Category Archives: culture

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.

Life in Saohin

It’s amazing how humans can adjust. Take for example, the ability to adjust to things like squatty potties and cold dip showers in the middle of the cold season. I’ve experienced those before, but in the past few years, I have become someone who really, really enjoys hot showers, and even more than that, hot baths when possible. Also, the longer I live in Thailand, the wimpier I get when it comes to anything cold.

So for me, one of the challenges of coming on my internship in a village called Saohin in Mae Hong Son province was cold showers. The very thought of them made me shudder and I indulged in hot baths in Chiang Mai as long as I could. (Amazingly enough that rickety house even had a bathtub!)

When I arrived in Saohin the third of January to do my internship (the last step before I graduate), I realized there was more to adjust to than squatty potties and cold dip showers, but those other things are harder to pinpoint and measure my progress. Sometimes I still cringe and hold my breath and gasp as the water cascades over my back, but for the most part, I think little of it. The squatty potties themselves never really scared me. It was more the lack of toilet paper…… And I am getting used to that as well.

So, I marvel at what we humans can adjust to when we need to. Given the choice, we often prefer to stay with our old habits and routines, but it is extremely beneficial for us to be jolted out of our safety zone once in a while.

I’ve been here at the village for about a week and a half. I am still adjusting and there are still fears I battle at times. Fears like, what if I am faced with some kind of ethical dilemma and fail God. What if I do something that angers the other teachers? I am slowly learning to shoot down these fears with God’s word and focus on Him, reminding myself that even though I feel very alone in the village, He is here with me.

Adjusting takes energy too, I realize. At first, just getting up in the morning and figuring out how to live and where things belong and what my next move should be left me panting. I gave myself grace that first week when at 8:00 pm I felt exhausted and ready to flop into bed (even though no flopping is done on this bed. I might break a bone).

In the past week, I have had a full schedule of English teaching to the school children. They are delightful to teach. Far from perfect, they are a group of very lively, yet shy students, who are not addicted to cell phones. This non-addiction works wonders for their concentration and retention skills. These are forest-born children who know how to find minnows in the streams and weave baskets better than they know how to introduce themselves in English. Yet at the same time that I am teaching them, I find myself learning hundreds of things I never knew were there to learn.

Every day I need to write reports for my intern advisor. The first slot is for, “Things I learned.” I often find myself stuck at this point. I learn hundreds of things every day, but most of those things don’t really have anything to do with an English Communication degree.

Things like….

  • How to build a fire to boil the water for the coffee in the morning. You stack and lean the little pieces of kindling onto a larger stick and you light one small piece and hold it UPSIDE DOWN and stick it in there. You also have to scrape out the ash from the fire before, or there won’t be air for it to breathe. If you want it to light very quickly, you use a piece of pine wood.
  • How to boil rice on an open fire. First you need to wash the rice, and then pour out the water. You might need to wash it again. You then guess the amount of water and rice, but make sure there is plenty of water. You pour the rice into boiling water on the fire and then stir it until the outside is soft but the inside is still a little hard. You then pour out the water and put the kettle back on the fire and close the lid for it to finish steaming.
  • How to catch minnows in a stream. You walk from downstream to upstream with a net and carefully overturn rocks and catch the minnows in your net as they escape.
  • How to make field rats for lunch. I only saw the part where you hold them over the fire and scrape off the skin as it roasts, and then you gut them. I didn’t see the later part where they cut them into pieces.
  • How to see if the greens beside the stream are the ones that you can eat or the ones that make you dizzy.
  • How NOT to say a certain Karen word that I thought was the word for “book” but was a word for a certain unmentionable body part.
  • How to say the names of over 60 students, some of the villagers and some of the policemen from the nearby station.
  • How to wash your clothes by hand. I’ve done this before, but not on a regular basis. I still try to wash them while no one is watching to see how the funny farang does it.
  • How to live with a minimal amount of privacy. My room happens to be directly off the kitchen, which is where any cooking, socializing, or work goes on…..
  • Learning about a new drink I’d never had before called Green Mate. It’s a sweetened coconut juice that is refreshing on a sultry day.
  • I’ve learned how to go to bed early and get up early. It’s not unusual for me to be in bed by 9 PM which is a miracle in Chiang Mai.
  • How to make fried eggs Thai style. I never knew so much oil goes into Thai cooking.
  • How to sit on your bed so you don’t fall off. Honestly, this should not have happened on my bed at all, since it is quite a big bed with plenty of room. It has mosquito netting wrapped around the side. Each of the 4 corners of the netting is tied to nails on the 4 corners of the room. I was sitting on my bed doing work on my laptop, then I closed my laptop and leaned back against a pile of blankets and stretched. To make the stretch better, I lifted up my legs clad in PJ’s and stuck them in the air. Somewhere along the line, my center of gravity shifted, the blankets receded from my back, and my legs went up over my head and I found myself sliding head first on my back off my bed. To make it worse I had a round clothes hangar with clips for laundry hanging on the rope that held the mosquito netting. The net, the hangar and I landed on a confused muddle on the floor. I lay for about 2 minutes helpless with laughter on the floor, wrapped tightly between the bed and the mosquito netting and trying to figure out how to get up without tearing my precious netting. I don’t know when I have laughed so long and helplessly, and at the same time, trying to keep it quite so no one else in the house would hear me. Once I was able to inspect the damage, only the one string that held the netting was broken, and that was quickly fixed, much to my relief. I didn’t want to explain to the other teachers why I needed to buy a new mosquito netting.

I am not finished learning and adjusting yet. I still have a long way to go, but it feels good to have some adjustments behind me. Instead of moving to another province it feels like I am in a different country and time zone. It feels like years since I rode my bike among the streets of Chiang Mai and ate TomYum noodles at Lung Chang’s restaurant and sat in on a class at Payap. It’s also hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve had a lengthy, intelligent conversation with anyone in English. At the end of the month, we will take a week off and drive to Mae Sariang for our breaks. I had planned to return back to Chiang Mai for a visit, but will likely not do so because of Covid19.

This gives me a good month for adjustments before a week in town. If I learn as much in the next two weeks as I did in the first two, I will be one happy person.

*note. I would love to add photos to this post but the temperamental wifi won’t handle it for now.

Frogs

I am beginning to feel empathy for the people of Egypt in the time of Moses. A plague of frogs seems to have hit my home.

Now, I can think of many other animals that would be worse. In fact, I actually like these little frogs and named one of them Theodore. They are cute and full of character. But they keep on popping up in the most unexpected places, especially when I am not prepared for them.

They like my sink where it stays cool and wet. I’ve discovered they can climb up walls, which explains the mystery of how they get up in there. I don’t mind as much if I find them in the sink with the dirty dishes, but I do mind when they climb into the drainer.

Episode 1 with the frogs left me laughing. I washed a load of clothes. The washer is really slow so it takes about an hour to wash a large load. When it finished, I was hanging up the clothes in the half-dark, when I saw something moving on the bottom of the washer. Here was a frog! He must have been buried in the clothes that I had piled beside the washer and then was washed along with my dirty clothes, churning and spinning around for the better part of an hour. I felt like he deserved a medal.

Episode 2 had me laughing afterwards, but not in the moment. I pulled a dress off the washline to wear the other morning, and after I slipped it on, I noticed a curious wet spot at my waistline. I wondered where it had gotten wet, so I patted my hand on the spot and felt a lump under my hand. Thinking it was a part of my pajamas that I was still wearing under my dress, I wasn’t worried right away, until it moved! After shaking the dress in panic several times, out fell a frog!! I still cannot figure out how he got into my dress in the first place, since it was hanging on the washline.

Episode 3 happened tonight. I was squeezing the dishrag while making supper and felt something rubbery. It was a frog! After letting out a yelp, I marched him out the door as quickly as possible. “Quoth the Raven, nevermore,” I said.

However, I am not sure how to get to the “nevermore.”

An Alphabet of Chiang Mai (through my eyes)

A is for ants

B is for backpack

C is for church

D is for donuts

E is for episodes ( I couldn’t think of a better word….. episodes meaning occurrences, or happenings at the station. This picture was a hit and run accident, but the poor foreigner driving did not realize he hit the mirror. )

F is for friends

G is for green tea

H is for homework

I is for iced coffee (on the way back from a accident call for which I translated, we stopped for coffee. Usually I don’t do iced coffee, but it was a hot day.)

J is for Jimmy (Jimmy, incidentally, is not one of the guys in the photo, but the little truck that is sort of mine now. Our relationship is well…. complicated.)

K is for Karma. (Karma, simply stated, is the belief that what you do to others will eventually come around to you. While I do not believe in the Buddhist philosophy of Karma following you into reincarnation and you needing to pay in this life for sins in your previous life, I do believe that God rewards us when we do good, and that there are consequences for sin.)

L is for Louie (my classmate at Payap who has become one of my closest friends. Together we laugh idiotically, run through giant sprinklers, explore the border regions of Northern Chiang Dao, drink green tea, hold deep discussions, and make donuts.)

M is for mukata. (a meal made by placing a grill on the table and grilling your meat etc. as you eat. Soooo goood)

N  is for noodles

O is for Obchei (one of the most intriguing characters I have ever met.)

P is for police (the previously mentioned accident when we stopped for coffee)

Q  is for questions (those are all in my head, so no picture)

R is for rallies (You cannot be too careful currently what you say about the rallies in Bangkok right now, so I will refrain from even a picture)

S is for scorpions

T is for twilight

U is for uncles

V is for view

W is for We Club

X is for xenophobia (While I haven’t experienced much, there is some xenophobia in Thailand now because of Covid19. Foreigners are looked at with some fear because people are worried they might carry the virus. Borders between Myanmar and Thailand are being patrolled tightly to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over.)

Y is for Yussi (a friend’s daughter named this cat about 3 years ago. It’s a neighbor’s cat and hadn’t appeared for ages until one evening it meowed at my window. A cat was just what I needed at that moment.)

Z is for zoo (we took our kids club to a mini zoo last Saturday. In some ways it felt like we were the zoo. I have to laugh at Mint’s serious expression in this picture)

The Stuff of Dreams

Maps are the stuff of dreams-

The remains of journeys past

The visions of journeys to come;

Whispering of woodfire smoke in early morning mist,

Of roosters crowing in crisp mountain air,

Of smiles flashing in dark faces.

They speak of vistas that lie beyond, beyond

Of mountains where unknown fires burn,

And roads that run like veins in twisted valleys.

Maps, they are the stuff of dreams.

Life in Pictures

It started with quarantine over 6 weeks ago. For two weeks, this was my view. I was in Thailand, yet not in it, suspended in some third world, caught between a two realities.
After two weeks, I was released from quarantine. I took a taxi to the Hua Lompong train station. While waiting on my train, I heard this for the first time. The Thai national anthem is played in public places every day at 8:00 and 18:00. Everybody stands in place until the song is finished.
I took the train to Chiang Mai, still feeling like I was suspended between two worlds, except this one was a world with seats full of other people, hurtling along tracks between acres and acres of green rice fields. Sometimes I would go into the bathroom to stick my nose out the open window and inhale the scent of the rice fields. I found it interesting that a sign in the train bathroom said in Thai, “Do not use the bathroom while the train is parked at the station.” Hmmmm…..
Chiang Mai greeted me warmly via friends who met me at the station. There were snacks in the fridge and a group of them had cleaned up parts of the house before I got there. I was grateful and worn out. The next day I began working on setting the house to rights. It had been empty for about 3 months since all of us had gone home over the Covid lockdown. I felt strangely like a refugee in my own house, scrounging around to see what food was there and what was still good to eat. The rats and geckoes and ants had wreaked havoc. My friend came over one day and helped me clean. While cleaning, we found a rat and Diego the ever brave dog killed it.

My days consist mostly of teaching, studying, and volunteer translation work. Life has fallen into a somewhat normal pattern.

The first Saturday I was home, my friend and I went to the San Patong buffalo market. There is nothing like this market that makes me feel at home. 🙂
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to Payap for classes. I am only taking 4 courses, so I only have one or two classes a day. Another class I do online since the instructor is currently in Hawaii.
Saturday mornings I teach at White Elephant Club, our team’s outreach ministry in San Kamphaeng.
Two mornings a week, I drop in at Wisdom Tree Home and teach a Kindergarten 2 class and a Pre K class.
On Wednesday afternoons, Saturday afternoons and whenever needed, I head to the Mueng Chiang Mai police station where I work as a volunteer translator between foreigners and the police.
On Sundays sometimes I attend services in English and sometimes in Thai.
Often on my way home from the station in the evening, I will stop at a local food market or drop in at the food court at Maya Mall and grab some Thai food. My favorite thing is to top off the spice with some ice cream from 7-11 or Dairy Queen.
I like hanging out with this girl every now and then. W is the daughter of migrant worker parents, and attends church and WE Club on occasion.
Sometimes after a long week, I need a “mountain village fix.” I get that by riding my motorbike up Doi Suthep mountain, which I always feel is the most beautiful in the rain.
In the evenings, I let my dog in for company.
I do not let this creature in, though.
A few Wednesday evenings per month, I join in with cell group from our church.
I went to court to translate, once.
Every now and then, I visit one of my favorite coffee shops and work on homework, writing, or translation.
Sometimes, I feel a spurt of joy as I drive along a very normal road on my bike. It’s just good to be home.

All the Way Home

March 23, 2020 found me at the Suvarnabhumi Airport trying to process the realization that I was leaving my home in Thailand for 4 1/2 months and going to my home in America. I knew this was the right thing to do at the time. What I didn’t know at that time was how hard it was going to be to get back. I naively thought that surely by the time August came around, travel would be back to normal. When June arrived and international travelers were still not able to return to Thailand, I started worrying. I’m sad to say it, but I did. A lot. Below is a summary of my journey back and some of the hurdles that needed to be cleared before I was allowed back. For those unfamiliar with any of the process of returning to Thailand, those who wish to return need to accomplish a checklist of things, mainly get a special insurance that covers Covid 19, reserve a special certified hotel for quarantine, get on a chartered repatriation flight, get full permission from the Embassy (CoE), submit a Fit to Fly Certificate and results of a Covid 19 test upon check in at the airport (Especially for readers who are planning their return to Thailand: stay tuned for another post that gives links to helpful websites and examples of documents needed). 

June 9—I call the Thai Chicago Consulate for the first time and am able to talk with someone. No Americans currently allowed back in, he says. But next month there’s sure to be good news. I hang up feeling strangely elated that I get to talk Thai to someone.

June 17, 2020: Journal Entry “Father, my prayer this morning again is let me get back into Thailand in August, on my ticket date. Perhaps I should have searched your will more when I bought that ticket. I don’t know. Father I pray that you would open the doors to let me back in. Your will be done.”

June 18: Journal Entry “Still no definite news on getting back to Thailand. I’m glad my departure date isn’t until August because hopefully by then the bottleneck of people reentering will have eased a bit. Father, I pray let me get back in time. Without spending thousands of dollars. Zachariah 8.”

June 21, 2020: Journal Entry “About 3 months ago already that I decided to come home. In some ways it’s gone so slowly, in other ways so fast. Jesus, getting back into Thailand looks harder and harder. Help me, Father, to wait for news. I think I should write a letter to the embassy but I don’t know what the best timing is. Lord, these things are in the future, yet you already know. At least Aug 9 gives me something to work for, even though I know it might change. ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.’” Isaiah 54:17

June 23: I email Payap, my university, about my dilemma, asking for advice. Not much advice comes.

June 26: Journal Entry: “Coming into Thailand looks slightly more hopeful, except for the possibility of the extension of the emergency decree. But I have seen students listed as possibilities to come back in.” I finish my letter to the embassy in Thai and send it to a Thai friend to edit.

June 29: I receive word that students were to be let into the country.

June 30: I receive the letter back from the friend. Send it to the Washington DC embassy. Main problem—what kind of documents do I need to apply for a Certificate of Entry (CoE, a special document required to enter Thailand during the Covid pandemic) as a student?

July 2: I call the Thai Consulate in Chicago. At first, I am told again, No Americans are allowed to reenter. But I have a student visa, I say. Oh! Well, then, go to the DC Thai Embassy website and go to the application for a CoE. Once I am able to check the website, there is no spot open yet for students to apply. The only visas types still able to apply are non-immigrant O and B, even if technically students are allowed.

July 6: I begin the arduous process of calling around to find a Covid19 testing center and a place to get my Fit to Fly issued. Within the course of the week I make close to 30 phone calls trying to find a place to get tested without symptoms and receive the results within 72 hours.

July 7: I receive an email reply from the Thai embassy saying that while students are now allowed into the country, the embassy is still waiting for the policy from Bangkok on how to proceed. Would I please continue to check the website for updates?

July 8: I contact AAinsure about getting my Covid19 insurance policy covering 100,000 USD.

July 13: I hear that people need to mail in their passport in order to get a COE stamp put into the passport after getting their Covid 19 test and Fit to Fly. How on earth am I to do that and get it back in the 72 hour time?

July 14: Desperate for information, I contact the embassy again, asking if they could give me a list of what students need. I find information later on other Thai Embassy websites. Jumping the gun, I contact my university, asking for the correct papers. The problem seems to be that it is not clear if the specifications on those websites are for students who already had visas or just for those without. Exactly what do I need? Worry and fear continue to circle my heart. It seems like a giant fist is clenched around me. I start contacting hotels about ASQ. I am now aiming to leave July 7 instead of July 9. This makes sense to me since I would have 4 working days before my departure, rather than leaving on a weekend and risking not having Covid testing places open or sending back results. ASQ hotels are getting full, fast. If I want one for those dates, I need to get it, even if I don’t like the price.

July 15: Frustration. I need to know what papers I need from Payap. When I try to contact the embassy, they only reply saying I need to apply for a CoE. I KNOW that. Could you tell me what I need to have in order to apply? The application for CoE is not yet up for students, but I need to prepare my papers. The date I was hoping to apply by was July 17. My insurance is not finished yet. I contact them to see where it is. The company is overloaded with requests and is working on it as fast as possible. I contact my travel agency. Rather than change my Eva air Flight to match the dates I need my Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ), I get my travel agency to reserve a Qatar flight without paying for it. I can now reserve my ASQ for arriving in Thailand August 9, leaving August 7. Now the decision remains—to I try to keep this ticket? Will commercial flights be allowed? Or should I let it go and get a repatriation flight. No repatriation flights are scheduled yet for August. I stay up late, communicating with the ASQ hotels about payment details.

July 16: Relief. I am able to talk with a live man at the Chicago consulate. He refers me to another number, a man who is extremely helpful and friendly. He is surprised that I got his phone number, since it is usually for emergencies.  I ask him what papers I need. He says if I already have a visa, all I need is a letter of confirmation from my university. Nothing else. He says to call him any time I have any questions. I am comforted beyond words. Later that day, I’m struggling again, feeling heaviness, fear, worry. I cry out to God. Five minutes later, my phone rings. Its my boss. It seems I mislaid the keys for a company van and they can’t find them. I rake my brain for any clue where they might be. It seems like one more thing on top of everything I’m wrestling with. God, why this now? Can’t you tell me where they might be?! Something as small as this—if you could just tell me where I left those keys, I feel like I could trust you more with this whole Thailand thing.

July 17: Still struggling with a cold/allergies/cough that started way back in June. Praying for healing. Waiting for insurance papers, papers from my university, and for the application to be available for students. We go camping at the lake overnight and I take the night to relax and try to forget everything.

July 18: I suddenly remember where I probably put the keys. I text my boss and tell him. They are found! It feels like confirmation that God really does care!

July 20: Early in the morning I receive the certificate of enrollment from my university. The application for the CoE is up and ready for me to apply, but I do not have a repatriation flight. Now they are saying, buy a repat flight, and get your ASQ before applying. After you get the CoE, you can then get your Covid test done and fit to fly. Also, the CoE is emailed to you. No stamp in the passport. Things are being streamlined.

July 21: I call the Consulate in Chicago about applying since I have no repatriation flight yet and no August flights are available. He tells me to go ahead and put in any flight itinerary when it asks for a repat flight. This way, he says, I would be in the system. I apply that afternoon. I do not have my insurance letter yet, but there is nothing on the application that asks for it. After submitting, I feel a tremendous relief. Finally, something is done. I do receive an email a few hours later, telling me I needed to submit proof of insurance. I contact the insurance company again to see what is happening.

July 22: I stay up during the night communicating with the broker of the Thai insurance company, replying to questions about my health and arranging payment. I then fall asleep and miss checking my email for one last one in which I could have received the paper I needed.

July 23: Insurance letter stating I am covered for Covid19 received and uploaded. Now waiting for the flights to be released. I contact a friend about arranging for my school tuition to be paid, since I feel like I might need a receipt of payment as proof that I am enrolled for this next semester. I upload a picture of the receipt to my application as well.

July 27: flights for August released! I reserve a flight without paying through Hanatour which coordinates the Korean Air flights.

July 28: Early morning I am able to upload the flight documents to my CoE application

July 29: Waiting all day. My imagination runs away from me and I review all sorts of scenarios in my mind. After 5 that evening, I receive my CoE, and scare my mom half to death with my yells. She thinks something is on fire somewhere. I immediately pay for my Korean flight.

Coe

July 30: One of the hardest days. I contact the place that had told me several weeks ago that they could give me a Covid 19 test. I need to make an appointment. They tell me this time it is not possible to do it there without any symptoms. I crash. After calling several places, Pratt Regional Medical Center tells me that I can do it there with a doctor’s order. But I have no doctor. After calling several clinics to see if they could take me, I am still at a dead end. Finally, I contact a friend who works as a nurse at a clinic. She tells me that they’ll take me there as an outpatient and give me the doctor’s order. Pratt says they can give me the Covid test that has results between 24-72 hours. I end the day exhausted.

July 31: I head to my friend’s clinic. The nurse practitioner there sends the doctor’s order to Pratt. She also gives me a physical for my Fit to Fly certificate. Bring the papers down next week, 72 hours before you fly, and we can finish everything up for you, she says.

August 3: Monday morning I head to Pratt. Before they test me, they ask, are you staying in town for the results? What, I ask? Doesn’t it take 24-72 hours? Oh, they say, the doctor said that you need it 72 hours before you fly, so we’ll give you the Bio-Fire test, which gives the results in about 2 hours. (This is the test usually allowed only for first responders and emergency personnel.) In that case, I say, can I come back on Wednesday? The 72 hour window is not open yet. Sure, they say. I walk out, relieved but a little shaken. This would be helpful since I would not longer have to worry about the results coming in too early or late. But how often will my plans be changed? Once I reach home, I tell my dad I am not sure what to think about, since I don’t think I have anything to worry about right now.

August 4: Another monkey wrench. The Fit to Fly certificate has to be signed by a doctor, not a nurse practitioner. There is a chance that they would let it go, but I am not about to take chances. I call around. My friend at the clinic makes an appointment with their “mother clinic” where there is a doctor. This clinic is about 45 minutes away in McPherson. My appointment is for the next day.

August 5: Covid test taken. Extremely uncomfortable and undignified. We shop at Walmart and a second hand store while waiting for results. I go back to pick up the results. They are negative, but the paper says nothing that it was done with RT PCR testing method (even though it is that method). I ask about it, and soon there are a group of people around me, discussing this. They say they can’t change it. Finally, I call the embassy and miracle of miracles, talk with a live person. He assures me its ok, that as long as I have the results in the 72 hour window I am fine. I shed tears of relief. The head lab tech is very kind and wishes me safe travels. Later in the afternoon, I go to McPherson for my Fit to Fly certificate. All goes smoothly.

August 6: Wrapping things up. Final goodbyes. No more monkey wrenches, even though I am still a little nervous about my Covid Test.

August 7: I leave home at 5 AM in the morning. I am no longer emotional at all, and although I shed tears the evening before about leaving, I am too much on edge to even realize what it means to be leaving home again. My flight out of Wichita to Chicago is on time, an answer to prayer. I get to ride first class, for the first time in my life. This is because my ticket to Chicago was bought using credit from a canceled United flight. I am very grateful for the first class seat since it doesn’t take long for me to get off and get my luggage. I wait in a long line to check in to my Korean flight. This is where my documents will be examined for the first time. I am amazingly calm at the counter. They ask me questions about my visa, and some of the other documents, but only scan the Covid test. Once I get my boarding passes, I grin all the way back to my gate. It actually WORKED! The flight to Seoul is rough with hours of turbulence. My seatmate and I become good friends. Both of us are/were students, and she is a recent new Thai believer nervous about going home to her family.

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August 8: My flight lands in Bangkok. I am one of the last ones off the plane and herded through various checkpoints by people in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). My papers are inspected several times, I am given an ASQ tag, moved from place to place. There is no way I could leave if I wanted to. Soldiers are on guard, as well as immigration police. It is probably close to an hour by the time I get through all the health checkpoints and immigration and out the door where my ASQ driver waits for me. Once we reach the hotel, I am checked out thoroughly again and do some paperwork for the hospital that is in charge of my quarantine. I get to bed around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, tired but grateful. I will be in this hotel quarantine for the next 14 days. (below: waiting at the airport for inspection and the view from my quarantine hotel)

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273

Tiny

The grasshoppers have come now

Gold, green, brown and bronze they fleck the barn walls

Every evening as I wash down.

Tonight, a grasshopper perches precariously beside the drain

One little nudge and he would be gone,

Washed away in a torrent of water.

 

This is my favorite part

When the cows have gone

And I wield the hose in vengeance

Scourging the dirt from the walls and concrete floors;

Giving way to some kind of rage that has built up from regulations

And uncertainties and helplessness at the way

Turmoil sweeps around me and I am tossed

From one phone call to the next,

Email after email,

Document after document.

 

The rush of water sweeps the dirt to the drain,

This is my kingdom.

This is my victory.

 

The grasshopper sits by the drain.

Only a nudge and—

I move the hose away.

 

I too am a grasshopper.

Of Stories

I love languages. One of the fascinating things I have found about languages is how after a period of time, some languages lapse into your subconsciousness until one day they randomly poke up without being asked to.

I’ve noticed this with both Pennsylvania Dutch and Thai. At first when I move into an English-speaking only environment, my brain is alert. I speak English clearly and choose my vocabulary carefully. After a few weeks, however, my mind becomes relaxed and suddenly a PA Dutch word or a Thai word will pop out in the middle of a sentence, leaving me apologizing to my listener, especially if they cannot speak the language.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon of knowledge diving into my subconsciousness in more than one way. A few weeks ago, I moved back from Thailand on short notice for about 4 and ½ months to wait out the Covid-19 crisis until my university can open again in August. At first driving on the right side of the road was no problem. As I grew more relaxed, however, I found myself struggling with remembering which side of the road to drive, and made several mistakes because of it. Also, the longer I am home, the more I find myself randomly wanting to “wai” people when I greet them or thank them. (The wai is a greeting in Thailand done by pressing your hands together like you are praying and lifting your hands to face level). It’s like you can stuff those languages and habits into your subconsciousness for a certain amount of time until suddenly they come popping out again.

This, I think, is the same way with stories. Coming home, my world changed drastically. Now that I am back in the states, living like a “normal” American, every now and then memories coming rushing at me unexpectedly. It’s as if my brain stores snapshots of life and then in my subconscious moments flashes them across my mind. The longer I am here in the states, the more they pop up. Sometimes I come to myself, realizing that I have been staring out of the window for the past few minutes, halfway across the world. Some of those memories are hard, hard memories. Others are ones I can laugh at. But all of them bring to me the scent of a country that I love.

How do I share those stories? Stories that seem somehow sacred?

Starting last July, I began working as a volunteer translator at the Mueng Chiang Mai Police station helping with communication between foreign tourists or expats and the Thai police. One day a week of volunteering became two days a week, sometimes three or even four. My time there changed my life more than I imagined it ever would and now many of those stories are submerged in my sub-consciousness. Between this, school, and the teaching ministry on the side, the stories are abundant. Eventually, many of them burrow into my mind, becoming a part of me.

I developed friendships with many new people, some of who I admire and respect wholeheartedly, and others who I love but cannot admire because of some of the things they are involved in.

I sat across from a fourteen-year-old girl, asking her to consider not getting married the next month to her fourteen-year-old boyfriend, and instead finish at least two more years of school, which would get her at least into the 4th grade.

I sat with a man who had found his young friend dead in his bedroom of a suspected drug overdose. I listened and translated for him as his voice cracked with grief as he described the details of walking into the room and finding him dead on his bed. I listened as he talked with his friend’s girlfriend on the phone, beside herself with grief.

I communicated with a British man whose brother committed suicide in Thailand, trying to figure out the complicated details of funeral arrangements. The police report gave details of the death, but it was all in Thai. That was the saddest piece of written translation that I ever did.

I went to court. The first time in my life. My job was to translate for a European man who had tried to pickpocket another foreigner in broad daylight, since he was running out of money. I stood on very shaky legs and translated for him as he received his six-month sentence to a Thai prison. I also got warned twice by court police for sitting with my legs crossed.

I translated for a case in which a girl walked into a supermarket and randomly stole a fruit knife, attempting to carry it out with her as she left. The evening was filled with moments of tension, hilarious laughter, and an odd feeling of camaraderie with both her and the officer, as well as the supermarket employees.

I sat across from a fellow American from a state not too far from my own, and listened to him as in obvious shock, he told me how he found his wife lying lifeless in the kitchen. His beautiful 5 year-old daughter watched him uncomprehendingly as he sobbed. Tears flooded my own eyes when one of the older officers at the station put his hand on the American’s shoulder and tried to comfort him in a language he couldn’t understand.

I sat in the waiting room office of the prosecuting attorney with a Canadian hippie and a Russian lady and listened as they quoted poetry and waited for papers that needed to be signed.

I went with an immigration official and a foreigner who was being deported for having possession of marijuana, a grave mistake in the Kingdom of Thailand.

There are so many, many more stories, many that impacted me deeply, and some that I am not at liberty to share. Tears push my eyelids as I think of them. So many small memories, like the coffee that one officer would offer me whenever he saw me. Or the time I accidentally erased the video games off one of my “uncle’s” computer while trying to help him free up space, much to his chagrin. Or the time I joined my friends in their small flat for a delicious meal and a rousing discussion of the latest police news, the same friends who accompanied me to the airport to see me off in March.

These are the stories that God has given me, and yet they are more than stories. I share them, not to boast about my experiences, but because they so much a part of me and who I have become. They are people, lives, friends, souls. Some people I see only once, for a few fleeting minutes or hours. I have failed many times in reaching out to them, but I pray that the presence of Jesus inside of me will give them an awareness of God as they leave.

The pain of loving and losing is intense, but I am richer for it.

Souvenirs

Do not tell me, please,

That I have memories left to be my souvenirs

These are not souvenirs.

Souvenirs you put in a box on the top shelf of the closet behind the winter blankets

Where ten years later you pull them out and dust them off

To laugh over and touch and remember

And perhaps

Shed a tear or two.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To be glad for the memories.

Memories are good, but these, these!

These are not just leftover scraps of life,

But pulsing, moving, breathing

Faces and names and lives and places

Woven into the fabric of my being.

No, they cannot be boxed up

Or fitted into photos,

Slotted into albums,

And then stored away and lost

Like the postcards in the greeting card boxes

Buried behind the 4th grade A Beka math book.

 

Do not tell me, please,

To forget the past

And simply move on.

Five and a one-half years of life

Lived unstopped and unfettered

Are not just old scribbled journals

Or letters from some forgotten lover

To be conveniently shelved in the attics of memory,

Put out of harm’s way and where they can do no harm

Not even for only 5 months on this side of the Pacific.

 

No, that would be shelving me

And I am not a souvenir