Category Archives: children

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

Shoes

This past semester I took one of my favorite classes ever, Intercultural Communication. Some of the themes we studied in the first part of the semester were communication, identity, and culture; later we delved into issues such as child soldiers, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and genocide. As a part of the class, we each came up with a creative project or reflection on what we had learned, since a lot of the material was heavy and dark. Since I love poetry, I took the chance to come up with my own spoken word poetry piece and performed it. I pulled from the theme of identity that we had studied in the first half and combined it with some of the issues of the second half, using the metaphor of shoes to describe how we can empathize with the oppressed. Below is the poem that I wrote and performed as spoken word. (photo credit above: pixabay.com)

 

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their feet.

But you can never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

 

My father’s boots were tall and strong

Like him

Made to stride through the mud to spread straw for cows on cold winter mornings

Or through tall prairie grasses to hunt for the stray calf lost in the wheatgrass

On sunny spring mornings when the swallow swooped over dewy meadows

 

My mother’s shoes were tiny and timid

Like her

Black and trimmed with tucked-in edges that she wore for Sunday church

Her shoes fit in with all the other women’s shoes

When lined in a row when sitting on the backless benches

Except hers couldn’t touch the floor

 

My ancestor’s shoes were rough and rugged

Like them

They trod the hill paths of Germany

Slipping through the forests silently, stealthily

Stealing through the starlight to meet in caves

By underground rivers in the dead of night to be rebaptized–

Radicals and reformers.

Their shoes took them to the courts of Zurich, preaching and persuading

And some to their deaths

To burning at stake, drowning in the Lammat River

 

My ancestor’s shoes carried them onto boats

Fleeing on boats coming across wide, wild waters

Where they became a band of bewildered immigrants

In a nation and a tongue not their own

The words they spoke became heavy on their Swiss German tongues

And their fear of facing the fires again

Closed their mouths;

The firebrands and reformers became the silent in the land

Die Stille im Land.

 

Their shoes changed from strong mountain shoes

And religious rebel shoes

To quiet and capable shoes

Plowing the land and planting corn,

Until the East became too crowded

Then they pulled on their traveling shoes,

Their plain pioneer shoes

Boarded wagons and trains and boats

And staring into the setting sun, braved the dust, and

Gritting their teeth against the drought,

They lost their children to the prairies’ grip

Grimly facing the taunts of neighbors who called them “those Germans”

When to be German was to be a Nazi

While their accents never fit in

Just like their shoes.

 

What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Some people wear ballerinas and brogues, bast shoes and brogans

Others trod in trainers, Tsarouhis, tiger head shoes, and toe shoes

Pampooties, peeptoe shoes, peranakans, peshaawaris, platform shoes, pointininis

And still others wear silver shoes, slingbacks, slip on shoes, slippers,

Sneakers, snow shoes, spool heels, stiletto heels, sailing shoes.

Moccasins and winklepickers, Mojaris and wellingtons, Mules and wedges

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Some people wear moccasins that have seen the dust of trails

And the tears of those trails where millions died while weeping and walking

A convenient quiet massacre

 

Some little girls wear red leather tarkasin on their wedding day

Feet curling with fear  while they say yes to a man three times their age

Who steals their past and their present and their future

 

Some people do not wear any shoes as they run

Panting and gasping through the jungle at night

While flames tongue the sky and gunshots pierce the silence

 

Some children wear crude heavy army boots

Whose marching beats out

Power

And plunder

And pain

And march them to destroy the ones who love them most

And themselves

 

Some children do not wear any shoes at all,

Since the explosion of the land mine that stole their father’s lives

Took their own feet as well

 

Some people took off their shoes before they stepped into the shower

The shower that stole the breaths of their shaved and shorn and shattered bodies

And all that was left was—

Shoes

 

Some babies wore tiny soft shoes, wrapped onto tiny soft feet

When under an Eastern moon their skulls were bashed against the tree

The Killing Tree, they called it

By soldiers with hearts of rubber wearing shoes of rubber tires.

Destroy them by their roots, they said.

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What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Can I wear your shoes?

 

I cannot wear your shoes

They were not made for me.

 

But I can wear my mother and my father’s shoes

I can wear my ancestors’ shoes

And when I wear their shoes, I can know a little bit

A little bit

Of what it means to be invisible on the margin, the edge

To be born inconveniently.

To dread the knock on the door in the middle of the night

To lie haggard and hungry on a boat adrift

To live in a land where tongues cannot curl around strange sounds

And the name carried is synonymous with enemy.

To have fathers turn upon daughters and sons turn upon mothers

To bury children under a scorching sky

In a strange land

 

Perhaps I can know,

A little bit

When I wear their shoes

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When Fireflies Dance

This is the lazy man’s way to blog: recycling homework. While I am not allowed to recycle homework for my classes, I can do it on my blog. Below is a Creative Writing story I wrote this week. Currently, I don’t have time to blog much more than this. This story is fiction. Any names you might recognize are simply because I like to draw from my own experiences and the people around me. It makes the story “me.” And no, my grandma did not suffer from Alzheimers (just to be totally clear). 

I am never quite sure if I like Grandma or not.

When I was a little girl, I thought all grandmas were like this. Until one day I am rolling out cookie dough at Regina’s house, and Regina’s grandmother walks into the kitchen. Once she leaves, I ask Regina who she is.

“Why it’s my grandma!” says Regina.

“You mean she can talk? How can she talk if she is a grandma?”

Regina stares at me in incredulous surprise. “What do you mean? Of course she can talk!”

I don’t know what to say. I just say “oh” in a small voice and tuck it away to think about.

That was a few months ago. Now I know better.

My grandma Emmy lives in a little house with Grandpa John right beside our house. Sometimes she comes over to our house when Grandpa John has to go to town to do errands. Some days I am glad when she comes. On those days, we play doll together. Grandma Emmy dresses up her doll in the nicest clothes, and she is the best at making pretend baby noises. We pretend to be riding in an airplane with our dollies, and even though Grandma Emmy can’t talk, she makes the best airplane noises.

But most days Grandma Emmy isn’t like that. On those days, she walks around the house like she is looking for something. When I was smaller, I would ask her what she was looking for. But now I don’t.

The worse is when she cries. She sits down on the floor beside the toybox and holds her doll tight and cries. I am always scared when that happens, because her crying doesn’t sound like a baby. It is thin and wailing like the lost kitten we found under the pipes in the back of the barn. And I don’t like watching big people cry.

Keith and Amy can remember when Grandma wasn’t like this. When she was like a normal person. They tell stories of the delicious cookies that she made and how she would let them lick out the bowl after she had made cake. She would play checkers with them on winter evenings, and let them make snow candy by pouring maple syrup on snow and letting it harden. She would read books to them, using different voices for different characters, in ways that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

But that all changed one day when she began to forget names and faces. She did funny things like put the silverware in the fridge and the cake in sink. At first it was so funny, Amy says.

But soon Dad started watching her with a furrow on his brow and things just kept getting worse and worse until they were as they were today.

Sometimes when Grandma comes over, I watch her. I like playing with her most of the time, but sometimes I wish I could have a grandma that lets me lick out the bowl after making a cake, and reads scary stories to me at night and plays checkers with me on winter nights.

Sometimes when she is sitting quietly, I go to her. I reach and touch her, just to see if she feels like other people. Her hands are wrinkly like other old people’s hands, like my hands look when I take a bath too long. But her eyes don’t look like other old people’s eyes. They are blue, but when she looks at me, she doesn’t really see me.  Amy says grandma has Al Seimer, but I don’t know who Al Seimer is. I only know Al Miller. After Amy says that, the next time he comes to talk with Dad about the price of hay, I watch him carefully. But he never even talks to grandma, so I don’t think it is him. Perhaps he comes in the night to visit grandma and grandpa.

****************************************************************************

I am chasing the last cheerio around in my bowl of milk with my spoon. I like to pretend that the cheerio is a fish and the spoon is a shark. This morning the windows are open and a slight breeze pours in through the window. It is June, my favorite month because it is my birthday month. The shark has almost caught the fish, and I am just ready to ask Mom how many more days until my birthday when grandpa comes panting up the steps.

His white wavy hair sticks up like it does when you rub a balloon over the carpet on winter days and hold it over your hair.

“Grandma.. grandma… there’s something wrong,” he says. “I thought she just wanted to sleep in. But she’s not responding.”

Grandpa’s eyes look worried, afraid. “I think she’s gone.”

I want to look away.  I don’t like to see grandpa upset. Grandpa and dad never get upset.

Dad leaves the table without a word and runs out the door. I can see grandpa follow slowly, his shoulders slumping.

“But mom,” I say, “where did Grandma go?”

My mom hugs me, her long arms drawing me close. “I think she died, Anna. That’s what he means.”

I saw a dead cat once. Amy’s cat. It was lying on the road by the mailbox when Dad went to get the paper one morning. It had probably been hit by a car while it was hunting for mice in the ditch, Dad said. I remember seeing it a little, but I didn’t like to look at it much because it was bloody and messed up. It didn’t look like Whiskers anymore.

But I have never seen a person dead.

Aunt Dorothea comes the next day, but she doesn’t laugh as much as she usually does. Then come Uncle Roger and Aunt Nellie, Aunt MaryLynn and Aunt Lorena, and Aunt Barbie. Mom says they came for the funeral.

Other times, I like when they come. They bring good food and candy, and tell stories all afternoon and evening, and everything is jolly. But this time, nobody seems to pay attention to me. Keith and Amy go outside to help Dad with the barn chores, acting important that they can do something to help. But I am too little.

The morning of the funeral, I wipe the last bit of egg from my bowl using the buttered middle of my toast.

I ask Mom, “Where is Grandma, Mom?”

Mom stops spreading the glaze on the cinnamon rolls like she is surprised and looks at me.

“She went to heaven, Anna.”

“But where is heaven, Mom? And how did she go? Did she want to go?”

Mom waits a long time, and she looks out the window.

Then she speaks. “Anna, I don’t know where heaven is. All I know, is that it’s with Jesus. And Anna, I really don’t know how it works. All I know is that only Grandma’s body is here, but she isn’t inside it anymore.”

“She isn’t inside it anymore? But how could she go without her body? How could she walk?”

Mom comes over across the room and sits down beside me. Her hands grasp mine, hard and strong and a little sticky from the cinnamon roll glaze.

“I really don’t know, child. But I do think she wanted to go.”

“Why, mom? Why would she want to go? How do you know?”

Mom sighs, and she looks out the window again.  “Anna, you remember hearing stories of how Grandma used to be, right? When I was young, she was the best mother I could have asked for. She was kind. She was strong and healthy, and could walk and talk like other people. But then she got sick. Like her mind got sick. And even though we took her to the doctor, he couldn’t help her. But now, she is like she used to be again. Her old mind and body that were sick are left behind and she went to heaven.”

I nod. And swallow the lump in my throat. I feel funny and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  So I pretend to understand. But I don’t really. How could Grandma not be in her body anymore?

********************************************************************************

The funeral is long and warm. I see Grandma in the box, but she doesn’t move. I think about what Mom said about Grandma not being here anymore, and wonder what it means. There are so many people. I can’t breathe because there are too many people, and I don’t know where Grandma has gone. I hold Mom’s hand tight, tight the way Grandma used to hold her doll when she cried. I watch them put the dirt over her. How will Grandma go to heaven if there is dirt over her? I don’t want to cry. Big girls like me don’t cry. I try and try and try to hold it back, but suddenly I can’t. Mom picks me up and holds me. I cry till her shoulder is wet. I don’t care anymore about being a big girl.

*********************************************************************************

That evening, I sit on the wooden steps. Mom is making strawberry shortcake for all the aunts and uncles that are still here. They are laughing now.

I like the night like this. It is quiet and safe. I feel tired from crying so hard. I put my feet down on the grass. It is soft and wet. The darkness comes creeping over the lawn, like it has a secret to tell.

Suddenly a little light blinks on, and then off, right above my head. A little bit later another light blinks on and off.

I stand up in wonder. It’s fireflies! I remember last year when the fireflies came! Keith and Amy and I chased them over the lawn and caught them with a net. One time we put them in a jar and watched them fly around.

Their lights blink on and off all over the lawn, above the wet, cool grass. Quickly and quietly, I run into the kitchen and climb onto the counter. I grab an empty glass jar on the shelf. I don’t want Keith and Amy to see me. I don’t know why, but I want this to be my secret.

Out on the lawn, little lanterns blink by the hundreds above the dewy grass. I have never seen so many. I watch, and chase them. They dance over my head. I catch one and watch as it crawls over my hand, its light slowly glimmering on and off. I put it in my jar and screw on the lid. I chase the others. Sometimes I almost have them in my hand and then they flit away. Finally, the jar is filled with tiny lanterns, blinking, flitting. Mom is calling me to come eat strawberry shortcake with the aunts and uncles. I run upstairs with the jar and put it on the windowsill.

After supper is over, mom makes me go to bed. She says I am tired and need to have a long night of sleep. For once I don’t complain. I lie in bed and watch the fireflies in the jar. Amy comes up. I decide to tell her about the fireflies, but she doesn’t really listen. She is getting too grown up and is getting boring. I am never going to grow up.

After she is asleep beside me, I lie still, very still and think. The crickets are singing under the wooden porch again. Outside, a new sliver of a moon is coming up. It looks like a boat that floats crookedly through the sky, like if you would ride in it, you could almost fall out. A few feet on the windowsill is my jar of fireflies.

The fireflies are flying inside the jar. I see them from here. They fly against the glass and bounce off. Silly little fireflies, I think. They don’t know what the glass is. They don’t know that they can’t break the glass. But still they fly against it and bounce off, again and again.

Where do they want to go, I wonder? Why don’t they like it in the jar? I wonder what it would be like to be a firefly. To dance across the lawn at night when the sun goes down and turn my light on and off. I would be the fastest firefly. And I would dance all night long.

I wonder where grandma is. I wonder if she likes fireflies. I wonder if they have fireflies in heaven. I wonder if Grandma caught fireflies and put them in a jar when she was a little girl.

I sit straight up in bed. I look at the fireflies again. They are still flying in the jar, bouncing off the glass, wanting to get out. I wonder if they are scared.

I crawl out of the bed, the floor cool to my bare toes. I tiptoe to the window, trying not to wake Amy. I take the jar off the windowsill and screw off the lid. The window is open and I hold the jar outside. The fireflies pour from the jar, fairylights gleaming. They fly into the night, free from the glass that held them in, dancing and dancing and dancing, until they are lost in the night.

I laugh to myself, a happy laugh.

As I tiptoe back into bed, Amy stirs.

“What are you doing?” she mumbles.

I wrap the covers around me and snuggle down.

“Nothing,” I say.

 

photo credit: Pixabay.com

The Train and the Little Blonde Boy

wyoming-397901_1280“Where is it going?” asked the little blonde boy.

“I don’t know,” I said.

And we stood watching as the train thundered past

On the black tracks that split the prairie in two;

Rumbling,

Streaking,

Shaking,

Shouting,

Clattering,

The vibration of its going pounding in our hearts,

Its whistle swallowing our voices,

Heading for cities, and skyscrapers, and brickyards, and stations, and cattleyards, and streets teeming with people,

Where horns honk and traffic runs thick and smog lies low on the skyline.

 

And then we were alone again, the last car a speck on the horizon

And only the echo of the whistle shivered the prairie around us,

Among the “sshhhh” of the wheat field in its heavy ripeness.

 

“Where is it going?” asked the little blonde boy.

“I don’t know,” I said.