Friday, October 22, 2010


In the first conversation I had with a man I work with, he told me that 20 years ago the Burmese Military Government's army came into his town in and ordered everyone be sent to camps controlled by the Burmese Military. He called them concentration camps. This was part of the government's strategy to combat the ethnic resistance armies that opposed the military government. The logic is that these towns are where the ethnic armies get their soldiers, food and support from. If you kick everyone out of their homes, there will be no one to support the ethnic opposition armies. His family, along with many people from his home town, fled toward the Thai boarder. They've lived the last 20 years or so in the refugee camp, near where I work. There he started working with an NGO that works very closely with mine. He takes a secret path out of the camp everyday to get to work.

The guys who sits next to me at work told me his only brother died of chicken pox a little while ago. Almost everyone I've known has had chicken pox. They just weren't vulnerable enough to die from it. He lives in the refugee camp as well.

This blog entry is going to be a bit of a downer but I think I have something important to say.

Yesterday I wrote a song called “Remove Yourself” (when I finish tweaking it I'll record it and post it on this blog). The song is about how easy it is to not care about anyone or anything when you're not happy. I've been home sick lately. I've been a little depressed. I've been left in an small town, where I don't know anyone, and been told I've gotta get myself set up. I'm having a hard time meeting people, I'm having a hard time finding somewhere to live, and I'm having a hard time adjusting and fitting in at work. And yes, lately I've had a hard time caring about anyone or anything else. The other day I wanted to get on my motorbike and just keep driving. I wanted to go back to Chiang Mai, where I had lots of  western volunteer friends. Life was easier there.

I thought about the people I work with. A lot of them have lived lives I can't imagine, but they appear to be happy people. They're always joking, laughing, smiling, and I think they are happy to be working at an organization that I've wanted to run away from. They've had everything stacked against them in their life and they're working to protect the environment, and protect the people in their home state that has been brutally betrayed, pillaged, and violently oppressed by their government. How do you live a life like that and not be totally self centered?

I don't know how they've managed not to remove themselves from the plight of other people, but I clearly have a lot I can learn from these people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arrival at my Placement in Mae Hong Son

        I'm sitting in a cafe, that over-looks a small lake. I'm waiting for my Thai-style curry to cool off. It's dusk, and on the other side of the lake a delicate white and gold temple is lit up like a Christmas tree. The reflection of the lit temple dances along the surface of the lake. Mountains surround me on all sides. Children throw bread into water and watch the diverse collection of fish jump competitively for every last piece.  There is a month long festival going on, and people are releasing hot-air-balloon-lanterns. They look like huge golden stars over the lake. There seems to be a single appropriate adjective to describe this place– magical.

Two things are slowly dawning on me; This is going to be my home for a year of my life, and I'm pretty sure the girls in the kitchen are going to play the entire 98 Degrees album. 

So, I've finished my in-country-training in Chiang Mai and I am spending my first night in Mae Hong Son, where I'll be working. Work starts on Monday! 

I couldn't believe how sorry I was to leave Chiang Mai. I was only there for a month, but I made great friends, and Chiang Mai was really starting to feel like home. I had a great send off last night, and I've made plans to see my new friends throughout the year. For now I have the start over in a new city. I just realized that in the last 4 months I've lived in 4 different cities; Toronto, Vancouver, Chaing Mai, and now Mae Hong Son.

Lets hope the magic continues and that Mae Hong Son and I don't exhaust our honey-moon phase.

Homestay with Karen Family

I spent the weekend living with a Karen family. The home-stay was part of our culture/language training. The Karen are an ethnic minority whose traditional land is divided by the Thailand/Burma boarder. It was an exhausting, difficult, fun and rewarding weekend. I stayed with a man named Khun Watit (NOTE “khun is a prefix used before names, it doesn't have a perfect translation, but its kind of like saying “Sir/Ma'am” or “Mr./Ms.”). He works with an NGO, and he's a bit of a community leader. He's soft-spoken, knowledgeable and incredibly wise.

Khun Watit's house is traditional Karen style. Completely made out of wood/bamboo. The roof is made out of leaves that are folded and tied into shingles. I was amazed. It poured rain for a little while but not a drop made its way through the roof.

It was amazing how closely knit the community was. There was constantly friends, family and neighbours coming and going from the house. I never figured out how big his family was. By the end of the weekend I couldn't even tell who lived with Khun Watit and who would just visit often. I'd ask people how they knew Khun Watit and they would say, “he's my uncle!” I didn't know if that actually meant he was their uncle by blood relation though, or if it just meant he was their “uncle in a friendly way. Apparently Karen families are huge!

Probably the biggest thing I'll remember about that weekend though was - Oh sheesh y'all did they ever know how to party! We put back a considerable amount of Karen whisky, I play a lot a guitar with a few other people they who knew how to play, and despite the language barrier we had a lot of laughs. It was a pretty sweet weekend, but I was also happy to crash as soon as I got back to Chiang Mai.