When I realize, again, That My Husband is a Better Christian Than Me.

We had unexpected guests at the close of the year. One of the hazards of working cross culturally is that you sometimes often find yourself grossly misunderstood.

Like this one time, when Aaron reconnected with an old friend from his first few trips to Thailand. The friend said he wanted to move back to the area where we currently live and Aaron said, "Great, if you do you should give me a call we could hang out and stuff, maybe even work together."

Remember Aaron is basically still a beginner at Thai, his friend is a beginner at English. This is probably explains why, when his friend arrived on a bus the day before New Year's Eve, with his wife and child and all earthly possessions packed into a few bags, he thought we had a job for him, and a place for him to live.

Slight misunderstanding.

We don't have a job for him, unfortunately, we wish we did. But we weren't going to leave him hanging with nowhere to stay until he figured out a plan B. We have a few choices for places to live. We have a wood farmhouse on stilts that doesn't have electricity or running water. They didn't want to stay there. We have a small living space upstairs from the shop for volunteers, but they didn't want to live there either, too lonely, too much in the city. We also were fixing up the recently vacated little guest house on our property to be ready to host volunteers who were arriving in just a few more weeks. (By fixing up I mean things like cleaning years worth of grime off of things, and patching screens in an effort to make it sort of mosquito proof.) They opted to stay there, knowing they would have to leave a short time later, and that I would be in and out working on it while they were still there.

It was a bit awkward. I was trying to paint and stuff. But they found a good job and a new place to live very quickly and left to live there.

Aaron phoned to tell me this while I was out and ended with, "I told them they could take a few of the mattresses and some of the pots to get set up in their new house."

This is the part where I got all upset and started asking stuff like, "Wait, which mattress did you give them? Because one of the ones I put in there was way more expensive than the others. "

"I didn't know," he said, "and it really wouldn't have mattered. I gave it to them."

Cue me muttering in frustration under my breath, because, I'm the one who has been wandering town looking for deals, trying to furnish our living spaces for volunteers on a strict budget.

"It cost over ($30USD)!" I told him, on the point of tears.

"Carrien, how much does that mean for them, knowing what they probably make?" He asked.

"It's more than a weeks wages," I answered.

"Exactly," he said, "for us, it's a bit inconvenient, and a bit of money. For them it's a whole lot more."

I thought to myself that he's very generous with my time, and my inconvenience. Because I'm shockingly self centered, fairly often.

When I had time to check out the house the next day, it was cleaned out! They had, either purposely, or more likely by misunderstanding, taken every last carefully selected kitchen item I had stood and deliberated over in the store, all the things I had just furnished it with, the mosquito net, and even the extra dishes she had come over to my house to borrow her first day here. Everything except the electric burner was gone.

I was so frustrated, again. I said bad words aloud into the empty house. I called Aaron to vent.

"I'm embarrassed that I feel so angry about this. But I do. GRRR."

He of course reminded me that it's not a big deal in the end. We'll be fine, $100 worth of housewares will not break us. I wished I had known he'd be giving everything in there away, because I have crappier versions of many of those things that I would have preferred to part with. (My heart is so full of charity toward my fellow man, isn't it? Here, take my old things I don't want, but don't take anything nice, I want to keep that stuff. I want to give it to MY friends to use.)

So yeah, the old kitchen stuff is in the guest house for now. I bought new mosquito nets. I finished the painting and clean up. It's not perfect, but it will serve for a while.

My heart may need a bit more work though.


Of Darkness, and Hope, and How You Can Help Bring Light

Today I met a 14 year old girl, when I was visiting two of the mothers in my birth class. She was squatting in the house next to one of the grandmothers. I thought she was a kid who came in to watch the babies.

17 year old mamas
The two mothers I was there to see were the youngest women in the class. They were both seventeen. One of these girls discovered that the man who got her pregnant was already married to someone else, before he started sweet talking her. She was so upset over this that she took something to try and abort her babies. That's right, plural. The doctors at the clinic told her she was pregnant with twins.

But whatever she took was only half successful. One of the babies lived. He's a tiny little thing, with intelligent little eyes in his beautiful face.

His grandfather is quite taken with him, and insists he will care for and raise his grandson himself if need be. I'm happy for this baby boy and his mother that it turned out this way. She hopes that she will meet another man and this time he will be a good man. It seems unlikely here, in this place where men can abandon women, and children, without consequence.

The other girl was taken to the government hospital for a C-section, because her baby was breach. The doctors did what they always do to Burmese women, they cut her right down the middle of her belly. If you know anything about C-sections, you know that that is the worst place to cut, it makes her uterus really weak for any subsequent labors, because of the location. Who knows how the doctors actually stitched her up, and whether they made it at all strong for her. They don't care what happens to her the next time she's pregnant, or about leaving a scar. They don't give her the same courtesy they give to Thai women, giving them a low, transverse cut, and doing a good job and stitching up carefully. They are simply fulfilling a legal requirement to help them, even if they can't pay, and consider it an imposition. So this seventeen year old girl has had her uterus compromised by indifferent, racist, doctors.

As we were sitting on the wood floor, admiring the 2 babies, the 14 year old girl suddenly left and came back with her 7 month old daughter! She had been 13 when she delivered her, 2 months early.

My head scrambled with the math. If she delivered a baby at 7 months gestation, while still 13, the oldest she could have possibly been when she got pregnant is less than 13 and a half. So that would be like my oldest son, the kid who just turned 13 and is still more kid than teenager, suddenly becoming a parent. I don't even want to think about it.

Then she told me that the baby's father, her "husband", had left her to stay at his parent's house and didn't come around anymore or even give her any money to pay for food.

So I asked how old he is, thinking maybe he's a kid like her who just couldn't handle the responsibility. No, he's 25 years old!!

He's a 25 year old man who seduced a 13 year old child and got her pregnant and then abandoned her to go live at his parents house and get high on the local drug.

14 year old mama
 There's no one she can turn to. This place is lawless. In Burma she could go to the village head man, who would have witnessed her marriage, and demand support for herself and her child. But here, there is no headman, no village government. There are just squalid settlements and almost everyone is in survival mode. The Thai police don't care about migrants. They do nothing except harass and abuse them.

[The government hospital purposely doesn't stock important medicine that helps a premature baby's lungs develop, because they are required by law to give it to Burmese babies too, and it's expensive. So they don't keep it in stock so they don't have to give it. My friend's baby almost died because they didn't have this medicine on hand when her daughter was born early and her lungs and heart weren't ready. Friends had to drive 4 hours on treacherous mountain roads to bring the medicine back to the hospital for her baby.

Most Burmese don't have a friend with a car willing to drive all day to bring back medicine for them. What do you suppose happens to those babies?]

This was just one part, of one day. I saw many other women today, went to many more places to bring the nutrition packages I've committed to giving to the pregnant and nursing mothers in my class.

We left some eggs and vegetables with the 14 year old mother also. It was the only thing we could do in the moment to help her. I'll be back with more next week.

As we got back in the car, TinTin, our assistant director, and translator extraordinaire, said to me, "Sometimes, I think I hate men."

I knew exactly what she meant, and how she felt. Sometimes I feel the same way.

I know that the gaps between posts on this blog get longer, and longer, and I'm silent far too often. These stories are hard to tell. I often don't know where to begin. I usually tell them over here at The Charis Project's blog. There are good stories in there too, along with the hard. I try to focus on the good.

(I wonder if I should tell you that as I write this I'm experiencing significant gastro-intestinal distress again. I've run to the bathroom 3 times 4 times so far. Or that I spent the last 2 days going through all my children's hair and doing laundry because of lice, again. You know, so you get a complete picture. It's such a small detail compared to the other things, but it's part of why I've lost energy for blogging.)

I'm trying to tell some of these stories today because we need your help.

We're barely scratching the surface of the need with our programs so far. Since I started the birth class I've been swamped with requests to do it again, for more women, in more communities. It's a little thing, but empowering women, and mothers, it turns out, is not such a little thing after all. You can see it, in the way they sit a little taller, and speak a little more confidently after class, in the way they teach each other what I've taught them.

TinTin wants to start a women's center. She wants a place where we give classes every night, real  classes that help women to care for their children and families, and also give them an excuse to leave the house when husbands are drunk, or high, and it gets violent and dangerous. One night some of the women in our class shared with us that their husbands are alcoholics, and it's very hard to live with them. They said they don't mind when class runs late because it gives them an excuse to stay away from home until the men are passed out.

We talked about violence and how it affects children, even if they only see it and don't experience it directly, and how there's always a choice, even if it doesn't seem like there is in the moment. The day after that class, TinTin told us her idea for a place that women could come to learn, and escape, the secret rooms that no one knows about.

We also want to start a nursery school that helps care for these children during the day and gives them a good start on learning. It will help these mothers, who need to work to survive, and help these children succeed. (Kids can come on a scholarship that their mothers, or fathers, qualify for by attending our night classes that help them to parent and provide better.)

We want to do this as soon as possible. But first we need to have another $1500/month coming in in committed donations.

I wrote a post on the other blog that explains all about it. You can read it here. I tried to make it lighthearted and funny. (My heart is less light today.)

Or you can just decide right now that you want to help us do something about this, to shine a light in this dark place.

You can go directly to our donate page, and sign up for a monthly donation to any program that you like, but Community Education is the one that funds the birth class and the center.

The light of hope seems such small fragile thing against the immense darkness, but if there is anything that advent has taught us, it's to hold onto hope. This season will you join us in lighting a candle to hold against the darkest night? Will you help us give these families hope?


One Day

I participated in the One Day party on Instagram again this year, hosted by Laura of HollyWood HouseWife. Every year that I do this I think to myself I will follow up by making it into a blog post so that readers who aren't on IG can see what goes on in a typical day here. This year, it's the third year, I'm actually doing it. So without further ado, one day of my life, in photos.

A child always wakes me up in the morning, rarely ever is it the baby. Then today I have to wake this guy up because he has a super early breakfast date with our oldest son, who is 13 today. He wants to get breakfast at the Burmese tea shop in the city, and they start early. If you wait to go until 8am they might be out of everything.

I decide to to so quick lice check before my shower because my head's been feeling just a bit itchy and someone we know told us she found lice. I've been checking the girls obsessively and they're fine so I didn't expect to find anything. One adult louse, several nits later... Crap.
Lice is everywhere here. You sort of get used to it.

Next stop, laundry room. I love my laundry room. It's big, and has room to hang a full load of laundry in it if it's raining.

Present wrapping time. You can't buy salt n vinegar chips anywhere in our city. But Aaron got these at the one store in Chiangmai that we've found that sells them. Chocolate is pretty expensive here so these are really big treats. Exciting enough to wrap. The Boy shares a love language in chocolate with me.

Prepping birthday surprises. BamBam really wants those presents to be for him.
Our friend Mike just arrived last night. He and his wife are thinking about moving to Thailand next year to help out with The Charis Project. I snuck a photo of him skyping with his kids back in California.

The guys brought back tea house breakfast. Nambia (flatbread), dahl, samosas, Burmese donuts, milk tea. The Burmese eat a lot of fried, oily foods. It's their main source of calories. They are usually very thin because they work hard and don't get a lot to eat.

We don't usually have someone unwrapping presents at the breakfast table. This day is a bit atypical. He loves the pocket microscope we got him.

After breakfast I walk around the house for the first time in a while and pull some vines that have grown all over things during rainy season. I was going to show you my pepper tree completely engulfed by a wild passion fruit vine, but the baby under the jack fruit tree is a lot cuter.

This is the drive into town from our house. I'm a big fan of living in the country. It's balm for my soul.
The Boy wants pizza and nachos for his birthday dinner. I almost never buy cheese, so it's a treat. He wants sausage, bacon, and pineapple pizza to be exact. I can't just go to the store for Italian sausage. It starts with fresh ground pork at this butcher, and then the spices in my kitchen. I will not worry about casings. Aaron has perfected bacon curing, we sell it in @thecharisproject's shop here, so that part is easy.

Aaron and the girls take Mike to the #charisfarm to check it out. The kids love to swim in the fish ponds.

The boys opt to stay home from the farm and put together the 3D puzzle BamBam chose for the Boy's birthday gift.

Dek is napping, the boys are playing together, Aaron and the girls are showing Mike around town. It's time for me to work. I'm putting together the handouts and outline for the next prenatal class for @thecharisproject. We're on week 8, and moving into keeping babies and toddlers healthy, disease prevention, etc. We're working to help the poorer women in our community to be empowered as mothers and as women. Many of them have never before seen a diagram of what their reproductive organs look like or know how they work. Explaining to them how conception works and babies grow is revelatory.  It's one of my favorite things I get to do here. Ps. I love my office, with its big windows and spectacular views. Even if it is the warmest room in the house.

My office has pretty nice views, you can see all the way to Burma. But out the other window I can see this little migrant village. A neighbor is blasting some Burmese covers of classic rock n roll songs right now.
The rain comes up suddenly. We're nearing the end of rainy season. Which means it doesn't rain every day, but it still rains a few times a week. (Come dry season, and then hot season, there will be no rain at all.) As soon as it starts to rain I run outside to grab all the laundry. Even under cover it will get really wet again, the air is so damp.

"Mommy, can I go out in da rain and get wet?"

We usually go to a nearby migrant village to teach the kids English this day. Their parents speak Burmese or Lisu, and they'll learn to speak Thai at the government school. English is just one more tool we are giving them to help them in the future.

This kid really wanted to help with the birthday dinner. Even making pizza dough.

Pressed the girls into service grating cheese for nachos. I forgot to take a photo of the nachos. It's the first time we've had them since coming to Thailand. I found a place in town that sells real corn chips!
Sunsets here are beautiful. Daily.
I put the pizzas in the oven and didn't realize there was no flame. We ran out of gas. Aaron and one of our guests went out to buy another canister while the pizzas waited.

The big boys keep themselves busy playing with the toys while we wait for pizza.

After baking at least a dozen pizzas, much later than intended thanks to running out of gas, we finally get around to the cake. (We always seem to run out of gas while cooking something fancy or special.)

He's a little bit introverted my son. I asked if he wanted a party and he declined in favor of just spending a large portion of the day reading by himself at the farm. He requested one friend, and his family, join us for dinner. But as the day progressed he called me and added more guests to the list. In the end he had a small party after all. I'm grateful that he has a few good friends. A boy like him, that's all he needs.

It's rather late when we say goodbye to all our guests and get everyone ready for bed. I hope the kids all fall asleep quickly.
He's exhausted. But he keeps talking. I'm trying to let him, and really listen, because, my 13 year old still talks to me, and tells me all the the random things stuffed in his brain! I sit here every night waiting for the 4 year old to fall asleep. It's a pretty good excuse to be present while he's sorting through all of the thoughts and events of the day.
Now it's this kid's turn to sleep. It's 12am here. No wonder I'm tired.

I put away the rest if the food left out, but don't bother to tidy beyond what it already is. The morning brings with it the girl I pay to help around the house. She'll take care of it, and be happy I have something for her to do so she's not bored.

Facebook and I had a moment. Most of my friends are awake now and being interesting. But I just saw the time. I'm signing off at 1am. Not shown today are the number of times I've gone through my hair with a lice comb, (4) and the big water bottles in the back of the car to illustrate the part of the day when we were out of drinking water because Aaron hasn't returned from town yet with refilled bottles. Headed to brush my teeth and find something to cover my hair with before laying down. Goodnight all. Thanks @hollywoodhwife for hosting. It's been fun.

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