset boy, who struggles with learning. He gets heckled for it as well, even from the teachers.

Cholita, the girl from Myanmar, who is studying in first grade as well.

Oranit, a bright, spunky girl, whose father is one of the village leaders, and a devout Catholic.

Tawin and his shy, sheepish grin.

Di Di, and the way he used to jump around shouting out English words during vocabulary games.

Sawinee, with her large wistful eyes and sad face.

Kai Muk with her sparkle and laughter.

Paunyinee, who asked to take pictures together.

But maybe it’s ok to still grieve, to not have fully moved on from that little spot tucked into the edge of no-man’s-land.

Medley

Spurred by a whim, I wrote this tonight. Imperfect, but it was satisfying to put together.

Tonight I was wishing that I could write some of what was moving inside of me, but as I was reading other poems, I felt that so much of what I was feeling was already written so well in other poetry. You know that moment when you are reading a poem and you come to this phrase and you are like, yes, that phrase! It says it exactly! It hits that spot. And you want to crow to the whole world that you have found that phrase, but often you sort of feel a bit silly after the crowing.

Anyway, I just took some of those phrases (and others for gluing the others together) and made a poem. I am not sure what the purpose was. Inspirational? Maybe. Humorous? Perhaps some may find it so. Creative? Yes, partly. Cathartic? Yes, I think so.

Here we are:

The ache of the twilight is upon me but I cannot speak

The words will not come.

But many other have already written them for me.

Come, let us see.

The day is done, and the darkness falls from the wings of night

As a feather is wafted downward like

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.

Yet, I beg you, tell me not in mournful numbers

That life is but an empty dream

That the road less traveled by is no different than what it seems

That nothing gold can stay; that there is no rest even in Flander’s fields.

And that the struggle nought availeth. Just because

I am nobody (who are you?), does not mean that I have never

Slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Or spent time alone in the night, on a dark hill

With pines around me spicy and still;

Or lived sad and strange dark summer dawns,

With the earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds;

For I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,

The fragile secret of a flower…

Long have I known a glory in it all.

And yet, tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

And thinking of the days that are no more

And, I must ask, does the road wind uphill all the way?

If so, let me rest here in these woods so lovely dark and deep,

While you come and read to me some simple and heartfelt lay

And these aches shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away.

(It was written quickly, and since it is not meant to be a masterpiece poem of any kind, I didn’t chew and meditate on it and edit it much, so if you have any ideas of more phrases that could be thrown in, I would love it. And I think I will write more of these in the future. For therapeutic purposes. )

I should leave you to guess where the lines came from, but I feel like putting the lines here without them really being my own is almost infringing on copyright purposes. I don’t know. But here you are:

The Day is Done, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson,

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Road Less Traveled By, by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost

In Flander’s Fields, by John McCrae

Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Arthur Hugh Clough

I am Nobody, Who are You? by Emily Dickinson

High Flight, John Magee

Stars, Sara Teasdale

I Have Loved Hours at Sea, Sara Teasdale

God’s World, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Uphill, Christina Rossetti

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

Kayah State, Christmas Eve 2021

Over these hills, sing the song,

Sing it over again.

That Immanuel is come, is come,

Is come to the world of men.

Up from the valley, down from the mountains

Sing it in darkest hour

Of peace on earth, of peace on earth,

Of goodwill of greatest power—

Oh, but now, my friend, hush your singing

And be still in this crippling pain

Come grieve among the ones who grieve

And weep with the weeping rain;

For from the shadows of these Burmese hills

Comes a wail that pierces heaven’s door

For Rachel still weeps, weeps for her children

Her children who are no more.

See the story of the Christmas Eve massacre in Myanmar here. While we safely celebrated Christmas in our homes, thousands of people fled conflict in the neighboring country. Please pray for Myanmar.

Image by seth0s from Pixabay

Ritual

Each morning breaks the same,

Rising with a hunger that carves

Like the slanting fingers of sunlight cutting

Through the fog that shrouds the neighbor’s burnt field.

Through the night, the fog settled deep in the valley

Bleeding dew on the fire-scorched ground;

I reach for coffee, two spoonfuls in the filter

Watch while the black liquid drips into the waiting cup;

The scalding brew stirs the restless throb

I trace the words that tremble on the page and pen the ache–

Read this my Lord— this hunger, this hollowness,

This burnt ground, this empty cup, my song to You.

Who are you anyway?

I begin this draft nervously.

Honestly, I don’t know many of the people who follow this blog. Random emails sign up, and every now and then someone I know hits the follow button. But the latter are few.

Somehow it is easier writing to a faceless audience. You can write fearlessly and without restraint or worry that you will offend someone. If you do offend someone, then you didn’t know at the time that they were going to be offended. And while I don’t have a lot of offensive posts on this blog, there are some opinions boiling inside of me that I might write about in the future and it would be easier if I didn’t know you.

However, my curiosity has won out. I really would like to know who you are. Plus, I feel like I talk about myself a lot and I would rather hear from you.

It’s been 7 years since insearchofabrook was launched. Because I don’t post or share my blog on social media, the amount of followers is still quite low. But I do know (from people telling me) that some haven’t hit the follow button, but they check the blog every now and then to see if I’ve updated.

So, whether you are one of those mysterious people who stop in and visit without following, or if you have signed up for email updates, or if you actually follow this site with wordpress, I would love to hear from you.

And because it can be awkward to introduce yourself, here are some optional questions for you to answer. Don’t feel like you have to answer them all, especially if you feel shy. Choose which ones you want to answer, and if you want to add more than that, that would be great!

  1. What is your name and where are you from?
  2. How did you find my blog?
  3. Do you know me from anywhere? Or do you happen to be my dad’s cousin’s husband’s sister’s daughter?
  4. Do you have a favorite book you would recommend?
  5. What do you find most interesting on my blog and why?
  6. Is there anything you would be interested in hearing me write about?
  7. Are there any questions you would like to ask me?
  8. Is there anything else you would like to say…??

And now, she crosses her fingers and feels like a self-conscious second grader slipping a card to a new friend…. what if they don’t answer?

Late Winter Night

Tonight, I was reading a few lines of Sara Teasdale’s in her volume of poems, Flame and Shadow. Her poems are always alight with vivid imagery, often of nature, and the few lines I read tonightabout night falling made me terribly homesick. Homesick for dusk at home, twilight in early soft June summers, or wintry landscapes and sunsets on snow.

Which in turn, both homesickness and poetry about the later parts of the day, made me think of a poem that I wrote when I was 17. This poem is not like Sara Teasdale’s poems in any way, but it always stirs a warm memory inside of me of late winter nights and a memory of my favorite thing to do as a child on those late winter nights: read in bed late into the night. (Come to think of it, it is one of my favorite things to do as an adult.)

The worst thing about reading in bed late at night was the fact that I did not have a lamp beside my bed. Why not, I am not sure, because I remember one year most of us got lamps for a Christmas present, but at the time I wrote this poem I lacked a lamp.

This meant that someone had to get out of bed and turn off the light before it was possible to go to sleep.

 Now, when you turn off the light as soon as you get up the stairs and then crawl into bed, there is no drama involved at all. But if you have been reading for hours, engrossed in your book in which you have just finished off the story of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, or perhaps White Fang, or The Prophet, or At the End of the Spear, it is impossible for a young (or old) person with a fertile imagination to turn off the light in an ordinary fashion. For one, someone might have sneaked in under the bed while you were busy reading. Or, something, who knows what, might be waiting out there in the hall just as you reach the light switch…. really so many things could go wrong.

If my sister and I were sleeping in the same bed, then an argument would follow about who should turn off the light, and it usually turned out that the one sleeping closest to the light switch would turn it off, if nothing else for personal safety reasons since having the other person do it would mean that person could easily land on you on the expedited return trip.

But it was worse when you were sleeping by yourself. There was no moral support or expectation of a warm, living human being lying in the bed when you returned from the turning-off-of-the-light. All the worse if there would be.

So, this poem was born.

Late Winter Night

It’s late winter night

And the snow is falling

 Brushing over barren trees,

The night winds calling.

Inside the fire’s warm

And I’m snug in my bed

Curled up with a book

The covers to my head;

Lost in a story

Or buried in a rhyme

The hour has grown very late

But I’ve forgotten the time.

The clock strikes again

 And it’s time to say good night

 It’s time to put my book away

 Oh! But what about the light?

It’s only five feet away

 But might as well be a mile

Even though the way I do it

Takes just a little while;

So many terrible things

 Coud happen as I go

Like hands that grab for my feet

Or pinch my little toe.

Or after everything is dark

When I’ve turned out the light

Suppose I made a jump for bed

And didn’t aim quite right?

 So many things could go wrong

 But the thing must be done

 So, I gather up my courage

And out of bed I run!

Take a leap! Switch off the light!

Come diving into bed!

Snuggle down into the depths

Pull the covers over my head

Take a breath and check around–

I think- I think – I’m in one piece still

Even though I stubbed my toe

 And hit the windowsill;

 And then I curl up in a ball

And wrap the overs tight

Sleep is coming, I’m drifting out

 Oh, late, late winter night!

-January 2008

From Echoes of Eternity

Gold

I thought Mae Hong Son province was at its finest in June when the clouds and mist hung low over the greening mountains.

But these days, I think differently. The rainy season is mostly past, and the days are beginning to be cooler now. The vibrant green has faded slightly, only slightly, and other colors are starting to emerge: browns, oranges and yellows. And still the mists come in the morning.

credit: Amy Smucker

Amy and I drove to the sunflower fields in Mae U-Kho, in Khun Yuam district yesterday. There are over 500 rai (1 rai is about .4 of an acre) of small sunflowers (similar to what we would call Texas sunflowers at home) that bloom every November and are one of the largest tourist attractions in the mountains of Mae Hong Son. I have heard several rumors of how the sunflowers were planted there, one being that it was a royal project by the queen, and another that they were introduced by missionaries.

We left after right after school yesterday, after a very odd week of teaching online, in which we only taught two full days since the students were getting vaccinated and tested for Covid before the planned onsite date of Nov 22. I was feeling very restless by the suffocating feeling that occurs from this kind of schedule and was very ready to see some different scenery instead of the inside of the office at school.

It took us about 2 hours by bike and by the time we got to Khun Yuam, it was dark and getting cold. Or cold to be on a bike. We were trying to reach our destination before it got pitch dark, so we didn’t stop to watch the full moon rising slowly over the eastern mountains. But it was there on the edge of our sights constantly as we maneuvered the curves and hills in the semi-twilight.

We slept at the empty house of a friend in Khun Yuam and left for the sunflower fields in Mae U-Kho early this morning.  There is something intoxicating about being out in the mountains on a motorbike in the early morning. It has to be intoxicating to induce me to set my alarm clock for before 6:00 on a Saturday morning.

I want to write about how the colors glowed, and how the gold of the sunflowers looked from the distance over patchworked fields, and how the sun popped through the clouds and how the sea of fog in the distance looked and it felt to weave along the curving roads in the middle of a November sunrise.

But I don’t know how to write it. I feel lost. I only know to say that there is something excruciatingly beautiful about the way rolling fields of sunflowers look on a backdrop of blue and black mountains that layer their way to the horizon and then touch a deep blue morning sky edged with clouds.

So I will say it with pictures. I believe they will tell the story better than I can.

“There’s gold in them thar hills.”

Walking up to the first lookout
Amy
Me
Our trusty steed that carried us all the way up and balked only once on a steep hill. Amy had to get off and walk while I labored on up the hill in 1st gear.
Our breakfast “Yom Gai Saep” or Spicy Chicken Salad.

In Which She Addresses Some Frequently Asked Questions

On my recent visit home, I realized through various conversations how little many people know of what I am doing here. I realize this is a breach in my communication, since I have not done as well in communicating as I did several years ago. Below are some of the questions I am often asked as well as questions I am often asked from Thai people.

Are you in the mountains?

Many people know my dream of living in the mountains. The answer is, right now, no, I am not exactly living in the mountains, but I am surrounded by them. We live in a narrow river valley about 2 miles wide. Just behind our house, the mountains start again. Mae Sariang, the town we live in, is approximately 35 kilometers from the Thai/Burma border, but because of bad roads would probably take close to 2 hours to reach. Mae Sariang is about 4 hours from Chiang Mai and about half of that is through mountains. Many, many surrounding villages come to Mae Sariang for supplies and medical care. Mae Sariang is located in the Mae Hong Son province.

How big is Mae Sariang?

It’s a little hard to say since it is a district that is stretched out pretty widely, with about 7 subdistricts. The total population of the district is about 50,000, as of 2010, according to Wikipedia. The actual town, or municipality, of Mae Sariang, I would venture to make an educated guess of 15-20 thousand people. However, it is very difficult to see where the town starts and stops and where one village starts and stops, at times. Dotted all around the surrounding mountains are also many small villages.

Do you live by yourself?

No. My good friend Amy Smucker arrived in June. We teach together at the same school. Amy had lived in Thailand before this, so she was not a stranger to the language or the culture.

Are you paid or are you a volunteer?

We are both paid teachers, but we teach on half the salary normally paid a foreign teacher. This was due to a prior agreement, in which the school agreed to hire both of us for the price of one, since I did not want to live by myself, and the other schools I had contacted did not have the financial means to hire a teacher.

What subjects do you teach?

English. This is not English as we learned it in school, but English as a foreign language. This would be similar to students in America studying Spanish. English teaching in Asia is in HIGH demand and foreign native English speakers are seen as having magical capabilities to instill language abilities in students without even having to try. (This is a myth).

What age students do you teach?

I teach grades 10, 11, and 12. Amy teaches students from all levels between 7-12.

How many students do you have?

Approximately 600 students. This term I have 17 teaching slots. I meet each class once a week. Do I like this set up? Not necessarily, but they want each student to study with a foreign teacher once a week, because of the above-mentioned myth.

How big is the school?

It is the district high school, and students from other districts also attend. There are about 1700 students in the high school. This is the main school in the area that boasts grades from 10-12 so many students come from other areas. (Most area high schools only go to grade 9).

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Indefinitely. In other words, until God says, Move.

What kind of qualifications do you need to work in Thailand?

To get a work visa, you need a bachelor’s degree in any field. To get a temporary teaching license, you need that degree. To get a permanent teaching license, you need a bachelor’s degree in education, or a Master’s in education, or another certification in education that is approved by the Teacher’s Council of Thailand.

Do you see James or Amanda often? (friends who are both from my home church and are both currently living in Chiang Mai.)

No, not very often. Under normal circumstances, Amy and I would be travelling to Chiang Mai once a month to attend INVEST meetings and church at IGo Christian Fellowship. Because of Covid restrictions that discourage travel, and due to the fact that we both work at a large high school that could be shut down were we to bring Covid to Mae Sariang, we have not been traveling to Chiang Mai for these meetings.

What are Covid 19 restrictions like there?

We are required to wear masks whenever in public. In Mae Hong Son, there is a 20,000 baht fine for not wearing a mask, which is over 600 USD. (Most Thai people do not complain about wearing masks since wearing a mask is something very cultural. If you are sick, or around someone else who is sick, or if you are driving in smog or dust, many Thai people will immediately don a mask.) In many restaurants or shops, there are thermometers to check temperatures, as well as alcohol gel that you are required to use before entering. Travel to high risk areas is discouraged, and quarantine upon return from those areas is not unusual. In some tourist places that are re-opening, negative antigen tests are required for entering for unvaccinated tourists. Students and teachers are required to wear masks when in the classroom. In public schools, all teachers are required to be vaccinated, as well as all high school students and vocational school students before Nov 15. Currently we are teaching online but plan to move back onsite after Nov 19.

What organization do you work under?

We are working under the English for Life team (EFL) which is a part of the larger INVEST team (IGo Network of Volunteer Educators Serving Thailand). INVEST consists of EFL and Wisdom Tree, as well as teachers working at the skills center. INVEST, in turn, is a ministry under IGO, Institute of Global Opportunities.

Are you allowed to share about God openly?

In our school, which is a government school, if someone asks me about what I believe I answer directly, but I do not openly evangelize or present the gospel, unless someone asks. Outside of school, I am more free to do so. Our desire is, however, to be a bridge for the local church to evangelize. Through relationships we build in school with people who are interested in learning about God, our desire is to be the bridge to bring them in contact with the local church and support them in discipling and teaching.

What kind of church do you go to?

We go to a small Karen and Thai church not too far from our house. It is a small house church, and the preaching is done in Thai and translated into Karen for older members of the congregation. A few of our students also attend. We are very blessed by the servant attitude of the pastor and his wife, something that is not always found in Thai churches where position and power are coveted.

Is this your final landing place?

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I love Mae Sariang and its melting pot of people from the surrounding villages but my desire is to move deeper out of town into the mountains and work in a place similar to Saohin, where I had done my internship. However, I feel like Mae Sariang is the place where I can build connections and research other opportunities, as well as work until I have won my permanent teaching license.

What is the weather like?

There are 3 seasons: hot, rainy, and cool. In the hot season, temperatures go over 100 F, with usually no rain for 4 months. This is often when burning is done in Northern Thailand and Myanmar, which culminates in smog that hangs chokingly over the mountains. The rainy season in Mae Sariang is heavier than in Chiang Mai, with lots of flooding on the mountain roads that lead up to villages. The cool season I would imagine is similar to Chiang Mai (where the coldest is in the lower 50s upper 40s) but that depends a lot on the elevation of where you are in the district.

How fluent are you in Thai?

This is an awkward question for me to answer, but I answer it honestly. I am fluent. Not on a native speaker level for sure, but I can trick people on the phone. I also do some translation, although not nearly as much as I did as a student and living in Chiang Mai where there was an abundance of foreigners.

Are there many foreigners where you live?

Before Covid19 hit, there were tourists who would pass through town on the Mae Hong loop route. Few would stay for more than a day, but they were in existence. These days, though, if Amy or I see one in town, it is news that we share over the supper table, “Oh, I saw a foreigner today at the 7-11.” Or, “I saw a farang driving past Tesco.” Fluent English speakers are rare to find. Of course, Amy and I talk English to each other, but sometimes we throw in Thai, as well as the occasional Dutch word. When we find Thai friends who speak English fluently, it’s refreshing to be able to converse in English, not that we don’t enjoy speaking Thai, but to be able to converse in one’s own language is a treat.

Frequently asked questions from Thai people:

How long have you been in Thailand?

About 7 years.

Are you half Thai?

Nope

How long do you plan to stay in Thailand?

Until God leads me somewhere else.

Why on earth do you live here when you could live in America?

Well…..I…  where do I start?

Can you eat ________________? Fill in the blank with any kind of very spicy food.  

Probably.

Can you speak Northern Thai?

Some. Not much.

Can you speak Karen?

Very little

How much do you pay for rent?

3000 baht a month (100 dollars)

Do you send money home to your parents?

No.

Do you miss your family?

Yup.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Nope

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?

Cause, ummmmm…..

Do you want a boyfriend?

Well, I mean, I ……

Do you want me to introduce you to my uncle?

Ummmm, don’t worry about it.

Any more questions? I would be glad to hear them, whether awkward or non-awkward.

Mommi

My grandma is old.

She has always been old, to me.

I remember going to her house one day when I was 4. My mom was going to Hutch. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go to my grandma’s house, or Mommi’s house, and play with the Berenstein bears in the log cabin that Doddi built.

She was old already, back then.

She was already old when Doddi died from complications from open heart surgery when I was 9.

She was old when I went to Thailand the first time over 8 years ago. And she has been getting older every time I come home again.

And each time I leave, I say goodbye for the last time.

Every time I see her, she is a little bit smaller, a little bit whiter, and a little bit thinner. But she is always, always as sweet and kind as ever. This last time is like that, when I go home for my visit.

My grandma is old. She has always been old, but now she is older than ever. She is 100 years old. She sleeps on a hospital bed and eats her meals from her chair. My mom and my aunts take turns staying with her every night and day.

One time I stay with her so that Mom can go to her cousin’s garage sale. I read from the Budget at the top of my lungs until Mommi has pity on me and tells me I can stop. Then I read through some of the 200 cards she received on her 100th birthday until Mom comes back to stay with her for the night.

She is starting to forget things, which is painful to watch, not so much because she is becoming forgetful, as would be expected for a woman of 100, but because she realizes that her sharp mind is not quite as sharp anymore and it bothers her. So, I try not to ask her too many questions about something that she might not remember well.

I give her a small handbag made by a team of ladies in Thailand. She is delighted with it, and keeps on commenting about it and saying thank you. “It’s so pretty that I won’t want to take it anywhere for fear something will happen to it,” she says. A minute later, she remembers and says almost apologetically, “Well, I don’t go anywhere anyway anymore.”

On my last day at home, I go over in the rainy evening to say goodbye. She is sitting on her brown chair with the colorful orange and brown afghan, eating her supper. Dorothy is there with her for the night. I sit down and we chat for a while before I say goodbye.

She is smaller than ever. I give her a hug and hold her hand for a bit, and then leave before the tears can burst from the floodgates.

The last I see her is as I drive past. Dorothy is waving, and so is Mommi, a thin white hand from the window.

I am glad for the rain streaming down the windshield.

Tua Lek Goes to the Doctor

A bit over 6 weeks ago my cat, Tua Lek (meaning Little One), who had defied her name and blossomed to extraordinary proportions, gave birth to 4 little kittens who looked almost exactly like her. One of the four died on the first day, but the others lived on to be happy, healthy and adorable kittens. (Ok, I know the word adorable is overused with kittens, but it is necessary in this case.)

However much I enjoy kittens, having 3 litters a year populating my house is not something I really want to deal with, and neither did my housemate, Amy. Especially when my cat’s temperament drastically changes every time a new litter appears and she becomes whiny and “awhang-gish.”  Now, perhaps if I lived on a farm, and did not work away from home every day, and did not take month long furloughs once a year to visit family and did not need to find someone to take care of my 30 cats while I was gone, I might consider it.

So, since Tua Lek’s behavior was again becoming suspicious even after giving birth only 6 weeks ago, and the neighboring male tomcat was starting to hang around again, we decided the time had come. I made an appointment at the Mae Sariang animal clinic at 8:30 this morning.

Living in Thailand and having a motorbike as your main mode of transportation is a Wonderful, Free, Joyous Experience. Most of the time. Except when it’s raining heavily (I will refrain from the pun), or you have to take your cat to the veterinarian. Then, if you don’t have a pet carrier, your only recourse is a cardboard box strapped on the back of your bike with bungee cords.

When the time came to take Tua Lek, I grabbed the closest box that looked like it would work. It ended up being the box that my youth group had used to send goodies for my birthday. It was a little bit battered, but with a little tape, I thought it might work.

It did at first. I wrestled the confused cat into box, while her little gray kittens sat on a pile on the porch chair and looked at me with big, round, innocent eyes. Sweating profusely, I grabbed the Gorilla tape from Joel and Malinda that had come in the same box and proceeded to tape the box shut. I punched some holes into the box, got the box to my bike, and had just strapped it down with cords, when Tua Lek found a small hole in the side of the box. Before I knew it, the hole was much bigger and the cat was out of the — er, box. I grabbed her before she could flee, though, and ran for another box. Amy came out and helped me with this one, giving me some advice on how to tape it shut better. Once we had Tua Lek in again, I strapped it on once more. This box was wider, giving me less room on the seat, with my knees hitting the front part of the bike. This is a drivable position for short distances, although decidedly more awkward and less modest than the normal position.

The first box
I happened to be taking a picture of my handiwork right at the moment the cat escaped.

When Tua Lek is hungry, she meows. When she is wanting attention, she meows. When she is scared, she meows. At times when she is not any of those, she still meows. So, it was not a surprise that as I drove along, mournful, betrayed cat wails came from the box at regular intervals. Each time, I cringed, thinking of the attention we were drawing, and embarrassed at my lack of pet transportation equipment. At the same time, I also drew comfort from the fact that we live in Mae Sariang, which is quite “baan-nawk”. This word, literally translated means “outside village” but is usually used when talking about country people or hill people and has the connotation of being not quite as modern, educated and up to par as people in the cities.

Mae Sariang has three stoplights. Going to the clinic, I had to drive through 2 of them. As we approached the first one, I willed the car ahead of me to go faster, but it didn’t and couldn’t. The light became red. As I waited at both stoplights, I forced myself to look straight ahead each time an agonized wail came from behind me, thankful for my mask. I do not know where that sound is coming from, I told myself silently, and the others on motorbikes beside and behind me. What could it possibly be?

Finally, I reached the clinic. As I waited and held a terrified Tua Lek, I talked with a couple who had brought in their neighbor’s cat to be spayed. I found this very humorous. I had to sign a release for them to do surgery. Finally, they took her away and I went home.

Going to the vet in this fashion is traumatic, both for the cat and her human. I felt like a betrayer, like someone who was senselessly inflicting confusion and pain on an innocent life. I think both of us will be happier because of this, and Tua Lek’s life will be much easier. But, how do you tell that to a cat? I mean, I did tell her several times, and I also triumphantly announced it to the visiting tomcat, but I know neither of them understood. I almost cried several times in the whole ordeal. Doing something like this would be so much easier if I could explain to Tua Lek what was going on.

Amy had some good words to say, something I hadn’t thought of before. “Well, maybe that is the way God feels. When God lets you go through something difficult and there is no way that we can understand why we have to go through it, God probably feels the same way.”

And now I really cry when I think of God holding me like I held Tua Lek when I am asking Him what He means when He lets Covid disrupt my life, or doesn’t iron out the tangles of my visa situation, or why he doesn’t just take certain struggles away from my life.

Tua Lek will never know that the undignified, terrifying ride to the vet, the pain and the anesthesia were all reasons that she will never have kittens again, and instead will grow fat and happy all the days of her life.

And maybe in the same way, I will never know exactly why God lets some of these things happen my life either. But I can know, better than my cat can ever understand, that He means the best for me, no matter how terrifying or undignified the ride.