Night

This weeping, this night,

This immovable mountain

Tower over me.

 

I crouch in the dust

Raw from the saltwater.

 

Well is it said that joy comes in the morning:

But in an eternal night,

Lord, when does the morning come?

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When Fireflies Dance

This is the lazy man’s way to blog: recycling homework. While I am not allowed to recycle homework for my classes, I can do it on my blog. Below is a Creative Writing story I wrote this week. Currently, I don’t have time to blog much more than this. This story is fiction. Any names you might recognize are simply because I like to draw from my own experiences and the people around me. It makes the story “me.” And no, my grandma did not suffer from Alzheimers (just to be totally clear). 

I am never quite sure if I like Grandma or not.

When I was a little girl, I thought all grandmas were like this. Until one day I am rolling out cookie dough at Regina’s house, and Regina’s grandmother walks into the kitchen. Once she leaves, I ask Regina who she is.

“Why it’s my grandma!” says Regina.

“You mean she can talk? How can she talk if she is a grandma?”

Regina stares at me in incredulous surprise. “What do you mean? Of course she can talk!”

I don’t know what to say. I just say “oh” in a small voice and tuck it away to think about.

That was a few months ago. Now I know better.

My grandma Emmy lives in a little house with Grandpa John right beside our house. Sometimes she comes over to our house when Grandpa John has to go to town to do errands. Some days I am glad when she comes. On those days, we play doll together. Grandma Emmy dresses up her doll in the nicest clothes, and she is the best at making pretend baby noises. We pretend to be riding in an airplane with our dollies, and even though Grandma Emmy can’t talk, she makes the best airplane noises.

But most days Grandma Emmy isn’t like that. On those days, she walks around the house like she is looking for something. When I was smaller, I would ask her what she was looking for. But now I don’t.

The worse is when she cries. She sits down on the floor beside the toybox and holds her doll tight and cries. I am always scared when that happens, because her crying doesn’t sound like a baby. It is thin and wailing like the lost kitten we found under the pipes in the back of the barn. And I don’t like watching big people cry.

Keith and Amy can remember when Grandma wasn’t like this. When she was like a normal person. They tell stories of the delicious cookies that she made and how she would let them lick out the bowl after she had made cake. She would play checkers with them on winter evenings, and let them make snow candy by pouring maple syrup on snow and letting it harden. She would read books to them, using different voices for different characters, in ways that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

But that all changed one day when she began to forget names and faces. She did funny things like put the silverware in the fridge and the cake in sink. At first it was so funny, Amy says.

But soon Dad started watching her with a furrow on his brow and things just kept getting worse and worse until they were as they were today.

Sometimes when Grandma comes over, I watch her. I like playing with her most of the time, but sometimes I wish I could have a grandma that lets me lick out the bowl after making a cake, and reads scary stories to me at night and plays checkers with me on winter nights.

Sometimes when she is sitting quietly, I go to her. I reach and touch her, just to see if she feels like other people. Her hands are wrinkly like other old people’s hands, like my hands look when I take a bath too long. But her eyes don’t look like other old people’s eyes. They are blue, but when she looks at me, she doesn’t really see me.  Amy says grandma has Al Seimer, but I don’t know who Al Seimer is. I only know Al Miller. After Amy says that, the next time he comes to talk with Dad about the price of hay, I watch him carefully. But he never even talks to grandma, so I don’t think it is him. Perhaps he comes in the night to visit grandma and grandpa.

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I am chasing the last cheerio around in my bowl of milk with my spoon. I like to pretend that the cheerio is a fish and the spoon is a shark. This morning the windows are open and a slight breeze pours in through the window. It is June, my favorite month because it is my birthday month. The shark has almost caught the fish, and I am just ready to ask Mom how many more days until my birthday when grandpa comes panting up the steps.

His white wavy hair sticks up like it does when you rub a balloon over the carpet on winter days and hold it over your hair.

“Grandma.. grandma… there’s something wrong,” he says. “I thought she just wanted to sleep in. But she’s not responding.”

Grandpa’s eyes look worried, afraid. “I think she’s gone.”

I want to look away.  I don’t like to see grandpa upset. Grandpa and dad never get upset.

Dad leaves the table without a word and runs out the door. I can see grandpa follow slowly, his shoulders slumping.

“But mom,” I say, “where did Grandma go?”

My mom hugs me, her long arms drawing me close. “I think she died, Anna. That’s what he means.”

I saw a dead cat once. Amy’s cat. It was lying on the road by the mailbox when Dad went to get the paper one morning. It had probably been hit by a car while it was hunting for mice in the ditch, Dad said. I remember seeing it a little, but I didn’t like to look at it much because it was bloody and messed up. It didn’t look like Whiskers anymore.

But I have never seen a person dead.

Aunt Dorothea comes the next day, but she doesn’t laugh as much as she usually does. Then come Uncle Roger and Aunt Nellie, Aunt MaryLynn and Aunt Lorena, and Aunt Barbie. Mom says they came for the funeral.

Other times, I like when they come. They bring good food and candy, and tell stories all afternoon and evening, and everything is jolly. But this time, nobody seems to pay attention to me. Keith and Amy go outside to help Dad with the barn chores, acting important that they can do something to help. But I am too little.

The morning of the funeral, I wipe the last bit of egg from my bowl using the buttered middle of my toast.

I ask Mom, “Where is Grandma, Mom?”

Mom stops spreading the glaze on the cinnamon rolls like she is surprised and looks at me.

“She went to heaven, Anna.”

“But where is heaven, Mom? And how did she go? Did she want to go?”

Mom waits a long time, and she looks out the window.

Then she speaks. “Anna, I don’t know where heaven is. All I know, is that it’s with Jesus. And Anna, I really don’t know how it works. All I know is that only Grandma’s body is here, but she isn’t inside it anymore.”

“She isn’t inside it anymore? But how could she go without her body? How could she walk?”

Mom comes over across the room and sits down beside me. Her hands grasp mine, hard and strong and a little sticky from the cinnamon roll glaze.

“I really don’t know, child. But I do think she wanted to go.”

“Why, mom? Why would she want to go? How do you know?”

Mom sighs, and she looks out the window again.  “Anna, you remember hearing stories of how Grandma used to be, right? When I was young, she was the best mother I could have asked for. She was kind. She was strong and healthy, and could walk and talk like other people. But then she got sick. Like her mind got sick. And even though we took her to the doctor, he couldn’t help her. But now, she is like she used to be again. Her old mind and body that were sick are left behind and she went to heaven.”

I nod. And swallow the lump in my throat. I feel funny and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  So I pretend to understand. But I don’t really. How could Grandma not be in her body anymore?

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The funeral is long and warm. I see Grandma in the box, but she doesn’t move. I think about what Mom said about Grandma not being here anymore, and wonder what it means. There are so many people. I can’t breathe because there are too many people, and I don’t know where Grandma has gone. I hold Mom’s hand tight, tight the way Grandma used to hold her doll when she cried. I watch them put the dirt over her. How will Grandma go to heaven if there is dirt over her? I don’t want to cry. Big girls like me don’t cry. I try and try and try to hold it back, but suddenly I can’t. Mom picks me up and holds me. I cry till her shoulder is wet. I don’t care anymore about being a big girl.

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That evening, I sit on the wooden steps. Mom is making strawberry shortcake for all the aunts and uncles that are still here. They are laughing now.

I like the night like this. It is quiet and safe. I feel tired from crying so hard. I put my feet down on the grass. It is soft and wet. The darkness comes creeping over the lawn, like it has a secret to tell.

Suddenly a little light blinks on, and then off, right above my head. A little bit later another light blinks on and off.

I stand up in wonder. It’s fireflies! I remember last year when the fireflies came! Keith and Amy and I chased them over the lawn and caught them with a net. One time we put them in a jar and watched them fly around.

Their lights blink on and off all over the lawn, above the wet, cool grass. Quickly and quietly, I run into the kitchen and climb onto the counter. I grab an empty glass jar on the shelf. I don’t want Keith and Amy to see me. I don’t know why, but I want this to be my secret.

Out on the lawn, little lanterns blink by the hundreds above the dewy grass. I have never seen so many. I watch, and chase them. They dance over my head. I catch one and watch as it crawls over my hand, its light slowly glimmering on and off. I put it in my jar and screw on the lid. I chase the others. Sometimes I almost have them in my hand and then they flit away. Finally, the jar is filled with tiny lanterns, blinking, flitting. Mom is calling me to come eat strawberry shortcake with the aunts and uncles. I run upstairs with the jar and put it on the windowsill.

After supper is over, mom makes me go to bed. She says I am tired and need to have a long night of sleep. For once I don’t complain. I lie in bed and watch the fireflies in the jar. Amy comes up. I decide to tell her about the fireflies, but she doesn’t really listen. She is getting too grown up and is getting boring. I am never going to grow up.

After she is asleep beside me, I lie still, very still and think. The crickets are singing under the wooden porch again. Outside, a new sliver of a moon is coming up. It looks like a boat that floats crookedly through the sky, like if you would ride in it, you could almost fall out. A few feet on the windowsill is my jar of fireflies.

The fireflies are flying inside the jar. I see them from here. They fly against the glass and bounce off. Silly little fireflies, I think. They don’t know what the glass is. They don’t know that they can’t break the glass. But still they fly against it and bounce off, again and again.

Where do they want to go, I wonder? Why don’t they like it in the jar? I wonder what it would be like to be a firefly. To dance across the lawn at night when the sun goes down and turn my light on and off. I would be the fastest firefly. And I would dance all night long.

I wonder where grandma is. I wonder if she likes fireflies. I wonder if they have fireflies in heaven. I wonder if Grandma caught fireflies and put them in a jar when she was a little girl.

I sit straight up in bed. I look at the fireflies again. They are still flying in the jar, bouncing off the glass, wanting to get out. I wonder if they are scared.

I crawl out of the bed, the floor cool to my bare toes. I tiptoe to the window, trying not to wake Amy. I take the jar off the windowsill and screw off the lid. The window is open and I hold the jar outside. The fireflies pour from the jar, fairylights gleaming. They fly into the night, free from the glass that held them in, dancing and dancing and dancing, until they are lost in the night.

I laugh to myself, a happy laugh.

As I tiptoe back into bed, Amy stirs.

“What are you doing?” she mumbles.

I wrap the covers around me and snuggle down.

“Nothing,” I say.

 

photo credit: Pixabay.com

I Dream of Spring

I dream of spring with shafts of light

Shot through clouds with hope-giving sight;

I walk the freeze of January’s night,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with pale, pink flowers

Lilacs awakened in their scented bowers;

I listen to the shrieking of winter’s powers,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with greening fields

Red suns dying over promised yields;

I trudge through passions that January wields,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with blades of grass,

Meadow-sweet winds that through it pass;

I embrace the pain of winter’s blast,

But I dream of spring….

-January 2013

 

I must give an explanation for this poem, since right now I am in no place where I wish the winter were over. Here, our winter consists of cool nights and sunny days, and even though the houses do get chilly because of tile floors and no heat when it hits the 50s, I hate to see every bit of winter leave as February rolls around. 

I came across this poem tonight in some of the ones I had filed away and it brought back so many memories, that I felt like I had to print it, and I realized that many of my readers might be able to resonate. 

The background behind this poem is what makes it such a special one for me. In the spring of 2012, just after a difficult, weary winter in which I was teaching school, I needed to go to school to print off some things one Saturday evening in May, just before the term ended. The sun was setting in the west over a greening wheat field. Spring was glorious that year and the rains we had gotten greened and grew the wheat fields more than normal. I remember standing there, worshiping, watching the sunset over the wheat, and feeling the stress and tension of the past year slipping from my shoulders. My throat still gets a lump when I think of the way that God healed me and grew me that summer, even though it was a painful one in some ways. 

The next winter of 2013 found me again teaching school. It was another challenging year and my mind and heart often went back to that moment I so clearly remember of standing out behind the school, looking over Paul Nisly’s wheat field, watching the sunset and the green and the glory all together. I longed to go back to that point, not just because of the spring, but because of the feeling of having passed one of the most challenging years of my life. January and February 2013 weren’t easy months either, and spring came late that year. I wrote this poem in January of 2013 and even though it is a simple one, for me it always brings back those colors and feelings vividly. 

That is why I am posting about longing for spring from a tropical country. 🙂

Truth Spoken

Who you are and what you say and what you believe does not change who I am:

I am a child of God.

When my heart is raw and overwhelmed, even then I know:

I am a child of God.

He has set my feet on dry ground. He sings songs of deliverance around me:

I am a child of God.

Even when people who call themselves by God’s name dishonor Him, no matter:

I am a child of God.

Jesus died for me. His blood still covers me:

I am a child of God.

He believes this, and she believes that, and they believe this. Yet:

I am a child of God.

The world hurts and the world cries and I wonder why, why, why? Still:

I am a child of God.

They say “where is your God,” and I cannot answer, but I know inside:

I am a child of God.

I fall down. I fall down. I fall down, again and again. But I know:

I am a child of God.

 

Who you are and what you say and what you believe does not change who I am:

I am a child of God.

Ban Mai Samakkhi

Northern Myanmar is home to Kachin State, an ethnic group that has been entrenched in violence with the Myanmar army for several decades. However, there is one village of Kachin people in Northern Chiang Dao called Baan Mai Samakkhi.

My friend and classmate, Louise, or Louie as we call her, is Kachin. The mix of languages in her background is tangled, since her father’s stripe of Kachin actually speaks a different Kachin language than the village he lives in does. Not only this, Louise’s mother is Lisu. Add Thai and English to the mix, plus a smattering of Korean she’s picked up from living with Korean missionaries and parts of a Chinese dialect she learned from the neighboring Chinese village, and it becomes very interesting indeed.

Pan Pan, a fellow Payap student, and I decided to go see Louise at Baan Mai Samakkhi in Chiang Dao province while she was home for a Kachin holiday. Since Pan Pan didn’t have a Thai driver’s license, we decided to go with bus and songtaew (a truck with two seats on the back used for public transportation.) Traveling with a bus gives an entirely different perspective of Thailand. While I didn’t appreciate getting stuck in traffic and the heat of the bus, I also found it fascinating to observe the type of people who take public transportation , which were mostly older or middle to lower class people. I felt like I caught a better glimpse of normal life in Thailand.

I met Pan Pan at his house early on Thursday morning and we walked out to the main road where we flagged down a songtaew heading for the city. Once we reached the Gaat Luang market, we hopped aboard another songtaew to take us to the Chang Phuak bus station. Once there, we bought tickets to Muang Ngai, Chiang Dao, boarding a bus that was headed for Fang, Thailand.

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I was tired from a late night the evening before and I had also neglected to take any carsick medication. Instead I bought some gum at the station and viciously chewed it as we headed out of the city and down the mountainous roads to Chiang Dao, trying to keep myself from getting sick. Passing through the city of Chiang Dao, we stayed on the bus until we reached the Muang Ngai bus station where a yellow songtaew was waiting. We boarded the songtaew and headed to Baan Mai Samakkhi.

This, I think, was the first time I had ridden in a songtaew with a lady driver. As we shot up and around curves and precipitated down steep mountainsides, I wondered if she was trying to prove something. I briefly considered ringing the bell to ask her if I could sit in front with her, as my stomach kept on churning, but instead I stared out the back door of the songtaew and chomped gum as if my life depended on it. It didn’t work. Somewhere in the breathtaking scenery between Muang Ngai and Baan Mai Samakkhi, I lost my breakfast in a plastic bag while my embarrassed fellow passengers politely looked the other way and said nothing.

Finally, a little shaky and tired, we got to the village. Pan Pan and I then walked the half kilometer to the village gate, already hearing the echoes of thundering drumbeats. Once we got to the village, Louie came running up. “Come, come,” she called. “They’re almost finished!” She dragged us quickly to a fenced in area where the music was coming from.

I saw a sight I was not expecting. I had never seen anything like it before. It reminded me of American Indian dances, or something you would see in Tibet, not something in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Kachin people from all of the 6 different Kachin subtribes were present, with people from Myanmar, China and Thailand represented. In a circle that was fenced off, beneath triangular flags fluttering on strings above, over a hundred people marched in a line, following four leaders. They danced in 12 different patterns that were drawn on the sides of 6 poles in the middle of the clearing. Drummers stood beating drums in the middle of the clearing beside the poles, and music so deafening it shook in my chest played from speakers. They did this dance called Rom Manao two hours, twice a day for two days of the festival.

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DSC01223DSC01155We watched until the end and then went to eat noodles, before taking the afternoon off to sleep and rest. While mingling with Louie’s family, I discovered an even deeper tangle of languages. Some of the visiting Kachins could speak Burmese (and maybe Chinese?? still not sure) so Pan Pan, who is ethnic Chinese but born and raised in Burma, was able to communicate well with them. It seemed everywhere I turned, I heard a different language.

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Above: Pan Pan (left) and Louie hanging out with Louie’s dog.

In the late afternoon, the music and dancing started again, and we watched until the time came for Louie and her sister to go teach English at Arunothai, the Chinese village several kilometers down the road. Try as I might, I have not yet discovered how a Chinese village came to be nestled in these mountains about 15 minutes from the Burmese border. My guess is that they were fleeing war and immigrated to Thailand.

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Sometimes as I experience things, I get senses of color. While Louie’s village flaunted red and orange, this village was gray with an occasional splash of red. Perhaps it was the coming winter night that gave the gray atmosphere, or perhaps it was the streets and the walls of the village itself. Like Louie said, it felt like an ancient Chinese village transplanted into modern day times.

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In Arunothai the children grow up speaking Chinese, but are required to study at a Thai school in the day. In the evening, they attend a special school focusing on Chinese and English. While Louie’s sister taught an English class, I slipped away to wander along the gray courtyard and watch the sunset. Then my curiosity got the better of me and I headed to the Chinese class to listen to the Chinese teacher, an energetic, talented woman who held her young class spellbound as they practiced songs and rhymes. I sat with the students and tried to help sing along in the limited Chinese I had learned in the past year. I felt oddly like I had come home.

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In the gathering twilight, we waved goodbye to the children and left the gray village on our bikes, waving to the Chinese teacher as she too went home. Oddly, I felt like I was leaving home.

We spent the evening listening to an open air mountainside Kachin concert, something I quickly tired of since I understood nothing. I bought myself some hot cocoa and wrapped my hands around it, glad for the warmth in the mountain air and made a game of pretending to translate the Kachin words into Thai for Pan Pan. The most interesting part of the evening was the way people went up on the stage to drape garlands on the singers, while they were singing. This could be hilarious, especially when the singer was in a passionate part of the song and had to bend down to have yet another garland draped on his or her head.DSC01285.JPG

The next morning, we headed to the market at Arunothai before taking a walk, eating some avocados and catching a songtaew back to Muang Ngai again. I was reminded again of the variety of people living in Northern Thailand, as group after group boarded the songtaew and jabbered with each other in languages I could not recognize. The bus ride back to Chiang Dao was hot and tiring, but at least did not involve more meal losing. I ended up standing in the aisle with about 10 other people for part of the way since there were more people than seats. In light of this, I was amused at the sign in the front of the bus. Along with other signs, warning against smoking, the sign in the bottom right of the picture announces that a law has been passed that all passengers need to put on a seatbelt and the failure to do so will result in a penalty of 5000 baht. How are 10 people standing in the aisle supposed to wear a seatbelt?

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I was exhausted but happy when we got back to Chiang Mai. Despite being tired, the trip was well worth it.

And someday, maybe I will go back to Arunothai, the mysterious little gray village of Chinese people close to the Thai/Myanmar border.

To learn more about Kachin people in Thailand and Burma, check out this link: https://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/curse-blood-jade-neighbouring-ethnic-war-know-nothing/

December

Christmas break from school has been many things. Relaxing, no. But interesting, educational, and enlightening, yes. It’s hard to believe that I am in my third week of Christmas break already.

I had been hoping to be able to get into one of the refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border over my Christmas break. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve never had the time off long enough to do it, whether it was time off from work or from school. This didn’t work out for this break, though, so I was left with a variety of other options.

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One of my first ideas was to make donuts to sell over my Christmas break. Has it been successful? Not sure how to answer that question. Yes, I have made some money, but it’s been more tiring than I expected. However, it’s been delightfully refreshing to my brain to be able to do something with my hands while letting my brain wander, pray, or listen to poetry or music.

Then there was our Christmas party with our Thai cell group from church. We had it at our house and invited friends outside of the group, played some games, shared a short version of the Christmas story, and ate tons of amazing food.

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I also picked up several hours of teaching during the break. A friend knew of a young woman who was wanting to study English. Next one of her friends wanted to study as well. So, along with some of my regular teaching, I also had some extra one on one teaching. I have loved getting to know these students; they are young ladies who are very interested in learning English and are lots of fun.

My friend Amy is back visiting in Thailand too, after moving home last year. Getting to see her again and have some good chats with her have been fun.

There are several highlights that especially stand out from my Christmas vacation. It’s not over yet, so some more highlights might still pop out. However, in looking back, I can almost narrow it down to three main favorites: the EMA student graduation, my trip to a Kachin village in Northern Chiang Dao with a college friend, and a 4 day bike trip into the mountains that my sister and I did. I hope to blog more extensively about these in the next week or so, so look for some posts on these in the future.

But for now, here are a few peeks of photos.

EMA graduation:

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Baan Mai Samakki, the only Kachin village in Thailand:

Dten Rom Manao is a festival that happens once every several years.

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Not far from the Kachin village is a Chinese village, Arunothai, about 15 minutes from the Thai/Burmese border. While these people live in Thailand, their children’s first language is Chinese and they still practice many aspects of Chinese culture. Below is a boy from that village.

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My friend’s grandfather beside their fire.

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A sister trip from Chiang Mai city to Doi Intanon, to Khun Yuam to Mae La Noi, and from there to Mae Chaem:

Coffee made on the fire at Baan Mae Klang Luang, a Karen village on Doi Intanon.

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Drinking more coffee on Doi Intanon.

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A sister shot early in the morning as mists were rising from a valley close to Mae La Noi, Mae Hong Son.

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On a morning jaunt through the mountains of Mae Chaem at the Karen homestay on the last day of our trip.

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Donuts

The gray December day is muted around me

Silence, healing silence, blankets my world

Of tile floor and brown dog and bare feet

And yes, even the rats scratching in the gutter.

 

I roll the dough swiftly, punching it;

The tightness inside me oozing out slowly

Like bubbles of air escaping pummeled dough;

Hands shape and cut and shape and cut again.

 

I have been running too long, and panting;

The noise has pulled the guilt and sharpness

Taut, too taut, inside of me

But donuts are forgiving creatures.

 

The gray December day is muted around me

Silence, healing silence, blankets my world

Of tile floor and brown dog and bare feet

And yes, even the rats scratching in the gutter.

Voice

Today, I walked down the trail, looking up at the pines, unable to express what was happening inside of me. “Give me a poem, God,” I pleaded.

 

Pines, amber and green, slanting upward

Light spilling into gleaming bars

Silence steals from heart to mind, silence whispering;

Hush—for even the forest has a voice.

 

And across the blue and golden ranges

Forests lie unrobed in light’s un-aging glory

Rolling, far-flung, and rolling, further and rolling

Hush—for even the mountains have a voice.

 

Twilight lies low on the mountain’s edges

Pinks and blues, outlined on the ridges

Gray and blue; and gray fog rolls, sealing the night

Hush— for even the dusk has a voice.

 

The forest and the mountains cry out day after day

The dusk and the night shout of glory

The mind grows silent, the silent heart alive;

Hush—hush! Even your Maker has a voice.

 

Photo credit: pixabay.com

Remember

I live in a world where vehicles crowd

Each other in unending race;

Streetlights outshine the stars at night

And smog smothers the young moon’s face;

The air is heavy with the scent of fumes

Even at night the din rarely dies;

Yet I find my way in this rush of life

Where myriads of sound from the city rise.

 

And sometimes they ask me, do you remember

The elms in the winter night?

The falling of snowflakes in the muffled dusk

And the way they dance in the light?

Or the way the mountains look in the rain

When cat-footed and gray comes the mist,

And one by one the lights blink on

Solitary beacons, alone, fog-kissed.

 

No, I have not forgotten, and the memory

Comes quick and gold and keen,

And I know when wind shakes the elms with snow

For I feel a stirring, a glad unseen;

And when the mist comes creeping up the mountainside

And the lights gleam on, a pain,

A beautiful pain, chokes, and I can forget

Only as the wind can forget the rain.

 

October 3 (for Creative Writing class)

featured photo credit: pixabay.com

I Am From (A Tribute to Bravery)

“What is poetry?” I asked my ESL students, leaning on the desk behind me. (featured photo credit: pexels.com)

The answers varied.

“Good thinking and writing.” “If someone loves someone.” “It has points like a song.” “A way to thank someone.” “You want to say something, and you find another way to say it.” “A short sentence that has much deep meaning.”

And then for the next few weeks, we worked on writing poems. Personalities kept on peeking through, as some of them grinned to themselves and laughed gleefully every now and then. Others pursed their lips and puckered their brows, while carefully penciling in the words, or gazing into space with a faraway look in their eyes. Today we read them off and made a few final touches.

My students are only “my” students for an hour and a half each week and even less than that since they are split into two groups and I teach each group for 45 minutes. Each one is first year physician’s assistant in training, a program at Earth Mission Asia (EMA). They will study  in Chiang Mai for about 8 months before leaving in December to continue their training in Karen State. Earth Mission Asia is a program that works to provide medical training and care for the people of Karen State, Myanmar. For more information, visit the above link and consider supporting them financially or in prayer here.

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Above photo credit: Earth Mission Asia

I met these students in August and have seen them almost every week since then. And I just like them. Some people you have to work to like, but there’s something about these students that is so easy to like. Many of them come from mountain homes in Karen State and some of them have spent time in the refugee camps along the Thai/Myanmar border. English is their second or third language.

I don’t know all their stories, but the poems they wrote opened a door into their lives.

Looking over them tonight one last time, I think I know a bit more of what poetry is.

It is a glimpse into the tapestry of life itself. It is a tribute to bravery.  It is embracing heritage and past. It is realizing that the person that God created you to be is in fact a beautiful person. It is hope.

Below are a few of them. They are based on the “I Am From” template, found here. I posted my own poem like this in August, here. For this activity, I adapted the template slightly, and also encouraged them to deviate from it if they felt like it. With their permission, I am posting the poems here.

While I know that posting ten poems all at once is a whopper, I can’t bear to cut any of them out. I love them and I love their bravery.

(Because of security reasons, I needed to remove some phrases here and there from the poems. While this makes me sad because I know how much these experiences played a part in their lives, I do not want to endanger any of them when they go back to their home country.)

Based on the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.

I Am From

-by Saw Hsar Eh Say (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the white cup on the table, from the guitar on the wall.

I am from the wooden house near the mountain and from the aroma of coffee’s sweet smell.

I am from dogs playing under the house, from the mango tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from praying before meals and from eating noodles.

I am from “where will you go?” and “when will you come back,” and singing gospel songs.

I am from shy and quiet. I am from Ye and Man Aung village and betelnut.

I am from my mom and dad talking a lot to each other.

I am from studies at the school with friends and my grandmother dying and God’s picture on the wall.

I am from happy and talkative.

I am from hot windy summers and cold and raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Pa Tall   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Shan Dot village and from axes and machetes.

I am from a small bamboo house in the mountains of Karen State, from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cows and oxen, from bamboo, jack trees and mango trees, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from inviting villagers to eat together and from eating chicken boiled with rice.

I am from “go to work” and “what are you doing.”

I am from shy and talkative. I am from Shan Dot village and Him Ma Wa village, and rice and soup and pounded chilies.

I am from my brother falling down the tree and breaking his right hand.

I am from Christmas concerts and fleeing from my home and bamboo baskets.

I am from noisy and sensitive and serious.

I am from hot and raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Kaw Tha Blay   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from pots, from pictures.

I am from a small bamboo house surrounded by mountains, from the aroma of fresh wind.

I am from cats, from the banana tree whose long gone fronds I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Karen tribe and from eating fish paste.

I am from “Ta blu” and “Ta po” and “Oh My People”.

I am from sensitive and hilarious. I am from village and rice.

I am from wanting to fly by plane.

I am from trucks and knives.

I am from noisy and quiet.

I am from hot, cold, and wet season and trees all around.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Naw Moo Hsar Paw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from a hot place beside the dam.

I am from the wooden house beside the mountain and water, from the aroma of bananas.

I am from cats, birds, chickens and dogs, from the banana tree, betelnut tree, and mango tree, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from praying before meals and Christianity and I am from rice porridge with meat.

I am from “ta blut” (thank you) and “see you next time.”

I am from talkative and noisy. I am from Ler Wah and Hsa Ti township and soup.

I am from being born in the bamboo house near the river.

I am from praying with my siblings, and from not enough food, and my parent’s wedding picture on the wall.

I am from talkative and hilarious.

I am from very hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From

-by Pa Chit     (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the small village of Kaw Thoo Lei in the mountains of Karen State.

I am from the bamboo house beside the river in the jungle, from the aroma of flowers and tree flowers.

I am from goats, from banana trees and betelnut trees, whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Christianity, and from eating fish paste and betelnut.

I am from “gaw ler gay.” (good morning)

I am from no education and poor education. I am from Dawe Loe village and rice and vegetables.

I am from my grandfather dying in front of my eyes.

I am from riding buffalo with my cousin, and from guns.

I am from quiet and shy.

I am from hot, cold and rainy.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Paw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Lah Kyo Koe.

I am from the bamboo and wood house in the jungle around the mountains, and from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cats and dogs and pigs, from coconut tree and flowers, whose long gone petals I remember as if they were my own.

I am from eating together every time, and I am from eating rice.

I am from “sleep” and “eat” and singing God songs.

I am from shy and quiet. I am from villages and mountains and smoke and betelnut.

I am from singing in the church with my family.

I am from playing games with my friends as a child, from my father having to go to the clinic, and rice.

I am from happy and loving.

I am from hot weather.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Poe Baw   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from the worship room, and from an old bicycle.

I am from a wooden house in the rice fields, from the aroma of my mom’s curry smell.

I am from pigs beside the house, from the teak tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from Karen New Year, and I am from eating Ta Ka Paw.

I am from “gaw ler gay” and “ta blut,” and “eh na.”

I am from talking nicely and funny speaking. I am from Kwee Lay village and rice and soup.

I am from having severe asthma as a child, until my mom gave up on me. But I know God loved me and He saved me so I can live until now.

I am from bicycles and hats, from the book store, and from the Bible.

I am from noisy and talkative.

I am from weather that is too hot.

I am from all these and more.

 

 

I Am From 

-by Poe Dah   (Year One EMA Student)

I am from Kaw La, from Lay Ther Kou.

I am from a wooden house in the mountains of Karen State, from the aroma of rice cooking.

I am from horses, from coconut trees whose long gone fronds I remember as if they were my own.

I am from saying good night and praying, and I am from eating rice porridge.

I am from “I’m hungry” and “let’s eat” and God songs.

I am from normal talkative and funny. I am from Lay Ther Kou and Kaw La and betelnut.

I am from people singing a gospel song and Christmas songs and mortar and pestle.

I am from happy and loving.

I am from cold places.

I am from all these and more.

 

I Am From 

-by Soe Thein    (Year One EMA Student)

I am from rice, from red shirts.

I am from wooden houses in the mountains, from the aroma of flowers.

I am from cats and dogs, and coconut trees and betelnut trees whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from every week going to work, and I am from eating rice, fruits and vegetables.

I am from “ka nah mo pa ka kluh” and “mee sae” and country songs.

I am from shy and talkative. I am from Mae Wai and Dwan Le town and vegetables and rice.

I am from my mother getting sick.

I am from buying a football and Karen shirts.

I am from noisy and some quiet.

I am from rainy.

I am from all these and more.

 

I Am From

-by Yuu Yuu       (Year One EMA Student)

I am from one table and two chairs on the ground and a jar sitting on the table.

I am from the wooden 16 foot house crowded on the plain, from the aroma of beautiful white flowers.

I am from a group of oxen passing by the village, from the fairly big mango tree whose long gone limbs I remember as if they were my own.

I am from children first for meals and from rice and green foods.

I am from “ka na moe” and “pa ka lu” and “mee soe soe” and “Pa Ka Sa Ah Blu Ah Poe.”

I am from talkative and quiet. I am from Wai Swe and Yaung Houng and bananas and tea.

I am from a day when I traveled to a big city, and the family pictures on the wall.

I am from normal people and kindness.

I am from dry summers and wet raining.

I am from all these and more.

 

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photo credit: LH