Tag Archives: Mae Hong Son

The Funny Thing About Dreams

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.

Now, for a horse.

At last June Arrives

Tomorrow, June 1, I finally get to go to work.

In December, after finishing up 3 1/2 years of course work at Payap University, I began my internship in Saohin village, where I lived for about 3 months. I am at the point now where I can talk about my experience there without crying, but I still miss that place like crazy. Many people, especially Thai people, don’t understand why I would miss a remote place where there is only electricty run by solar panels, and the wifi is exceedingly temperamental, and dust and smoke cloak the world in the hot season, and there are no coffee shops and malls, and the room I lived in had no wardrobe or clothes rack or mirror or fan. One of my friends thinks that there must be a guy living up there that I have fallen in love with or something.

There isn’t.

They don’t know that there is something addicting about waking up at 5:45 AM to build the fire with wood and boil water for the coffee, and make the day’s portion of rice over an open fire. They don’t know that funny bleat of a buffalo and the cry of the tukay at night are much more calming music to listen to at night than the roaring of traffic in the middle of the city. They don’t know that people in a village like that go to each others’ homes when they need to talk because there is no phone to call instead. They don’t know the charm of baking cookies on a fire late at night while crickets chirp. But most of all, they don’t know the charm or the love of about 80 Karen and Tai Yai students from the ages of 3 to 15, and how much that love can pull you on and on.

Actually, I wasn’t really planning to write all that. A good writer would go back and cut it out because it doesn’t have anything to do with today’s post. What I was going to write about was the start of my new job tomorrow and some of the things that I did in my spare time. But I never said I was a good writer.

So after my internship finished in late March, I went back to Chiang Mai for a few weeks, and then moved back to Mae Sariang in the middle of April. Of my time here in Mae Sariang, much of it has been in either quarantine, semi-quarantine, or semi-lockdown. I am now out of quarantine and things are opening up more and more here in the town. Tomorrow I begin my new job teaching at Boripat High School, the local district school of Mae Sariang. I was originally planning to start work on the 10th of May, but because of COVID19, the school’s opening was pushed off until later.

It’s better for me NOT to have a lot of time off just before I start something new. Otherwise, I tend to sit and think a little too much about it. The past 5 or 6 weeks have been difficult in terms of getting very little social interaction, especially face to face with live humans. It wasn’t until last week that I began to realize that it was slowly wearing down my emotional health. I have never before known how much relationships with others are necessary for emotional wellbeing. I do know now, and hope I will never take it for granted again. Normally, I am not much of a social butterfly. I love time alone and crave it. It’s just that 5 weeks of near aloneness is too much.

But I did enjoy doing a few projects here at home. I had fun ordering some things on Lazada for the house and for my room. I also had fun doing some furniture building of my own.

My favorite project was the bamboo table. I spent three evenings making it. The making of the table itself was somehow an incredibly special time for me. Sitting on the east porch with my cat after the heat of the day had ebbed away, cutting the bamboo, hand-drilling in holes to insert each shoot, and listening to the night sounds around me was relaxing and life-giving. With a hammer, a saw, a measuring tape from a small sewing kit, a flat screwdriver and a bottle of white spray paint, and string from a kite my cousin gave me, the little bamboo table was born. Oh, and bamboo from the bamboo that grows in the edge of the property.

Below are some pictures.

Frog Hunt

The night sky cups the world

We are 7, and then 8, and then 9 searching

Like small boats in a foggy harbor

Scattered and seeking

Muffled voices call out like small foghorns

Floating alongside the lights that spread over the field,

And melting with the murmur of men’s voices from the small house beside the road

Silence, then the small burst of a song,

A small child’s shriek and laughter

Echo, and then are lost in the thin mountain night;

Cows tread through the marshy field

A low call, the patter of small feet,

Frogs frozen, caught in the patch of light

Then wiggling and wet in small hands;

The bags grow heavy.

Above, clouds shift and reshape

And the stars began to glimmer

Over this small place we call ours

Over the fields hard-won from the forest

Cradled in the mountains’ heart

Lost in the rolling ranges that lap from the edge of Burma

The night sky cups over the world

We are 7, and then 8, and then 9 searching.

A Poem a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Image by Mariangela Castro (Mary) from Pixabay

I told some friends recently that I think I will no longer tell people what my plans are for the next day or week or the next month. This is because after I tell them one day, I need to retell them the next day because of the constant change of landscape these days.

Instead, I will tell them after it happens. Like last week when I actually did get the chance to make a quick trip to Saohin.

Ever since the beginning of April, life has been a pretty consistent roller coaster. If that combination of words can be put together. I just found out yesterday that I won’t start work for another three weeks. This is because of the current Covid situation in Thailand. Schools in Thailand won’t start until June 1st but until yesterday I was told that I would be working from home and perhaps doing some online teaching. Then yesterday I found out it would not be so.

So. Here I am in Mae Sariang with three weeks of “vacation” in front of me. I will be filling those weeks with some informal teaching, some teaching prep for the upcoming semester, maybe a trip to Chiang Mai or two for visa purposes and to move some items still there. Otherwise, I will be weeding out the orchard behind my new house and trying to figure out how to crack up the coconuts that fall from the tree. Church isn’t really happening currently because of the half-lockdown the town is in. Most of the fun evening markets are closed, and even national parks are closed. Many of the mountain villages (other than Saohin) have closed off their gates to outsiders.

La la la la la…..

So I am trying to find the best way to use my time wisely. Maybe I should do a week of fasting and praying. That would save money, at least, for sure. Maybe I could try building furniture from the bamboo beside the house. Or study Karen.

One thing that I have been rolling around in my mind lately is my recent lack of immersion in good, deep literature. I attribute this to several factors, one my focus on language study, two when in college and on my internship I lacked the energy and time to read deeply, and three, bad habits. One of my goals for this summer is to stretch my brain in relation to good, English literature.

So, with this in mind, I have decided for the next week to post a poem a day. This might be a poem that I have previously written and/or published, it might be a poem I have freshly written, or it might be a poem written by someone else that I enjoy, along with a bit of an explanation of what the poem means to me. I do not pretend to be a great poet, or a great poet analyst. I like poetry that makes me think, but does not make my brain do cartwheels to figure out what the author is driving at. But I do enjoy sharing poetry that is meaningful to me, as well as hearing poetry from others.

I plan to do this for a week, but if I see that its going well, I might stretch it out to two weeks. I also have been a bit traumatized (ok, that’s too strong a word but for lack of a better one) by the constant changes of plans, and so I feel a bit scared to commit to a poem a day FOR SURE. So, I will say, barring a sudden trip to Chiang Mai or Saohin, a storm and a subsequent blackout, the sudden rising of the creek (very literally if I do go to Saohin) or a wave of dengue fever or any other insurmountable obstacle, I will post a poem a day.

And I would love to hear thoughts on the poetry from my readers.

Here goes.

A Photo Post: Catching Jakajans

Spreading sticky rice paste onto the sticks.
Marching across the fields to the creek
Not sure why this tree was so fascinating.
Some of us didn’t wait for the jakajans to be fried.
Trying to wash the sticky paste off of our hands
Plucking the wings off in the kitchen afterwards.
Gon
Yaut fried up the first batch after we mixed in some seasonings and soy sauce. I put in too much soy sauce so they weren’t as crispy as they should have been.
The finished product. Jakajans (or cicadas) in a bag like this could easily sell for 5 dollars down in the city, which is enough to buy 5 bowls of noodles.
This was a batch from a later catch.

Jakajan Hunts and Burmese Refugees

Tonight I write.

The heat of the day has fled with the coming of the darkness. The sky is clear tonight, with a bright moon coming up in the east. I know it is east even though my head tells me it is north.
The last few evenings have been busy, with little time to spare for things like writing. Kru Paeng asked me if I could make cookies for the children for their lunch. Enough so each can have two, she said. That is 160 cookies. By the time I finished four nights of baking, I had the recipe down in my head and cooking over a fire much more efficiently than the first time I did it. No more burnt cookies. Or barely. A brand-new thicker pan donated to the school from visitors on Sunday helped a lot. Still it took a long time to make them, and it didn’t help matters when Captain Joe came over and hinted broadly that he would like some. They were served at lunch this morning and were a hit.

So, now that the cookies are past, I write.

The days are still lengthening, and the heat gets stronger with each passing day. The smoke has lessened which lets the sun’s rays come through. In the afternoon, the teacher’s office which is made of wood gets breathlessly hot. There is not enough electricity generated by the solar panels to run a fan, I guess, so there is not even the comfort of a fan. At night I sleep with the windows wide open, careless to the fact that a loose buffalo might stick its head in the window some night, as it did to a previous teacher. The cats take advantage of the open window and jump in and out during all hours of the night.

Last week I experienced the danger of the mountain slopes for myself. I was planning to visit one of my third grader’s home since she had been begging me to come for a long time. On the way, I stopped to pick up Dauk Gulab, another third grader, and was driving up a hill to the home of another student, Wah Meh, to take her along as well. When I first looked at the slope, it looked doable, but it was longer than I had reckoned. I was driving in 2nd gear on my bike and the engine started dragging. I knew from previous experience that I didn’t want it to stop on me, especially with a rider, so I shifted down into first gear. This was a mistake and I realized it even as I did it. Since I was revving the bike to keep it going in second gear, it now shot up in the front, and we flipped over backwards (or so it seemed. I don’t really think we went over totally backwards but that was the feeling I got.) This was the first time I had ever really dumped my bike on the slopes, even though I had had several very close calls before. What bothered me most was my rider. We were both unhurt and she was cheerily brave about it all, but I felt a lump of guilt and fear gathering in my stomach all evening long. It helped to find out later from Wah Meh that her mom had dumped her bike there as well, and Kru Taum told me that he had run out of steam on the same slope before. There was something funny with my bike now, though, when I shifted. The next day I looked it over and discovered that the bar where you rest your feet had shifted. This was coming in contact with the foot shift when shifting down. Kru Taum led the way to Kai Muk’s house where Kai Muk’s dad brought out a heavy tool and whacked it into place.

The cicadas are here. They come in full blast and their noise in the morning when I wake up around 6 is deafening. They are known to be a delicacy and come at a high price in markets on the plains. One school day I tried fruitlessly to help the 4th graders catch them using nets and plastic bottles on sticks. I didn’t catch even one. The other students crowded around talked all at once, as they usually do, “You want to catch jakajan (cicadas)? Then all you need to do is make a paste out of sticky rice flour and paste it on a piece of wood and then the cicadas will come and stick on them.” This sounded more confusing then ever, but I decided to try it out. Pa De Bue and Itim and Yaut came to help me make the paste. We mixed some sticky rice flour with water and boiled and stirred it until it was a thick, sticky paste. Then carrying the still hot pot between Itim and Pa De Bue, off we went. We started off with their being only about 4 of us, but as we walked down the road to the bridge, we kept on collecting more and more schoolboys, until there were probably about 10 of us altogether. I felt like we should be waving a flag and blowing on a bugle, such was the excitement in the air. First, we marched down to a dry creekbed and spread some paste on pieces of wood and some trees. Sure enough, soon there were some jakajans stuck to the paste. “It’s not enough,” they all proclaimed, so we trekked over a buffalo pasture to another stream where the jakajans had congregated en masse. Again, we pasted the white substance onto sticks and walked along the creek bed, thrusting the sticks into areas where the jakajans sat. Pretty soon, our sticks were buzzing loudly. We had taken along two plastic bottles with some water in them and before we knew it, the bottles were full of very sticky, very disturbed cicadas.
Even though we could have caught hundreds more, we called it quits and headed back to the house. There several of the boys and I washed them and plucked the wings off the creatures. Then we mixed them with some seasonings and Yaut fried up the first batch. They seriously were really good.

The situation across the border in Myanmar gets continually worse ever since the coup in February when the army took over the previous government. Last week, Captain Joe brought over a report in English that the Myanmar consulate had written and sent to the northern parts of Thailand. He couldn’t make sense of it, so I summarized it. Basically, it was a defense of what the Myanmar army was doing in Myanmar against the protesters and those in opposition with the new government. Some people say they can hear the guns sometimes from across the border in Kayah State. The Burmese army has again shut off most of the internet service so those from Saohin who use Burmese sim cards for their internet are now without any service. (We are close enough to the border and far enough away from Thai phone service that many of the villagers, as well as the army camp at the border crossing buy Burmese sim cards for their phone service). This cutoff has resulted in the army officers needing to use the internet provided by the school and the police station. Last week we heard news that 5 important citizens from Kayah State were asking to cross the border into Thailand since they were in danger. In previous years the crossing was simply done but with Covid19 it is a much more serious endeavor. The army allowed them to cross over and right now, the refugees are quarantining in someone’s field. A day or so later, another request was made to allow 30 more citizens cross over. I haven’t heard yet if they would let them or not. I find it very interesting to be at this spot at this point in time. I have followed some of the conflicts in Burma for years and am very interested in the conflicts between the army and many of the minority groups.
I would love to add pictures, but its quite impossible right now with the slow internet.
This coming Saturday is the graduation ceremony. I will be heading down to Mae Sariang on Monday, Lord willing.

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.

Marchness

Kru Paeng no longer shrieks as she showers in the evening.
That means hot season is here. The dust and smoke have arrived as well. Mae Hong Son province issued a no burning order for the first week of March, but it doesn’t seem to have made any difference. The resulting smog makes for a surreal world, with smoke hanging low over the mountains at all times of the day.


We came back to Saohin on Sunday the 7th. I followed Kru Mii up the mountain since it is best not to make the trip by yourself. I guess maybe I shouldn’t say followed since I pulled off an embarrassing one. As we pulled out onto the road from the place where I met Kru Mii, he motioned to me to go, saying, “You lead the way.” He then pulled out his phone and proceeded to do something with it. I was a bit confused. I knew he wanted me to lead the way, but did he want me to wait until he was finished with his phone, or should I just go? I decided that he probably thought that I would be a slower driver than him, so he decided to let me get a bit of a start so he would not have to putter up behind me.
So off I went, and I must admit, a part of me said, “Let’s go a little fast and see if he actually can catch up.”
The world was a world of smoke as I left. I felt like I was in some kind of fantastic dream of curtained mountains and choking, stinging smoke. The curves of the first good stretch of 67 kilometers of road felt more familiar than last time and I made good time. Kru Mii never caught up. Rounding Poo Saw, the paved road disappeared and not long after that, coming around one corner, I met Lung Don (Lung means uncle), one of the police officers at the station that touches the school. As you do whenever you meet someone on the road that you know, you stop and talk with them. He was leaving for a few days and was complaining of the smoke. It stung his eyes, and he could barely keep them open. A few kilometers later, I came to Mae Je, the “rest station” that we always stop at on the way to Saohin. About 5 minutes later, Kru Mii came flying up on his rickety, rattling motorbike. The first words out of his mouth were, “Lori! You didn’t wait!” He said he meant for me to just take the lead but to wait until he was finished with whatever he was doing on his phone. “Several times I turned a corner and I saw you out there ahead of me and I thought, now I can catch up with her, but the next thing I knew you had disappeared.” I felt very foolish. The proper part of me hung its head and felt embarrassed. At the same time, the impish part of me that had whispered, “Let’s see if we can stay ahead of Kru Mii” found this extremely hilarious. At the rate that Kru Mii was telling others about it when we arrived in Saohin, I imagine that most of the village knows it by now.


Patchamai (also known as Tukkata) had a birthday yesterday. She celebrated it, which is a bit unusual for the Karen people in Saohin, but seems to be becoming more of a custom. Patchamai is in the 6th grade and is tall for her age. She is lithe and strong, with bright black eyes and beautifully tinted skin. When we go on walks together, she is constantly on the move and discovering new things. She never seems to get tired. She celebrated her birthday with mukata, inviting the rest of the 6th graders over as well as some of the teachers. Kru Paeng and I went.


Lately, I have started joining in the evening football games on the school football field with the children, villagers, teachers, policemen and rangers/soldiers. (When I say football, I mean soccer. It seems ridiculous for me to call it soccer when most of the world calls it football and it seems like “football” is the most obvious word choice). I’ve wanted to play for quite a while, but always felt a little awkward. Then one evening, some of the children were playing while I was sitting under the gazebo working, and they shouted out for me to join them. It being just a small group, I went ahead and jumped in, and it was so much fun that I did it again the next evening. When there are only a few of us, we set up a small field, with chairs at the end as goals. Tonight, was the first night that I played in a large game, and it was very different playing with adults rather than children. Patchamai also joined in. I was glad, because I was no longer the only girl, and also glad for her sake since she had wanted to play for a long time, but didn’t want to be the only girl either. One of the funniest happenings of the evening was when one of the rangers, a heavily built young man who always wears a wide beaming smile on his face, wiped out on his back on the middle of sooty spot where obviously a campfire had been once. His already dark skin was stained almost black, but he jumped up beaming and laughing as usual. I am still trying to figure out if his happy mood was entirely because of his already sunny personality or if it was connected with the green cans that appeared on the table under the gazebo.
The beginning of the week was hard. One of these hard moments came because of a conversation I overheard from the other teachers, and totally misunderstood. It concerned the name of a friend of mine here in Saohin and a girl in the 6th grade in some school somewhere that became pregnant. I was devastated. I had trusted this friend, and the thought that he might have done this was sickening. What also bothered me was why it seemed like everyone was so unconcerned about this. I spent one restless, nightmarish night and part of a day in which I felt like some robot, except for the spot in my stomach that felt like it had been kicked. I am sure robots never feel anything like that. It wasn’t until I talked with Kru Tom, the English teacher, that I found out the truth. Seldom have I felt so relieved and freed. The incident happened 15 years ago, and my friend had nothing to do with it. I don’t think I have ever felt so glad to misunderstand something in Thai. I really did feel like it was a bit of spiritual warfare going on, since the darkness I felt that evening was very heavy.
I met a Christian! In the most unexpected place. Tonight, as we were playing football, I switched from playing up front to playing back as a guard. The other person playing back was a young soldier, who started talking with me. He said he had a friend who was doing ministry in Doi Saket, who had gone to Australia and gotten married there, then moved back to Thailand to work in a children’s home. He also knew quite a people who had studied at a Christian center in Chiang Mai, and at Payap University (my university). We tried to figure out if we knew anyone in common but failed.

Looking back at the football game tonight, I am struck again by the amount of respect that I feel from the men here. With a police station just across the road and a heavy army presence, there are a lot of men around the village area. Ask me how I felt being one of the only girls in the game, and I think I can say that it didn’t bother me at all. To be honest, many Thai men have a reputation of being a “jaochu” which means basically means being philanderers. However, the men I meet here are very respectful, sometimes perhaps too respectful and in awe of this odd foreign woman, like I am on a pedestal or I might break if they crash into me during a game. This, however, does not bother me. Respect is one of my highest core values, I have discovered, and if I feel like I have a man’s respect, I feel safe. It is something that I am very grateful for here.