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Lines

Even after five years, sometimes I feel like I am lost in a tangle of language, culture, traditions, national borders.

Why was I born on this side of white and you were born on that side of brown?

The river of words that runs in my heart is not the same as the river of words that runs in your heart, though there are times the rivers mingle, when languages come together.

Why are you called Vietnamese and I am called American? Why are you called Thai and I am called “Farang?” Why are you called Karen and I am called Caucasian?

Why was I born where the world was bright and hope sprang unbidden in my heart and you felt only the crushing of loneliness and the thwarting of choices from the day you were born?

Why was I born with the weight of a culture on my shoulders I feel obliged to carry, a weight that is different from the weight you carry? And perhaps you feel no obligation to carry?

Why are you the other, and I am the one? Or I am the other and you are the one?

Why are our worlds dictated by the little books in our pockets that we call passports, that identify us?

Or do they?

Where are the lines where spirit surpasses language, where kindness goes beyond cultural borders, where hope speaks across lines enforced by countries?

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

What exactly does this mean? Five years ago I had more answers than I do now.

Random Snapshots

There are a number of things in my mind that I keep on thinking would be fun to write about. However, they don’t really fit into one logical theme, so here are some random snapshots of life in the past month or so.

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  1. We killed a snake. It was in front of the house one afternoon after my sister and I got home. We were positive it was a poisonous snake since it was lifting its head above the ground and spitting. Melissa stood inside the kitchen window and entertained it while the rest of us tried to figure out what to do or hid in the house or climbed onto the small shelter outside the house. Sara (my sister) and I armed ourselves with hoes and sticks, but didn’t dare go close since we were afraid that it was a cobra and would go after us if we attempted to go after it. I called our landlord and he sent over two of his workers. The one man took a look at the snake, grabbed Sara’s pole from her hand and with one fell swoop, knocked the snake on the head. It was an immediate and sure death. He then, with great mirth, draped it around his neck and told us that it was a harmless water snake and he was going to go home and eat it. A few minutes later as we stood still shaking and chattering from the episode, I was distracted by something falling out of a tree beside me. It took a few seconds for it to soak in that it was another snake! I was still holding the hoe and took a swipe at it, managing to chop off the latter third of it before it escaped into the canal. This one ended up being mildly poisonous. It is unnerving for us to discover and kill a snake we believe is poisonous; it is horrifying for us to find two snakes in the space of 15 minutes; and it is entirely and unbelievably traumatic for one of those two snakes to fall from the sky.DSC05794.JPG
  2. I made donuts twice, once for the IGo students and once for Melissa’s farewell. Thumping dough and making good things to eat are both things that bring me into my happy place.
  3. I went out to eat with a gentleman. The ladies in my immediate household jumped to wild conclusions when I told them my plans, and then were crestfallen when I told them that the said gentleman was about three times my senior. I was helping an elderly Korean missionary edit a book of his and then went to dinner with him to discuss the progress of the book. However,  I was struggling with a variety of things on the evening I met him, and God really cared for me in a special way that night. As I walked into the restaurant, which is a restaurant that caters to the foreign population in Chiang Mai, I caught the notes of a familiar song being sung. I was blown away. It was a song of which the lyrics had been “my song” for the past few months, when the breaking inside seemed too much to handle. Normally a Christian song would not have been playing in a place like this. Here are the lyrics:

When the shadow won’t leave
When the battle won’t stop
And every breathe that you breathe
Takes all that you’ve got
When you wonder if you’re always
Gonna feel this way
Hear the Lord of heaven say…

Ch. I will hold you when you’re breaking
Like a father and a friend
And I will carry you through darkness
Till we see the sun again
So rest your head and cry your tears
Know that I am with you here
When you can’t lift that weight
Believe me when I say…
I will

I know you’re feeling overwhelmed
Before the day even begins
But I can see beyond the now
This is not how your story ends
And when you’re at your weakest
Oh I’ve never been more strong
So let me be the one you’re leaning on…

  1. I was leaving for a supper appointment, and needed to take my laptop with me, but I couldn’t find it. I was getting that familiar feeling of some mysterious evil force being infinitely against me. (This feeling occurs usually when I am trying to find something or untangling something messy). Finally, I found it– in the freezer where I left it.
  2. It rained. It really did. Heavenly Corridor_190408_0023.jpg
  3. I went to the heavenly corridor three times in a week. The heavenly corridor is a mountain ridge that looks out over a valley to the left and a valley to the right on Doi Pui mountain. It’s quiet, lonely, beautiful and cool after the heat of Chiang Mai city. I had the privilege of taking my mentoring group there one Tuesday, and the next Saturday at the last minute spurned my homework and drove up again. I sat, cried, journaled, prayed and listened to the silence. And as I did that, some of my anger and grief that had been bottled up somehow came out. The problem with going up the mountain is not wanting to come down. I left, promising myself to be back the next day. I went back the next day with friends.
  4. I said goodbye. To a lot of people. I said goodbye to my mentoring group, I said goodbye to students I had been acquainted with for the past 4-8 months, I said goodbye to my housemate and dear friend, Melissa. I will say goodbye to longtime friends tomorrow, and another family in a month and another friend in July. I said the hardest goodbye to my sister. On the evening Sara left, I left our annual IGo retreat that was going on, and we bought our favorite Thai meal at the Big C market and went to Serene Lake. We watched the sunset and talked and were quiet and played harmonica and made hearts of our hands against the fading sky. And wished it wasn’t our last night together.DSC05649DSC05657.JPG
  5. I had my last class of my second year of school! Now, only an exam and brushing up some final papers!
  6. I climbed into the freezer. It was so hot outside (and inside) and I wanted to see if I could. I could.
  7. In three hours, I get to go meet a longtime friend at the airport. She’ll spend a few weeks with me and we’ll go to Vietnam to see another friend. We’ll drive some mountains and lose ourselves several times and have long, late night talks with each other. And I will rest.

A Year Later: My Baanies Part 2

Just recently I have been reminded of the importance of community. I am by nature not someone who gravitates toward community, but I have learned and am learning how important it is to surround yourself with trustworthy people. These ladies, the Baanies, have taught me so much. Where I fail, they make up for it. My weaknesses are their strengths, my strengths are their weaknesses. Alone we could never do what we do now. They have taught me about friendship, about sharing, about beauty, about strength, about trust. Close to a year ago I blogged a poem about my “baanies.” Click here to read it. Now it’s close to a year later and with several of them leaving, I find myself a bit nostalgic. I don’t post these poems because I think they are masterpieces in the realm of poetry– they’re not. But even if the rhythm and rhyming is stilted and simple, it embodies some of what these ladies bring to life here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

 

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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Judi on the left.

Judi went home, she said, “just because”

But we all really know why

There’s a guy named Mike she thinks she likes

Even though she’s back in Chiang Mai;

This Mike, we think, may be ok

But we’re keeping our eyes trained tight:

He’d better be good, and do as he should

Or we will all put him to flight.

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Kim and a Thai friend making cookies

Kim is well and busy as ever

And next week she is saying goodbye

To the tropics of Thailand for the snows of the North

For the handshake instead of the wai;

We’ll miss her heaps and all of her songs

And her passion and kindness as well,

But she’ll shine her light wherever she is

That we can surely foretell.

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Crystal on the left.

Crystal keeps life in this house refreshing

When naps in the bathroom she takes,

She likes to push others into the pool

And finds in her bike long skinny snakes;

She’s got a heart that is made of gold

(So her students would gladly say)

Coffee makes her happy (and of course us too)

She is just fun to be with all day.

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When snakes are around

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Ask Crystal if she enjoys chicken now… :/

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks,

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

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Melissa on the left

Melissa is as sweet and understanding as ever

And just in the weeks that passed

She bravely called a man to come kill our rats

(Even though her heart beat fast)

Her Thai is better than ever before

But she is going home in May

This makes us wonder who will clean the kitchen

And makes us sadder than we can say.

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Nancy: second to right

Nancy has learned how to speak Thai

And she’s really good at latte art

We all like to listen when she laughs

And hers is a kind, sensitive heart

She drives a funny, yellow Fino

A lot like a bumblebee, I’d say

She zips around corners and weaves through traffic

While we hold on tight and— pray.

 

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A Lawa friend’s wedding

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

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Brit on the left

Brit will be an aunt before too long

We’re all happy for her sake

She doesn’t lose her phone as much anymore

And you should see the fires she makes

She’s smart and selfless and loves little kids

And really, she’s almost Thai,

And when we think of her leaving for home

The only thing we want to do — is cry.

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Lori in her happy place

Lori’s still here and her hair is even grayer

And she’s slipped down her stairs a few times

She’s got itchy feet and she dreams of the mountains

And she still makes weird little rhymes

She’ll still be in school for another two years

And then watch out, she’ll be free

To travel away, to teach or to train,

Or be whatever God calls her to be.

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With Thai friends from church

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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giant waterfights
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And of course, we couldn’t forget Diego

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.

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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?

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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.

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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

I Dream of Spring

I dream of spring with shafts of light

Shot through clouds with hope-giving sight;

I walk the freeze of January’s night,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with pale, pink flowers

Lilacs awakened in their scented bowers;

I listen to the shrieking of winter’s powers,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with greening fields

Red suns dying over promised yields;

I trudge through passions that January wields,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with blades of grass,

Meadow-sweet winds that through it pass;

I embrace the pain of winter’s blast,

But I dream of spring….

-January 2013

 

I must give an explanation for this poem, since right now I am in no place where I wish the winter were over. Here, our winter consists of cool nights and sunny days, and even though the houses do get chilly because of tile floors and no heat when it hits the 50s, I hate to see every bit of winter leave as February rolls around. 

I came across this poem tonight in some of the ones I had filed away and it brought back so many memories, that I felt like I had to print it, and I realized that many of my readers might be able to resonate. 

The background behind this poem is what makes it such a special one for me. In the spring of 2012, just after a difficult, weary winter in which I was teaching school, I needed to go to school to print off some things one Saturday evening in May, just before the term ended. The sun was setting in the west over a greening wheat field. Spring was glorious that year and the rains we had gotten greened and grew the wheat fields more than normal. I remember standing there, worshiping, watching the sunset over the wheat, and feeling the stress and tension of the past year slipping from my shoulders. My throat still gets a lump when I think of the way that God healed me and grew me that summer, even though it was a painful one in some ways. 

The next winter of 2013 found me again teaching school. It was another challenging year and my mind and heart often went back to that moment I so clearly remember of standing out behind the school, looking over Paul Nisly’s wheat field, watching the sunset and the green and the glory all together. I longed to go back to that point, not just because of the spring, but because of the feeling of having passed one of the most challenging years of my life. January and February 2013 weren’t easy months either, and spring came late that year. I wrote this poem in January of 2013 and even though it is a simple one, for me it always brings back those colors and feelings vividly. 

That is why I am posting about longing for spring from a tropical country. 🙂

December

Christmas break from school has been many things. Relaxing, no. But interesting, educational, and enlightening, yes. It’s hard to believe that I am in my third week of Christmas break already.

I had been hoping to be able to get into one of the refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border over my Christmas break. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve never had the time off long enough to do it, whether it was time off from work or from school. This didn’t work out for this break, though, so I was left with a variety of other options.

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One of my first ideas was to make donuts to sell over my Christmas break. Has it been successful? Not sure how to answer that question. Yes, I have made some money, but it’s been more tiring than I expected. However, it’s been delightfully refreshing to my brain to be able to do something with my hands while letting my brain wander, pray, or listen to poetry or music.

Then there was our Christmas party with our Thai cell group from church. We had it at our house and invited friends outside of the group, played some games, shared a short version of the Christmas story, and ate tons of amazing food.

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I also picked up several hours of teaching during the break. A friend knew of a young woman who was wanting to study English. Next one of her friends wanted to study as well. So, along with some of my regular teaching, I also had some extra one on one teaching. I have loved getting to know these students; they are young ladies who are very interested in learning English and are lots of fun.

My friend Amy is back visiting in Thailand too, after moving home last year. Getting to see her again and have some good chats with her have been fun.

There are several highlights that especially stand out from my Christmas vacation. It’s not over yet, so some more highlights might still pop out. However, in looking back, I can almost narrow it down to three main favorites: the EMA student graduation, my trip to a Kachin village in Northern Chiang Dao with a college friend, and a 4 day bike trip into the mountains that my sister and I did. I hope to blog more extensively about these in the next week or so, so look for some posts on these in the future.

But for now, here are a few peeks of photos.

EMA graduation:

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Baan Mai Samakki, the only Kachin village in Thailand:

Dten Rom Manao is a festival that happens once every several years.

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Not far from the Kachin village is a Chinese village, Arunothai, about 15 minutes from the Thai/Burmese border. While these people live in Thailand, their children’s first language is Chinese and they still practice many aspects of Chinese culture. Below is a boy from that village.

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My friend’s grandfather beside their fire.

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A sister trip from Chiang Mai city to Doi Intanon, to Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi, and from there to Mae Chaem:

Coffee made on the fire at Baan Mae Klang Luang, a Karen village on Doi Intanon.

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Drinking more coffee on Doi Intanon.

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A sister shot early in the morning as mists were rising from a valley close to Mae La Noi, Mae Hong Son.

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On a morning jaunt through the mountains of Mae Chaem at the Karen homestay on the last day of our trip.

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Remember

I live in a world where vehicles crowd

Each other in unending race;

Streetlights outshine the stars at night

And smog smothers the young moon’s face;

The air is heavy with the scent of fumes

Even at night the din rarely dies;

Yet I find my way in this rush of life

Where myriads of sound from the city rise.

 

And sometimes they ask me, do you remember

The elms in the winter night?

The falling of snowflakes in the muffled dusk

And the way they dance in the light?

Or the way the mountains look in the rain

When cat-footed and gray comes the mist,

And one by one the lights blink on

Solitary beacons, alone, fog-kissed.

 

No, I have not forgotten, and the memory

Comes quick and gold and keen,

And I know when wind shakes the elms with snow

For I feel a stirring, a glad unseen;

And when the mist comes creeping up the mountainside

And the lights gleam on, a pain,

A beautiful pain, chokes, and I can forget

Only as the wind can forget the rain.

 

October 3 (for Creative Writing class)

featured photo credit: pixabay.com

I Am From (A Tribute to Bravery)

“What is poetry?” I asked my ESL students, leaning on the desk behind me. (featured photo credit: pexels.com)

The answers varied.

“Good thinking and writing.” “If someone loves someone.” “It has points like a song.” “A way to thank someone.” “You want to say something, and you find another way to say it.” “A short sentence that has much deep meaning.”

And then for the next few weeks, we worked on writing poems. Personalities kept on peeking through, as some of them grinned to themselves and laughed gleefully every now and then. Others pursed their lips and puckered their brows, while carefully penciling in the words, or gazing into space with a faraway look in their eyes. Today we read them off and made a few final touches.

My students are only “my” students for an hour and a half each week and even less than that since they are split into two groups and I teach each group for 45 minutes. Each one is first year physician’s assistant in training, a program at Earth Mission Asia (EMA). They will study  in Chiang Mai for about 8 months before leaving in December to continue their training in Karen State. Earth Mission Asia is a program that works to provide medical training and care for the people of Karen State, Myanmar. For more information, visit the above link and consider supporting them financially or in prayer here.

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Above photo credit: Earth Mission Asia

I met these students in August and have seen them almost every week since then. And I just like them. Some people you have to work to like, but there’s something about these students that is so easy to like. Many of them come from mountain homes in Karen State and some of them have spent time in the refugee camps along the Thai/Myanmar border. English is their second or third language.

I don’t know all their stories, but the poems they wrote opened a door into their lives.

Looking over them tonight one last time, I think I know a bit more of what poetry is.

It is a glimpse into the tapestry of life itself. It is a tribute to bravery.  It is embracing heritage and past. It is realizing that the person that God created you to be is in fact a beautiful person. It is hope.

Below are a few of them. They are based on the “I Am From” template, found here. I posted my own poem like this in August, here. For this activity, I adapted the template slightly, and also encouraged them to deviate from it if they felt like it. With their permission, I am posting the poems here.

While I know that posting ten poems all at once is a whopper, I can’t bear to cut any of them out. I love them and I love their bravery.

(Because of security reasons, I needed to remove some phrases here and there from the poems. While this makes me sad because I know how much these experiences played a part in their lives, I do not want to endanger any of them when they go back to their home country.)

Based on the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.

I Am From

-by Saw Hsar Eh Say (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the white cup on the table, from the guitar on the wall.

I am from the wooden house near the mountain and from the aroma of coffee’s sweet smell.

I am from dogs playing under the house, from the mango tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from praying before meals and from eating noodles.

I am from “where will you go?” and “when will you come back,” and singing gospel songs.

I am from shy and quiet. I am from Ye and Man Aung village and betelnut.

I am from my mom and dad talking a lot to each other.

I am from studies at the school with friends and my grandmother dying and God’s picture on the wall.

I am from happy and talkative.

I am from hot windy summers and cold and raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Pa Tall   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Shan Dot village and from axes and machetes.

I am from a small bamboo house in the mountains of Karen State, from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cows and oxen, from bamboo, jack trees and mango trees, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from inviting villagers to eat together and from eating chicken boiled with rice.

I am from “go to work” and “what are you doing.”

I am from shy and talkative. I am from Shan Dot village and Him Ma Wa village, and rice and soup and pounded chilies.

I am from my brother falling down the tree and breaking his right hand.

I am from Christmas concerts and fleeing from my home and bamboo baskets.

I am from noisy and sensitive and serious.

I am from hot and raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Kaw Tha Blay   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from pots, from pictures.

I am from a small bamboo house surrounded by mountains, from the aroma of fresh wind.

I am from cats, from the banana tree whose long gone fronds I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Karen tribe and from eating fish paste.

I am from “Ta blu” and “Ta po” and “Oh My People”.

I am from sensitive and hilarious. I am from village and rice.

I am from wanting to fly by plane.

I am from trucks and knives.

I am from noisy and quiet.

I am from hot, cold, and wet season and trees all around.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Naw Moo Hsar Paw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from a hot place beside the dam.

I am from the wooden house beside the mountain and water, from the aroma of bananas.

I am from cats, birds, chickens and dogs, from the banana tree, betelnut tree, and mango tree, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from praying before meals and Christianity and I am from rice porridge with meat.

I am from “ta blut” (thank you) and “see you next time.”

I am from talkative and noisy. I am from Ler Wah and Hsa Ti township and soup.

I am from being born in the bamboo house near the river.

I am from praying with my siblings, and from not enough food, and my parent’s wedding picture on the wall.

I am from talkative and hilarious.

I am from very hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Pa Chit     (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the small village of Kaw Thoo Lei in the mountains of Karen State.

I am from the bamboo house beside the river in the jungle, from the aroma of flowers and tree flowers.

I am from goats, from banana trees and betelnut trees, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Christianity, and from eating fish paste and betelnut.

I am from “gaw ler gay.” (good morning)

I am from no education and poor education. I am from Dawe Loe village and rice and vegetables.

I am from my grandfather dying in front of my eyes.

I am from riding buffalo with my cousin, and from guns.

I am from quiet and shy.

I am from hot, cold and rainy.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Paw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Lah Kyo Koe.

I am from the bamboo and wood house in the jungle around the mountains, and from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cats and dogs and pigs, from coconut tree and flowers, whose long gone petals I remember as if they were my own.

I am from eating together every time, and I am from eating rice.

I am from “sleep” and “eat” and singing God songs.

I am from shy and quiet. I am from villages and mountains and smoke and betelnut.

I am from singing in the church with my family.

I am from playing games with my friends as a child, from my father having to go to the clinic, and rice.

I am from happy and loving.

I am from hot weather.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Poe Baw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the worship room, and from an old bicycle.

I am from a wooden house in the rice fields, from the aroma of my mom’s curry smell.

I am from pigs beside the house, from the teak tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Karen New Year, and I am from eating Ta Ka Paw.

I am from “gaw ler gay” and “ta blut,” and “eh na.”

I am from talking nicely and funny speaking. I am from Kwee Lay village and rice and soup.

I am from having severe asthma as a child, until my mom gave up on me. But I know God loved me and He saved me so I can live until now.

I am from bicycles and hats, from the book store, and from the Bible.

I am from noisy and talkative.

I am from weather that is too hot.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Poe Dah   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Kaw La, from Lay Ther Kou.

I am from a wooden house in the mountains of Karen State, from the aroma of rice cooking.

I am from horses, from coconut trees whose long gone fronds I remember as if they were my own.

I am from saying good night and praying, and I am from eating rice porridge.

I am from “I’m hungry” and “let’s eat” and God songs.

I am from normal talkative and funny. I am from Lay Ther Kou and Kaw La and betelnut.

I am from people singing a gospel song and Christmas songs and mortar and pestle.

I am from happy and loving.

I am from cold places.

I am from all these and more.

 

I Am From 

-by Soe Thein    (Year One EMA Student)

I am from rice, from red shirts.

I am from wooden houses in the mountains, from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cats and dogs, and coconut trees and betelnut trees whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from every week going to work, and I am from eating rice, fruits and vegetables.

I am from “ka nah mo pa ka kluh” and “mee sae” and country songs.

I am from shy and talkative. I am from Mae Wai and Dwan Le town and vegetables and rice.

I am from my mother getting sick.

I am from buying a football and Karen shirts.

I am from noisy and some quiet.

I am from rainy.

I am from all these and more.

 

I Am From

-by Yuu Yuu       (Year One EMA Student)

I am from one table and two chairs on the ground and a jar sitting on the table.

I am from the wooden 16 foot house crowded on the plain, from the aroma of beautiful white flowers.

I am from a group of oxen passing by the village, from the fairly big mango tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from children first for meals and from rice and green foods.

I am from “ka na moe” and “pa ka lu” and “mee soe soe” and “Pa Ka Sa Ah Blu Ah Poe.”

I am from talkative and quiet. I am from Wai Swe and Yaung Houng and bananas and tea.

I am from a day when I traveled to a big city, and the family pictures on the wall.

I am from normal people and kindness.

I am from dry summers and wet raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

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photo credit: LH

Gifts of Summer

I was looking through my folder of updates that I send to people at home and found the one I wrote just after I got back to Chiang Mai from my summer at home. 

I cried. 

It was hard for me to adjust back into the swing of things here in Chiang Mai after my colorful summer at home. But once I was adjusted, I almost forgot about it. And that makes me sad, that I would forget something that beautiful. 

So I decided to share it on here. 

I miss them. 

Gifts of Summer

(May 12-July 28)

Lights from the Chinese airfield are bright in my eyes at 4 AM. The floor is hard, yet not too hard to sleep. Something bites my feet and I wonder what kind of insects would inhabit the carpet of Guangzhou airport. 11 hours down and 6 more hours to go until my rescheduled flight leaves. The night has been long, but the people who befriended me have been kind. We have our own little Thai corner in this Chinese airport, these disappointed travelers and I, and we dream our troubles away.

Home feels just right. It is Monday morning and I wake up to a drizzle on the roof. A robin’s rain call echoes. Dad comes striding in over the lawn after fetching the newspaper after the morning’s milking. Smells of breakfast drift up to my jet-lagged body. Life feels good.

The little blonde boy holds the strawberries in his hand and laughs with delight. We sit on the west porch and first munch our fruit, then wash it down with “coffee” which is flavored milk in Grandpa’s mug. He is quite pleased that he uses Grandpa’s mug. “Now we have to watch the birds,” he says, meaning the swallows that swoop over the lawn in the morning.

The night is soft and cool. The train whistle splits the evening air. We run laughing, breathless and barefoot to meet it at the crossroads. Its thunder drowns our heartbeats and we savor the power harnessed by man.

The fork clinks onto the plate of pie. One coconut, one peanut butter chocolate, one apple. The pie case door thumps as it shuts. Ice tinkles as it is scooped into a glass. Someone laughs. The smell of French fries and a thousand other fried things drifts up to the front. I clear the leftover pie plates from the table. Put the tip in my pocket. Scrape the food into the trash. Scoop ice. Fill waters. Grab silverware. Smile. “Would you like anything else to drink besides water?”

The volleyball thumps onto the cement floor before hitting the fence with a “ching.” In. Next serve goes into the net. The spicy smell of evergreens pervades the air, the air is cool and the moon is bright tonight. It is late. I should be in bed. But tonight I am 16. And I am having fun.

The motor throbs in the early morning. The sunrise glows in the east. Cows crowd into the barn. Wipe the dirt from the teats, dip them, strip out a stream of white milk, wipe them clean, put on the milker, dip them, open the gate. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

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They come streaming onto the benches that squeak under the weight. 28 bare feet wiggle as 14 mouths sing the old German songs of Summer Bibel Schule. I relive my childhood in those days, remembering how the big boys used to sing the refrain of “Nur das Blut das Lammes Jesu,” and how deep and scary their voices were and how awe-inspiring they were to little first graders. Then we sing, “Herr ich Komm” and I remember the little jumps we liked to add to the chorus, and wonder how exasperated our teachers must have gotten.

Thistles blow in the wind. The wide sky touches the green world around me and grasses wave. Thrust the spade down. Dig up the roots. Clip off the pretty purple flowers and put them in a bucket. Breath deeply and stretch. The air is medicine.

“Sing it again!” she says fascinated, her eyes bright. I sigh and launch into the 31st rendition of “Boom di ya da” in Thai. “Chan chaub du pukao, chan chaub du talee yai…”

The wheat field sighs. It is pregnant with its harvest and only awaits the teeth of the combine. Elevators seem dominate the horizon, even though there aren’t any more than before. Tractors, trucks and combines drone late into the night. The harvest lures me, calls me, fascinates me.

5:00 AM. June 20. My sister’s cell phone rings and I hear her answer it sleepily from my room. It is my older sister, Susan. “Happy Birthday,” she says.

9:49 AM. June 20. I answer the phone at my sister’s house. “Happy Birthday,” says my brother in law. Evan Samuel, born June 20. Yes, happy birthday!

The bean row is long. Longer than I have ever seen before. And there are 6 of them. Stretching all the way from Pleasantview to Yoder. Yet a feeling of satisfaction fills me as I wipe the sweat off my face and look at the fruits of my labor. It feels good.

Mozzarella sticks. Onion rings. French fries. Mountain Dew. We are not eating healthy this afternoon. Two excited boys share the booth seat in front of me. We eat our fried things with relish, laugh at ten year old boy jokes and sing the worm song as we suck the onions out of the breading. Happy Birthday, Davon.

Creak of the saddle. Sunflowers in my horse’s bridle. Laughter of friends. The night is soft. Lights create crazy silhouettes of rider forms running through the dark and dust. We gallop through the dark, and gallop and gallop and gallop….

Itch….. itch……. Itch…itch… Itch..Itch.Itch.Itch.Itchitchitchitchitchitchitch. The red rash reminds me that I am not immune to poison ivy after all. Itchitchitchitchitchitchitch…..

The cravings come at odd times, late at night when people on the other side of the world are eating their spicy, mouthwatering, lime-juice laden, cilantro-decked food over fluffy white rice. I eat an egg sandwich. And munch cereal.

Cancer. The word splinters the joy of summer with shock. Breast cancer. Brain cancer. We discuss the implications with furrowed brows and hushed voices.

We cram into the cabin as rain drums outside. Twenty-five Hershbergers in one cabin is quite a feat. And quite noisy. The left-behind ice chests finally arrive and we eat the creamy ice cream it contains, savoring the cool before we sing some songs. We have this moment to hold in our hands.

Colors go wild. The wake of the boat swathes white into the blue of the water as we skim along the surface. Red bluffs and blue sky, bluer water and white foam, green grass and white gulls. A gull follows us for a while. We do a loop in the water and I put my hand out to feel the spray. The little blonde boy falls asleep.

Six of them. I count heads again to make sure, make sure none of them bobbed beneath the water too long. We splash in the water and laugh, chasing sticks bobbing on the surface, savoring life.

It was summer. We lived it. It was good.

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I Am From

My friend, Tina, introduced me to “I Am From” poems, which were introduced to her by her housemate, Anita, who blogs about it here.

Every Monday night, the 6 ladies I share a house with and I have our “family night.” Two weeks ago, was my turn to choose an activity, so I brought the templates for writing “I Am From” poems.

It was hard, but rewarding, and fascinating to catch a glimpse into the fabric of what my friends’ lives were made up of.

While I won’t share all of them, here is what I wrote.

(Based on the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. here)

I am From

I am from Tupperware, from muddy chore boots, and the yellow rotary phone on the wall of the kitchen.

I am from the trailer house under the Osage orange trees on the dirt road, and from the brick and wood and gables two-story house, from the aroma of fresh-baked bread and the scent of cow manure.

I am from the amber expanse of wheat in June, from frail May lilacs, and kittens on the windowsill, the scarlet maple tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from reading Luke 2 on Christmas mornings, and pancake breakfasts on the west porch on Memorial Day. I am from eating slow and arriving late, from Daniel and Verna, and Mark and Mary, and Abe and Katie. I am from books and newspapers at the breakfast table, and eating bran flakes at midnight, and popcorn and apples on Sunday afternoons.

I am from “nigh-night” and “luf ya gansi bunch” and “Gott ist die Liebe”, and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Hardy Boys. I am from Thanksgiving dinners with pumpkin pie, and aunts and uncles with whole-hearted belly laughs, and tears running from laughter.

I am from quiet and reticent, from talkative and blunt, from Hutchinson and Kalona and the Alps of Switzerland and somewhere in the northern part of Thailand, from chocolate chip cookies, and from fried cornmeal mush with cane molasses, and from sticky rice.

I am from stormy nights on the way to the hospital when labor pangs seized and trees fell across the street, from shotguns fired by curious boys while guardian angles hovered above.

I am from combine rides and Pepsi on breathless summer afternoons, from barefoot in church singing slow German hymns, from the unvarnished dry sink against the kitchen wall from Great Grandma Nettie, from cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate on snowy mornings.

I am from silent and sensitive, from noisy and hilarious, from dreamer and homebody.

I am from still summer nights, and far away train whistles.

I am from all those and more.