The funny thing about dreams is that some of them actually come true.
I was about 10 when I told my mom randomly one evening that I wanted to be a missionary, a photographer, and a mountain climber. That was a pretty tall order for a little Amish girl, but my mom just smiled and nodded.
When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, our school entered into a Campbell Label’s drawing contest. We were supposed to draw a picture of what we dreamed of doing in the future. Our dream job, I guess.
I didn’t win a prize, but I do remember my drawing which is now stuck away somewhere in the dusty cardboard box archives of Meadowlark School. It was a picture of a woman sitting at a desk, writing, with a cat on her shoulder, a cat on the desk and cat under the desk… basically cats everywhere.
It was labeled “Old Maid Writer.” (At that point in my life, I was quite “anti-marriage.”)
After I moved to Thailand, I had the privilege of living with my friends, Brit and Barbara. Five years ago, in 2016, we took a small getaway into the mountains at a “homestay” that was owned by parents of a student. While there, we started talking about what we wanted to do “when we grew up.”
Here’s what we said,
Like I mentioned earlier, the funny thing about dreams is that sometimes they actually come true. Some of them you wonder at times if they had to be Quite So True, like the one about the “old maid writer.” (Forgive the terminology of a 12 year-old. I can just imagine some people reading this and telling me I shouldn’t think of myself as an old maid. I don’t. But I do have cats, and I do write some. And I am single, and doing things I couldn’t do as a married woman, which was the reason for my “anti-marriage” perspective at 12.)
The missionary, photographer, and mountain climber dream sort of came true as well, but in different shades of the original dream. I don’t really call myself a missionary. I am a Christian who loves God and lives in a different culture. I like taking pictures, but I don’t consider myself a photographer. And I don’t really climb mountains on a regular basis, but I live in them and I love exploring them and hiking in them as possible.
The last one makes me smile the most. While Barbara is not going to live in Pittsburgh with a friend, she is going to live in a city with her husband (which is what she wanted to do. Live in a city, I mean. Maybe not necessarily with a husband.) It also makes me wonder if her husband will play hide and go seek with her in the house too, as she once said she would like to do.
Brit is currently in the states studying at a university for a degree that will let her teach in a public school, or perhaps a private school.
I have finished my degree at Payap University and done a stint of real mountain village teaching.
The odd thing is that at the time when we wrote down our dreams, the idea of studying for my bachelor’s at Payap was barely on my radar. I had scarcely thought of it, given my conservative background. But it seemed like the next practical step and somehow when I voiced those words and they were recorded, it gave possibility to my dream, and then possibility became reality. I know that not all dreams come true (I still have dreams that haven’t) and often dreams come true in slightly different ways than we imagined. But I also think that perhaps by speaking our dreams, we give them shape and life.
What made me think of the topic of dreams again and our conversation under a thatched roof, was when I headed into the mountains last Saturday to teach 3 hours in a remote Karen village. A university had adopted the sub-district and was implementing different programs in the area to help the villagers make a living. They asked Boripat High School (the new school I work at) for a teacher to go in one afternoon alongside their team to help teach basic English vocabulary. I was selected for the job. It turned out that my students averaged about 50 years and over. It was one of the best teaching experiences I had ever had. Even though their ability didn’t rate very high (some of them could not read or write in Thai either), they were very sweet and fun to work with.
Another high school located fairly deep in the mountains of Kong Koi is short on teachers and asked Boripat for help. In the end it was decided to send 2 of the foreign teachers once a month. Still another school also asked for teachers to help at an English camp.
These requests made me think of what Barbara, Brit and I had written down that day long ago under a thatched roof. Going from village to village, teaching.
While I do wish I were located deeper in the mountains, I also realize that I am positioned in a very strategic place. From where I am right now, there are hundreds of villages in the 100 mile radius around me. Even though I miss my little school in Saohin nestled among the rolling mountains on the edge of Burma, I feel like right now I am where I should be with opportunities to meet many new villages ahead. Maybe I will be able to go teach from village to village someday.
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.
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.
Tonight, as I walked under the starlit sky, praying and thinking, I had one of those moments that rarely come these days. One of those moments where you feel like you are holding one of the most tremendous gifts in your hand, and all the joy and inspiration of the ages and the Bible and all the good poetry you ever read comes welling up in you and all you want to do is hold that gift and breathe over it and use it.
*”Hiraeth: a homesickness for a place which you can’t return to or never was. (noun/origin: Welsh/Heer-eyeth) This is a Welsh concept of longing for home — but more than just missing something, it implies the meaning of having a bittersweet memory of missing a time, era or person.” Credit: iamialeen.com
Could I but see through a clear glass, smudgeless of stain curling over the edges of reality, that burns the senses into dumbness, numbness, darkness and bleeds its bitterness into the currents of humanity—
Then, oh God, I would.
(It’s been a long day. I feel like I’ve seen a little bit of everything– innocence, laughter, pain, fear, kindness laced with subterfuge, depression, sincerity, deception, honesty. Hence the poem. From teaching 2 and 4 year-olds in the morning, to attending a college class at noon, translating for a sticky, depressing case at the station, and debating the principles of Christianity with a lawyer from another belief system, I guess I can see why I am little bit discouraged. I also don’t know if that last sentence is grammatically correct or not. Blame my PR teacher for making me doubt.)
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.”
When I was 12 I fell in love with the verse in Job 38:24 that says, “By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth?”
Other favorites are, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). Or, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:8). I still remember the words of in the Christmas play we did in my 6th grade year, “To give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79).
Below are a few of my favorite light pictures each showing different angles of light. As I was sorting through them, I realized over and over that without the darkness, the light was much less visible or desirable.
Sometimes the darkness reminds us how much we need the light.
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
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)