I realized last week that blogging was really taking to much out of me. I can’t blog everyday and won’t unless the day becomes maybe 6 hours longer. It takes too much time and I don’t feel I am doing it for myself. I was blogging and not journalling for myself. I was not actually processing, trying to find a way to record the activities in enough time but not being able to actually go into how I felt on a deeper level because it takes to much to process and honestly this is not the medium for it. Still this is a good way to remember things as a whole and hopefully I will recall my feelings and deeper emotions when looking over this in the future and be able to take a more wholesome approach to this all…
The other day I woke up thinking “I love my life here.” It was a day off, last thursday I think. I woke up, went on a run, did yoga, had breakfast, read, relaxed, talked, goofed around with Apple, the oldest daughter of Tippowan, or most devoted helper. Thursday was a day of fasting for the Lahu. Some of us participated a little, we shared their first meal of the day with them and spent the evening watching a movie. A movie I was skeptical about but I truly enjoyed in the end. Just spending time together was so relaxing and joyful. I had many good dreams that night. Saturday morning we awoke early to be on our way to Mae Say, the Golden triangle. This area is THE AREA of trafficking linking Burma, Thailand and Laos. We got on a boat to Laos, the river was high; and yet still so easy to cross. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And yet this cradle is the that of so much pain, destruction. It leaves us all with feeling of incomprehension.
It’s so hard to blog because who does one recall so much that is so different? I want to organize my thoughts but there are too many feelings that are interlinked. One of our professors, an expert on the issue of trafficking says there are no easy answers, the answer is always “it’s complex.”
We checked into our hotel,and were taken to the imposing Hall of Opium. This “museum” was constructed on the initiative of the Princess Mother in an effort to put an end to opium addiction. It was an emotional endeavor but also historically informative and well done.
We headed back for a delicious chinese dinner. The waitresses were extremely gloomy. Unusual in Thailand ” the land of smiles”. Ajun Chuleepan remarked that they did not seem to speak Thai well. Ajun Bua, a young Shan woman in her 30s brought us to the youth group she helps lead. None of these young people have papers; they are all undocumented migrants, here for school or for work, alone or with their families. Lyndsay and I shared our testimonies again and two Shan girls gave their own stories. Throughout the weekend we were taken back by how natural everything seems, yet knowing the underlying pain beneath it all. What to do with these feelings? How to interact with this situation, with these people who you know not the depths of, wondering if they let themselves see the depths.. and what if they did? Where would they be left then? Bua brought us to the red light district. Things were more quiet than they were a couple months ago apparently. The military regime is changing things, at least in appearances. Things are becoming more hidden, less hierarchal. Bua and one of the girls who shared her testimony sat us down in the hotel restaurant to speak of their Christian village which we visited the next day. Many paradoxes and tensions. Girls sell their virginity for an astronomical amount to bring money to their family. This is their responsibility, this is the need, this is the only perceived option. Plus it is not considered trafficking to them, it is just “having boyfriends” or whatnot… It is difficult to understand the underlying reasonings. What marked me the most was being able to recognize the links with what I have been exposed to in America.
We woke up and were off to the Burmese border. A lovely guide was helping us navigate the process and get to the village. We waited for our passports to be processed. I loved Burma from the start. We were waiting by a roundabout where there was much traffic. The whirlwind of different faces and dresses made the reality of this diverse ethnic nation come to life so vibrantly. I love diversity. How to know that beneath all this joyous smiles and greetings there is such hardship. This people are so beautiful. My awe only grew as we packed into the tiny song-taw for our hour trip to the village. What would’ve been an uncomfortable trip was for me a beautiful adventure of bright bright green rice fields and jungle scenery. I was comptely exctatic. People in Burma are less used to “forang”s and it was cool seeing how exotic we were to them. The village provided the “other worldliness” feeling I had been yearning for. That sense of adventure, discovery of the unknown, unchartered feeling. We were welcomed to Ajun Bua’s home, her intense father giving us a tour of his rice fields. A continuous question kept on being raised “Do you have this in your country?” : irrigation, beans, rice, crabs… They are so hungry for the outer world, so wanting to know what it is like and if they are like it. Church was very long and yet it was a spirit filled experience. Miranda shared much wisdom. We had lunch with Bua’s family. The food was delicious of course and we spent good time in fellowship. We then visited the pastor who was an orderly man, tiredly walking with a cane, covered in tattoos… He was so happy just for us to come sit in his midst and this was the most overwhelming feeling for me. This man seemed to have been through so much and worked so hard and was still fighting for it all. I could feel the pain in this struggle. I could sense his wisdom, even in knowing that he could only be an example not change people himself. He was a true fatherly figure. These beautiful people I did not want to leave. Still, we set out to venture back to Tachileik, stopping at Mo’s , (our guide) parents dragon fruit farm where we were stuffed fill. I felt so spoiled. This is such an other world. The thing I liked the most about Burma was there there was no sense of time. There is a 30min time difference with Thailand, church was supposed to start at 10 but it started an hour later, and at no point was that an issue. We just navigated through what there was to do: visit, church, eat, visit… Here one felt what it was time to do, and was not impeded with the necessity of tasks or such. It was liberating; grounding. The border however did close at a certain time so we had to rush back. We visited a Watt on the way where i had the privilege of having tanaka put on my face. The Shan people, men and women use this mask that comes from sandalwood to stay refreshed throughout the day and apply it in beautiful decorative motives on their face. It was the one thing I wanted to bring back with me. We spent a little time at a tea shop. I felt like I was in the Asian Morocco or Romania. I liked it. We ventured back into Thailand, had dinner at a open air street restaurant and then all engaged in a typical cultural experience: THAI MASSAGE. 😀 happy happy Leah. Want to do this AT LEAST once a week. Our amazing professor Chuleepon instigated it and stayed on herself for an extra hour. It was great. I slept great and woke up a little sore.
The final day of the trip, we headed to Chiang Rai to visit a great international agency: DDHPC. It reminded me of Noah’s Anchorage in Santa Barbara. I knew these human issues and this type of approach to community development and yet I felt that because I am not Thai, the type of social work I could do here would be limited. I was a little despondent. I’m not sure exactly where to start in the journey that I see a mirage of an endpoint to . And I’m not finding the responses I want, I’m not sure how to get to the places I see people in, how to build myself to be of use to this things I have an understanding and a heart for. The talk was like a seminar and very informative for all involved.
LUNCH was one of the tastiest I’ve had, and I think my favorite. There were mushrooms in the soup, a tender friend fish, pork rinds… so good. We were soon off to our next stop, the Yellow Lahu village where Tippowan was born (apparently on the side of the road?). Words cannot express the awe that the pastor of this village gathered from us all. This man walked to Thailand (through the forest) from Burma when he was 10, has worked for UNESCO, written and gotten authorization from the authorities to establish a space for the Lahu village, translated in Yellow Lahu and other dialects of which he speaks about 7 if I can correctly recall.After listening to just a few of his amazing life stories gapped mouthed we all hoped into the back of his pick up truck thai style and he drove us up the dirt road to his land where we were created by his beautiful tiny wife in front of their Lahu bamboo elevated house, surrounded by their ox and chickens. They showed us a few of traditional practices which they have kept alive and continue to pass on to the generations. It was such a rich experience and it lifted all of our hearts. We were sent off, smiling and waving.
Final destination= pie shop on the side of the river. Imposing structure with the chillest vibes ever. I felt like I was in the African Queen. It really had an expat sentiment of nostalgia to it. We tried to have a little debrief of the weekend but mostly everyone just wanted pie except for those of us who are gluten free. 😥
We got kicked out at closing and journeyed on to Doi Seket. Coming back felt like arriving home, to see Pawnee with food ready on the table. Tuesday was a day of relaxing from our long trip and today we jumped back in. We are all tired and there are some tensions. Starting to yearn for a more flexible type of schedule and being overwhelmed with the different assignments that are nearing. None of us know each other. We are strangers in close proximity being faced with these intense things and not really being able to support each other…
Living hard and amazing things, growing together. I’m hoping for strength, compassion and more and more grace each day for ourselves and for others.