Sunday, December 30, 2012

When You Go...

Come back from a long trip, filled with blessing and excitement; take two days to write a post about it, and hit the ground running. Things to do, places to go, things to be....

There's always something. Always.

And this time, it happened to be Christmas.

Every year around this time, the little child hiding down inside me comes out. Fresh snow, falling snowflakes, Christmas lights, a lit up tree on a cold winter night: all of it just sparks the warm enthusiasm and wonder of the small girl I used to be. Winter--and by extension, Christmas--is something I look forward to all year.

This year, it was different.

I didn't get the snow, the cold, the chill. I didn't feel like a small child this year.

I really wasn't looking forward to that. At all.

But at the same time, I wasn't expecting the strange, yet strangely wonderful, Christmas experience I got.

Sabbath afternoon I found a box sitting on my porch. It had my name blazoned across it. Oh, what thrill! Christmas wishes and gifts from friends and family came pouring out, complete with a USB plug-in Christmas tree that's about 8 inches tall and a string of battery-operated Christmas lights.

I put them up in my room: and as I fell asleep that night, looking at them, I smiled. A little bit of the Christmas I'd always loved had found me, even here in Thailand, and the little girl stirred in her sleep just a bit. No, I can't say she awoke, but something stirred. 

Sunday, then Monday. This was technically when school was going to "begin," which didn't end up happening until Wednesday. The kids drew names for a gift exchange, teachers took attendance in class, and then everyone prepared for carolling.

Yes, I said carolling.

Monday night I found myself down at the chapel, wrapped in a green scarf, bundled in a green sweater, with a flashlight in one hand. I looked around in the dark at the other faces 'round me: teachers, students, visiting families... All getting ready to head out and inundate the nearby villages.

Standing there with Mu Naw Naw, I felt a tap on the top of my head. I looked behind me and didn't see anyone. I looked to the other side. No one.

Then I looked again and saw the culprit crouching behind me. I reached around and grabbed my antagonist. "Naw Mu K'way!"

My fifth grader laughed herself silly.

Thara Eh Guh Nyaw said a prayer, and everyone split into groups. But who do you go with, when you're not a class teacher and you can decide where to go?

A group of younger girls called me to come with them, Naw Mu K'way being one of them, and off we trekked, headed for Do Ah, a village just south of us.

As we headed up the rocky trail toward the main highway, I noticed a familiar character carrying a guitar in front of me. He turned to Tharamoo Hazel, and then around, asking, "Tharamoo Heidi...?": and then he saw me. The laugh that followed betrayed that someone was happy to have me in his group.

I haven't been carolling in a long time. But this was the strangest sort of carolling I've ever experienced. And also one of the best experiences I've ever had.

We clambered over a tiny footpath leading into Do Ah, girls clinging to my hands and arms, with Tee Nee Too close behind me or in front of me, asking me questions about this and that. We arrived at our first house and began our ritual: say, "Merry Christmas to you all!" and then sing "Merry Christmas to you all" and then another song, followed by prayer and our parting song, after which we departed to the next place, leaving with the inhabitants of the hut with an invitation to the Christmas program at five the next evening.

Trying to sing songs when you don't know Karen very well and when you can't read it is interesting. The girls whose books I was sharing didn't seem to mind too much, though. They seemed downright pleased to have me with them, in fact.

We got to one hut, and called very loudly, "Merry Christmas to you all!" and then waited. Usually, the guitar would start up then and we would begin with the first song. But this time it was silent.

I looked around: no Tee Nee Too. Murmuring started up among the students, and then from aways away, around the corner came the late guitarist, guitar held high over his head and feet going as fast as he could make them go. I tried to sing without laughing, but didn't succeed too well.

We arrived at one house, sang all of our songs and were ready to leave when one of the villagers stood up from around a fire outside the hut and pointed at me, saying something I hoped I hadn't understood. Daygwemo, in our group, looked at me. "He say he want you do solo."

I pretended to be confused, but I knew all too well. "Oh, they want me to sing all by myself?"

"Yes, teacher."

Oh dear.

I'd been told that things like this happened. But I certainly hadn't been ready for it.

All the students and the teachers sat down around me, leaving me, the tallest creature there in the first place, sticking out like a lone tree in a flat prairie. Nervous, but hardly able to say no, I handed my flashlight to one of the girls near me and asked Tee Nee Too for the guitar.

That excited some interest. The guitar had no strap on it, so I held it as best I could. Daygwemo, sitting near me, lifted the end up with her hand and held it for me while Tee Nee Too rushed over to where he could see my fingers and shined a flashlight on my hands.

I doubt those villagers will ever hear Take 3's "The Road" again, but they heard it that night. My voice trembled terribly, I missed a few strings will picking out the tune on the almost-out-of-tune guitar; but they thanked me when I finished and presented me with a big pack of soymilk and 20 baht as a visual thank you. I stopped trembling by the time we were finished singing for the evening.

We were almost all the way back to the school when I caught up with Tee Nee Too. "Teacher!"


"Teacher I want to learn...ah...I want you teach me guitar. I want you teach me do you say?"

"It's called picking."


"Uh huh."

"I want you teach me. I like very much."

What do you say to that? The only thing I could: "I don't know when I would have time!" I left him with a "maybe, maybe."

He's an amazing guitarist, but he doesn't know picking, something I know a little of. I could teach him--but then, maybe there's someone better than me to teach him. Maybe, maybe.

The first person from my house to return, I got into my pajamas, pulled out the computer and sat in the chair on the porch. I was there for maybe 40 minutes before Brenda showed up. She disappeared, presumably gone to bed...and then one of the groups returned and carolled me, Sharon and Rachel being within the group. I had to laugh to myself: I should've expected it with Thara Dah Bu being the leader of that group.

Tuesday: Christmas day. After chapel the kids were ferried into Mae Salit to get gifts for the 40 baht gift exchange that evening, and all of us gohlawas headed for the kitchen to make lunch.

So early?

Yes, so early. We worked in that kitchen all morning long, joined eventually by some of the students, and we still weren't ready to eat til 2. And then, we gohlawa's got to be the servers so that the food would stretch to 200+ people. Oh, such fun. Such fun.

Tuesday's marathon wasn't over though. After lunch we ran up to the house and then drove into Mae Salit to get gifts for the names we'd drawn. 20 minutes was sufficient for this, and we came back, took baths and wrapped our gifts and by then we needed to get down to the chapel.

A couple of weeks ago, or was it last week? I got a Karen dress in Mae Salit. It's with with maroon string in it--very pretty. Apparently they're only for unmarried girls or women around here. And it's actually my size, not Asian size. But I hadn't worn it yet. And I decided that today would be the perfect time to wear it. After all, it's Christmas colors: and it's a more or less formal occasion (as formal as one gets around here!), so why not?

I felt so self-conscious walking down that hill. Anna caught sight of me and in her typical Karen way went, "Oh oh!" I could feel my cheeks turning as red as the thread in my dress and she gave me a thumbs up. "I like very much," she called from her hut.

Then it was Saw Di Aye, seeing me and Hannah walking past the boys dorm."Oh oh, Tharamoo Heidi!!" He said something in Karen, and Hannah laughed. I pressed to know what he'd said, and she eventually discerned that he'd called me a "white shirt girl." Oh dear.

The Christmas program went beautifully. Our little chapel was packed full, students in their regular places and lots of villagers crowded in as well. There was hardly any available walking, I take it back. There just wasn't any walking room at all.

JuJu climbed all over me and sat next to me as the program progressed. A group of students who have been learning violin made their way up front with Inge, and my heart swelled with pride as I watched three of my boys draw bow across string. Their piece was beautiful, especially considering how short of a time they've been playing.

Next was supper, down at the kitchen with villagers, students and teachers. After the meal the villagers just vanished and we gathered back in the chapel for the distributing of presents.

The night was long. The kids all got blankets, some flashlights, some watches: and the special gift that some anonymous person had gotten for them. It was a special evening that left all of us completely worn out, happy, and not sure we were ready for school the next day.

Christmas was different, sure. But it was amazing.

But I have to say, my Christmas wasn't made complete until today.

I've been in the classroom for three days of this new term already. We've been doing easy things, mostly just vocabulary and having fun, seeing as how everyone was worn out, needed to get back into the swing of things, and we only had a few days of school during one week.

Today was Friday. I finished teaching and came back up to the house. Students left to go to a worship and meal at a teacher's home in Mae Salit, which I didn't go to because I didn't want to miss my Karen lesson. My third one, taught by one of the ninth graders, Mu Naw Naw.

During lunch, Sharon stopped me on the porch. "By the way..." she said, an amused glint in her eyes.

I looked at her. "Yes....?"

She grinned. "Tee Nee Too and Shaw Nay Moo..."


"Well, they want a picture of you so they can remember you after you leave."

Hand to forehead with a resounding smack. "You're kidding. When did they tell you that?" I'm thinking, Oh wow.

"They didn't. I just found out." She's still grinning.

From Anna. Yes, that makes sense.

"They said that you have been their favorite English teacher and they want to remember you when you go," Sharon added, laughing.

I laughed too.

But now that I sit back and look at things, I'm not laughing.

Oh, there's a smile on my face. But there's a lump in my throat and tears threatening to fill my eyes.

Our favorite English teacher...remember you when you go...
 March approaches. I'll be going home to hug my family, to tell my story to my church family.

But I guarantee you one thing.

I'll be back.

Kids, remember me when I go... But I'll be back.

Sign outside the church we visited last Sabbath. 

Little plaque by the door. "Erected to the glory of God..." If only most churches in the world could put that near their door and mean it...

Woodwork design in the "pews:" benches.

They had a piano! Brenda played for Sabbath school song service.

Handmade design of the Three Angel's Messages.

That church was so small, but so incredibly cute. We Americans and our monster-size churches seem so unfriendly after this.

Sabbath School was taught in Burmese and translated into Karen, by a man who'd been in America for a certain amount of time, attended Spicer College, and spoke a very good amount of English. The translator was Pastor Robin.

Pastor Robin is standing. He speaks very good English. It's easy to carry on a conversation with him. Harvey preached the sermon, and his translator is sitting to the right. The translator also spent time in America; and I don't remember if he attended Spicer too, but he spoke good English as well.

The choir sang for church. I love the sound of Karen choirs.

A flower at Pastor Robin's house that was just too pretty to pass up.

Sharon and I took a walk over to the hundred acres on Christmas morning.

The porch of the vocational building.

Festive chapel.

Merry Christmas from Sunshine Orchards! (Even though Christmas is past us already...)

Chapel decorations. It looked wonderful in there.

Staff members and kids at morning worship.


Cooking Christmas lunch!

Rachel was taking a couple of pictures for me. She seems to specialize in candid shots.

But then, maybe I do too.

DayGweMo. I wish she could be our cook for YD camp every year.

Student peeling potatoes.

TVP, ready and waiting... be battered and fried.

Potato peeling party.

Battering tvp...

Again, battering tvp...

Mrs. Adams.

Putting up decorations...

Shelby Knecht and three students.

"Are you done yet?"

Landon Meyer, who was covered with tvp batter by the time we were finished.

Cutting green beans.

Dragon fruit...


My fifth grader, Jaw Yo, cutting beans.

Little boys doing dishes.

Stirring gravy

Still working on all that tvp...

Finished! Finally...

Homemade dressing, courtesy of Mrs. Adams...

Hungry little boys...

Hungry everyone...

Little girls in line...

...and in chapel...


Kelly Meyer and Ningha, one of the Adam's boys

There was something up there for everyone...

Students waiting to hear their names called.

"Who is that?" "I don't know." "Are they sick? Or here at all?" "Oh, that's so-and-so..."