Category Archives: children

A Bit of the Journey

A friend of my mom’s who used to live in Kansas recently reached out to me after coming across my blog. One of the questions she asked was about my journey in coming to Thailand, as well as my journey in writing poetry. I had already been tossing ideas about in my mind in relation to writing about the latter topic, and her suggestion got my mind rolling. What exactIy got me started writing poetry, or writing in general? It’s hard to say. Books, events, people, words of encouragement, God… all these things. Perhaps explaining in depth about all the details of what poetry means to me and how I began writing poetry would sort of be like taking all the beauty and mystery out of the story, like Carl Sandburg said. He said, “Roses, sunsets, faces have mystery. If we could explain them, then after having delivered our explanations we could say, ‘Take it from me, that’s all there is to it, and there’s no use your going any further for I’ve told you all there is and there isn’t any more.’ If poems could be explained, then poets would have to leave out roses, sunset, and faces…” Perhaps if every detail of our journey could be explained then it would lose its mystery. All that to say, here are a few bits and pieces of the journey.

In the first grade, I published my first essay. Miss Denise told me to write about our hobbies as a contribution to the school newspaper. Not only were we supposed to write about our hobbies, but we were to write why we liked to do them.

Mine went like this:

I like to bike.

I like to eat.

I like to sleep.

I like to bike because I like to.

 I like to eat because I get hungry very fast.

I like to sleep because then I don’t have to work.

Brutally honest and to the point. (Some of my editors probably wish I would practice some of that “to the pointness” again.)

In the second grade, I got in trouble with my teacher, who happened to be my cousin as well. I didn’t hear my class of 3 called to the table for our lesson, because I happened to be happily lost in a book, probably something like Dan Frontier or the Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo, or (shudder) the Hardy Boys.

I had to stay in at recess and put my head on my desk as a punishment.

In the third grade, I wrote a story. It was read aloud to the class and published in the school newspaper. It was of slightly better quality than my first-grade venture and was something about a boy who went on a hunt with his uncle.

In the fourth grade I got a new teacher. To the embarrassment of my older siblings, I again had hearing problems when I was lost in a book. Mr. Wes was slightly more understanding than the other teacher. Instead of punishing me, he came to my desk and got my attention. That was the year we had the new history books with the colorful, fascinating pictures of the American History. The history books were the frame for the historical fiction and the autobiographies that were donated to the school and devoured by my classmates and I.

In the 5th grade, my teacher set aside a class period each week for Creative Writing. During this time, we did all sorts of writing exercises, including one about a dinosaur wearing pink pajamas. We wrote descriptive paragraphs and stories and got feedback on our writing. The word counts of our stories rose along with the lists of ideas in our stories. Where at first 500 words had seemed insurmountable, we now found that it wasn’t enough to say what we wanted to say. The most popular topics were stories of the Underground Railroad and runaway slaves. My brother’s stories usually included either cattle rustlers or American Indians or cops and robbers or detectives or all of the above.

In the 6th grade, I started to care about my grades and began to pour myself into school. I especially looked forward to the Creative Writing each week. Close to the end of the year, we entered some of our stories into the local library’s writing contest and I was dumbfounded when the librarian called and said that I had won second prize for my age group.

7th grade brought Rainbow Writing. Finally, I was away from Climbing to Good English and diagramming long, dry sentences and labeling adjectives and adverbs, and instead, let loose on creative assignments. We formed groups with the 8th graders and had Peer Editing Conferences. I struggled emotionally that year and found that writing could help me release and process. I think that was the year that we started being penpals with students from Sterling College. My pen pal was Rachel Wise, and I adored her. I found an outlet in writing to her, and to this day wish I could see those letters again. I started writing some poetry and was introduced to the names and work of some of the great American poets like Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe when I wrote a research paper on American Literature. Emily of New Moon and the Chronicles of Narnia became favorites of mine and influenced these early years of writing. That year I penned a poem called “Echo Dreams,” which was published anonymously in the school newspaper.

8th grade brought the Lively Art of Writing by Lucille Payne. I loved everything about that book. October also found my class of three sitting in John Mast’s living room. The first day I found out that we were going to write a book compiling his stories, I lay down on my mattress and tried to soak it in. It seemed unbelievable to a 13 year old. That year we read through the A Beka Themes in Literature book, and the poetry in that book came alive for me like never before. Poems like, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Longfellow’s The Day is Done are some of my favorites.

 Life in the 8th grade was less tumultuous than 7th grade. It was full of promise and hope and I was incredibly sad when it ended. 8th grade marked the last of my school career (at that point) but I wasn’t ready for it to stop. I seriously imagined refusing to take my diploma on graduation day. (But then again, I imagined a wide variety of things).

After I left school at the age of 13, life was no longer marked in grades, but in years. 14 and 15 found me at home, mostly milking cows and memorizing lists of cow genealogies and sire attributes and the names, birthdates, and histories of every single cow. Without school, my brain had a lot of thinking space and needed something to stay busy. Thankfully, cows were interesting to me or I cringe to think of what else I would have swallowed up had I access to other things. I started to read through our set of encyclopedias but only made it to page 76 of the A book. I dreamed of writing a book and wrote out some plots but I rarely made it past the hatching stage of the story. Poetry was easier since you could do it in small amounts and then come back and rework it. Also, I am bad at grammar, and poetry gave me more poetic license than prose.

Around the age of 14 and 15, I began reading my Bible daily, especially books like Job and Isaiah and the Psalms in the KJV. The Word slowly began to influence my life more and more, and I would read it for the beauty of the words. Who wouldn’t fall in love with words like this? “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.” (Isaiah 49:2 KJV)

16 was the year I could finally join the youth group at church and have a social life. It brought a lot of growing pains and secret crushes and joy and heartache. I began reading and writing more poetry as a way of expression. Shortly after my 16th birthday I discovered Tennyson’s “Sweet and Low” and would recite parts of that and the “Charge of the Light Brigade” to my horse as I rode down miles of outback roads that summer. Like the verses in the Bible that I had discovered, I fell in love with the simple uncluttered rhythm and beauty of “Sweet and Low.”

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
         Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
         Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
         Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

While outsiders view Kansas as one of the most boring states in the USA, many Kansans are proud and appreciative of the unique beauty of their state. Whether it’s the seas of golden wheat, or the burnt orange and browns of the CRP, or the barren beauty of winter or the wind that Kansas was named after, I found my surroundings a goldmine for inspiration for poetry. Capturing the spirit of the prairie almost became an obsession at times. At 16 I penned “Dust and Wind.”

Wind, wind, endless wind

Fleeting o’er the fields

Dancing in, flying in,

One long roaring wave.

Roaring wave of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind,

Of dust and wind.

Whirlwind of the land

In one unceasing blow

Sweeping lanes and in each hand

One unending broom

Unending broom of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

Wind, wind, blowing wild

And talking to me now

Talking to its lonely child

Daughter of the wind

Daughter of the dust and wind,

Of dust and wind

Of dust and wind

I felt deeply, and still do, about death. The death of relatives, people from our church, and the parents of friends hit me hard. In 2011, I wrote this poem after a friend’s father was killed in a tractor accident, and another friend’s mom passed away after being attacked by a bull.

No Words

She’s gone

Like a fragment from a weaving torn

Leaving you who have felt the sorrow born

Through ripping, tearing pain

And we grasp for words that are old and worn

And suddenly seem vain

I have no words.

They fail me when I see the sorrow

The endless aching of tomorrow

Stretched out over the years

I have no words that I can borrow

Only tears.

When I started teaching part time at the age of 20, I felt like I had found my happy space. My only disappointment was when my students weren’t always as excited as I was about the writing projects I assigned. As I taught English, I also began to get much better at it myself. That Christmas I read Jesse Stuarts The Thread that Runs so True for the first time. At 21, I had the opportunity to go to Faith Builders for summer term. As I had written about in this post here, I sat in on Jonas Sauder’s Poetry Appreciation class, which was the first time I really had a lot of interaction with other people who knew and loved and wrote poetry more than I did. It was there that while homesick, I wrote the poem, “Harvest Song.”

Harvest Song

And I must go down to the fields again

Through the shimmer of summer heat,

And walk through the waves of deepening gold

The oceans of ripening wheat;

Then I’ll stand on the edge where the grass still grows

Green by the amber shore,

And feast my eyes with a fierce wild joy

For the harvest is once more.

And I must go to where the sky is pinned

To the earth like an up-turned bowl

Where the hot wind sighs its searing breath

Against my face, and I’ll feed my soul

By the wide expanse of dying wheat

That moves and ripples and flies

And sings the song of my native blood

Harvest beneath the Kansas skies.

The next year at school, I did a poetry week with my students. At the end, I let the students choose a poem to recite at our program on the last day of school. It was interesting to see how each student chose a poem that seemed to fit their personality. Davy chose “The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven” (Jack Prelutsky), humorous and well-written. Micah stood at the front of the audience and recited innocently and soberly while his stick-out ears and wayward hair belied his innocence,

I did not eat your ice cream

I did not swipe your socks.

I did not stuff your lunch box

With rubber bands and rocks

I did not hide your sweater

I did not dent your bike

It must have been my sister

We look a lot alike

(I Did not Eat Your Ice Cream, Jack Prelutsky)

Javin read “Little Brown Pony” with a bridle in hand. And Jessamy in first grade recited,

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking over harbor and city

on silent haunches

And then moves on.

(Fog, by Carl Sandburg).

I started talking with friends about the possibility of publishing a book of poems. I had seen some compilations that sparked the idea, and after a few years of thinking about it, self-published a book of poems called Echoes of Eternity. Beulah Nisly, my mom’s cousin, agreed to donate her photography to the book. I have sweet memories of the fall of 2012, selecting the photos and discussing poetry. Her photos were exquisite and evocative. She captured Kansas in such a way that sometimes it felt like it would be better to leave the poem out.

The book came out in the spring of 2013, just a week or so before I traveled to Thailand the first time. Bad timing. Could I do it over again, I would do many things differently. One of those things would be finding someone to edit it more critically, but I had few of those kinds of mentors to turn to.

After moving to Thailand in 2014, I kept on writing, but perhaps more sporadically. During my college years I struggled with writing academically because I felt encased in rules and regulations. I hated it. College and living in another culture took a lot of brain energy, so there were times when I wrote little poetry. In December of 2019, however, I compiled a “tradebook” of poems, which was much less ambitious than my first venture, (I had more sense and less money) but with better quality poetry. This I titled, Through a Glass Darkly.

There you are, a taste of where and why and how I came to write poetry. I think I used to write poetry as a young girl because I loved the cadence and the imagery and the thrill of being able to take an event or a feeling and express it in words that touched my own heart. As I grew older, I wrote it more prayerfully. These days in addition to that, I find myself writing poetry as a way of reaching out to God in the empty and lonely spaces of my life. It’s a way that I can pray without really even knowing what I am praying for. Sometimes after I have written it out, I can finally understand what I really was feeling. And often only then feel relief.

Even after writing this, I find myself hesitating to publish it because it feels like when people write something like this, they write from the viewpoint of someone who has already arrived. I don’t think a poet ever quite arrives. And even as I write that, I realize I also hesitate to call myself a poet. But now, after throwing all political correctness and sensitive conscience to the wind, I will publish it. This is simply the story of an ordinary person who loves words.

photo credit pixabay

O Jesus Liebt Mich

Little baby girl in the dark night

Deep dark night without any light

Fear of the blackness creeping on the wall

Fear of the night closing in like a shawl

The boundless outside, beyond her small world

Comes pressing down her as she lies curled

Helpless she lies, pulled taut at Fear’s touch

The shadows on the wall are too much, too much

She cries and the sound is harsh in the night

She whimpers in the darkness, longing for sight

Then coming through the night is her mother at last

Warm, pulsing presence, understanding what has passed

Gulping down sobs, she rests with a sigh

Listening, oh listening to the sweet lullaby

O Jesus liebt mich!

O Jesus liebt mich!

O Jesus liebt mich!

Die Bibel sagt mir so!

Little baby girl grows up over years

Still scared of the shadows, fighting her fears

Scared of the darkness, the heaviness that bears

Down hard upon her, and the pain that she shares

She cries and the sound is harsh in the night

She whimpers in the darkness, longing for sight

Then coming though the night is her Jesus at last

Warm pulsing presence, understanding what has passed

Gulping down sobs, she rests with a sigh

Listening, oh listening to the sweet lullaby

O Jesus liebt mich!

O Jesus liebt mich!

O Jesus liebt mich!

Die Bibel sagt mir so!

October 2012

Little Brown Pony

Little brown pony, oh, come with me

Down where the green grass grows by the lea

Down to the little brook that sings as it goes

And widens its path when swelled with snows.

Come, little pony, with me on a race

Running through the wheat fields with quickening pace;

Over the little swell, down through the draw,

Whoa, little pony, now whicker and paw!

Hold tight to the reins; little pony don’t run;

There’s green of the wheat field, gold of the sun!

Brown of the plowed earth, blue of the sky!

Turn around, turn around, little pony let’s fly!

Back through the wide field, on past the knoll

Down through the brown draw, tall grasses roll,

Back through the waves of ever-greening wheat,

Little brown pony has wings on her feet!

-Lori, April 2009

Every now and then I can write a poem that I look back and savor the imagery, because I managed to actually catch at least a fraction of what I saw and heard and felt. This is one of those few. Anyone who has experienced a Kansas spring and has ridden a spunky little pony in greening wheat fields should be able to relate.

I was about 9 years old when we got our first pony, Penny, after months or years of begging. She was a large, fat, copper pony with a mind of her own. She would be poky and slow upon leaving the farm, but as soon as you turned her around to go home again, her head would go up and it was all you could do to hang on as you went flying down the road. The one spring we let our cows out on pasture, so most evenings during that time, I would go bring them up for milking, riding Penny bareback. Springtime in Kansas is beautiful, green, and fresh. That was the inspiration for this poem.

This poem was first published in Echoes of Eternity.

Jakajan Hunts and Burmese Refugees

Tonight I write.

The heat of the day has fled with the coming of the darkness. The sky is clear tonight, with a bright moon coming up in the east. I know it is east even though my head tells me it is north.
The last few evenings have been busy, with little time to spare for things like writing. Kru Paeng asked me if I could make cookies for the children for their lunch. Enough so each can have two, she said. That is 160 cookies. By the time I finished four nights of baking, I had the recipe down in my head and cooking over a fire much more efficiently than the first time I did it. No more burnt cookies. Or barely. A brand-new thicker pan donated to the school from visitors on Sunday helped a lot. Still it took a long time to make them, and it didn’t help matters when Captain Joe came over and hinted broadly that he would like some. They were served at lunch this morning and were a hit.

So, now that the cookies are past, I write.

The days are still lengthening, and the heat gets stronger with each passing day. The smoke has lessened which lets the sun’s rays come through. In the afternoon, the teacher’s office which is made of wood gets breathlessly hot. There is not enough electricity generated by the solar panels to run a fan, I guess, so there is not even the comfort of a fan. At night I sleep with the windows wide open, careless to the fact that a loose buffalo might stick its head in the window some night, as it did to a previous teacher. The cats take advantage of the open window and jump in and out during all hours of the night.

Last week I experienced the danger of the mountain slopes for myself. I was planning to visit one of my third grader’s home since she had been begging me to come for a long time. On the way, I stopped to pick up Dauk Gulab, another third grader, and was driving up a hill to the home of another student, Wah Meh, to take her along as well. When I first looked at the slope, it looked doable, but it was longer than I had reckoned. I was driving in 2nd gear on my bike and the engine started dragging. I knew from previous experience that I didn’t want it to stop on me, especially with a rider, so I shifted down into first gear. This was a mistake and I realized it even as I did it. Since I was revving the bike to keep it going in second gear, it now shot up in the front, and we flipped over backwards (or so it seemed. I don’t really think we went over totally backwards but that was the feeling I got.) This was the first time I had ever really dumped my bike on the slopes, even though I had had several very close calls before. What bothered me most was my rider. We were both unhurt and she was cheerily brave about it all, but I felt a lump of guilt and fear gathering in my stomach all evening long. It helped to find out later from Wah Meh that her mom had dumped her bike there as well, and Kru Taum told me that he had run out of steam on the same slope before. There was something funny with my bike now, though, when I shifted. The next day I looked it over and discovered that the bar where you rest your feet had shifted. This was coming in contact with the foot shift when shifting down. Kru Taum led the way to Kai Muk’s house where Kai Muk’s dad brought out a heavy tool and whacked it into place.

The cicadas are here. They come in full blast and their noise in the morning when I wake up around 6 is deafening. They are known to be a delicacy and come at a high price in markets on the plains. One school day I tried fruitlessly to help the 4th graders catch them using nets and plastic bottles on sticks. I didn’t catch even one. The other students crowded around talked all at once, as they usually do, “You want to catch jakajan (cicadas)? Then all you need to do is make a paste out of sticky rice flour and paste it on a piece of wood and then the cicadas will come and stick on them.” This sounded more confusing then ever, but I decided to try it out. Pa De Bue and Itim and Yaut came to help me make the paste. We mixed some sticky rice flour with water and boiled and stirred it until it was a thick, sticky paste. Then carrying the still hot pot between Itim and Pa De Bue, off we went. We started off with their being only about 4 of us, but as we walked down the road to the bridge, we kept on collecting more and more schoolboys, until there were probably about 10 of us altogether. I felt like we should be waving a flag and blowing on a bugle, such was the excitement in the air. First, we marched down to a dry creekbed and spread some paste on pieces of wood and some trees. Sure enough, soon there were some jakajans stuck to the paste. “It’s not enough,” they all proclaimed, so we trekked over a buffalo pasture to another stream where the jakajans had congregated en masse. Again, we pasted the white substance onto sticks and walked along the creek bed, thrusting the sticks into areas where the jakajans sat. Pretty soon, our sticks were buzzing loudly. We had taken along two plastic bottles with some water in them and before we knew it, the bottles were full of very sticky, very disturbed cicadas.
Even though we could have caught hundreds more, we called it quits and headed back to the house. There several of the boys and I washed them and plucked the wings off the creatures. Then we mixed them with some seasonings and Yaut fried up the first batch. They seriously were really good.

The situation across the border in Myanmar gets continually worse ever since the coup in February when the army took over the previous government. Last week, Captain Joe brought over a report in English that the Myanmar consulate had written and sent to the northern parts of Thailand. He couldn’t make sense of it, so I summarized it. Basically, it was a defense of what the Myanmar army was doing in Myanmar against the protesters and those in opposition with the new government. Some people say they can hear the guns sometimes from across the border in Kayah State. The Burmese army has again shut off most of the internet service so those from Saohin who use Burmese sim cards for their internet are now without any service. (We are close enough to the border and far enough away from Thai phone service that many of the villagers, as well as the army camp at the border crossing buy Burmese sim cards for their phone service). This cutoff has resulted in the army officers needing to use the internet provided by the school and the police station. Last week we heard news that 5 important citizens from Kayah State were asking to cross the border into Thailand since they were in danger. In previous years the crossing was simply done but with Covid19 it is a much more serious endeavor. The army allowed them to cross over and right now, the refugees are quarantining in someone’s field. A day or so later, another request was made to allow 30 more citizens cross over. I haven’t heard yet if they would let them or not. I find it very interesting to be at this spot at this point in time. I have followed some of the conflicts in Burma for years and am very interested in the conflicts between the army and many of the minority groups.
I would love to add pictures, but its quite impossible right now with the slow internet.
This coming Saturday is the graduation ceremony. I will be heading down to Mae Sariang on Monday, Lord willing.

Marchness

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.

A Field Trip with Saohin School

Saohin School is for students from kindergarten to 6th grade. After that, many of the students head to the city to study for their education from M1 to M6 (same as 7th grade to 12th grade in the States). For each class that graduates from 6th grade, the school provides a field trip to different places in Thailand. This year, we went to Mae Hong Son town and Pai. Even after living in Thailand for over 6 years, I am still struck by the differences between Thai culture and my own culture when it comes to sightseeing and traveling, especially when it comes to taking pictures.

Kru Paeng taking a picture of Kru Duen.

I have also never traveled with such a group of carsick people.

Serm and Tukkata who both were carsick a lot of the trip. Their lively, bouyant personalities became quiet and solemn.

On Tuesday morning we started off from Saohin for Mae Sariang. Since I had driven my motorbike up from Mae Sariang several weeks earlier, I also drove it down. One of the sixth grade students, Paeng, sat behind me for the first leg of the trip.

Paeng and I a few kilos from Saohin. The air was cool and wearing a mask made my glasses steam, but with the dust and smoke, I didn’t want to take it off.

The first 32 kilometers from Saohin are the worst, where you have to cross through streams close to 20 times. During the current dry season it seriously is not that bad, since the streams are low and water rarely comes up to the gears or brake. I am slowly learning where the best places are to cross the streams and how to find the tracks of bikes that have gone before me, as well as where the shortcuts are to avoid as much water as possible. During heavy rains, crossing some of the streams becomes dangerous on a motorbike, and in some cases nearly impossible.

Once we reached Mae Je, a village about 27 kilometers from Saohin, Paeng switched with Serm, since Serm was getting carsick on the back of the truck. Surely, if Serm sat with me on a motorbike, she would be fine, so we thought.

Not so. By the time we reached Mae Sariang, I had to stop twice to let her throw up. Poor Serm had a hard time the entire trip. So did the majority of the other students, who if they were not throwing up or carsick, were groggy from the effects of carsick medicine. I clearly remember one moment when Pa De Bue was sleeping on the seat beside me, with his head resting on my shoulder. He woke up suddenly, shot me one agonized look and grabbed for his plastic bag. After that, he probably threw up another 4 or 5 times before we reached out destination.

We ate in Mae Sariang and then went off on a bunch of different errands, taking student pictures for the 6th graders who needed them to apply to new schools for 7th grade, and hitting various markets and grabbing supplies.

Squished onto the back of a truck in Mae Sariang

Shopping with 6th graders is fun. Actually, doing almost anything with 6th graders is fun.

Chawin, a bright, quiet boy who will be becoming a monk at a temple after his 6th grade studies.

We slept at two of the teachers’ houses and in the morning headed for Mae Hong Son. We visited several museums, two different caves, an electrical plant, went swimming, visited a historical bridge, a waterfall, a national park, a strawberry farm, a canyon, several lookouts, a Chinese village, a Karen Longneck village and more.

At a large cave in Bang Ma Pa. This was the first time I ever got to visit a cave, and believe me, it gave me thrills.
Pa De Bue inspecting the works at the electrical plant.
Yaut trying out the crossbow at the longneck Karen village.
Discussing botany at a national park in Mae Hong Son.
Kru Duen at Baan Rak Thai, a Chinese village from where you can see the cliffs of Myanmar towering beside the village.

It was exhausting. But so much fun. My favorite parts were interacting with the students and co-teachers, especially Kru Duen and Kru Yuri, who are two Karen teachers from the village. We slept together three in a bed one evening and shared laughs and experiences all throughout the trip.

Other than all the carsickness and the hectic schedule, it was a really good trip. We made it to Mae Sariang on Friday evening, driving through forest fire smoke smothering the valleys. I stayed there for another day or so, and then went to Chiang Mai for 4 days.

School starts again on Monday the 8th. In a few short days, we will be up on top again. 🙂

This is Saohin

The cats love sitting in front of the morning fire to stay warm. The one on the right had kittens a few weeks ago
Yaut, on the left, is 15 and in the 6th grade. He gives haircuts to the younger students in the school since the school has a strict code on hair length.
Saa Shwii Saa (oranges)
G is for Gecko
Nitcha, or Natcha, (I can never remember which is Nitcha and which is Natcha) getting her shot from the nurse who traveled to the school to give check ups.
Aun, my star 4th grade English student, in her cub scout uniform that the students wear on Wednesdays.
Energetic 4th graders, with shy Cha hiding behind DiDi’s head. These 4th graders have a “boys against girls” rivalry going on that seems to be an international concept among 4th graders.
Ponganok, in the 2nd grade
Levi (named after Levi jeans) and Anin, both in the kindergarten class.
Football, the major pastime.
Shoes left outside the classroom.
Kru Paeng with several of the older children, doing Cub Scout activities.
Leo, in first grade.
Pirun, second grade.
Dusk
My room with its ever present, ever annoying, ever necessary mosquito net.
After school and before supper. Kru Wit with his guitar (Kru means teacher), Kru Gate at the table, and Kru Paeng in perpetual motion, fixing food. You can see the back part of Captain Joe squatting at the fire.
Cactus flowers come out strong in the dry season.
Ponsatorn, second grade.
Rice in bamboo sticks at Kru Duen’s house one Saturday night
Doing laundry.
Muu Haem from second to left. Muu Haem is in kindergarten and known for being the most mischievous child of Saohin
Lunch on Children’s Day.
My friend Malai preparing field rats for lunch.
Trees lose much of their leaves during the dry season.
Something as simple as copying something in the office is an interesting process for 5th graders in Saohin.
Buffalo on my way to church.
Pichai, one of my first graders. I found out the other day that his family owns an elephant. This is one house I want to visit.
While on break recently, we did some sightseeing. From left to right: Kru Paeng, Gate’s mom, Kru Mii, and I.

G is for Gecko

This morning I fixed my normal coffee before church and lay in my hammock to read my Bible and journal. It was quite chilly, down at 55 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which is cold for us. I was almost finished, when I heard a rustle at the head of the hammock. I looked up and a tiny Dtukae was sitting on the hammock canvas. For those who don’t know what a Dtukae is, it is a small lizard like creature that when full grown lives on the walls of houses. It is known for its sticky feet and for its croaking call at night, as well as its bite. They say that when a Dtukae bites you it won’t let go unless you dunk it under water.

The little creature at the top of my hammock didn’t look big enough to bite me, but when it came running down the hammock toward me, I didn’t stop to consider, but jumped off with a yelp, hitting my coffee in the process and spilling it over my Bible. It seemed a little confused and lost, so I went into the house and hunted up a bag and chased it into the bag. I then stuck it into a snack container and poked holes into the top for air. I will take it to school and show it to my 1st graders and teach them “G is for gecko.” There is some controversy as to what a Dtukae is called in English. Most Americans do not call it a gecko, reserving that name for the smaller, more harmless “jing-jok” that are so much fun to flick off window screens, but a few of my Thai friends insist that those are not called gecko in English, but that Dtukaes are called geckos. Google translate says Dtukaes are geckoes. In the little bit of research I have done, it looks like Dtukaes are generally known as Tokay geckoes and the jing-joks are other kinds of geckoes. I prefer to call Dtukaes geckoes purely because Dtukaes are more memorable than jing-joks and when you are teaching “g is for gecko” to first graders you need memorable ideas.

Whatever it should officially be called, I am happy with my find and hope it will live long enough to show to my first and second graders. I keep on being amazed at the way these children learn. Because their level of English is still so low, they don’t have much previous knowledge to build on. This is a little frustrating at times because you have to start from the bottom up. However, it can also be hugely rewarding because their minds are also very receptive to new words and they are excited about learning. One of my favorite things is to hear them tossing English words around as they leave the room. I also find it fascinating to be involved in every step of their learning and have a front seat in observing their journey of language. Not only are they starting to be able to use the words I have taught them, but they are no longer afraid to call out a good morning to me as they meet me outside the classroom. One thing I find quite hilarious is how they love to boss each other around in the classroom. The older classes can be a bit rowdy at times, but usually all I have to do is say “Shh” or “be quiet” in English to one student, and he or she will turn around and yell at the others, “Be quiet!!” in English. Or “Calm down!!” Somehow when you are bossing others, it is easier to say it in English. And yelling it is always better. In the first grade class, usually the general roar subsides if I say “be quiet” except for one of two students who are so busy telling others to be quiet that they forget that the order extends to them as well.

Anugun, or Koko, is one of my 5th grade students who I thought at first would be one of my more difficult ones. He is rowdy, but he has surprised me with his interest to learn and the way he remembers sentences. The other day he blessed my heart when after class he came back to his desk to pick something up and saw me sitting there studying some Karen words. He then came over and helped me with some questions I had about the Karen dialect spoken here. When I taught occupations to them last week, I asked each one what they wanted to be when they grow up. He then asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I take that as a compliment.

Sometimes when I open up Google maps and see my location where that bold dark line marks the border of Myanmar three kilometers away, and then trace the map 4 hours down to Mae Sariang to the closest phone signal, I give a little inward gasp. A gasp not unlike the gasps I involuntarily emit when the shock of the cold water hits me as I shower in the evening. Or the little gasp that Cha, one of my students gives when I call on her to speak English in class. For the most part, I have adjusted to living here. One day runs into another. Life seems normal. In the morning I wake up before 6 and light the fire. I make my coffee, sometimes sitting beside the fire to warm my feet in the chilly morning as I journal and read my Bible. The children are supposed to be at school at 7:30, and assembly starts at 8. My first class is usually at 8:40, with three class periods before noon and two in the afternoon. The day is usually over before I realize it. And yet, the gasp sometimes still escapes me… the tingling shock that still lingers from the realization that I am not in my home culture, or my adopted Chiang Mai culture. Like this morning as I walked to church and met 2 enormous buffalo blocking the road. Or when you find out that one of your first grader’s family has a buffalo. Or in the morning as I squat by the fire to light the kindling.

This week was a mix of ups and downs. At the beginning of the week, I found myself beset entirely with cravings for dairy products and chocolatey cookies, cakes and breads. I was rationing my stash of granola bars and also realizing they just answer the cravings I was having. Finally, I remembered that at a store in the village, I had seen some off-brand oreos. I set off to find some, and they were perfect. The wafer satisfied my cookie hunger, the frosting helped with the desire for something milky and sweet (is the frosting actually milky? I doubt it, but my brain is happy with it), and the wafer also satisfied my chocolate urges. I was getting tired of black coffee and wishing for some milk, or for something sweet to offset the bitterness. Oreos worked perfectly. For 5 baht, I can eat a packet of 6. The amount of Oreos I have eaten in the week that has passed is beyond ridiculous. I have decided that I need to take turns going to the different stores in the neighborhood when I buy them so that no one can discover how many Oreos the farang teacher consumes, because I am sure if anyone would realize the truth, it would spread like wildfire.

Because, it seems, everything that I do here is of interest to everyone else. One of the village teachers speculated to another village teacher that the large amount of water I consume (I carry a water bottle with me wherever I go) probably makes me hungry. I have a feeling she was wondering why I eat so much. I feel like I am a distraction in an otherwise very quiet village and I give them something to discuss over their suppers. I keep on being surprised at the stories about me that eventually come floating to me. “Kru Dtaum says that you read your Bible every morning.” “So-and-so said that you can speak Karen as well.” (the few words I can speak do not constitute speaking Karen.) It seemed from comments from my students and others that the entire village knew I had accompanied some of the villagers into a more remote area to hunt for tadpoles and gather greens.

This week the water stopped running. It does so in the dry season. Water then has to be brought in from the storage tanks. It randomly starts up again every now and then, and then we fill up everything possible. Because of this, I had to wash my clothes in the tubs in front of the men’s showerhouse since they had more water there than we had in our house. I washed my clothes on lunch break and dumped the water out in front of the showerhouse. When I went to hang up my clothes, I found that I had washed only one sock from my pair of gray socks. This is not unusual since I am a little scatterbrained when it comes from doing laundry. It wasn’t until later that evening when Kru Dtaum went to the showerhouse and shouted out, “Hey whose socks are these?” There were three socks that I had thrown out with the washwater lying between the showerhouse and the office. I was just grateful that it was only socks and not more embarrassing items.

My fire lighting skills are getting better. I struck some difficult times several evenings when I was trying to light it and it simply would not light. I keep on getting tips that help me, but there are times, very frustrating times when I am lighting the fire and someone else comes to help me light the fire. This help is usually to say, “Oh, it’s going,” and pile on some wood. And then 1 minute later my precious fire is smoking itself to an untimely death. I want to say, “If it were your fire, then yes, it would be ok and you would know when the lit kindling is ready for bigger sticks. But this is MY fire and I happen to realize, even though I am a newby at this, that it is NOT ready for bigger sticks. So please keep your sticks off my baby fire!” But I do not say this. Instead, I grab a sliver of pine and light it again.

I have gone to the Catholic services twice now since I have come. Perhaps I should not be fraternizing with Catholics, but there is no Protestant church here. Even those who are Catholic seem to be very nominally Catholic. However, I enjoy sitting and listening to the hymns and getting some language practice. It also gives me a chance to get to know the villagers as well as see some of my students outside of school. In spite of this, I am very hungry for a good service in Thai or English that I can understand, as well as fellowship with people who are serious about their relationship with Christ.

My Acer laptop gave me some gasps this week as well, refusing to turn on when I needed it. After an anxious night and nightmares of great magnitude about losing all my data and teaching computerless for weeks while my laptop is sent to Chiang Mai to be fixed, I did find the magic key to turn it back on, which was to drain the battery until it totally died and then start it up again. Praise the Lord!

Captain Joe, (or Pugong Joe as you would say in Thai), one of the policemen at the station that is right beside the school, comes over for supper at the teacher’s house most evenings. I keep on being surprised at how people here constantly drop in on each other. When Pugong Joe is not sitting on the porch with another of the teachers and serenading us with Thai folk songs on his guitar, he is asking me questions that usually start with, “I saw in a movie once….” He dreams of traveling and going to far away places and watches movies to do so vicariously. He loves asking questions about all sorts of things, and is not hesitant to ask bold questions about Christianity, unlike many Thai people.

We teach from Monday to Saturdays, and then crash on Sundays. This is the schedule for schools in what the government calls พื้นที่พิเศษ “Special Areas,” meaning it is an area far away or hard to reach. After three or four weeks of a schedule like this, the school closes for a week or even more to give the teachers a chance to go home to their families. This means on this Friday we head down to Mae Sariang for over 7 days. I am looking forward to a break and some time by myself.

I keep on thinking that when I blog, I should choose one subject and stick to it, and then somehow wring out some kind of wise lesson or conclusion about the happening. Perhaps someday I will write something sage and wise to connect with my life here. But for now, I write because these stories need to be written in my own heart, for my own memory.

*once I reach Mae Sariang and have some good wifi connection, I will upload some pictures.

** this post was mostly written on Sunday but I was unable to post it until today because of the internet. Or the lack thereof.

Child Bride

I asked her if she loved him. She said yes,

Her nut-brown hands clasped in her lap

Hands that instead of scratching sums and wiping

Chalkboards of the second-grade classroom

Would soon be cradling sons and daughters and

Threading flowers to sell at the intersection

On smoggy March days

 

She asked me if I had someone. I said no,

But I didn’t tell her of the cloud of pain that

Hovered over me or the knife that still pricked my heart

She wouldn’t understand why anyone would put

A knife into their own heart

 

I wondered if she knew what love was. But I didn’t ask,

She felt sorry for me that at 29, more than twice as old as her

I did not yet know love as she did

(What she did not know was that I knew love,

But only the kind you let go

Even if it meant turning the point of the knife)

 

We wondered what the other was thinking. But we didn’t ask,

The table and a world between us,

The dirt floor swept clean

Open windows, a motorbike droning somewhere,

Smoke from a fire wafting through the room

Time frozen

Only a smudge caught in the air

 

January 28, 2020