The community garden is primarily overseen by an elderly Karen woman. She lives with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson; and she’s affectionately called Pi Pi, or grandmother, in Karen.
She knows we have been learning Karen, and often tries to speak to us. Rather than using the basic sentences we may or may not know, she speaks in long monologues that often involve significant arm motions and occasionally even jumping and bouncing. We never understand, partially because of language, and partially because I believe she’s gone quite senile. Even with assistance from a translator, the point is often lost.
For the past week or so, she has been approaching us more regularly. Nearly every day she would track us down and speak to us.
And every time we were very confused and left with smiles, repeating, “I don’t understand.”
On Monday afternoon we were outside the house loading up the truck to go to Chiang Mai. We were about three hours behind schedule and scrambling to get things into place. I was taking the trash out as one of the last things, while Stephen was coming in from turning off our water.
He warned me, “She’s coming; try not to run into her because we’ve got to go!”
And then after I didn’t come in for ten minutes, he knew I’d been caught and came out to observe.
Our conversation went like this: She gave me a very long spiel–the same from the past few days. The only word I understood was “go”, which is discouraging. I asked her to speak slowly; she repeated the same thing at the same speed. I asked her where she was going, and who, and why; all to which she repeated the same thing in the same manner. I asked to speak to her daughter, who I typically understand better. She repeated the spiel. I asked where her daughter was and explained that might help me understand. She repeated.
I called a friend from work, who happened to be sick that day and still sweetly and graciously offered to help translate over the phone. I handed over the phone, which Pi Pi wasn’t sure how to use, and the speech was repeated yet again.
And when I received the phone back, our friend understood just barely more than I did. It seemed scattered, she said, but something about someone going somewhere.
About this time–when we were three and a half hours behind schedule–the daughter, Mong Ey, showed up. She is more familiar with our Karen level, and she knows to use basic words and speak slowly.
This is more helpful than I could say.
She explained that her mother was leaving tomorrow. She was crossing the border to go back to Burma, eventually traveling to Rangoon. She wouldn’t be back to Mae Sot and wanted to tell us goodbye.
And even better, they saw that we had a truck today, and when we have a truck they know we are leaving for a longer period of time, so she was trying to tell us urgently.
We said our goodbyes and left, quite late now. And then as we drove away, we had the idea of coming back to take a photo.
We also took a few shots of their family together and said our goodbyes again before heading out, very aware that we wouldn’t be arriving to our destination until around midnight.
Even so, it was really wonderful. For a split second, we could communicate a few small things. And for a split second, we got another glimpse into the community we’re creating here. We received another reminder to love well and pray more for what God is doing to advance his Kingdom.