Running through the wheat fields with quickening pace;
Over the little swell, down through the draw,
Whoa, little pony, now whicker and paw!
Hold tight to the reins; little pony don’t run;
There’s green of the wheat field, gold of the sun!
Brown of the plowed earth, blue of the sky!
Turn around, turn around, little pony let’s fly!
Back through the wide field, on past the knoll
Down through the brown draw, tall grasses roll,
Back through the waves of ever-greening wheat,
Little brown pony has wings on her feet!
-Lori, April 2009
Every now and then I can write a poem that I look back and savor the imagery, because I managed to actually catch at least a fraction of what I saw and heard and felt. This is one of those few. Anyone who has experienced a Kansas spring and has ridden a spunky little pony in greening wheat fields should be able to relate.
I was about 9 years old when we got our first pony, Penny, after months or years of begging. She was a large, fat, copper pony with a mind of her own. She would be poky and slow upon leaving the farm, but as soon as you turned her around to go home again, her head would go up and it was all you could do to hang on as you went flying down the road. The one spring we let our cows out on pasture, so most evenings during that time, I would go bring them up for milking, riding Penny bareback. Springtime in Kansas is beautiful, green, and fresh. That was the inspiration for this poem.
Struggling with assurance of salvation was something very real that I wrestled with a lot as a teenager. This following poem was written at the age of 19 during a time I was facing some spiritual battles in that area. Today as I was looking at this poem again, I realized that while it was a relevant expression of my life then, with the current Covid/visa/lockdown/changes situation currently, I can also connect to it now as well. The poem is based off the verses in based on Isaiah 21:11, 12 and was published in my book,Echoes of Eternity.
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.
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.
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.