Tag Archives: Karen State

The Salawin River

I really wanted to write a poem about the river yesterday.

But while there were words rolling around in my head, they refused to order themselves coherently when I tried to put them on paper.

Perhaps that is because a river is already a poem. And to write a poem about a river is maybe like trying to make a poem of a poem.

Mmmmmm?? Yet Robert Louis Stevenson did it.

I don’t know. Someday I still hope to write a poem about it. But for now, I will just indulge in my fascination with this river.

Amy and I had a day off yesterday since it was the current Queen’s birthday. We took the chance to go to Mae Saam Laep, something we had wanted to do for a while.

Mae Saam Laep is a border town between Thailand and Myanmar located about 47 kilometers from Mae Sariang and is known for its trade with the other side, the other side being “Kawthoolei” ”(meaning “land without darkness) or Karen State. I had it my head that Kawthoolei was just a town in Karen state. I didn’t realize until yesterday that Kawthoolei is Karen State. Mae Saam Laep was evacuated at least once last year when the fighting on the other side came too close for comfort, and in the past shots have been fired on civilians in boats on the river. The village is built oddly, perched precariously on the mountainside above the river. Many people travel to Mae Saam Laep and from there travel by boat on the Salawin River to other more unreachable parts of Thailand and Myanmar.

I already have a fascination with rivers, probably fueled by memories I have of canoeing down the Arkansas River. But when I saw the Salawin river, and started researching more about it, it only increased my fascination.

The Salawin, as I learned from Wikipedia, has its base in the Tibetan Plateau where it is called the Naqu River, meaning “dark and deep.” It flows down through China through Yunnan province, known there as the Nujiang River and nicknamed the “Angry River”. Once it reaches Myanmar, it is called the Thanlwin River, and along the Thai border is known as the Salawin. It eventually flows into the Andaman Sea. The river provides a livelihood for millions of people.

I followed the river on Google maps from its source to where it spills into the ocean, which stirred up my dreams again for all things Tibetan and reminded me of my short trip to Pu’er and Kunming in China years ago.  The river is quite tame by the time it reaches Thailand, as most things are. I feel in my secret soul that whether its mountains or rivers or wildlife, Thailand is mostly just a shadow of China or Nepal. However, that doesn’t take away from my fascination with this river. My dream is to travel to the source in Tibet and follow it all the way down to the Andaman Sea.

But perhaps for now I will keep my teaching job here and start out first with a little boat ride here in Thailand.

A fisherman bringing in his morning catch/
Rain on the river
The sign on other side says, “Welcome to Kawthoolei”. If you look closely you can see a boat in the river, which gives you a bit of perspective on the size of the river.
Amy lost in thought
Again, notice the boat in this picture.

sources:

http://en.chinaculture.org/library/2008-01/08/content_21769.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salween_River

Beautiful World

Do not yet destroy my world, my beautiful world

I am not ready

To let go of the life I have scarcely sipped;

To see the crimson of the sunset bleed far into the night

To hear the thunder of the guns in the rainstorm

To touch rivers of red running through raped cities

To have the silence of the forest be the silence of pale death

I am not ready

For young eyes never to see another sunset

For young ears never to hear the joy-shouts of thunder

For young fingers never to touch crystal rivers in pristine valleys

Never to listen to the silent music of the forest

Please do not take my beautiful world from my beautiful people

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Kayah State, Christmas Eve 2021

Over these hills, sing the song,

Sing it over again.

That Immanuel is come, is come,

Is come to the world of men.

Up from the valley, down from the mountains

Sing it in darkest hour

Of peace on earth, of peace on earth,

Of goodwill of greatest power—

Oh, but now, my friend, hush your singing

And be still in this crippling pain

Come grieve among the ones who grieve

And weep with the weeping rain;

For from the shadows of these Burmese hills

Comes a wail that pierces heaven’s door

For Rachel still weeps, weeps for her children

Her children who are no more.

See the story of the Christmas Eve massacre in Myanmar here. While we safely celebrated Christmas in our homes, thousands of people fled conflict in the neighboring country. Please pray for Myanmar.

Image by seth0s from Pixabay

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