Back in Chiang Mai on the Lahu TLCC Campus a couple weeks ago as I lay in bed trying to force myself to sleep yet being flooded with extreme joyous energy, beautiful creative thoughts and passionate ideas, I realized I do not have enough time to day dream. My mind feels like it is going to exploooode! I have so many thoughts, feelings, perceptions, misconceptions, paradoxes, images, smells that I am processing! I can literally feel the ideas and concepts twisting and tossing together in the layer of subconscious, baking my lenses of this world. A recurring thought of mine this past week has been that I am afraid to open up a door to my thoughts, picturing an overpowering flood washing over me and never ending. Today it is pouring rain. I worked on some MMF Program Evaluation Paperwork after sitting in on the weekly staff meeting and a delicious lunch at a cute “forang” loved restaurant. I feel a little rested, having spent a good half an hour chatting on Facebook, marveling at the different paths people take to bring light to this world and letting the VERY LOUD RAIN flood out all the jumble in my mind. For the first time since I’ve been here I feel calm and grounded. The large hard surfaced bed surrounded by a swooping mosquito net in the corner of two windows which at night I toss and turn in, plagued by sooo many itchy bugs, is in this moment a very very peaceful space.
Our first staff meeting was last Monday. We have now officially been interning for a week though it seems like an eternity. Space and time are operating on very different frames here and it is difficult to align in a balanced way. The mornings go by very slowly, the evenings in the blink of an eye. There is a continuous paradox of feeling like everything is going by very fast and yet taking foreever to do so.
We have been working at the Migrant Child Center which is an MMF(Mekong Minority Foundation) Program. The center is run by Samula and Memali, two immigrant burmese woman who tend to about 16-24 Burmese children under the Montessori system. I cannot express my amazement in the workings of this program. I am still unsure of how much of the sweetness and attentiveness of the children is linked to the program itself, how much to Burmese, Thai or Asian culture and how much is simply due to the soothing presence yet firm reactiveness of Samula and Memali.
The first days it was difficult to know what to do. The status of intern throws me off as I want to meet and go beyond expectations. Though in this context I was sooo unsure of what those expectations were or if I was expected to wow by just aparessing great work without being told how or what would help or benefit. I had to go back to the idea of missions, of “owning” poverty. That we want to DO to help but often that is less than helpful, and yet we feel uncomfortable not actively engaging in an activity that rewards or sense of self accomplishment. Still, just being here, percent with the kids, smiling, helping if possible without language is what we are doing. It’s ok to feel useless. I’m trying to shift my understanding of what we see as “useful” and to let go of those expectations I expect others to have of me. We haven’t been to the children center since Thursday and I miss the kids!!! We will be back there only two more days… Harsh reality of short term involvement. Need to conciliate the wonderful opportunity of the blessing of simply being with these children and Samula and Memali.
Thursday Bethany and I will be sitting in on the monthly MMF meeting which I am sure will be extremely insightful and helpful in understanding the process of the different programs being established and managed, how they are welcomed and such… Also most likely very long and perhaps frustrating win having to apply office etiquette, our status being pretty jul; not really being in a position which is allowed to take peoples time and ask questions about random things (or seemingly random to those who are operating in a particular mindset and only after a particular goal)… Anyways the world! Today as I zoned out in the meeting, (it was a long Thai stretch) I thought about this experiencing. I thought about Bethany’s blogging. How well she seems to find a meaning to everything she is experiencing. I was thinking about needing to write and ardently searching for a meaning, for a framework, for a leading thread of sense to tie all these CRAZY THINGS together. Nothing makes sense. I thought about our meeting last Thursday and Friday. MMF had visiting Program Directors from one of their main donor agencies, Cedar Fund. Bethany and I had the opportunity of sitting in on a meeting Thursday and joining the site visit on Friday.On Thursday, Burmese migrant worker MMF volunteers came to the office to speak of what they have been working on and what challenges they have faced and had to deal with. During this meeting I might have committed slight faux pas in office etiquette but I could really not shut my mouth. I kept on thinking of Ajun Christa’s rants on how much she wished people involved in NGOs would take her class and had the framework for what they are doing. I wanted to ask more questions about the migrant community and the interactions within it but it seemed unwanted. Today the main thought in looking back on these was of wanting to have the status of someone who is listened to. Or more like to come back and be a person that people allow for there to be time spent on. I want to be the person who is allowed to ask questions and think about these, not the one who cannot speak out the questions and thoughts that want to burst out. Friday we were taken to the Office of Social Welfare and Labor Protection. THIS WAS AWESOME. I felt so so so privileged to be sitting in on this meeting. I was marveling that this place is where it happens. These people make decisions, make accessions, see what can be done and DO IT! It was so inspiring and refreshing to see the relationship between the MMF staff and the Director of the ministry. We then visited a Hmong Village in Chiang Kong where MMF has implemented numerous leadership trainings and was to have one the very weekend. I was so blown away by the beauty of the place.
We crossed a stream to get to a beautiful church on a little hill top where we were greeted by a spirited, playful bantering pastor full of energy and laughter. We sat in the church and were brought heaps of delicious fruits which he at the end told us we couldn’t leave without eating all of. We were all introduced (apparently Pastor Kim thinks I am more beautiful than the Leah in the bible) and Pastor Kim spoke of his community. I was completely entranced by his description of his culture, of how the Church has engaged with the community and how very very real the spiritual world is for them. Pastor Kim told us of how they have engaged in 19 organized debates with the witch doctors in the community and that they have only lost twice and have been tied twice. I excitedly imagined what debates would look like in this culture. Pastor Kim spoke of the main concept they use in engaging with the witch doctors has to due with the Hmong belief that the soul is everlasting and that upon death, witch doctors guide this soul back to its source. Pastor Kim tells the witch doctors that this notion of the soul’s eternity is in the Bible, that this is the source of the witch doctors beliefs. We were handed a guest book that I wrote in, thinking the whole time of how much I want to return here and spend time learning of their spiritual and cultural ways.
Saturday Bethany and I met up with Patricia Wolf, a perky french ex pat who had the kindness to take us around on an adventure. We were hoping to see more of Chiang Rai but were so worn out. Apparently even after a coffee as Anna, a french girl who is right off the boat commented we are “unable of enjoying life because the energy is sucked out of us”. or something of the sort. Patty had planned on taking us to the Opium Museum in Mae Sai, which we had already been to so instead she took us to see the elephants at the Karen village! I was very excited when I saw them up close and we got on a ride around the block. The excitement slightly died off as I thought of this elephant walking on the side of the road for our eterntainment. I asked the driver’s name, his elephants name and age (25!). And as I watched him sit with his legs crossed on the elephants head, his hand behind the ears I longed for a context in which I could do the same. Not stupidly sit on a makeshift car seat getting stares from the local souvenir shop keepers. Patty then took us to lunch at a resort next to the elephants she wanted to check out. 950 a night for the bungalo, 1000 for the room she energetically stated “good price, very nice”. I was a little complacent. The food was good but I miss Pawnee’s cooking. Patty told us about all the adventures we could go on for good prices: take a boat to Laos, go on a jungle elephant trek for only 2000 Baht. Anna the next day told me how she has pegged me as a “aventurière frustrée”. Yes. definitely. I wish I could go off on random adventures, get lost, meet crazy people, have a fire dance, sleep under the stars… Right now though I am here and I am happy, things are not the way I prefer them but it is good to affirm yourself and find ways to be yourself in each situation. I am learning a lot and seeing a lot that I would not in a different context. And the other reality is that I actually do not really feel the urge to go adventuring as I usually would because I like to let the culture overwhelm me. And here, I do not feel that it is the culture to do such things. I am observing the culture and not wishing to make it into something else of my own liking. So adventure is awesome, but this is my adventure now and I will let the wind blow through me and be still and dance and jump when I feel it flowing.
I have been so so so so intrigued, fascinated and weirded out by the ex pat community. I came to Thailand stoked to experience new cultures, fascinated by the tribal communities, by Burma, by every day thai life and Buddhist practices. I have been extremely surprised by how constructed of an ex pat society there is. I inadvertently was aware of this when I was at the pie shop in Chiang Rai. The feeling of a nostalgic sentiment for colonial times, a feeling resembling of the African Queen. I hadn’t yet realized how this is not a lost sentiment but something VERY VERY PRESENT. Thailand is overflowing with tourists. I was surprised to realize how many french tourists there are. Interacting with the Buddhist Monk and now with Patty I am not sure if this is the only such connection but there is a definite link in French and Thai culture of shutting off deep personal emotions or importance of those in connection with others, a sense of fatalism and a deep reference of elitism. The French see Thailand as a get away, one that offers answers to their issues but still in the comfort of cinism, with the interesting part of exoticism. The tourist industry of adventure is catered to foreigners longing for this exoticism. Makes me think of Bride and Prejudice and Lalita’s rants “You think this is India?”. I never understood how real this disconnect and illusion is.
I have been feeling the urge to go around SHATTERING GLASSES. I have a vision of people holding up mirrors, individuals who are not only looking at themselves but at others in their midsts. The mirror create the illusion that the whole world is this way. The people are not touching though. I want to break these mirrors. And yet I love the idea of reflections and mirrors as a way to understand and look into the reflection and see a different meaning, learn a story, learn a medicine. This vision is not totally explained. I have mixed feelings about the ex pat community. It is also interesting to see or feel the differences here and in Chiang Mai. I keep thinking about Tender is the Night and how I was enthralled by Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the ex pats in the South of France; how I found a place of understanding and excitement in these characters. It felt like home. Flash forward to now and the understanding I had for these erring eccentric characters does not necessarily transfer over. The international church we went to our first day in Chiang Rai was a trip. Seriously. I was pretty uncomfortable to start. I almost felt panicky. I’m not always sure what this feeling is but I tend to seek prayer whenever it arises. Sometimes I think its just a jolt of the Spirit crying to be let out, but when I first feel it it seems more like an attack. The church service was very out of the ordinary, which is how I like them. What blew my mind was in how this is weird; yet for them it is normal and they wouldn’t necessarily be open to a different layer of weird. I’m not sure they wouldn’t, I felt pretty at home once I started interacting with people. I guess what was surprising was how this place seemed like a different world but because there were enough people from a different world, it created a new, accepted world. I wonder what the impressions of our Church in France are. The second church we went to with Patty (she took us to an English speaking church because we wouldn’t understand the thai… ) was “big”. There were many missionary families and people from China and Vietnam, college students and kids… It was very diverse, worship was in two languages, the message was well said and true and yet I just didn’t feel it. Writing out “there were many missionaries” maybe made me understand the issue… haha. I want to break the mirrors… The message was about leaving our wordly culture and being Kingdom culture (not in those terms.. ) . I do not want to act as the outsider coming in and saying what is wrong. Yet I want the spirit to flow. And maybe its my own fault for not letting it flow freely yet when I speak of Kingdom culture I see weird stuff that we don’t expect and I want to be weird and happy and crazy… I DONT SEE THIS HERE. This community is like “lets not worry about cultural norms but only to the extent that its comfortable for us and maybe a little uncomfortable or awkward”. I WANT MORE lets push it farther and just CALL ON THE SPIRIT TO FLOOD THE GATES THAT SEPARATE US ALL. I’m so tired of standing when I’m told, of snoozing off during worship. WHEN DID PEOPLE STOP DANCING TO WORSHIP? WHY IS THAT NOT A THING? SERIOUSLY!? If we’re talking about doing what’s in the BIBLE ITS IN THE FREAKING BIBLE.
K. My rant is over haha. But really ex pats; let the gates flood, thank you for your work it’s awesome, don’t stay in your comfortable recreation of a western world bubble. I’ve noticed it’s uncomfortable for me at times. People suppose that because I go to school in America and grew up in France that I must be interested in doing certain things certain ways. I’m really not interested in eating bread, in going to Starbucks, in going to english speaking churches… People seem surprised when they hear what we’ve been doing, where we eat, what we don’t eat…
It has been oh oh oh so sweet to spend evenings at Grace Home. Anna and Ubé, a Lahu couple hold Grace Home, a place where there are about 50 kids from 7 to 17 about that sleep in a couple “houses”. I can’t express how soothing this place is. How much of a sacred space it is. It is so filled with the spirit of God, it takes my breath away. From the start the kids came up to us, arms outstretched for hugs before they even spoke. The first day Abé ran through the rooms and showed us the pigs introducing us to a forang man standing by the kids “Graham” before beckoning us upstairs. “They’ll steal your heart away” were some of his first words to us.
Abé made us coffee and we sat at the living room table of the second floor apartment with a beautiful view of the green mountains and blue sky. We were introduced to Lori, the wife of Graham. A couple from Australia who have been coming to Grace home for 6 years. We confusedly rushed back downstairs into Abé’s truck where the kids had already pilled into the back. One of the most Thai things I feel like I’ve ever done. “EXERCISE!” Walk along the beautiful river, with different activities on the side, a garden and trees: tennis, basketball, that thing that’s volleyball but actually kicking. Grammas listening to thai music and doing their slow steps. All with children holding your hands and pulling you forward. After the walk you can do the speed dance routing . I got pretty crazy with it the second and third time. “Sweatastic” as Bethany would say. Quelle bonne humeur! We head back buzzing with endorphins and the windows down, sticking out my hand which gets grabbed by kids on the back who smile perkishly to me. Lahu dinner with Anna, Abé, Lori and Graham is so comforting. I loooove me some steamed pumpkin!
It has been such a blessing to be in this home, we never want to leave. We are placed exactly where we need to be. Lori and Graham being at Grace Home have offered us the great opportunity to engage with Anna and Abé in an intimacy we might never had explored without them. At the night market after Anna, Abé, Lori and Graham came back from a fay of visiting the Lahu villages, Anna ordered food for exhausted Bethany and Leah. We jokingly called her “Mé”.. but the feeling is real and she laughed sweetly.
Graham and Lori evoke many things for me as they are dedicated parents of 5 grown children but have also been the loving foster parents of many children. I often thank them for what they are doing as after having studied intimate violence and been so linked to teen homelessness I know the difficulty of finding good foster parents and of being good foster parents. They are so sweet and playful, open yet with boundaries of personal sharing that make me feel that everything that is shared is very deep.
We have not seen Grace Home or the Burmese kids since Thursday and I am missing them. We have been feeling very weary and I think this is amplified by the lack of emotional well-being that we get from the presence of the children and of our Lahu and Australian family. I am very excited for tomorrow!
Our last class with Dr Amnuy, we had us respond to a series of really interesting quotes. I have had a recurring thought that I only just know pinpointd the original forming of to one of my responses. As I realized this, I grew very thankful for this exercise he had us engage in and it has got me ready for something I have been thinking about. (more on that vey soon 🙂 ) . SO One of my recurring thoughts this past week has been that I WANT TO SUCCEED. I WANT TO PAVE A NEW PATH. I do not want to be afraid, and even do this in the dark so that if I fail no one will notice. I BELIEVE WE CAN LIVE ANOTHER WAY. I BELIEVE WE CAN DREAM AND ATTAIN. I WANT TO SUCCEED IN THIS TO SHOW OTHERS THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. I don’t care if people do something the way I do it, I just want people to do it the way the want it SHATTER THAT STUPID MIRROR YOU’RE HOLDING. Look inside!
Today I was very happy because in the meeting we were asked in which way we are acting out our life as ambassadors for Christ. We were asked by Pao to meditate alone about this for 10 minutes and then report back. I was being pushed to share and was very happy that I followed that push and as I saw heads nodding I was encouraged.
I thought a lot about what I have been experiencing. The tensions. The main ones being that I want to be ON FIRE for God. And yet there is a reality of often things seem forced. We are not actually feeling the spirit, we are expecting something else of it. ANd we think that being on fire looks a certain way. It is uncomfortable to be still. It is sometimes disheartening to not feel a great big woof of spirit. The tension lays in accepting where we are. Yet in this ACCEPTING we must not stop EXPECTING. This is a difficult balance. I have been growing in acceptance of where I am. I have been trying to expect. Also, in order to grow we must not accept that it is difficult and here but not yet. We must not force. I have adopted the vision of a garden. I am the garden. It has been weeded out and raked and seeds have been planted and I are being watered and I am so impatient to see the beautiful trees and fruits and flowers that will come. I am soooo impatient. I keep on seeing a vision of a person that I will be but that I am not yet. And yet I think in looing forward I am not taking into account alll the little tiny blessings and spirit flows that surround and bless me every day. I am not seeing my own eternity and marveling in it each and every day. I want to and want to be in the Kingdom now and every day and I shall continue knocking and praying and asking . And when I realize how filled I am I BETTER OWN UP TO ALL THAT PLEADING.
Flood Gates Open Yo.
Please pray for good health and protection. Sleep and bugs and food.
Thank you for all the love you surround us with each day!!! Would love to hear the thoughts and words you have had in reading this or thinking of us. 🙂
In Love & Light.