Tag Archives: Payap University

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.

Home is Where the Cookies Are

It is possible to make cookies without an oven.

My cookie cravings of January melted away to some extent when I came down for a week break in Mae Sariang. I was able to buy some baked goods at a local market one evening, only to discover that my stomach couldn’t handle a lot of dairy or flour products anymore! After a few days, my stomach started to adjust again, but by then I honestly lost a lot of the desire for those farang kind of things.

Once I got back to Saohin again, though, it seemed like a fun idea to try out some food ideas on my friends. One Sunday afternoon I tried making pancakes. They were edible, but not much more than that. I had ordered tortilla shells while on break so I tried making burritos, which were well received among my teacher friends.

Pancakes on Valentine’s Day
Kru Paeng biting into her burrito
Kru Mii, Kru Gate, and Kru Paeng trying out burritos.

Then one evening, I started thinking… surely someone somewhere in the world has made cookies without an oven. So, one night at midnight when the internet was working well, I did some research and the next evening I tried it out.

You use a normal recipe for whatever kind of cookies that you want to make. Build your fire, let the fire die down to be burning coals, find a flat tray to put the cookies on and then either use tinfoil or some kind of lid to cover your tray. I used a frying pan that had lost its handle and a lid from another pot to cover it. I didn’t have chocolate chips so I used the last of my precious store of emergency chocolate, dark sea salt chocolate I had brought with me, and chopped it up with a knife. I didn’t have any vanilla, but we had flour and baking soda from the school supplies.

For the fire, I used the charcoal brazier that we normally use for boiling water, making rice, and roasting items. Usually for normal cooking, we use only wood in the brazier, but for anything that needs a long slow heat, we add on charcoal.

Above are the two charcoal braziers we use in addition to the gas stove. Here I am making rice, and someone is making a soup on the other brazier. It must have been a Friday since I am wearing a Karen shirt over my dress, the normal Friday dress code for the school.

First, I mixed up the dough. I didn’t have any brown sugar for that first batch, so it looked deathly pale.

A blurry picture of dough.

Then I built up the fire and after the wood was burning, I added some charcoal, according to Gate’s instructions.

Once it had cooled down to a low heat, or what I thought was a low heat, I rolled the cookies into balls, and then pressed them flat onto the pan since I felt like having them flat would be easier to bake them fully.

The first round was an almost total flop. The coals were still way too hot and suddenly before I knew it my cookies were burnt to a crisp. 80% of them were inedible. And believe me, we tried to salvage as much as possible.

Smoked cookies. Seriously, it was bad.

The second round, I took out a lot of the coals and also dropped some from the top of the brazier to the bottom. This time around, I was scarred from my previous experience and turned the heat down way too low. It took an age to finish baking them. They were good, even though I flipped them like pancakes instead of cookies.

I wasn’t sure what the rest of the household’s reaction would be to the cookies, but they were gone by late evening. Paeng asked me in the morning where they were, and since we couldn’t find them anywhere, we concluded that the men teachers and Captain Joe must have finished up the few leftovers the evening before.

I made a second batch the next evening. This time I had a more definite idea of what I was doing, but I lacked chocolate. Instead I chopped up some cheap chocolate wafers from Baa Nu’s store. The cookies were ok, but harder than I liked, but most Thai people prefer crunchy cookies anyway. The wafers ended up sort of soaking up the dough and the chocolate melting away into nothingness, but they tasted good especially with coffee. Again, they disappeared rapidly. I hope to raid the house in Chiang Mai on my break and bring some chocolate chips back to make more.

Still too hot of a fire going on there

That first evening after I finished baking cookies, the sky behind the school was lit up from the fires set on the mountain to burn underbrush. I was too full of satisfaction from my cookie adventures to worry too much about what that was going to do to the air quality the next few days.

This is Saohin

The cats love sitting in front of the morning fire to stay warm. The one on the right had kittens a few weeks ago
Yaut, on the left, is 15 and in the 6th grade. He gives haircuts to the younger students in the school since the school has a strict code on hair length.
Saa Shwii Saa (oranges)
G is for Gecko
Nitcha, or Natcha, (I can never remember which is Nitcha and which is Natcha) getting her shot from the nurse who traveled to the school to give check ups.
Aun, my star 4th grade English student, in her cub scout uniform that the students wear on Wednesdays.
Energetic 4th graders, with shy Cha hiding behind DiDi’s head. These 4th graders have a “boys against girls” rivalry going on that seems to be an international concept among 4th graders.
Ponganok, in the 2nd grade
Levi (named after Levi jeans) and Anin, both in the kindergarten class.
Football, the major pastime.
Shoes left outside the classroom.
Kru Paeng with several of the older children, doing Cub Scout activities.
Leo, in first grade.
Pirun, second grade.
Dusk
My room with its ever present, ever annoying, ever necessary mosquito net.
After school and before supper. Kru Wit with his guitar (Kru means teacher), Kru Gate at the table, and Kru Paeng in perpetual motion, fixing food. You can see the back part of Captain Joe squatting at the fire.
Cactus flowers come out strong in the dry season.
Ponsatorn, second grade.
Rice in bamboo sticks at Kru Duen’s house one Saturday night
Doing laundry.
Muu Haem from second to left. Muu Haem is in kindergarten and known for being the most mischievous child of Saohin
Lunch on Children’s Day.
My friend Malai preparing field rats for lunch.
Trees lose much of their leaves during the dry season.
Something as simple as copying something in the office is an interesting process for 5th graders in Saohin.
Buffalo on my way to church.
Pichai, one of my first graders. I found out the other day that his family owns an elephant. This is one house I want to visit.
While on break recently, we did some sightseeing. From left to right: Kru Paeng, Gate’s mom, Kru Mii, and I.

Reach

Could I but reach the pain–

Could I but touch the spot–

Could I but speak the aching word–

Could I but see through a clear glass, smudgeless of stain curling over the edges of reality, that burns the senses into dumbness, numbness, darkness and bleeds its bitterness into the currents of humanity—

Then, oh God, I would.

(It’s been a long day. I feel like I’ve seen a little bit of everything– innocence, laughter, pain, fear, kindness laced with subterfuge, depression, sincerity, deception, honesty. Hence the poem. From teaching 2 and 4 year-olds in the morning, to attending a college class at noon, translating for a sticky, depressing case at the station, and debating the principles of Christianity with a lawyer from another belief system, I guess I can see why I am little bit discouraged. I also don’t know if that last sentence is grammatically correct or not. Blame my PR teacher for making me doubt.)

A Personal Challenge

I don’t know where my words have gone. It’s been months since I’ve written much outside of school assignments and I’ve poked around inside my brain countless times trying to figure out what is happening.

Maybe, I’ve thought, it’s because I’m not living right somehow. Maybe I am not listening well enough, or feeding my “muse.” Maybe I am not close enough to God right now to listen to what he wants me to write. There’s this niggling feeling that I must be doing something wrong if I am not writing.

Maybe it’s because I am experiencing burnout with school. Maybe the school assignments have squeezed me dry of all inspiration, even though I am taking a lighter semester than ever before. Maybe my Thai study and translation work have frozen my mind temporarily. Or the work I’m doing has distracted me from writing.

Or maybe its just a stage, a season of life in which I have to stop writing for a while. You’d think that living alone would be the perfect atmosphere to inspire writing, but so far it hasn’t.

Maybe it’s just a lack of discipline.

Whatever it is, for the next 7 days I am taking on a challenge to write and blog every day. From what I’ve experienced in the past, sometimes the best way to get the creative juices flowing is to start writing, so I’m giving it a try. The outcome may be lame, dry, and boring. I don’t care. I’m just going to write and blog the result.

Yikes. This is scary.

Life in Pictures

It started with quarantine over 6 weeks ago. For two weeks, this was my view. I was in Thailand, yet not in it, suspended in some third world, caught between a two realities.
After two weeks, I was released from quarantine. I took a taxi to the Hua Lompong train station. While waiting on my train, I heard this for the first time. The Thai national anthem is played in public places every day at 8:00 and 18:00. Everybody stands in place until the song is finished.
I took the train to Chiang Mai, still feeling like I was suspended between two worlds, except this one was a world with seats full of other people, hurtling along tracks between acres and acres of green rice fields. Sometimes I would go into the bathroom to stick my nose out the open window and inhale the scent of the rice fields. I found it interesting that a sign in the train bathroom said in Thai, “Do not use the bathroom while the train is parked at the station.” Hmmmm…..
Chiang Mai greeted me warmly via friends who met me at the station. There were snacks in the fridge and a group of them had cleaned up parts of the house before I got there. I was grateful and worn out. The next day I began working on setting the house to rights. It had been empty for about 3 months since all of us had gone home over the Covid lockdown. I felt strangely like a refugee in my own house, scrounging around to see what food was there and what was still good to eat. The rats and geckoes and ants had wreaked havoc. My friend came over one day and helped me clean. While cleaning, we found a rat and Diego the ever brave dog killed it.

My days consist mostly of teaching, studying, and volunteer translation work. Life has fallen into a somewhat normal pattern.

The first Saturday I was home, my friend and I went to the San Patong buffalo market. There is nothing like this market that makes me feel at home. 🙂
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to Payap for classes. I am only taking 4 courses, so I only have one or two classes a day. Another class I do online since the instructor is currently in Hawaii.
Saturday mornings I teach at White Elephant Club, our team’s outreach ministry in San Kamphaeng.
Two mornings a week, I drop in at Wisdom Tree Home and teach a Kindergarten 2 class and a Pre K class.
On Wednesday afternoons, Saturday afternoons and whenever needed, I head to the Mueng Chiang Mai police station where I work as a volunteer translator between foreigners and the police.
On Sundays sometimes I attend services in English and sometimes in Thai.
Often on my way home from the station in the evening, I will stop at a local food market or drop in at the food court at Maya Mall and grab some Thai food. My favorite thing is to top off the spice with some ice cream from 7-11 or Dairy Queen.
I like hanging out with this girl every now and then. W is the daughter of migrant worker parents, and attends church and WE Club on occasion.
Sometimes after a long week, I need a “mountain village fix.” I get that by riding my motorbike up Doi Suthep mountain, which I always feel is the most beautiful in the rain.
In the evenings, I let my dog in for company.
I do not let this creature in, though.
A few Wednesday evenings per month, I join in with cell group from our church.
I went to court to translate, once.
Every now and then, I visit one of my favorite coffee shops and work on homework, writing, or translation.
Sometimes, I feel a spurt of joy as I drive along a very normal road on my bike. It’s just good to be home.

The Road to Saohin

The road to Saohin is rough and steep.

Saturday, February 1, six years after my initial decision to move to Thailand, was the first time I traveled the road to Saohin. And probably not the last.

On Friday January 31, I drove to Mae Sariang, a town in Mae Hong Son 5 hours away that I am quickly learning to love. The drive there, though long, was relaxing, and there was a sense of adventure and hope and “this is a day off of school” that I felt in the air as I drove. I stopped in a pine forest and took off my shoes and enjoyed the spicy smell of pines, making me think of both Sara Teasdale’s “pines, spicy and still”(Stars), as well as the words: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep” (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost).DSC00696DSC00685DSC00711

I arrived in Mae Sariang around 5 and checked into my hotel. I left several times, once to buy food, once to go to a coffee shop, and once to chase down a song I heard wafting over loudspeakers.

The next morning I went to Saohin. They had told me the road was bad and life was rough there. Would I come look at it first before I would decide whether or not to do my 3 month college internship there? Could I come Saturday?

So I went with the teachers who had come down to the city for the day to run errands and pick up some other things besides this odd farang who wanted to live in the mountains. Aside from the fact that I spent the first two hours sniffing mentholatum in a desperate effort to keep my lunch of noodles from reappearing, I loved the trip up. After the first 61 kilometers, a rest, one little drammamine pill, and 20 children piling on the back of the truck, we tackled the final 37 kilometers. It took two hours (during rainy season it can take many more), crammed into a double cab pickup with 4 other people. I got to know them. And I like them.

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Saohin was small, with a school, a police station, a temple and a few houses, more like a wilderness outpost than a true village. They said a church was up the road a bit in another village. Most of the 80 plus children come from other villages to study at Saohin.

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(photo credit: กรุงเทพธุระกิจ) Sometimes this even happens, according to the news.

We went to Burma on Sunday, crossing over the border passport-less about 3 kilometers from Saohin. We toured some places, ate some sweet desserts and came back.

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No phone service exists for most of the 98 kilometers from Mae Sariang to Saohin. Electricity is brought to the village via a few solar panels, but most daily work is done without the aid of electricity. Most of the cooking is done over an open fire, and washing is done by hand. No refrigerators exist.

I came back to Mae Sariang on Sunday night, mulling my experiences in my mind. Three months. Could I handle it for three months? Maybe.  More than that? I don’t know.

There are always those times when the dreams we dream start to become true, and reality hits us like the freezing splash of water of the dip shower I took on Saturday night in the teachers’ house. And odd little things start niggling at our minds. Can I give up my midnight habit of eating cornflakes each night? (no fridge= no milk.) Take cold showers? Live with no phone service?

But when I came back down, pictures of the village kept flashing through my mind. And I KNOW it sounds cliché, but a piece of my heart was left there in that dry mountain forest on the western edge of Mae Hong Son. And I knew I wanted to go back.

But the road to Saohin didn’t start on Saturday, Feb 1 when I left Mae Sariang. It didn’t even begin on Friday, when I left Chiang Mai. Or even when I started looking for an internship, searching through Google maps and finding places that became further and further away.

Perhaps it began one day under a little thatched roof when two of my friends and I were dreaming about what we would do when we would get “big.” I never thought the things we wrote down that day would actually become true.

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Perhaps it started the day I traveled with the CMCC youth group to a Karen village in Doi Dtao, Chiang Mai, up roads similar to those of Saohin.

Perhaps it started February 1, 2014, when I made my decision to move to Thailand. Or perhaps the day I signed up to go to IGo.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the road to Saohin began when I was in the 5th grade and listening to the speaker with the funny Carmel name talk about her experiences in South America. Perhaps it started when my teacher gave me the book Peace Child to read. Perhaps it started when I picked up my history book and started learning about far away countries with odd sounding names.

Perhaps it started one day on the sandpile underneath a bunch of green ferns when I prayed to give my life to Christ.

I don’t know. But I do know that “road leads on to road” (Frost). I know that it looks like Saohin will be my home for three months starting hopefully sometime in June, with week long trips to Mae Sariang once a month. But that doesn’t mean the road to Saohin leads to my final destination. Perhaps the road to Saohin is only a road that eventually leads to other roads.

I don’t know. But a sense of deep joy and expectation fills me as in my mind’s eye I look up that road, winding, muddy and steep, to what lies ahead.

Thank you, Jesus.

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Duet of Words

Woven through each day like colors in the rain, the words

Couple together in a sheen of mist, these two words.

 

And when the pain throws its curtains gray over the world

Its anguish cloaking, I do not despair; I know the words.

 

For when its shadow lifts, the rain throws light like prisms

Into the sky where I catch them as they fall; these words.

 

These two words spell out my days; each gives wings to the other

Piercing through the rawness– alive, quivering, these two words.

 

For my name is Rung*, and when grief comes stealing through the rain

I know hope follows. It will, for I know these two words.

 

*Rung (รุ้ง) is my Thai name meaning rainbow

This is a Ghazal, written for my poetry and drama class. A ghazal is originally an Arabic form of poetry, must have 5 or more couplets, ends its couplets with the same words, and includes the name of the author in the final couplet.

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay 

Who People Think I Am

“She’s a teacher here, for sure.”

The low murmur followed me out of the room as I left from a meeting with my educational adviser. I turned halfway and flashed the speaker a smile and left, leaving her to wonder if I really had understood her statement in Thai to the lady beside her.

I get it a lot. Wearing a dress and a veil often gives Thai people the idea that I am some sort of important person. I’ve been asked if I am a nun, a sister, a nurse. I have been called an ajarn (a word often used for a professor) when I went in to registration at my university.

I grew up wearing dresses around women who always wore dresses, so our wearing dresses did not really reflect much of our personality. It is different in Thai culture. Thai people view ladies who always wear dresses as เรียบร้อย “riab roi” (proper) and along with that word comes a host of other presuppositions: you are gentle, you are organized, you are ladylike, you are the epitome of womanhood. I am none of those and sadly shall never be. I am not very “riab roi” either. I ride horses in dresses, I play soccer in dresses, I run races in dresses, I climb up waterfalls in dresses, I milk cows in dresses, and I go hunting in dresses.

But in thinking about all of this, I came to the humorous conclusion that few people understand me well and no one understands me perfectly.

And that is totally ok. I know Someone who does understand me.  I have imperfect perceptions about people around us as well.

So in thinking it over, here are some different identities people around me give me, or I think they do.

WHO THE GENERAL THAI PUBLIC THINKS I AM

 

WHO MY CLASSMATES THINK I AM

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WHO FELLOW NON-ANABAPTIST AMERICANS THINK I AM

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WHO CHRISTIANS FROM MY HOME AREA THINK I AM

 

WHO NEWLY ARRIVED EXPATS TO THAILAND THINK I AM

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

WHO PEOPLE IN NEED OF TRANSLATION OR EDITING THINK I AM

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WHO MY HOUSEMATES  THINK I AM

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Photo by 立志 牟 on Unsplash

WHO MY HOUSEMATES THINK I AM IN EARLY MORNING

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WHO MY FAMILY THINKS I AM

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WHO SOME OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO OTHERS OF MY STUDENTS THINK I AM

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WHO MY TEACHERS THINK I AM

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Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

WHO I THINK I AM

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Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay

WHO I REALLY AM

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Shoes

This past semester I took one of my favorite classes ever, Intercultural Communication. Some of the themes we studied in the first part of the semester were communication, identity, and culture; later we delved into issues such as child soldiers, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and genocide. As a part of the class, we each came up with a creative project or reflection on what we had learned, since a lot of the material was heavy and dark. Since I love poetry, I took the chance to come up with my own spoken word poetry piece and performed it. I pulled from the theme of identity that we had studied in the first half and combined it with some of the issues of the second half, using the metaphor of shoes to describe how we can empathize with the oppressed. Below is the poem that I wrote and performed as spoken word. (photo credit above: pixabay.com)

 

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their feet.

But you can never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

 

My father’s boots were tall and strong

Like him

Made to stride through the mud to spread straw for cows on cold winter mornings

Or through tall prairie grasses to hunt for the stray calf lost in the wheatgrass

On sunny spring mornings when the swallow swooped over dewy meadows

 

My mother’s shoes were tiny and timid

Like her

Black and trimmed with tucked-in edges that she wore for Sunday church

Her shoes fit in with all the other women’s shoes

When lined in a row when sitting on the backless benches

Except hers couldn’t touch the floor

 

My ancestor’s shoes were rough and rugged

Like them

They trod the hill paths of Germany

Slipping through the forests silently, stealthily

Stealing through the starlight to meet in caves

By underground rivers in the dead of night to be rebaptized–

Radicals and reformers.

Their shoes took them to the courts of Zurich, preaching and persuading

And some to their deaths

To burning at stake, drowning in the Lammat River

 

My ancestor’s shoes carried them onto boats

Fleeing on boats coming across wide, wild waters

Where they became a band of bewildered immigrants

In a nation and a tongue not their own

The words they spoke became heavy on their Swiss German tongues

And their fear of facing the fires again

Closed their mouths;

The firebrands and reformers became the silent in the land

Die Stille im Land.

 

Their shoes changed from strong mountain shoes

And religious rebel shoes

To quiet and capable shoes

Plowing the land and planting corn,

Until the East became too crowded

Then they pulled on their traveling shoes,

Their plain pioneer shoes

Boarded wagons and trains and boats

And staring into the setting sun, braved the dust, and

Gritting their teeth against the drought,

They lost their children to the prairies’ grip

Grimly facing the taunts of neighbors who called them “those Germans”

When to be German was to be a Nazi

While their accents never fit in

Just like their shoes.

 

What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Some people wear ballerinas and brogues, bast shoes and brogans

Others trod in trainers, Tsarouhis, tiger head shoes, and toe shoes

Pampooties, peeptoe shoes, peranakans, peshaawaris, platform shoes, pointininis

And still others wear silver shoes, slingbacks, slip on shoes, slippers,

Sneakers, snow shoes, spool heels, stiletto heels, sailing shoes.

Moccasins and winklepickers, Mojaris and wellingtons, Mules and wedges

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Some people wear moccasins that have seen the dust of trails

And the tears of those trails where millions died while weeping and walking

A convenient quiet massacre

 

Some little girls wear red leather tarkasin on their wedding day

Feet curling with fear  while they say yes to a man three times their age

Who steals their past and their present and their future

 

Some people do not wear any shoes as they run

Panting and gasping through the jungle at night

While flames tongue the sky and gunshots pierce the silence

 

Some children wear crude heavy army boots

Whose marching beats out

Power

And plunder

And pain

And march them to destroy the ones who love them most

And themselves

 

Some children do not wear any shoes at all,

Since the explosion of the land mine that stole their father’s lives

Took their own feet as well

 

Some people took off their shoes before they stepped into the shower

The shower that stole the breaths of their shaved and shorn and shattered bodies

And all that was left was—

Shoes

 

Some babies wore tiny soft shoes, wrapped onto tiny soft feet

When under an Eastern moon their skulls were bashed against the tree

The Killing Tree, they called it

By soldiers with hearts of rubber wearing shoes of rubber tires.

Destroy them by their roots, they said.

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What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Can I wear your shoes?

 

I cannot wear your shoes

They were not made for me.

 

But I can wear my mother and my father’s shoes

I can wear my ancestors’ shoes

And when I wear their shoes, I can know a little bit

A little bit

Of what it means to be invisible on the margin, the edge

To be born inconveniently.

To dread the knock on the door in the middle of the night

To lie haggard and hungry on a boat adrift

To live in a land where tongues cannot curl around strange sounds

And the name carried is synonymous with enemy.

To have fathers turn upon daughters and sons turn upon mothers

To bury children under a scorching sky

In a strange land

 

Perhaps I can know,

A little bit

When I wear their shoes

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