Tag Archives: hope

Of Quarantining and Cats

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.

I thanked God. And I cried.

Abide with Me

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,

Light bleeds from the evening sky, and I know that
Somewhere the morning dawns. The wind rises,
Rustling the skirts of the evening’s brittle drought, the dust
Stirs.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide;

Smoke grays the hills and smuts colors
Of the sunset that stream on the parched forest;
The heat off the day flees on silent feet, the dusk
Blankets.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Birdcalls echo from deepening shadows, and rasps
Of cricket’s melodies rise. Smoke from the evening fire
Drifts, and rice cooks, bubbling from the blackened pot. Fire
Crackles.

Help of the helpless, O abide with me

Night falls, the deepening watches calling forth the ache
Of wonder and hope and longing. Stars in their glory
Glisten and promise. This is the hope, the watch, the story
I live.

Only

I do not ask for tearless nights

Only the hope of the glimmer of dawn;

I do not plead for cloudless ways

Only a light as the way winds on;

I do not hunger for the glory of fame

Only a shoulder when the day is long;

I do not cry for the fervor of thousands

Only one love beating true and strong.

Only a light, a shade, a song

Only a shoulder when the day is long.

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.

Live

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.

Live. Just live.

Hiraeth* (to my Baanies)

The nights are growing cooler now

You would be wearing socks as you come downstairs in the morning

Hair tousled, to fix your coffee at the kitchen sink

Knocking shoulders in the narrow space between the sink and the ant cupboard

That doesn’t keep out ants any better than it used to;

With only the muffled grunts of coffeeless “good mornings”

Before the clatter of another day.

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

I’ve washed the blankets in the living room now.

You would be wrapping them around your shoulders as you sit

Beneath the lamplight in the living room, under the stringed lights,

Where it says “Everyday holds a miracle.”

And if the hot cocoa in our mugs would not keep us warm

The laughter ringing about the house would

I know it would.

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

The motorbike rides are colder now.

You would be putting on layers before you leave, bundling up

In scarves and gloves and hoodies, layered beyond recognition

And breezing through the crisp night air with whiffs of woodsmoke

Arising from sleeping homes blanketed in fog

Under the streetlights like sentinels guarding and watching

On your way home.

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

The nights are growing cooler now….

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*”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

Light

I love light.

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).

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.