Thursday, August 14, 2008

August 4: My Last Day at Camp


August 4, Monday

Friday was my last day at camp. I've been taking pictures like crazy somehow feeling as though I can carry people home with me on a media card. It was finally time to go. I had farewell classes that didn't get much work done, and a "party" on Thursday night with my evening gathering. On Friday there was a farewell service – a Karen tradition. The set my chair in the middle of the stage and sang a goodbye song, presented gifts, and made speeches and prayers. After a special meal, I jumped into my western clothes and the truck and bumped my way out of camp. I'll really miss the teachers and students. The teachers – Gail Mou, William, Tee Tho, and Wado - are an incredible, dedicated group of men who are struggling to do what they can for their people. Education is very important for the Karen and teachers are held in high esteem. Tee Toh and Wado are working on long distance doctorates, William (who has only been back from seminary for a year – he's the baby of the group at 29) is trying to find a way to do one, and Gail Mou is moving to Australia where he hopes to pastor to Karens.

Doe Doh drove William and I to Klee Thee Klou (it was a very rare weekend out for William). We got there in time to drive on down to Poprah (another 45 minutes) to the local high school: Phopphrawitthayakhom School where they served us a delicious Thai meal –f attening the lambs for slaughter. English Camp was in session. 120 teenagers gathered in the gym shelter waiting for the foreigners to entertain them. Of course, no one told us was we were going to do; just that it was a high school thing and they wanted native English speakers. What they got was William (whose spoken grammar is very bad), an American, an Australian, and 2 Karen English speakers from Pastor Peacefully's IDP school. The others had been at it all day, so William and I were expected to take over. Try coming up with a group activity for 120 without preparation. We relied on William's youth group activities which did nothing to teach English. It didn't help that the Thai English teachers kept translating everything into Thai, and the kids weren't expected to talk to each other in English. The camp continued on Saturday morning. Very little real English learning happened, but I got a tee shirt and a wooden motorbike because teachers are like motorbikes, carrying the children from one level to another.

We returned to Klee Thee Klou and a quiet afternoon. In the evening, Shirley wanted to go to the English worship in Mae Sot so we invited Eh Kou Lwe. She's just returned from India with her masters and Newton has made her principal of his new school. She's in over her head. She and William knew each other in India, in fact they were an "item". Everyone was talking marriage for them. In Karen culture, you don't date. You have only one person – ever. If it doesn't work out, too bad. That was your chance. And it can't work out for them because William is stuck in Mae La and she can't leave Klee Thee Klou. He's unregistered because they registered people while he was in India and now they aren't doing it so he's unable to get a card that will let him move around. He is, essentially, illegal. She's from No Poh refugee camp and only has permission to be in Klee Thee Klou – or something like that. I think this is part of William's frustration and depression. So this was a rare night out for them. Even in India, they didn't leave the campus which apparently was far from any markets or night life.

We went to the service, but I admit I left when they decided to anoint everyone in the room with oil. I felt as tho that was an imposition and I didn't want to participate. I went down the street to the wat which was glowing in the ambient night light. At the base of the stupas there was a row of buddhas = reclining, sitting, standing, glowing gold. I wish I had had my camera.

Once the fellowship was done, we went to Dave's café for Western food which William doused in hot sauce.


On Saturday evening, I asked Newton if he was doing anything interesting in the morning. In his Karen way, he asked me to give the message at a memorial service. I didn't know much more than that the woman had been 97 years old. On Sunday, I climbed into the truck with the youth choir that usually accompanies him to sing. We drove to Mae Sot and turned into a small alley that opened into a complex of 3 wooden buildings. I'd been here before. Two weeks ago I came with Dr. Simon to pray with the elderly women who were living there. The memorial service was for Nget Sin, the woman I had seen in the hospital bed, the woman whose funeral was on Wednesday but I missed the truck in from the camp, the woman who was one of the original settlers of Mae Sot. When we came in, the family was gathered around her bed, eating, and folks were gathering in the large common room. I was given the chair of honor, and it was an honor for me to speak. The other woman who lived there was carried to the room and set down on the floor (where most were sitting). We prayed and I spoke and the children and others sang. Then the floor was cleared and food set out on it. We settled down to the feast, which was quite good. It included DESSERT! Sticky rice topped with ice cream, condensed milk and pieces of potato. That was a shock.

When we were through, Newton led us all to one of the other buildings, to the woman who had sat with such dignity while I prayed for her 2 weeks before. Yesterday, she was in the large common room, lying on a mat on the floor, propped up with pillows, a wet washcloth on her side in some pain. I sat down next to her. She reached out her hand and I took it, holding it while the children sang. I prayed, and then Newton prayed. We left her there.


This morning, I started working with the 8 students. It's going to be pretty basic. In the afternoon, I drove Pastor Peacefully's car to him in Poprah. That's actually more adventuresome than it sounds. I haven't driven a car in 2 months, a stick shift in 10 years, on the wrong side of the road in 30 years, or shifted with my lift hand since never. I'm teaching Shirley's Monday afternoon class to free her to work on her dissertation. I'll also go down on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons if they can use me. It's not so much that I want to teach in Poprah, but it's an excuse to ride the motorbike on a beautiful back road through villages and herds of water buffalo.


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