With eyes full of tears, snot under his nose, and a bloody elbow, the little guy walked over to me and crawled into my lap as I sat a little ways from the rest of the kids at the center. I rocked back and forth and he curled close to me. I felt my heart melt as the little guy just wanted to be held and loved. Already there will be a piece of my heart always in Chiang Rai. There is something about the joy of children that warms your heart and keeps you giggling with them. Many of the children want to be doctors so they can help their sick parents when they are older. Then there is the girl who wants to be a butterfly…or an angel when she grows up. The children at the center have wild imaginations, are incredibly smart, and listen intently. They also chat to me in Burmese and Thai, and I just nod at them, cause I have no idea what they are saying, other than ani, which is used to say what, and I want. The unfortunate reality for these children is that they constantly have to move. Their parents travel to Thailand to work in hopes they make enough money to return home to Myanmar. Many of the children’s older siblings are living in Myanmar with their grandparents. The parents take the younger children with them to work. Often children are taken to the work sites, which is incredibly dangerous. A reality I am coming to understand is that many wish to be home with their families, but are unable to because they cannot make a living.
On Tuesday we had the blessing of talking with the teacher at the Migrant Children’s Center. In starting the conversation we both were trying to think of different ways to simplify the question so the english was understood. The teacher is incredibly sweet and giving. Leah spent the outside time learning about the children’s backgrounds and their families, while I had to work a double shift in swinging the kids up in the air. It felt like one of those moments where time seemed to stop, but in a joyful way. I could not even think past the next kid that tugged on my leg to be picked up once more. Swinging kids around and hearing the sweet giggle and setting them back down to see them run off and run back. It was a moment that I felt I was exactly where I needed and wanted to be. A moment where I felt no future or past, but felt just what was right before me. These children’s lives will go on without my presence, but having a moment of joy and laughter fills the heart to cherish forever. Outside time transitioned to Burmese food for lunch at the center and talking with the teacher for two hours. Leah and I bounced questions back and forth to her. I remember in high school one of my teachers talking about a paradigm shift. When your reality suddenly takes a new meaning by learning a new perspective. As she spoke of her home country of Myanmar (Burma), you could see the love and care she had for her country. Academically, it seems we are taught all the negatives of Burma and fail to recognize that there are successful people in Burma, and there are people who wish to be back in their own country but cannot because of lack of work opportunities. She does have a brother who is a pastor at a refugee camp on the Thai side. She is Karen, and many Karen have fled to Thailand because of the military persecution. I asked if there is fear towards the military, but she said they are not scary, at least from her perspective. Her husband is in Myanmar and he should be returning soon. It is always hard for me to see people separated from their families because of life circumstance. Especially for Thai culture that is knit together by family. The family is a central part to traditional Thai lifestyle. I could feel my perspective change about Burma and come to the understanding that Burma has good things about it, and even the teacher went through the Myanmar school system and spoke fondly of it. She majored in economics, but always has had a love for teaching. We have only known her two weeks, but she has such a sincere heart that we already feel close to her. Wednesday was our last day at the center, and it was incredibly hard to say goodbye. We had our last moments of joy with the kids. Wednesday was the day of wanting to be lifted onto trees and giggling as they slid down. We chatted with the teacher and the house mom a little more. My finished knitted pot holder I gave to the house mom. And being the humorous one she is, wore it as a hat, and we all laughed about that. We had to leave during the kids nap, which was sad, but perhaps it made it easier to leave. We hugged the teacher goodbye as she said God bless you (a common goodbye phrase among Christians here). We solemnly rode back in the car and returned to MMF. We conjured up smiles and chatted with the director. I spent the afternoon working on social media things for MMF. They are a little behind, so I am trying to catch them up before I leave. Many organizations have a person just for social media, but MMF does not have the resources to have that, so I am doing what I can while I am here.
In the evenings we have continued to go to Grace Children’s Home. The lovely Australian couple have continued in investing in us, even in this short time. Tuesday evening we went to the night market and I chatted with one of the vendors. His name is Jo and is from the Karen village that does the elephant rides. I asked his name in Thai, and he continued to chat at me in Thai, and we nodded and tried to understand. I could see the mentality of me purchasing something change when I asked his name. It was a moment where I was more than a tourist, I was an investor of the people. I think traveling is more than just seeing, it is relationship and connecting with those you may only see once, but remember for a long time by the simple question of asking their name. On Wednesday evening there was a grand feast set up because of the departure of the Australian Couple. The tables were lined up and rice was on every plate. I stuffed my face full of rice and the Korean noodle salad and then the evening transitioned to the children displaying dances and songs. It was for the grand send off of the Australian couple. You could see the children’s love for them, and their love for the children. It is great to see people who come only twice a year, but have invested so much into these children. Invested in a emotional way and have a lasting friendship. They may be older, but they definitely are used to being around young people. Some people we have encountered talk to us on a lower level. Culturally we do have lower status because we are young. The Australian couple however spoke to us so sincerely and genuinely that we felt safe debriefing our day and chatting about people’s missions in organizations and in their lives. As the husband opened up about his heart for Thailand it was a connection of friendship and a common love for the people of Thailand. In my travels here, it seems that the people who are genuine and sincere, are the ones we are able to connect to the most. The display of dances from the children at the home were beautiful. They are from different tribes, but come to stay at the home to go to school. Another example of how families are separated. They have to send their kids to the cities so they have a better chance for a future with skills and a job. The Australian couple expressed their thanks to the children and the genuine feeling of care and love for a place that will always be another home to them. We stayed up later with them and had cafe (coffee) to chat. It was wonderful just to be in conversation with people who care and care about us even though we have known them a short while. Thank you to everyone who is keeping up with me and my blog, I greatly appreciate you walking through this with me.