TUESDAY-October 14th, 2014
Tuesday afternoon we hopped in the car once again to travel about two and a half hours away to Chi’s village. I once again loaded all my belongings I had been traveling with for the past three weeks. I said goodbye to the director and promised we would be able to finish social media things for MMF when we were around stronger internet. Chi does not speak much English, but it was our second trip with him to a village. The continuous cycle of not sleeping well allowed me to sleep for a bit in the car. After my usual lychee drink from seven (7-11, which are the Starbucks of Thailand), I curled up with my angry birds blanket and only awoke cause my right side was numb. The view of the city quickly shifted to the jungle of the country side. It almost had the feeling of the old west with little shops along the side of the road and few people who were visible were in and out of shops. They loaded things on motos or in the back of trucks and headed off back to their villages. It was a different world. A different way of life. And people I will never see again. We turned off the highway and headed up to a mountainous region. The scenery was breathtaking as the sun set behind the hills. It have the valley a glow as the car wove up and down the mud and broken concrete road that moved with the farmland. The dead corn stalks lined pieces of the mountain and the rice fields covered the valley floor. We passed by a giant lake that reminded me of Rimrock lake in Eastern Washington. Instead of speedboats and campers, it was fisherman and wooden boats. We arrived at the Karen village and could already see the difference in living. The houses are made of wood and bamboo. The older women wore long skirts that were weaved Karen style. Karen style has strips of intricately weaved patterns with colored strips of fabric. Bright purple seems to be a favorite. We met Chi’s family and took our things to the pastors assistant place where we would stay. Chi’s wife made us a delicious dinner and we returned to where we would stay. It gets dark about six at night, so no activity happens after the sun sets. We were told that the village did not have any electricity, but they do have some. And to my surprise they had a TV! So our evening consisted of a cuddle puddle and watching Thai TV. The Karen are very affectionate and touch seems to be one of their love languages. After figuring out the shower situation and showering by flashlight, I sat down to watch tv with them and the pastor assistant hooked her arm around mine and continued to watch tv. They would laugh anytime I said anything in English, which was rather entertaining. I thought about just saying random words just to make them laugh.
WEDNESDAY-October 15th, 2014
The sleeping surface was surprisingly soft in comparison to other places we have stayed, but the morning came all too quickly to the chorus of roosters, people chatting in Karen, children screaming, and cows mooing. I giggled as the one cow would moo and it echoed across the valley. The noise began as the sun rose, so about five in the morning. I felt as if I just laid with my eyes closed but did not actually sleep. I rolled around until I had to get up to walk up the hill to Chi’s house for breakfast. Rice comes with every meal, so even eating a banana without rice seems strange to me now. We downed a couple 3 in 1 instant coffees, which they teased us later about how much coffee we drink. I felt hazy from the altitude change, lack of sleep, and new environment. The first morning we taught Jesus loves me to the kids in the village. Originally they asked us to teach three hours worth of English, but we reduced it to an hour. With no material kept makes it rather difficult. And the one lady who speaks English has a sick one year old and was in and out of helping. Chi did a great job of helping though. I really should have a better attitude about teaching English. I recognize the value in learning it and how I am lucky to have my native language be the business language of the world. However, it still is not something I particularly enjoy doing. In the later part of the morning, we walked out to the rice fields as they were cutting stalks of it. A funny older gentleman motioned for us to try, and I couldn’t really do it. It was too difficult for my poor wrists! After that we walked around the village and the lady who spoke some English showed us the monkey, rabbits, and frogs. Leah was in love with the monkey. She gets after me for petting the dogs, yet was content petting the monkey through the cage.
In the afternoon, Chi had to take the rice to be milled, so we went into town with him. The rice mill guy apparently liked me and had a good giggle about the Farang joining the errands. We rode in the car with Chi and his wife. Chi has an apartment in Chiang Rai and can only visit his family once a month since working for MMF. Sitting in the back of the car you could see the love and the laughter that bonds them. They were speaking in Karen, but you could tell their humor and their love. It was really sweet to see them interact. It was a blessing to see a healthy relationship cross culturally. One where the cultural expectations of a relationship were not apparent, but the love and equality seemed to be present. We stopped at the market to pick up food for dinner. The area is not used to foreigners, so we got quite the amount of smiles and inquisitive looks. Leah pointed at the pad Thai and motioned that we like it. So they told the lady at the market we wanted some and just after asking, the market lady sneezed and coughed and then continued to grab the food with her hands. Leah and I looked at one another and laughed and exchanged disgusted looks. We thought the pad Thai would be for dinner, but it turns out it was a snack! We also got sweet sticky rice with coconut ice cream on top, which was delicious. The guy was also putting sweet sticky rice in pieces of bread, which looked delicious.
On our way back home, with already stuffed stomachs, we stopped for keuw teow (noodle soup), cause Chi was hungry. So we ate again, cause it felt rude not too. I though my stomach would explode as I watched a rather cooky lady make noodles for us. We rode back to the village and spent our evening with the pastor assistants family watching Thai TV. At this point I can pick up Thai phrases or words, so is have a general understanding what is going on. We relied on the translation books to communicate with Chi and to have somewhat of a conversation with people in the village. The pastor assistant weaves when it is not harvesting season, and gave us each weaved bags. Mine is purple and white and is a different material than what the Lahu use. Through broken translation we conveyed our day to the pastors assistant and her friend. We giggled our way through learning Thai and Karen words for things, but enjoyed their calm company. The day ended watching Thai television and guessing what is actually happening, yet glued into the story regardless of not knowing the language.
THURSDAY-October 16th, 2014
After some sleep, the sound of crickets and dogs shifted to the chorus of roosters and birds singing. We walked up for breakfast and enjoyed more instant coffee. I spent the morning weaving with the ladies. It is not weaving season in the village, so none of their looms were set up, which was rather a bummer. I was glad I brought my weaving though because I could see the difference in the weaving styles. It was quite humorous as the ladies tried to figure out my loom and adjusted it to a more Karen way of doing it. The loom is different based on where the blackstrap goes and the bar that holds the weaving in place. They showed me their way of weaving and it took all my concentration to figure out their way after already learning the Lahu way. It really made me appreciate the difference in weaving and understand how the different patterns are formed for the different hilltribes. In the afternoon we walked out to Chi’s orchard with Chi and his wife. It is a passion fruit orchard, we think, haha. They have narrow paths to get to the farmland that stretches for miles. It blows my mind they stand on the steep hills to farm. We could not be much help in the orchard, but it was beautiful to be amongst the farmland and the calm presence of nature and sweet people. I walked to the edge of the orchard and gazed down the path. I smiled contently at all that has bright me to this very moment. Even in my dreaming of Thailand I could not have pictured living life in a village for a week and experiencing the every day of farming and good company. The greenery of the jungle and the green turning to brown of the farmland stretched for miles. We walked back to the center of the village and revisited the monkey. I watched as Leah giggled and talked to the little lady monkey while feeding it bananas. We played outside with the rambunctious kids for awhile before leaving with Chi to visit two villages.
Chi is a part of the MCMP Project (Mekong Sub-Region Minority Church Mobilization Project), so we visited facilitators in the villages who are a part of the project. Both villages are Karen, so Chi put on his traditional Karen shirt before leaving the house. The first village we visited a facilitator that had a huge house, with quite the bamboo floor space. It has two levels, where a kitchen was underneath the house. A girl sat next to me who I noticed had down syndrome. It actually caught me a little by surprise because she was the first person I have seen in Thailand that has down syndrome. She had a sweet smile and was showing me a block that would change pictures as you rotated the different sections of it. It broke my heart to realize that she will never have the opportunity of being accepted in Thai society. And how the general ethnic Thai society rejects those who are even slightly imperfect. The reality for her though is she is in a loving village. She probably will rarely leave the village, and is protected and loved there. For that reason, I could smile back at her and see the hope in her future and the love that people show her. Leah noticed another person who had down syndrome when we were driving out, so it may be a gene that is in the village. Seeing the girl opened my eyes to the parallel that the culture I come from experiences. Even Karen villages are not exempt from the struggle of genetics and birth defects. While being here I have noticed quite the amount of sick babies, which partly has to do with the weather changing, but it is interesting to see that there is not much that people can do. Back home I can freely set up an appointment to go to the doctor, but here it has to be pretty serious if you go to the doctor. The second village we went to had a darker vibe to it. It seemed more dirty than other places we have been, and there seemed to be a haze about it. The older people were chewing on betel nut, which is like a red berry to my understanding. One guy had it leaking out of his lips, and the older lady was attempting to spit it off the side of the stairs, but got it all on the stairs. She wore traditional clothing, which is typical for older ladies in the village. I noticed the older ladies also wear beads around their neck. Chi talked with the facilitator there, and then we headed back down the mountain. The village is tucked way up in the mountains and it is hard to get to even by car. The roads were a bit muddy from the rain and there were ruts in the dirt. The village is fifty years old and it seems amazing to me that someone carved their way through the jungle and started a village which now has over fifty people in it. Generations of people grow up in the villages and live life as usual.
There is still the reality of the youth however going to the city to work, which I am not sure how much of an issue it is in these villages. There are problems in the village, but Chi could not explain it in English. We headed back down the mountain and were a bit loopy and tired at this point. Leah and I have gotten into the habit of singing to ourselves, so we were asked to sing a song, which turned into us singing medleys of songs for about an hour. Chi seemed to enjoy it and said he was very happy, but I am not sure how the eighteen year old Karen kid felt about it. He probably was thinking he does not like faring girls, cause they are obnoxious and loud, haha! It was a fun time though! Chi’s lovely wife had dinner ready for us, and we ate like we had not eaten in days. Her food literally is the most delicious I have had. We walked back to the house we were staying at and watched some Thai TV before going to bed. We already are hooked on some show and had trouble leaving the TV because the show just kept leaving us on edge about what would happen. We finally picked up our blankets and crawled back into bed. It gets cold up in the mountains at night, and by cold I mean it maybe got to 65, which is freezing to us now, because it is usually around 85 and humid. Sweat all day and freeze all night! They provided us with a good amount of blankets so we stayed warm and comfy through the night.
FRIDAY-October 17th, 2014
It surprisingly was a quiet morning. The roosters were in a quieter chorus, and the cows mooed as it echoed once more in the valley. We groggily got up and walked up the hill to eat. We walked out to the fields with Chi to see how they harvest the rice. It was terribly hot, so I put my scarf on my head, which seemed to be of entertainment to the village people. We probably would of joined if we could, but they said it is very itchy, and we were not quite properly dressed for harvesting rice. Chi was worried we were too hot. We went back after the giant bug that seems to love Leah’s hair came to attack again. It was cute to see the reaction of Chi’s dad as he was ready to run to Leah’s rescue. We hangout, ate lunch, and walked back to the fields to see them beat the stalks to get the rice of it on a tarp. You definitely have to be strong to do so! They pick up the stalks and carry it to the tarp, which to me they look like walking swamp monsters, haha. We ended the evening at Chi’s house. Some people came to visit for a bit. Including a single 29 year old, where is was asked if we were single. We chatted with Chi and his wife through translation books and had a successful conversation. Chi also play guitar and harmonica, which was peaceful to listen to while looking at the makeshift fire pit. I stared at the fire and breathed in the wonderful smell of the wood burning. The milky way weaved across the sky and the stars twinkled in the sky. I tried to take in every part of the moment I could to remember the peace, love, and tranquility in living life in the village. Being in a village and living simply made me realize how scary the city is to people who go to the city for work. It is a sharp contrast to the rural life in the hills. The countryside is noisy with voices and animals, while the city is bustling with cars and sharp tones. The city is not a welcoming place for hilltribes, and I understand more of the juxtaposition of it while living with village people. We prayed with Chi and his wife before heading back to the house and watching a little Thai TV before sleeping. I am incredibly thankful to have been so well taken care of in the village. The love and care that people have for another is incredible. Even when their loved ones have to work miles away, there is still the same love when they return.
SATURDAY-October 18th, 2014
We packed up our belongings and got ready for a day of traveling. Packing my bag for the fifth time it seemed to expand more. Plus I think there was a hole in my space bag, so it did indeed expand. We did not get to say goodbye to anyone cause they were out in the fields, which was a bummer. But a part of me did not want to say goodbye, because it would of been too hard to. We loaded our things in the truck and drove away from the village with solemn hearts. I looked out at the field with a melancholy feeling of practicum being over. It has been hard at times, but the challenging times do not outweigh the times of learning and of joy. The chance to see the interworkings of an NGO, to play with Burmese, Hmong, and Karen children, the chance to drive to remote villages, to see places I would never see if it were not for the opportunities presented while being here in Thailand. I am incredibly thankful for all those who take care of me while being on practicum. To those who opened their homes and treated us like family. To those who verbally processed with me about my time during practicum. To those who lovingly supported me even thousands of miles away. And especially to those who checked up on me, just when I thought I might fall apart a little. Thank you. We originally were supposed to take the bus, but the bus was full, so we took a song teow over the hill. With our things strapped on top of the song teow, we hopped in, put headphones in, and sat in our mixed emotions. It was the excitement of returning home to Go-ED mixed with the sadness of leaving all that we have experienced behind. All that I experienced seemed as if it could slip away from me. Just as the jungle was flashing quickly from my view, so are the memories that have created my practicum experience. I however hope I will not forget them. That I will carry with me all that I have learned and to step into the future with more hands on knowledge and experience that will create me to be all that I hope to be. And with that I step boldly on. Returning to Doi Saket however probably brought on the most culture shock that I have experienced while being here. Coming from a remote village to the loud noises of the city and the house were more than I could handle all at once. We removed ourselves to eat in a more quiet environment and once again spoke of our sadness in leaving the wonderful village.
If could sum up my experience in one word, it would be tableu. Tableu is the Karen word for hello, goodbye, sure, yes, and really you could use it for anything. So I say tableu to my experience as I wave goodbye to the hundreds of people I have met in the last month and look ahead to the hundreds of more that I will have the pleasure of meeting in the future. For all that I am, and all that I will be, I praise God for the experience of a lifetime that is shaping me to be prepared for what the future may bring.
*The rest of the photos can be found at the following link:*