We started this past weekend with Stephen teaching me to drive a motorbike on Saturday morning. It was going so well; I had driven around a local neighborhood for about an hour and was starting to get the hang of it all. We stopped back by the Partners office to pick something up, and I was going to drive us out of the neighborhood and have Stephen take over on the main roads.
But I didn’t make it out of the Partners driveway. I took out the pole that forms the left side of the gate, and Stephen drove us away with blood on my arms.
The weekend was then spent resting. I now have a large gash on my right hand, an even larger raw and swollen bump on my right arm, and five deep blue bruises on my legs.
Stephen went out Sunday to grab some bandages and more ibuprofen from the pharmacy. He came back an hour later with our cell phone in a grocery bag–apparently he had dropped it in the sewer. This is something, honestly, that we probably would have left behind. (We have cruddy phones here, too, you see.) Unfortunately a few locals saw it happen and began to show Stephen how to remove the cover on the sewage and get it out. Not wanting to risk being the rich foreigner that doesn’t need to recover the phone (which is actually the not-so-rich foreigner that has a cheap phone to begin with), Stephen reached in to get it and returned home with sewage on his hand and a bag that held the phone in a blackish liquid. And after cleaning it off and soaking it in rice, Stephen’s still not sure he even wants to keep it and hold it up to his face.
We then headed out Monday morning to visit two refugee camps a little further out. They require about four to five hours of driving on decent roads to a town north of Mae Sot, then about two more hours of off-road driving to get to the refugee camps. Unfortunately, it rained the entire way there. This is unfortunate for a couple reasons: first, driving in the rain on very curvy and very mountainous roads is already difficult. Second, they were doing construction along the decent roads, leaving miles of sandy dirt-turned-mud messes. Stephen got to put his 4WD skills into practice early and managed to drive us passed two trucks stuck in the mud and at least three that were simply sliding down the mud hills. He did excellent, but it made the trip about 6 hours.
Once we arrived in the town, we had to decide if we should continue. The next two hours of off-road shouldn’t be done in rainy season, and though it’s not right now, our friends in town told us it had been raining for two or three days already on the mountain. We didn’t have to think about it too long because it turns out the official that needed to sign our camp passes was out of the office all of last week (unexplainably) and we couldn’t enter the camps anyway.
Stephen said he was indecisive enough he was just thankful someone made the decision for us.
We still unloaded the hygiene packs and a few treats for the kids we had carted up here for our week at the children’s homes, but it was too late to head back on those muddy roads at night.
We then spent the night at a local farm, Paradise, that Partners has been working with to start pig & fish projects.
Before long, we were asked to go to a funeral for the evening. We went to a village about twenty minutes into the mountains to find a huge celebration.
[Side note: The first thing we noticed? The bugs. They were everywhere. I can’t even describe it. Hundreds of thousands of them: flying in the air, running into your face and ears, landing on your legs, under your feet, on the floor, and on the walls. Very similar to what I’d imagine the plagues were like in Exodus. I’d like to say this is beside the point, but really it was very hard to focus on a speech in another language when bugs are crawling into your orifices and clothes.]
That’s what funerals are here, though: typically a celebration with singing, a few prayers and speeches, food, more singing, and sometimes games. As the gulawahs (white people), we did our honorary singing of a song for the service and then sat around afterward and played hymns and songs for over an hour. Some songs are translated hymns or worship songs from the 90’s, so we can sing & play along. Others are completely foreign to us, so we’re trying to read along and keep up in the Karen songbook, which is hopeless.
We also got to play a game similar to hot potato, where a cup is passed around while the music plays. If you’re caught with it, you have to “do something you don’t want to do” for everyone. The one round where they actually made the person do it (it’s pretty easy to be shy and get out of it) he stood up and told us his name and what it meant in Karen. Needless to say, it was nearly riveting.
And here we are. We drove back today and we’re safely back in Mae Sot about four days early!