It has been a quick-paced month here in Chiang Mai. The Bible Education Centre has been taking comfortable steps foreword in the development of our contact base and development of resources for the centre.
Under the careful and diligent watch of Brother Terry, we have been working together to grow friendships in both the Burmese Thai and the Native Thai communities.
As a graphic designer, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the Publicity and Corporate elements of the Cambodia and Chaing Mai BECs. It has been useful to have a calling card, posters and general map of our location and it has been our practice since I arrived to go to markets and bazaars on free evenings to talk to people and promote our cause. This has proven quite effective as I now have three thai women from the markets who are coming to the BEC on Tuesday and Thursday for three hour (usually goes for four) sessions where I teach English through Bible stories. The women are Buddhist and it may seem a little ambitious to be teaching a completely different religion but time has shown their genuine interest in the Bible.
We have our older contacts, Moopah and her daughter Vikki, their friends Theresa and Moses (her son) who are coming along in leaps and bounds in their bible knowledge and understanding of first principles. From them spring the 6 degrees of separation and so many doors have recently opened up for us that I believe we may have to start recruiting more hands on deck.
The trip to Mai Hoy and surrounding villages was successful and effective. We gave out all the copies of the Karen 40 Lesson Correspondence Course and we have a back list of people who would also like a copy (which Terry is going to sort out this week). I kept a daily journal of the trip so please read it if you are interested.
The trip to Mai Hoy has gone great so far. I am sitting in on a candle-lit class Terry is running with Moopah as a translator. I have just come back from teaching about 30 children some parables of Jesus. They are taught quite well by their young teacher (John). My translator is the car driver Paul. He was very nervous and was worried about messing up, as he doesn’t have a good Bible knowledge.
The kids were well behaved and responsive. They understood the simple stories I told. After 45 mins their eyes were cloudy in the flickering candle light and I decided to give into the yawns and have a game of spotlight with them.. And my torch. They had fun running around and after 10 mins we came in and the children prayed for us. They prayed that God would bless me and Paul and that I would tell many people the stories of Jesus. I was very impressed and touched.
An old man who was a walking devotion to defying death introduced himself. He was bent double and the same height as me sitting on the ground. His name is Je-gua (means what is money?) he showed me his house and the bible school house that he has kept for years hoping someone will come to teach again. He showed me his skin troubles and his wheel chair he said he will use when he gets old (the locals say he is almost 100). He has dry skin all over his tribally tattooed body that he is always scratching. He said he needs help with it. He can’t go to the hospital because it costs too much for the transport and for the medication sold. He has some moisturiser given to him by the hospital but he refuses to apply enough to help him for fear of not having it any more. I suggest he try’s coconut oil if he washes it off every day and to just test it in a patch first. Coconut oil is cheap and used as a moisturiser in Australia so I think it would offer him some relief. He’s better off with some relief than he is without anything.
Dinner is great thanks to the expert cooking by Paul, and Moopah contributes some tasty chilli & monkey brains.
We are asked to pray for a sick man an Terry agrees but informs them that anyone who who knows God and follows his word can pray for God’s help. We go to the home but he is not there. We are invited to come to other peoples homes and do the rounds of the village.
The aged have a common feature: red worn-down teeth and red lips. It is due to the narcotic called beetle nut. They grind the nut and add ground limestone and roll the two powders into a beetle leaf. They chew a good mouthful of this and then nothing is a problem for a few hours. Depending on the person, it might be something they have very rarely to the extreme of some of the more in pain aged, who keep it going all day and drool red saliva everywhere.
Je-Gua asked Terry and I to come to his house and presented us with beautiful hand-made shirts from the village. Terry’s arms did not fit into his, so he gave it back. Je-Gua told me if i visit Karen villages that i should have a Karen shirt. I accepted the shirt and I have been wearing it to each village; I think it’s an ice breaker.
Two of the Christian Mai-Hoyans join us on our journey. Their names are Jor-Daan and Elaa. Jor-Daan is our guide and takes us to the villages that he has preached in before.
We go next to the town of Mae Cota. On the way we drive through smoke and fire so close to the car you could feel them penetrate the windows. It is the method of the Karen to burn a mountain to clear it of Forrest for farming. With the forrest gone, the wind tears through the mountains with cyclonic persuasions. Finally this bleak dry, dusty, mountainous landscape is transformed by God’s relieving gift of rain and as we climb higher into the peaks, mud starts to try to slide us off. Now for the 4x4er, it is absolute adrenalin filled nirvana. For the somewhat less 4x4ish moopah, it was not so much thrilling as sickeningly terrifying. Now for the one poor man who didn’t fit into the twin-cab, it was a different story. Poor soggy Elaah was soaked by the time we slid down into the valley stream-side town of Mai Saa.
The trip was not fruitless in any sense of the word. We were well received in the little village and on the way we stopped to pick some bitter sweet fruit called detutha. It grows on a small emerald-green leafed tree. The fruit are the size of a thumb node and taste as if they are from the szyzigeum family. Imagine a soft stringy Lilly-Pilly fruit mixed with a soft tomato-vine flavor. Paul later makes a special Karen desert with these intriguing fruit. We come finally to a wide Stoney river with a bridge that looks like it could handle the weight of a small buffalo and his pet butterfly. We pile out and guide Paul over the creaking teak and bamboo bridge. Finally a welcome sight: ta-bluet (hello/thank you) Mai Cota village!
We were welcomed into the home of the only English-speaking member of the village. Her name was Bah and she had a sickly cute baby who sadly had a fever after his six month vaccination. Many people slowly filter in to shake hands with us.
We get a short tour around the quite-well-advanced village. There is a primary school, irrigation and a crude, water system.
I get busy working out the ins and outs of their complicated weaving looms. They spin their own cotton, dye it, and skilfully make intricate and colourful lengths of material.
Soon enough it’s time for dinner. The food once again is surprisingly good and the rice is sooo fresh! We could not hope to have rice like this in Australia as it is picked and dried seasonally, then (as needed) the women mill the husks of with a giant, foot-operated, pendulum mortar. They toss the rice into the air on cane trays and separate the grain from the chaff. We have a meal of cabbage and choko (which I regret to announce can actually taste good and is now off my garden hit-list), bean curd with shrimp and chilli boiled into a paste (which warms you up well), soup and acacia omelettes.
After the meal all I wanted to do was sleep, but it was time for the Bible class. We file into the church and I take the kids outside to teach them. The group is primary school aged so I didn’t get too metaphorical on them with too many parables. I spoke about the lamp and how to let our light shine. This took a long time as I had Paul who has a very heavy Thai accent (in Karen) so I spoke, then a 13 year old girl translated Paul’s translation. This proved to be slightly too long for these energetic and slightly violent children to sit and they became restless, hitting each other and pulling ears. I call to order and started a game I called todi-todi-chah! (duck-duck-chicken). We play this for a while and then play a new game where they learnt two phrases in English: “Jesus loves me” and “Jesus is coming soon” by way of a running and shouting game. After this I tell the sleepy kids some stories of Jesus and David & Goliath, they all laugh at my dramatised actions and sounds.
Bed!! I once again curl into my blessed hammock and try to sleep. As expected, it was a rather restless rest. Beneath the platform we slept on, there was a pig tied to the post for a lifetime sentence. He showed his distaste for the situation by grunting and squealing all night. After I got used to the sound and push it to my subconscience, the babies had a go at protesting the act of sleep. The mothers were kind enough to put them back to sleep after a good half-hour of screams. There was silence… It could not last. Ahh… ten lovely minutes of silence and then the mothers (who were well awake and had no expectations of sleep) started the day with some healthy wood cutting and rice pounding. This woke the roosters and dragged the sun over the cold peaks of the mountains, lighting up the village and forcing it into a bustle of noise and animation.
Paul’s soap! Has anyone seen Paul’s soap and shaving cream? One of the women said a dog took them. Finally the soap is found — but with some telling teeth marks in it. We didn’t identify the thief, but I’m sure it would be the one dog with lavender breath and a shiny coat.
The goodbyes, which are also expressed in the multi purpose word “ta-blute” are exchanged. We are presented with hand-woven, blue Karen shoulder bags which we accept gratefully. And were back on the “road” again.
The trip to Menam keo or Tea-La-Clo (Karen for green water river) is as eventful as the last drive so I’ll not bore you with more tales of death defying 4x4ing.
It’s day three of our trip and we have stopped at our third village. I have only cooked once since we started but have learnt so much from the locals. I have been introduced to a new fruit today called “luther”. For outward appearances it’s a big, mouldy, honey-dew melon. It grows very much like pumpkin on a vine and can be stored for many months at room temperature after picking it. Now the taste and texture are conflicting and pleasant. Imagine the texture of crunchy raw potato and the taste of fresh cucumber and iceberg lettuce. They would weigh in at 4-5kg and are easy to grow in quantities.
The whether has made our journey interesting and has added a little verity to our mission. I really don’t mind the rain one bit. It makes the precarious 4x4ing fun, the thunder adds a little atmosphere, the evening showers cool the day down beautifully and wash everything clean, leaving only a fresh rain smell.
Opposed to expectations, by the third day I feel squeaky clean after my shave wash (in cold water), shampoo and fresh clothes. When we arrived, we were welcomed, shown our sleeping area and told to go rest. I welcomed this concept with heavy eyes as my rest last night was (as you have read) insufficient.
I have just been sign-languaged for dinner. Im back and well fed. I’m going to miss Karen food. Lots of chilli and lots of flavour with ample amounts of freshly husked rice on the side. Their trick is to make every dish so strong that you have to add plenty of cost effective rice to soothe the flavour.
The evenings temperature is sinking as we fall into dark night. It is now quite cold in these high mountains. I am quite warm in my thickly woven Karen shirt. My hammock has been a life saver. With it I can sleep anywhere outside because of its inbuilt mosquito net. It is infinitely more comfortable than the wooden floor boards.
Moopah feels unwell and is not keen to continue to the next town. She asks to be taken to the nearest town before we head for Baw-Mae-Kee. We take moopah to town to stay at a hotel and we find Kolola, a young Christian Karen man who speaks English. He would replace moopah for the next village trip.
After a highly dangerous drive through roads that have never seen four wheels (distressed Paul greatly) we arrive at a high mountain Karen tribe called Baw-Mae-Kee. This track beats all other fore-mentioned drivings and goes into the “most epic” folder in my memory. We are introduced to the small populous of 99 people, we meet about 20 in the immediate area.
I am invited into the male-dominated kitchen (love this culture) and drink some red tea that has a color dangerously close to that of an old woman’s spit they call it chgho (boiled red wood from a tree). I wouldn’t be surprised if it had some beetle nut qualities to it. I get chatting to a tobacco smoker named Chika and he beckons me to come with him. He proudly shows me his forest leaf-roofed home and his four teenage children. I track to his son Poen-Sah an some young friends Ja-Kri, and Nyani. Oh and Chicka’s wife Ja-Di. He politely shows me his meter-and-a-half rifle and asks me to come with him when the sun goes down to protect the rice from the flying rats (I swear I’m not tripping from the tea). Anyway, I accept this reasonable offer and learn that shooting the flying rat and the long-tailed walking rat allowed them to make lunch the next day — they are both delicious (wi-ma)
I go to see how the men are going with dinner. Paul is furiously cooking a stocky soup with beef, cow guts and MSG. I taste it and it’s very good. I spend the rest of my free time sitting around making animal noises with a young boy named Nying-Yo.
Dinner comes around again and I am once again surprised at the fact that I like something quite disgusting. The family we are staying with is eating with us including the women, this really isn’t what happens in the culture. The beef Paul has cooked is beautiful but mostly cow innards it tastes great but the texture takes a little getting used to. It’s like Paul pulled up a 40 year old carpet from the house of a Brisbane flood victim, chopped it into bite sized bits and tossed them into a delicious beef stew. The rest of the dishes are equally grand.
We go for Bible class an I am in charge of plugging the course an the BEC. Terry leads the class with our new translator Kolola. Turns out the villagers only vaguely know what the Bible is and only vaguely know who Adam and Eve were. Terry starts at the basics. We go for an hour or so and interest a good handful of course interest including our great translator.
I think Bible class got in the way of shooting flying rats because they had already gone for the rice fields by the time I got back. I gratefully took an early night. This proved useful as like most villages the noise and action starts around 4am. I had a blissful sleep till then, except for the odd person on their way to the toilet in the night stopping to check out my hammock with the aid of their bright flashlights. Oh and I think a pig ate a puppy last night. How could you assume such a thing? I hear you ask. Let me tell you. I was half asleep at one point between my blissful sleep and the 4am action when I hear the yapping of one of the many puppies that live here. He was right beside me. I tried to block him from my mind while considering the implications of throwing a brick at it. Suddenly my resting pose is compromised by the bulk of a huge free range pig running under me and attacking the puppy. I hear the wailings of a little puppy’s last yelps and the grunts of a pig wondering off into the abyss of the cold night. I am haunted to this day of this puppy’s fate (it happens to be the day after).
The pink morning came all too soon and I was forced to rise. We had to leave early to get our new friend to his children’s hostel. He and his wife run a Christian accommodation for school kids from the villages who live too far away to travel. He teaches them Christian studies and music. He has 40 children at any one time.
We make the same intrepid journey to civilisation and encounter no obstacles on the way to getting a noodle breakfast at the town. We pick up Moopah from the hotel and I buy some disinfectant shower jell and moisturiser to send back with Jor-Daan for Je-Gua.
Paul stops at a waterfall on the way home for a breather and coffee. It is a beautiful and powerful waterfall and the coffee was great. We head home and I unpack, wash clothes, call Sally, have a shower and head out to the night bazaar to hand out calling cards and to have a cheap dinner which I where I am currently finishing my $2 banana split.
Here are a few usefull Karen words in case you ever meet one:
Ber ni ba galee Chkree (you are my friend)
Youa(God) co-geh(bless) na(you)
We (delicious) ma(very)
Doo-ma (so much).
Kind regards, and God bless.