The gentle hum of the car that hit low tones as it came across bumps. The sound of Thai pop music as it fuzzed through the speakers. The sight of Chi anticipating bumps and curves so the ride ran smoother. The grandness of the jungle as it passed quickly by. Banana trees that are scattered among farmlands of corn, rice, and rubber trees. Mango trees not yet ripe with fruit, and the sight of bamboo trees that dare to reach the sky. I closed my eyes to smell the sweet refreshing air of the jungle. The smell of leaves, dirt, and the slight essence of rain. Occasionally the distant smell of spice or oil wafted across the air. The sun began to flash through the trees. I tried to take it all in. The sight of houses on stilts made of wood to the grand two story houses made of cement with arrow made gates. The landscape is now familiar to me. It is no shocking site to see dogs lining the roads or people gaping at me because I am a foreigner. The landscape seemed similar to the road to take to my grandparents house in Oregon. The road lines the mountain, and the edge leads to the valley of trees. I remember falling asleep in the back of my family’s van on the way to see my grandparents. The excitement of seeing them, along with the beautiful landscape always made for a beautiful trip. Providing it was not pouring down rain. The familiarity of the drive to Nan Province brought comfort while traveling to a place I have never been with people I have known only for a little while.
Currently I am in a Hmong village called Tha Wang Pha in Nan Province where there is a dormitory for workers and students. We were given vague information about what we would be doing this week, so it is a definite feeling of patience and willingness to do anything that we may be asked to do. We already have been asked to help teach English in the evenings. And help means come up with a lesson plan. Teaching English is honestly something I never want to do. The very thought of it sucks the want out of me. I recognize that teaching English is a valuable skill and something that is helpful. It just is not something I have a passion for or particularly like doing. It will be one of the challenges this week. We hopefully will be visiting sites that MMF is checking up on, but there may be no English spoken. I thought I was just getting used to hearing Thai, now we will be around Hmong language. A cultural realization about Thailand is there are no soft surfaces. I come from a cloud bed in Oregon, so bruised hips were a real thing when first coming here. Now, I have gotten used to hard surfaces and have tried to find alternative ways of rearranging blankets to fit my curled up in a ball needs. The bed I was on the past two weeks was rock hard, but I had enough blankets to cope.
This week, I have some padding and a sleeping bag, but am mostly on the floor. I did say last week that being on the floor may be better than the mattress. This week will be a test to that statement! We have princess tents above our beds on the floor, which is like pop out netting. It folds up like an umbrella, but pops out to go over your bed, One thing about traveling is being in denial about the reality of the sheets you’re on and whether they were washed. There was a definite bed bug problem the last two weeks. I now know how the boys felt at camp, it terrifies your sleeping pattern after you have woken up and killed four bugs. Staying at other places limits choices for complaints though. I kept telling the director that we are adaptable travelers. We are, but it doesn’t mean adaptable travelers don’t have some complaints as you’re crazily smacking your mattress to get the bugs to leave you alone.
Traveling fills my soul, but one thing about being a world traveler, is the reality you will be uncomfortable. And often times you have no idea what is going on. You may be sweating profusely in a car, wondering where the driver went and laughing about your current uncomfortable reality. But it’s ok. I was chatting with one lady from MMF how others were feeling homesick and I was ok. She made the comment that a person can handle any situation, if they know there is an end. Perhaps that is why I am ok. The end of my time here I know will come fast. Even the French gal joked that when I return I will have nothing to look forward to cause my dream has always been Thailand. But perhaps by the end of my time here a new dream will form. The dream to return here is already stewing in my mind. Another traveling reality is the bathroom situation. From what I know of bathrooms, there is a shower that is separate from the toilet. And there is usually a sink. In Thailand, that is not usual. There is not usually a sink. The toilets are more often squatty potties. And the shower gets everything wet in the bathroom. I wish that people gave tutorials for their bathrooms here. And if you ever travel to Thailand, expect there to be toilet paper on the dining table or mat, but never in the bathroom. Why toilet paper is used for your face and your hands here is beyond me. Today I walked into the bathroom to shower and saw there was a large bucket full of water underneath the shower head. The water was clear and clean. It wasn’t for the toilet, cause the toilet flushes. What that giant bucket is for, I’m not sure. And a part of me feels dumb in even asking. It feels like camping, just at someone else’s house. Good thing my family went camping all those years, it has now prepared me to be comfortable in a seemingly rather uncomfortable situation.
A recap of the days I missed in blogging about: Thursday morning was spent at the MMF monthly meeting. One of the English speakers translated for us. The different project teams reported the happenings of the month and whether they heard outcomes for the situations they were helping. They keep mostly picture evidence, so there was a slideshow included. They discussed things that will be evaluated and the Importance of it. I noticed the difference in meeting style. Meetings I have been to in the states, you are expected to have everything ready before the meeting and it would be rude to leave. In this meeting, people got up to make tea or get water, or take phone calls. No wonder their meetings used to take so long! Overall, it was a good experience for me to see the part of working in an NGO that can frustrating. Talk of the budget, cultural differences and understanding, and the struggle to help people who want other people to do it for them. Unfortunately, the reality for NGOs os their first mission has hindered their new mission. At first, many came over as a needs based organization. Helping as people needed quick things, or providing services. Which is not inherently bad, and the organizations did help people reach better living standards. The hot topic now is sustainability. So now the organizations are trying to train people in skills so they can help themselves and not need outside help. However, many people who have been helped are reluctant to help themselves. It is one of the challenges for NGOs and I am seeing it first hand in working alongside MMF. It is interesting to me how peoples original mission is shifting to sustainability, but people are hindered because they have always received aid. So why work for something if someone will just give it to you for free?
In the afternoon on Thursday, one of the staff took us to help pick up and deliver cement for another staff person who has retired because he has leukemia. Previously, Go ED students would work on his farm for a week, but he has not even been able to be on his farm. It is up a mountain and the roads are just red dirt that have big indents from the rain and erosion. The farmland was beautiful. Green hills met the bright blue sky. The rice fields reached across the valley, and a stream divided the path to the mans farm. He has many cows, one is real mean, so we had to walk with sticks when passing them. The staff member noticed my love for the dogs back at MMF and asked if I wanted to pet the cow. I remember my mother telling me before I left not to pet the animals, but I honestly cannot help my love for animals. So I ended up petting the cows nose before it turned away. The landscape reminded me of the wilderness hikes I have done. We trekked through brush, crossed irrigation streams on logs and ducked under barbed wire fences. We visited the former staff members brothers house. He has a house high on stilts and is made of mostly bamboo. I noticed a flurry of butterflies across the way. I asked why they were gathering all together underneath the structure across from us, he replied that butterflies like manure, and thus we laughed about that! We crossed the stream again to get back to the truck. I stopped before stepping back onto the road and looked down the river. The thick sand was wedged between my feet and my chacos, but that didn’t matter. I just looked down the stream to see the water nudge the tan rocks glazed with red sediment. The clear water that tumbled down a small waterfall, and the gentleness of the water as it continued to weave past my site. The mountains surrounded where I stood and I could not help but smile at the grand beauty of God’s creation. We hopped back in the truck and rode back home, but stopped to get chayen (Thai iced tea). The staff members before me both have cancer. One has leukemia. And one had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Both men are older gentleman who are incredibly sweet and have big hearts for people. In my experience, it is the sweet people who seem to have terrible health circumstance. I kept thinking how unfair it is. I am thankful for their lives and my heart breaks for the pain they have endured, I mentioned I lost a friend to Hodgkin’s lymphoma before his 42nd birthday. My eyes welled up with tears even mentioning it. The staff member thought he would die, but is thankful for every day he has. Cancer is one thing I will never understand. Why does it take such wonderful people from this world? And why can it hit people at random, at any age, at any stage of life. It is perhaps why I find some people frustrating in their habits that create cancer. It may be a choice, but is it worth it? Dealing with health problems personally, it frustrates me when people are willingly harming themselves when I am just trying to get my body to be at normal functioning levels. It gives me courage and admiration though when I meet people who are surviving past worse pain that I have ever experienced.
In the evening we returned to Grace Children’s Home once more, but this time to say goodbye to our Australian friends. It is amazing how some people enter my life for only a little bit, but have invested in me already to where I already consider them dear friends. As we dropped them off at the Chiang Rai airport, it was hard to say goodbye. It was a similar feeling to saying goodbye to my own family. And they are family now, they are a part of Christ’s family, which transcends through culture, country, and language. When they left I told them I hope our paths cross again. I may never see them again, but perhaps by blessing I will have the opportunity to see them once again, because they made Thailand even more like a home for me. They gave us the feeling of warmth we were seeking in being in an unfamiliar place. It really does matter who you are with that makes the trip worthwhile. The Australian couple’s joy, wisdom, and sincere hearts I will cherish as I continue my journey.
Unfortunately, sometimes we are limited in the capacity in what we can do. With both of us coming with previous health problems, we have to compensate for the other. Or protect the other from pushing it too far. Today because of sickness we were sentenced to house arrest (or so it feels like it). I woke up to the sound of loud chatter, roosters crowing, dogs barking, the birds fighting, and the crickets still singing away. The sun rose about six in the morning and I rolled around until seven. I got up, put on my sunday best and expected to help out at a funeral, but was unable to go cause I had to stay with the sickling. I was bummed, but I am all too familiar with limits. I have held people back from doing fun things, because I was unable to go out, so I was fine to just sit and be. As the hours ticked by I started another knitting project and am currently almost done with it. I realize how stir crazy I am when I feel good, and how I usually do not want to move when I do not feel good. I sat at the edge of the door for quite sometime and watched the weather change from cool morning air, to hot high pressure, then to a monsoon. The rain smacked the tin roof like thousands of bullets, it was incredibly loud and you had to yell to communicate with anyone. I continued knitting away and chatting with Leah when she popped in and out of her princess tent. My anxiety around food seems to have lessened since being in Thailand. Or perhaps everyone’s prayers are really working. The food situation right now is two guys making food for us. We were going to eat with the other kids who are here, but they were worried the food would make us sick. Not to be stereotypical, but guys do not usually make food here, so it tastes rather like bachelor food. I would make food for myself, but I am honestly not sure how they combine all the ingredients, nor do I want to start a fire or ruin someone’s pan…so I am being patient and saying yes when indecisiveness seems to arise in what to feed us. Even after dinner they asked if we wanted hot water, I said sure, thinking they had something to heat up water with. Guess again, they rode off on the moto and returned with a water heater from who knows where. My impression here is that they do not receive much visitors. And I wish I could communicate that it is ok if there is not something here, one does not have to run to the market for every little thing. Just a funny part of accommodation in Thailand. I am still not sure what we will be doing this week, but hopefully we will get to visit villages with the guy from MMF. I honestly probably should be a little more uncomfortable with the current situation than I am, but as long as I am fed, showered, and have a place to sleep. I am ok, and I can be content. Even today I was a little stir crazy, but I was happy to knit and end the day with a cup of Jasmine Tea. Sometimes things are uncomfortable, uncertain, or there is a major language barrier. But there is always a comfort in the uncomfortable. I choose to see the comfort side and to look beyond what makes me uncomfortable. How will I ever know how other people live, unless I live like they do, even if it is for a short while. Someone asked what my favorite part of Thailand has been so far. I would say the people. I have met such a wide range of people, that it gives me a better understanding of what I already know I have a heart for. I have a heart for people, and it is being around people who share their stories that gives me life and helps me thrive.
*Internet was only strong enough for a few pictures, so I will have to insert them later*