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.
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.
Saohin School is for students from kindergarten to 6th grade. After that, many of the students head to the city to study for their education from M1 to M6 (same as 7th grade to 12th grade in the States). For each class that graduates from 6th grade, the school provides a field trip to different places in Thailand. This year, we went to Mae Hong Son town and Pai. Even after living in Thailand for over 6 years, I am still struck by the differences between Thai culture and my own culture when it comes to sightseeing and traveling, especially when it comes to taking pictures.
I have also never traveled with such a group of carsick people.
On Tuesday morning we started off from Saohin for Mae Sariang. Since I had driven my motorbike up from Mae Sariang several weeks earlier, I also drove it down. One of the sixth grade students, Paeng, sat behind me for the first leg of the trip.
The first 32 kilometers from Saohin are the worst, where you have to cross through streams close to 20 times. During the current dry season it seriously is not that bad, since the streams are low and water rarely comes up to the gears or brake. I am slowly learning where the best places are to cross the streams and how to find the tracks of bikes that have gone before me, as well as where the shortcuts are to avoid as much water as possible. During heavy rains, crossing some of the streams becomes dangerous on a motorbike, and in some cases nearly impossible.
Once we reached Mae Je, a village about 27 kilometers from Saohin, Paeng switched with Serm, since Serm was getting carsick on the back of the truck. Surely, if Serm sat with me on a motorbike, she would be fine, so we thought.
Not so. By the time we reached Mae Sariang, I had to stop twice to let her throw up. Poor Serm had a hard time the entire trip. So did the majority of the other students, who if they were not throwing up or carsick, were groggy from the effects of carsick medicine. I clearly remember one moment when Pa De Bue was sleeping on the seat beside me, with his head resting on my shoulder. He woke up suddenly, shot me one agonized look and grabbed for his plastic bag. After that, he probably threw up another 4 or 5 times before we reached out destination.
We ate in Mae Sariang and then went off on a bunch of different errands, taking student pictures for the 6th graders who needed them to apply to new schools for 7th grade, and hitting various markets and grabbing supplies.
Shopping with 6th graders is fun. Actually, doing almost anything with 6th graders is fun.
We slept at two of the teachers’ houses and in the morning headed for Mae Hong Son. We visited several museums, two different caves, an electrical plant, went swimming, visited a historical bridge, a waterfall, a national park, a strawberry farm, a canyon, several lookouts, a Chinese village, a Karen Longneck village and more.
It was exhausting. But so much fun. My favorite parts were interacting with the students and co-teachers, especially Kru Duen and Kru Yuri, who are two Karen teachers from the village. We slept together three in a bed one evening and shared laughs and experiences all throughout the trip.
Other than all the carsickness and the hectic schedule, it was a really good trip. We made it to Mae Sariang on Friday evening, driving through forest fire smoke smothering the valleys. I stayed there for another day or so, and then went to Chiang Mai for 4 days.
School starts again on Monday the 8th. In a few short days, we will be up on top again. 🙂
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.
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.
First, I mixed up the dough. I didn’t have any brown sugar for that first batch, so it looked deathly pale.
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.
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.
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.
It’s amazing how humans can adjust. Take for example, the ability to adjust to things like squatty potties and cold dip showers in the middle of the cold season. I’ve experienced those before, but in the past few years, I have become someone who really, really enjoys hot showers, and even more than that, hot baths when possible. Also, the longer I live in Thailand, the wimpier I get when it comes to anything cold.
So for me, one of the challenges of coming on my internship in a village called Saohin in Mae Hong Son province was cold showers. The very thought of them made me shudder and I indulged in hot baths in Chiang Mai as long as I could. (Amazingly enough that rickety house even had a bathtub!)
When I arrived in Saohin the third of January to do my internship (the last step before I graduate), I realized there was more to adjust to than squatty potties and cold dip showers, but those other things are harder to pinpoint and measure my progress. Sometimes I still cringe and hold my breath and gasp as the water cascades over my back, but for the most part, I think little of it. The squatty potties themselves never really scared me. It was more the lack of toilet paper…… And I am getting used to that as well.
So, I marvel at what we humans can adjust to when we need to. Given the choice, we often prefer to stay with our old habits and routines, but it is extremely beneficial for us to be jolted out of our safety zone once in a while.
I’ve been here at the village for about a week and a half. I am still adjusting and there are still fears I battle at times. Fears like, what if I am faced with some kind of ethical dilemma and fail God. What if I do something that angers the other teachers? I am slowly learning to shoot down these fears with God’s word and focus on Him, reminding myself that even though I feel very alone in the village, He is here with me.
Adjusting takes energy too, I realize. At first, just getting up in the morning and figuring out how to live and where things belong and what my next move should be left me panting. I gave myself grace that first week when at 8:00 pm I felt exhausted and ready to flop into bed (even though no flopping is done on this bed. I might break a bone).
In the past week, I have had a full schedule of English teaching to the school children. They are delightful to teach. Far from perfect, they are a group of very lively, yet shy students, who are not addicted to cell phones. This non-addiction works wonders for their concentration and retention skills. These are forest-born children who know how to find minnows in the streams and weave baskets better than they know how to introduce themselves in English. Yet at the same time that I am teaching them, I find myself learning hundreds of things I never knew were there to learn.
Every day I need to write reports for my intern advisor. The first slot is for, “Things I learned.” I often find myself stuck at this point. I learn hundreds of things every day, but most of those things don’t really have anything to do with an English Communication degree.
How to build a fire to boil the water for the coffee in the morning. You stack and lean the little pieces of kindling onto a larger stick and you light one small piece and hold it UPSIDE DOWN and stick it in there. You also have to scrape out the ash from the fire before, or there won’t be air for it to breathe. If you want it to light very quickly, you use a piece of pine wood.
How to boil rice on an open fire. First you need to wash the rice, and then pour out the water. You might need to wash it again. You then guess the amount of water and rice, but make sure there is plenty of water. You pour the rice into boiling water on the fire and then stir it until the outside is soft but the inside is still a little hard. You then pour out the water and put the kettle back on the fire and close the lid for it to finish steaming.
How to catch minnows in a stream. You walk from downstream to upstream with a net and carefully overturn rocks and catch the minnows in your net as they escape.
How to make field rats for lunch. I only saw the part where you hold them over the fire and scrape off the skin as it roasts, and then you gut them. I didn’t see the later part where they cut them into pieces.
How to see if the greens beside the stream are the ones that you can eat or the ones that make you dizzy.
How NOT to say a certain Karen word that I thought was the word for “book” but was a word for a certain unmentionable body part.
How to say the names of over 60 students, some of the villagers and some of the policemen from the nearby station.
How to wash your clothes by hand. I’ve done this before, but not on a regular basis. I still try to wash them while no one is watching to see how the funny farang does it.
How to live with a minimal amount of privacy. My room happens to be directly off the kitchen, which is where any cooking, socializing, or work goes on…..
Learning about a new drink I’d never had before called Green Mate. It’s a sweetened coconut juice that is refreshing on a sultry day.
I’ve learned how to go to bed early and get up early. It’s not unusual for me to be in bed by 9 PM which is a miracle in Chiang Mai.
How to make fried eggs Thai style. I never knew so much oil goes into Thai cooking.
How to sit on your bed so you don’t fall off. Honestly, this should not have happened on my bed at all, since it is quite a big bed with plenty of room. It has mosquito netting wrapped around the side. Each of the 4 corners of the netting is tied to nails on the 4 corners of the room. I was sitting on my bed doing work on my laptop, then I closed my laptop and leaned back against a pile of blankets and stretched. To make the stretch better, I lifted up my legs clad in PJ’s and stuck them in the air. Somewhere along the line, my center of gravity shifted, the blankets receded from my back, and my legs went up over my head and I found myself sliding head first on my back off my bed. To make it worse I had a round clothes hangar with clips for laundry hanging on the rope that held the mosquito netting. The net, the hangar and I landed on a confused muddle on the floor. I lay for about 2 minutes helpless with laughter on the floor, wrapped tightly between the bed and the mosquito netting and trying to figure out how to get up without tearing my precious netting. I don’t know when I have laughed so long and helplessly, and at the same time, trying to keep it quite so no one else in the house would hear me. Once I was able to inspect the damage, only the one string that held the netting was broken, and that was quickly fixed, much to my relief. I didn’t want to explain to the other teachers why I needed to buy a new mosquito netting.
I am not finished learning and adjusting yet. I still have a long way to go, but it feels good to have some adjustments behind me. Instead of moving to another province it feels like I am in a different country and time zone. It feels like years since I rode my bike among the streets of Chiang Mai and ate TomYum noodles at Lung Chang’s restaurant and sat in on a class at Payap. It’s also hard to believe that it’s been a week and a half since I’ve had a lengthy, intelligent conversation with anyone in English. At the end of the month, we will take a week off and drive to Mae Sariang for our breaks. I had planned to return back to Chiang Mai for a visit, but will likely not do so because of Covid19.
This gives me a good month for adjustments before a week in town. If I learn as much in the next two weeks as I did in the first two, I will be one happy person.
*note. I would love to add photos to this post but the temperamental wifi won’t handle it for now.
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.)
E is for episodes ( I couldn’t think of a better word….. episodes meaning occurrences, or happenings at the station. This picture was a hit and run accident, but the poor foreigner driving did not realize he hit the mirror. )
F is for friends
G is for green tea
H is for homework
I is for iced coffee (on the way back from a accident call for which I translated, we stopped for coffee. Usually I don’t do iced coffee, but it was a hot day.)
J is for Jimmy (Jimmy, incidentally, is not one of the guys in the photo, but the little truck that is sort of mine now. Our relationship is well…. complicated.)
K is for Karma. (Karma, simply stated, is the belief that what you do to others will eventually come around to you. While I do not believe in the Buddhist philosophy of Karma following you into reincarnation and you needing to pay in this life for sins in your previous life, I do believe that God rewards us when we do good, and that there are consequences for sin.)
L is for Louie (my classmate at Payap who has become one of my closest friends. Together we laugh idiotically, run through giant sprinklers, explore the border regions of Northern Chiang Dao, drink green tea, hold deep discussions, and make donuts.)
M is for mukata. (a meal made by placing a grill on the table and grilling your meat etc. as you eat. Soooo goood)
N is for noodles
O is for Obchei (one of the most intriguing characters I have ever met.)
P is for police (the previously mentioned accident when we stopped for coffee)
Q is for questions (those are all in my head, so no picture)
R is for rallies (You cannot be too careful currently what you say about the rallies in Bangkok right now, so I will refrain from even a picture)
S is for scorpions
T is for twilight
U is for uncles
V is for view
W is for We Club
X is for xenophobia (While I haven’t experienced much, there is some xenophobia in Thailand now because of Covid19. Foreigners are looked at with some fear because people are worried they might carry the virus. Borders between Myanmar and Thailand are being patrolled tightly to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over.)
Y is for Yussi (a friend’s daughter named this cat about 3 years ago. It’s a neighbor’s cat and hadn’t appeared for ages until one evening it meowed at my window. A cat was just what I needed at that moment.)
Z is for zoo (we took our kids club to a mini zoo last Saturday. In some ways it felt like we were the zoo. I have to laugh at Mint’s serious expression in this picture)