Tag Archives: Mae Sariang

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.

Interlude

And all that has passed before us, this day, this rain

And the sunshine and the green, green meadow

Are swallowed in the night that comes softly,

Silent and dear and painful;

When the memories of those times and the echoes of that laughter

Throb soundlessly beneath the symphony of crickets

And the boom of the frogs in the marsh.

While we wait with wistful ears for a voice

That comes from beyond those thousand deep-set stars

To sing over us in the twilight of our hearts.

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.

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.

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.