I realize that I haven’t been writing a lot lately.
My dad had open heart surgery on June 16 and it was excruciating to be so far away from home. During that time, I wrestled with 2 different urges. One was the urge to dump it all out, the other the urge to clam up and feel sorry for myself. And being pressed for time, I didn’t do the dumping out part.
But that time passed, and my dad is now safely recovering at home, although my sister reports that life at home is sort of like living in a nursing home, since my mom has also been to see the doctor several times recently, and my aunt has to go on a weekly basis for chemo.
But believe it or not, life goes on here in Thailand. And I realize that I take a lot of good pictures, or I like to think of them as good, but I don’t share them much.
And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
These are students from our Gifted English program that just started this year. The room is on the same floor as the teacher’s office, so some of the students like to come over in the afternoon and practice their English and play Uno. I do believe the air conditioned room is a drawing factor as well. I recently bought a tiny model house to teach vocabulary to a class, but I didn’t have time to assemble it so these students helped me. We have listened to a lot of stories during this time, such as stories about evil spirits haunting houses and the whiskey used in spirit ceremonies. (While most Karen people are Buddhist or Christian, in the past, before Christianity was introduced or before the Karen integrated more fully into Thai culture, they were mostly animistic, with practices steeped in spirit worship. This is still a huge factor today, and many nominal Karen Christians wear amulets for luck or safety.)
Some of my former Saohin students came over to make cookies after going to church with me. I found it amusing and heartwarming how they sat in front of the oven to watch their cookies bake as if they were watching a movie.
There are times I wonder about my cat…..
Our pastor finished his doctor in theology and we had a celebration at the church. Taking pictures with each other at celebrations is an important thing in Thai culture.
Yes, that spider is for real, and yes we found it in our kitchen. I think that might be an egg sac it was carrying underneath?
Rainy days are plentiful in July. Most days I make my afternoon coffee at school, but some days I splurge, especially if it is a particularly rainy day that calls for a hot latte.
No matter how the world might be behaving around me, I still find rest and relaxation in making a batch of good homemade chocolate chip cookies.
And enjoying cookie making is not exclusive to women either. One evening, before my birthday, several of my former Saohin students (this time the boys, not the two girls pictured earlier) called me. Can we come make cookies at your house?
The above picture is not mine, but one I found online. At the time that I found myself driving through these waters, I was too busy trying to stay upright and moving to take any photos. The picture was taken beside the Mae Chaem River between Hot and Mae Sariang on a day when various parts of Northern Thailand flooded.
Another picture that makes me shudder when I see the brown angry river to the left.
On the evening of Amy’s birthday we went to the church to practice the song we were singing with the youth group. The sky gave us an extra special display that evening.
These people make me happy. Most of the people in this picture are students who are staying at the church while they go to high school. On Thursday evenings, I have the privilege of teaching them English at the church. They are the most dedicated group of learners and laughers I have ever taught, I think I can say.
Every morning the national anthem is played at assembly and every morning the dogs at the school howl along with it.
This was not a fire, as it might look, but a random round of mosquito spraying in hopes of cutting down on dengue fever cases. I had just gotten to my class and started teaching when we were all told to evacuate and stay out of the building for about 25 minutes while they sprayed. Mae Hong Son is highest in the nation for dengue fever.
This shirt is special to me. One of my students who is an avid football player, asked me if I wanted a football shirt for my birthday. He then let me choose a color and gave me one of his own shirts. This young man is actually half Burmese, but lives in Thailand.
It’s not often I get to eat Mexican food, but on my last visit to Chiang Mai, some of my friends took Amy and I out for our birthdays and this is what we got. It was soooo good.
Mae Toe is a local tourist attraction about 60 kilometers from here. I have now visited there 4 times, twice just recently. In the middle of June, I went up with some students and then yesterday with some teachers. Someday, I think I should like to take a book along and simply curl up and read on top of the world.
So…. yesterday, I had thought the original plan was to park our bikes on the bottom and walk the rest of the way up, but it didn’t quite work out that way since the others in our group zoomed up before me. To make a long story short, I was trying to get up this hill like the people before me, but kept on stalling my bike. I got off and then managed to dump it on its side, and it being a heavy bike, couldn’t get it up again. With the help of Amy and this kind man, we got it to a place where we could park beside the road and then walked up. Driving on these concrete tracks is complicated because if you happen to stop, you are in trouble because there is simply no place to plant your feet to keep you from falling over. It doesn’t help if you are helplessly laughing either. I still have to giggle just to look at this picture…. and the expressions on our faces. Bless that man’s heart for stopping and helping (the others in our group were out of side beyond the next hill and curve)
The view was worth the hike, though.
We parked our bikes halfway up and walked the rest of the way….but these village boys who couldn’t be more than 12 had no such intentions.
Walking down from the 360 degree lookout.
Kaning and Mint, the two student interns, and Kru Jack, one of the Chinese teachers. Kru Jack’s method of hair control always makes me grin.
Amy on the top of the lookout, dreaming of Mr. Willoughby.
A bit over 6 weeks ago my cat, Tua Lek (meaning Little One), who had defied her name and blossomed to extraordinary proportions, gave birth to 4 little kittens who looked almost exactly like her. One of the four died on the first day, but the others lived on to be happy, healthy and adorable kittens. (Ok, I know the word adorable is overused with kittens, but it is necessary in this case.)
However much I enjoy kittens, having 3 litters a year populating my house is not something I really want to deal with, and neither did my housemate, Amy. Especially when my cat’s temperament drastically changes every time a new litter appears and she becomes whiny and “awhang-gish.” Now, perhaps if I lived on a farm, and did not work away from home every day, and did not take month long furloughs once a year to visit family and did not need to find someone to take care of my 30 cats while I was gone, I might consider it.
So, since Tua Lek’s behavior was again becoming suspicious even after giving birth only 6 weeks ago, and the neighboring male tomcat was starting to hang around again, we decided the time had come. I made an appointment at the Mae Sariang animal clinic at 8:30 this morning.
Living in Thailand and having a motorbike as your main mode of transportation is a Wonderful, Free, Joyous Experience. Most of the time. Except when it’s raining heavily (I will refrain from the pun), or you have to take your cat to the veterinarian. Then, if you don’t have a pet carrier, your only recourse is a cardboard box strapped on the back of your bike with bungee cords.
When the time came to take Tua Lek, I grabbed the closest box that looked like it would work. It ended up being the box that my youth group had used to send goodies for my birthday. It was a little bit battered, but with a little tape, I thought it might work.
It did at first. I wrestled the confused cat into box, while her little gray kittens sat on a pile on the porch chair and looked at me with big, round, innocent eyes. Sweating profusely, I grabbed the Gorilla tape from Joel and Malinda that had come in the same box and proceeded to tape the box shut. I punched some holes into the box, got the box to my bike, and had just strapped it down with cords, when Tua Lek found a small hole in the side of the box. Before I knew it, the hole was much bigger and the cat was out of the — er, box. I grabbed her before she could flee, though, and ran for another box. Amy came out and helped me with this one, giving me some advice on how to tape it shut better. Once we had Tua Lek in again, I strapped it on once more. This box was wider, giving me less room on the seat, with my knees hitting the front part of the bike. This is a drivable position for short distances, although decidedly more awkward and less modest than the normal position.
When Tua Lek is hungry, she meows. When she is wanting attention, she meows. When she is scared, she meows. At times when she is not any of those, she still meows. So, it was not a surprise that as I drove along, mournful, betrayed cat wails came from the box at regular intervals. Each time, I cringed, thinking of the attention we were drawing, and embarrassed at my lack of pet transportation equipment. At the same time, I also drew comfort from the fact that we live in Mae Sariang, which is quite “baan-nawk”. This word, literally translated means “outside village” but is usually used when talking about country people or hill people and has the connotation of being not quite as modern, educated and up to par as people in the cities.
Mae Sariang has three stoplights. Going to the clinic, I had to drive through 2 of them. As we approached the first one, I willed the car ahead of me to go faster, but it didn’t and couldn’t. The light became red. As I waited at both stoplights, I forced myself to look straight ahead each time an agonized wail came from behind me, thankful for my mask. I do not know where that sound is coming from, I told myself silently, and the others on motorbikes beside and behind me. What could it possibly be?
Finally, I reached the clinic. As I waited and held a terrified Tua Lek, I talked with a couple who had brought in their neighbor’s cat to be spayed. I found this very humorous. I had to sign a release for them to do surgery. Finally, they took her away and I went home.
Going to the vet in this fashion is traumatic, both for the cat and her human. I felt like a betrayer, like someone who was senselessly inflicting confusion and pain on an innocent life. I think both of us will be happier because of this, and Tua Lek’s life will be much easier. But, how do you tell that to a cat? I mean, I did tell her several times, and I also triumphantly announced it to the visiting tomcat, but I know neither of them understood. I almost cried several times in the whole ordeal. Doing something like this would be so much easier if I could explain to Tua Lek what was going on.
Amy had some good words to say, something I hadn’t thought of before. “Well, maybe that is the way God feels. When God lets you go through something difficult and there is no way that we can understand why we have to go through it, God probably feels the same way.”
And now I really cry when I think of God holding me like I held Tua Lek when I am asking Him what He means when He lets Covid disrupt my life, or doesn’t iron out the tangles of my visa situation, or why he doesn’t just take certain struggles away from my life.
Tua Lek will never know that the undignified, terrifying ride to the vet, the pain and the anesthesia were all reasons that she will never have kittens again, and instead will grow fat and happy all the days of her life.
And maybe in the same way, I will never know exactly why God lets some of these things happen my life either. But I can know, better than my cat can ever understand, that He means the best for me, no matter how terrifying or undignified the ride.
Since I made the final move to town of Mae Sariang after finishing my internship in Saohin in the middle of April, I’ve spent the majority of my time in my house. This was mostly because of a third wave of Covid that spread over Thailand since the beginning of April. I spent a week in quarantine in after coming to Mae Sariang from Chiang Mai. This was the 4th time I’ve quarantined in my life (although two of those quarantines were less than 2 weeks long).
My house and I get along well, but there are times when you need something else besides a house and a Tukay to talk to. Even after getting out of quarantine, it’s been hard to feel like a part of life in Mae Sariang since the town is in a half-lockdown. I missed a friend’s wedding because of quarantine. I keep in contact with the few friends I knew before I moved here, but it’s hard to make new friends with the level of social activity going on. I was also feeling disappointed after giving up my trip to Saohin that I had been hoping to take on May 1. I felt like with the Covid situation the way it was and me not being back from Chiang Mai a full 14 days, as well as having been in contact with a Covid-infected person (although it was over 14 days by then) I simply didn’t feel comfortable with making the trip. While Saohin has not closed down, many mountain villages have shut off contact with the outside world.
When I had been up in Saohin on my internship, Kru Paeng had asked me if I wanted to take one of the cats when I left. Kru Paeng was moving to another school after the semester ended and she wasn’t going to be able to take the cats with her. At the time, I couldn’t commit to taking care of a cat since I was going to be traveling back and forth from Chiang Mai for part of March and part of April.
Last week I started thinking. I was now settled into my house, or getting there. I was tired of being by myself all the time. I was tired of talking just to the Tukay. I wanted something furry and warm and alive.
Why not see if I can get the cat down now, I wondered. I messaged Captain Joe since his police unit was coming down at the end of the month.
“If I get the children to catch the cat, can you bring it down or arrange for someone to bring it down?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied. I messaged one of the children, but she obviously wasn’t able to connect to wifi since she never replied. I also messaged one of the teachers that had traveled up during break to take care of some things. And then I waited, wondering.
In the evening, Captain Joe messaged me saying they hadn’t found it yet, but the next morning he said he saw that Kru Taum had caught the cat. Kru Toon sent me a picture of the little gray cat. “Is this the one?” he asked. He stuck it in a bag and brought it to Captain Joe. Captain Joe put it in a box and wrote my number and name on it and gave it to Captain Chatri and P Boy to bring down to Mae Sariang.
I got a call in the evening that they had arrived and went to the police station to pick up my cat. As I expected, she was pretty upset. She had clawed a hole in the side of the box, so when P Boy put it on my bike, he put the hole on the top side so she couldn’t come out. I drove home, itching to turn around and see if a gray cat head was sticking out of the hole behind me, but I resisted the urge.
Kru Paeng had told me to keep her inside the house for a few days until she got used to her surroundings. “Take good care of her,” she said. Kru Paeng loves her cats a lot, and I knew I would feel very bad if something happened to her. Before opening the box, I closed up all the windows, or at least partially since only two of them have screens on them.
The cat came out disturbed. And she stayed disturbed for most of the evening, to my chagrin. There were a few moments when I would hold her and she would be quiet, but for most of the night she prowled the house, mourning and meowing, while I tossed and turned in my bed, chasing elusive sleep.
I woke around 6:30 to a silent house. Good, she’s finally quiet, I thought, but I decided to get up and check anyway. A lumpy feeling of worry started in my throat as I started to check the house, and it had plummeted down to the bottom of my stomach by the time I was finished.
There was no cat in the house.
I investigated and found hairs between two of the glass panes by the porch window. I didn’t feel much pride in my investigative skills, however. I walked outside and called. No cat. I walked to the neighbors. House after house, I stopped and asked if they had seen her. House after house, they said no.
I came back home and cried. I used to cry over cats when I was 5 and still cried over them when I was 15. I guess I still cry over cats at 30.
I felt terrible. I thought of all the work that Captain Joe and the teachers and Captain Chatri and P Boy had gone to to bring the cat down. I thought of Kru Paeng and how much she loved her cats. I thought of how much I had been looking forward to having some furry, warm company.
I decided not to listen too much to the words of the people I talked with about the cat. Some were very blunt. “Oh, you’ll never see her again.” Some were more encouraging, yet I felt like they were only trying to make me feel good. “She’ll probably come back tonight. She’s just checking things out.”
I prayed. Oh yes, I prayed. But on a level of 1 to 10, my faith scored in at a 2 at the most. The disappointment was just too big. Being low on sleep didn’t help matters either. I never operate well on low sleep.
That afternoon, after running some errands and meeting up with some friends, I felt better. I decided to read some books on my kindle and relax a bit, but for the life of me, I could not find my kindle. One of the worst parts about living by yourself is that when you lose something, you automatically know that you were the only one who could have mislaid it. There is no subtle blaming of anyone else. Even worse, when you mislay your phone, there is no way to ask someone to call it so you can find it. And I lose things. A lot.
As I sat there, thinking I had searched every possible place it might be, I prayed. God, can you please just help me find this? Right after the prayer, the thought flashed through my mind. God doesn’t even care about bringing your cat back. Why should he care about your kindle?
Then I looked up and saw my kindle on the bookshelf in a slightly obscure spot where I had laid it while cleaning that morning.
It was an encouragement. Maybe God did care.
That evening I was sitting in my living room. I was getting more used to the idea of a catless future, because I didn’t really want to think about getting another animal after the first one ran away.
Suddenly I heard a slight noise at the door, a faint meow.
I got up and looked out.
And there she was, the little gray runaway cat.
I picked her up and sat down and did the next natural thing.