After a month without internet access, how can I possibly begin to catch up? Yes, I am still in Thailand and I have been living high in the mountains among some of the most amazing, friendly people I’ve ever met. It will be impossible to blog about everything, so I shall begin a series of posts in themes.
Beginning with just what I’ve been doing during my prolonged silence! (From my short conversations with my husband when I could get cell phone reception, everyone has been asking – did she make it?)
I arrived in Chiang Mai four long weeks ago (for it truly feels it’s been profoundly long. I may be fundamentally changed at my core.) without an expectation except that I would be picked up by a Karen man named Somnuk and driven up into the mountains of northern Thailand to live and teach in a village called Omkoi. Of course, this imagination of mine always runs rampant in true bookworm style, so I painted up a series of possibilities, running the gamut from modern mountain living to the most rustic of the rustic. Would I have running water? Reliable electricity? A Western toilet or a squatee? A fluffy bed or a simple mat on a concrete floor? And would anyone like me, the farang, the outsider? Amazing how I’m embarking on something as profound as servimg as a mission teacher, and my chief concerns were the everyday comforts and my own selfish self-esteem! Very human, I guess.
Of course, the reality never matches the imagined. Pastor Somnuk, all smiles and speaking perfectly understandable English (and a fellow Paul Simon fan!), picked me up in his rugged truck, along with his very sweet wife. We drove gradually up into the mountains, out of the city and into the wide open country, of dusty road construction, rather nasty looking motorbike accidents, and swelling rice fields. Imperceptibly at first, we climbed into the mountains, until it hit me we were flying past forests that reminded me suspiciously of home (Oregon, at least). We wound up the highway past cliffs, muddy swollen rivers, motorbikes laden with people, trucks filled to the brim with supplies and produce, and sedate cows munching on the side of the highway.
And finally we reach Omkoi, a village stretched out in the mountains, the center packed with shops and people and schools (always recognizable by the huge portraits of the king and rows of smartly snapping flags). We drove a little further on to reach the Omkoi Bible School and Church, my home for the next few weeks.
Life in this part of the mountains is a mix of modern and not so modern (at least by American standards). I started out living in a house owned by the church, used for visitors, that caters to the Western standard of living. An electric shower that would turn the water warm. A Western toilet (though, yes, I still had to manually flush it with a bucket of water). A stove and big kitchen and microwave. A bed. Really, nothing more does one need.
But within a day I was invited to live at the childrens home at the Bible School, as one of the teachers wanted to practice her English with me. I hemmed a bit – it sounded a bit more rustic. And then I mentally beat myself up for being picky and took the leap. Why not?
I share a room with Anna, a lovely young woman with a glorious laugh and a twinkle in her eye that means lighthearted fun and an immense depth of passion for life. A gap exists at the joining of the wall and ceiling, the windows have no screens, but wooden shutters. In short, bugs and mosquitoes can easily find their way in. I sleep on a hard low bed, really a board with a thin mat. We strung up a pink mosquito net to keep me (hopefully!) bite and malaria free at night. The bathroom is a squatee. Baths are a cold dousing of the bucket. And the children’s laughter and whispering keep me up at night. The first night I lay there and thought – “What did I just get into?”
But I got used to it. And then loved it. I come home to a huge family of children. And by getting rid of the luxuries I’ve grown used to, I begin to question the need for most of the “stuff” we accumulate in our homes. We pack our houses with stuff. Lots of stuff. But I watch the children find the purest joy in the simplest of toys. Rubber band braided jump ropes. Simple twigs for jacks. A soccer ball. They don’t have much, but the joy is everywhere.
I’m running out of time, so I bid adieu for now. I’ll write more about teaching, the people, etc. Promise!
Alas, I will not be posting very many photos of the children. Maybe it’s my teaching background, but the thought of posting photos of my students to the world makes me feel uneasy and protective. I hope everyone understands.