Category Archives: ache

Lines

Even after five years, sometimes I feel like I am lost in a tangle of language, culture, traditions, national borders.

Why was I born on this side of white and you were born on that side of brown?

The river of words that runs in my heart is not the same as the river of words that runs in your heart, though there are times the rivers mingle, when languages come together.

Why are you called Vietnamese and I am called American? Why are you called Thai and I am called “Farang?” Why are you called Karen and I am called Caucasian?

Why was I born where the world was bright and hope sprang unbidden in my heart and you felt only the crushing of loneliness and the thwarting of choices from the day you were born?

Why was I born with the weight of a culture on my shoulders I feel obliged to carry, a weight that is different from the weight you carry? And perhaps you feel no obligation to carry?

Why are you the other, and I am the one? Or I am the other and you are the one?

Why are our worlds dictated by the little books in our pockets that we call passports, that identify us?

Or do they?

Where are the lines where spirit surpasses language, where kindness goes beyond cultural borders, where hope speaks across lines enforced by countries?

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (ESV)

What exactly does this mean? Five years ago I had more answers than I do now.

All the Words

All the words, they are a part of the story

They are the voices, the power, the offspring

Of this breaking, this piling,

This river of aching—

All the words

 

All the words, they are power in torrents

While I hunt like a bruin in a cascade tidal

They spiral in the air, but glistening slip

Through fingers there—

All the words

 

All the words, they speak life to me

That this child of rivers can face the shaken days

That I am known and filled in all the empty spaces

In all the aching places—

All the words

My Love Affair with Airports*

You and I, it’s

Complicated.

 

There’s nothing like the way I feel when I hear your voice

The way it makes my stomach quiver,

The way I love how you wrap your arms around me,

And the way I feel lost in you.

We’ve loved each other for a long time;

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I remember the first day I met you

Me, a farm girl from Kansas on her first flight, giddy, naïve, excited

When I jumped past the “authorized personnel only” sign to rescue my bag

From where it was headed into the unknown

And they shouted at me.

That’s when we first met, you and I.

Me, the farm girl with starry eyes who fell hard for you,

You–so much older than me, the one who had seen every kind of person in the world

Who had traveled to the four corners of the earth

I fell for you then, and I’ve loved you since

 

I fell in love with the way you whispered poetry in my ear

Of places you wanted to take me

Things you wanted to show me

Languages you wanted me to hear

People you wanted me to meet

And I’ve been in love ever since.

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I love the way you’re always alive and moving.

The way your heart beats late at night

When I put my ear on your chest

And listen to the sound of your dreams throbbing

The way Boeing 747’s do going down the runway.

I love the way you inspire me to dream,

To wander, to explore

To go where no one else has gone before.

I love the way I see every color in you;

And how every language under the sun

Rolls alive and rich on your tongue;

And when I hear you say the words

โปรดทราบ เครื่องของสายการบิน Air Asia เที่ยวบินที่ FD 3113

พร้อมแล้วที่จะออกเดินทางไปเชียงใหม่

ขอเรียนเชินผู่ด้วยสารทุกท่านขึ้นเครื่องได้ ณ ทางออกหมายเลกสอง

ขอบคุณค่ะ **

I thrill. No one speaks to my heart like you do.

And yet… it’s so complicated.

 

I love you, but every time I see you,

You rip me away from others I love,

Tearing like the tabs tearing from boarding passes at the gate.

You make me feel at home,

Yet you take me away from home and then tease me with memories of home in the eyes of the little blonde boy sitting in front of me at Gate 29

You bring me to places that stamp themselves onto my heart

Then you block them off from me

Like visas denied at the last minute.

You send me friends that become a part of me

Then break them away while my heart crumbles

Like the hard cookies on the flight to Shanghai.

You broaden my horizons and leave me in awe

And then collapse them  like my luggage does after I’ve unpacked everything from it

You teach me things I never knew

Then change it all up, so I’m confused and can’t find my way

As if I were lost in Suvarnabhumi all over again.

And everywhere I go with you, you always, always make me pay

In tears

That are wrenched from a heart that wonders

Why I let someone do this to me

Can you see why I love you

And why I hate you?

It’s just…. complicated

 

But you’ve seen me at my lowest, my worst,

When I’ve been awake for 24 hours,

And smell like a pair of socks that were packed dirty

And left through two missed flights

While their owner slept on the hard floor.

You’ve taken me with all my baggage and dug around in it

Found all my dirty secrets, and let me into your heart anyway.

You’ve wrapped your arms around me while I sat crying

On the row of seats waiting for AA 2828 to leave Wichita

You’ve seen me alone and lonely in the masses

Yet, I feel at home when I am with you.

 

You enraptured me in Doha, where you were so quiet I too became silent

In Shanghai you taught me the beauty of doing nothing

You forced me to drink all the water in my bottle in Seoul in 25 seconds

I spent the night with you in Chicago while the snow fell and cold seeped into my bones

In Guangzhou we fought over the price of chocolate-covered blueberries

And in Bangkok I watched you, dazzled at the hundreds of different faces of you

I’ve drunk coffee with you in Tokyo, in Dallas, in Wichita

And held hands with you in Ho Chin Minh City.

In Chiang Mai you brought hundreds of people into my life—and then took them away again.

I lost my heart to you in Kunming and in Phnom Penh and in Calcutta

And when I bussed back from Laos

Every bone in my body ached from missing you.

 

And yeah, you’ve messed up.

You’ve kept me waiting and waiting without an answer

You’ve gone back on promises, let other things come first

You turned a cold shoulder to me that night in Chicago

When I was freezing and no matter how many blankets I wrapped around myself, my heart was so cold.

I lost my trust in you when you made me pay an arm and a leg

For those dumplings in China when I was starving

And I will never forget the regret that filled my heart

In O’Hara when you took that $4 chocolate chip cookie from me

While I was distracted by you….

It still haunts me

You’re just…. complicated

 

And yet, I keep on coming back to you

Over and over again.

Even when you take people from me, people I love

I love you even when I have to pay thousands of dollars just to see you

And you keep breaking my heart over and over.

I love getting lost in your embrace,

Tasting all you have to offer

Watching the grace of your movements and the vibrancy of your color

 

I love us.

Even though…

We’re complicated.

 

*This is Slam Poetry (recycled homework again) something I did for my Advanced Oral Communications class. To listen to the performance, check out this link: my love affair with airports

**This is Thai writing meaning  this: Attention please. Air Asia Flight FD 3113 to Chiang Mai is now boarding at Gate # 2. Thank you.

 

Hope

come

 

                                                                                      down

 

wash

                                                                                                                             away

 

             thirsty                                  dirty

 

                                           dry                                                                  gray

 

              leave                                               green

                                                                                                                                                hope

gleaming

                                           while                                                              each                                                 drop

 

              sprinkles                                                        drips

                                                                                                                                 washes           splashes

 

                                                                        lift

 

                                parched                                                        hearts

heavenward                                   dreaming

               hoping

                                                                                                                                                              dancing

                                                                         hope         spills              on

       cracked lips

drink   in             liquid joy

                                                                                             scent of                                            hope

comes                singing          on                              the                       night breeze

           while           hearts             soak       in          streams        of

                                                                                anointing       life is     hope      and      rain gently       sighs in   every inch                    of my            cracked heart and           every breath    is    joy and           every step of          this       dance       in        the              rain      is a grateful thirsty heart’s praise and tears  mingle in  this rain and I can believe againinhopeandYouaremyhopemyhopeisinYouandYouaretheMakeroftherainandhope

 

photo credit: pixabay.com

Trust

“Just pray that I could learn to trust God more.”

I’ve heard these words several times from friends in sharing and prayer times.  And in those times, I wondered, what is it that they are trusting God for? I mean, why would it be so hard to trust God?

It sounds vague and like something you ask prayer for because you don’t know what else to say. Can’t you get more original than that?

But recently, I got it. Oh yes, I got it. I know exactly what they mean.

I’ve learned that I haven’t really been trusting God at all. Instead I have been living life with clenched fists, holding on to dreams, holding on to all that I want, refusing to give it up to God. I thought that because I wanted things so desperately, I couldn’t let go. I tried manipulation, I tried mind numbing tactics. I crawled into holes and desperately cried out to God, screaming and shouting in my mind.

And what He answered, at first I didn’t want to hear.

He said, “Trust.”

Trust? Really God? You can’t get more original than that?

When the noise in my mind died away, though, and I could think clearly again, I begin to see it.

If I trust, it means that I really believe that God is good and that He has good in store for me. But it may not look like my ideas of what is good.

It means I don’t look back and believe that the best years of my life are over, but instead, he has things in store beyond what I could ever think or imagine— for my good and His glory.

It means that when inside is raw and throbbing from the sting of salty tears on a too-sensitive heart that wants so much, I can trust that God is bigger than my heart and knows all things, which means He is perfectly capable of taking care of this heart, no matter how wayward, imperfect, and naive it may be.

It means when I crawl into my hole, I can trust that He sees every single tear that drops and He cares. And He is not too big to crawl into the hole with me.

It means that when He asks me to give something up, it is because what He has in mind is ultimately better and more beautiful, even if I can’t see it. I can believe it because I know who He is.

It means that when I think of all the people that I am going to miss in the next four months as one by one they leave this side of the world, He is going to be standing next to me at the airport or wherever my last glimpse of them may be, with His arms around my shoulders.

It means that when I feel like I just can’t handle this anymore, that I want to go home and live a “normal” life, He will be with me. Perhaps He won’t speak. But He will be there.

It means I can trust that whenever I am in situations where my tongue and my brain simply don’t feel like they can defend what my heart believes, He will give me words and wisdom.

It means that He is enough. It means that when others don’t see me or understand me, He does.

It means that He will satisfy the longing soul and will fill the hungry soul with goodness. Like He promised tonight.

Always. Yesterday, today and forever.

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Songwriters: Laura Story
Blessings lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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.

****************************************************************************

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?

********************************************************************************

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.

*********************************************************************************

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. 🙂

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/

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.