Lay Tah Oo was in the kitchen with his sister. Most of us were making tortillas, but he likes to wander around seeing what he can get away with.
He pulled a magnet off the fridge, one we had purchased in England. Its a ceramic scene of Big Ben with “London” written at the bottom.
He set it on the floor, put his hands together in a prayer motion, and started to bow down to this Big Ben magnet smaller than a measuring cup.
Stephen was watching and told him it wasn’t a pagoda; he explained that it was a clock. Just a big clock in England.
I don’t know how long the kids have thought that was a temple. They do love that magnet–it is constantly taken off the fridge, often dropped, and often glued back together. I just assumed they were naturally drawn to the breakable items.
How many other things in our house and lives appear to be something they aren’t? When we try to so hard to watch appearances, what are we blind to?
I don’t know.
Chit Ne Oo’s English has increased incredibly. She is really such a wonderful help, and I asked her to help me to make a Christmas list. I drew out a map of the community, and she helped me to write the names of each family member, gender & ages inside the house outlines. Now I can look back to see the number in each household, since we are giving some gifts per family, but I also count the number of men, women, young boys, older girls, etc.
As we went over the entire community, I was amazed how many broken homes there were. The number of children that play on our porch and live with one mom and one dad is miniscule. If I recall, it is four families. Four intact family structures. There are aunts and uncles taking care of extra children; there are grandparents that have grandchildren from three of their own children.
The story is almost always the same: they went to Bangkok. One or two have gone back to Burma to work, but all the rest have gone to Bangkok to work.
I know that for many of you, this sounds neutral, or maybe positive. They are paid more in Bangkok; there is more work available.
But it makes my stomach sink and my head roll. I know the statistics of those who “go to Bangkok”; I know how few of them actually make it there. I know the trucks that promise jobs to migrants and illegals. I know how few deliver on true jobs.
This is one of the more common trafficking techniques in the area. Trucks are filled with people, all promised jobs in Bangkok. They come through Mae Sot because it is the weakest part of the border; the most corrupt. They drive along a certain road–not the main highways–and make stops along the way at factories. Men, and the strongest, are given jobs along the way–sometimes for pay, sometimes trafficked into unpaid labor. The weakest are kept behind, usually the women and children, and make it all the way down to Bangkok: to the port. I have heard this is how they weaken the group, so that the rest are shoved into crates and shipped off into prostitution.
I don’t know the percentage that end up trafficked. I don’t think anyone really knows the extent of it. I do know that most people who “go to Bangkok” aren’t seen again. They don’t come back to visit their children or see their families.
So as I look around this community, I see the numbers adding up of those who went to Bangkok: it breaks my heart. It hurts me to think that this little girls mom will probably never come back, and that little boy will probably always live with his aunt and uncle.
Just last week a mother came to me. She has a little two year old; we call him the “Heil Hitler” kid. He loves to wave to us and gets so excited, but he doesn’t actually wave. He just shoots his hand up in the air in a Hilter salute, and smiles hugely. He has a cousin just months younger than him, and they play together constantly. His mother told me last week that her sister-in-law went to Bangkok to work. She would be taking care of both children now, and she was tired.
How many of them really make it and are working good jobs in Bangkok?
I don’t know.
We have had some difficult situations in the neighborhood. The more we are close with everyone, the more we are a part of the community. They are here all the time, and our house is a communal area.
Last week, while a movie night was happening at our house, I heard two girls scream outside in our garden. I ran to the back door to see both of them run behind the house into this little channel area. Its where our waste water runs out, where the kids go to use the bathroom while they play outside, and where the community sometimes hides if the police come. At night, its pitch black. And it never smells wonderfully.
The two girls ran back there into the darkness with a man following them. I could tell right away that they weren’t having all fun; I could tell that he was thoroughly drunk as he stumbled behind them.
I yelled for the girls to come out: telling them I was here and they should come over here. I wasn’t honestly really sure what I do when he came out of the dark, but I was ready to throw punches.
The two girls came out; giggling, but nervously. One of the girls wasn’t full clothed, and she went to get her clothes at the edge of the garden. He was wasted, and I told him to go home and leave the girls alone. I watched them as they walked back to play out front and made sure he left peacefully.
I don’t know what went on before I heard the screams. It appeared he had been grabbing at them; I’m not sure how she lost part of her clothing. Did he pull them off? Were the girls participating?
That night, nothing happened behind our house. There were seconds between them all arriving back there and my shouting. But what about all the other times when we’re not there? What about at their own homes, where I can do nothing?
I don’t know.
There were two girls at our window after dinner one night. Stephen casually asked them if they had finished dinner, a common greeting in Burmese. One of the girls said yes, and one said no.
We were actually surprised at the no answer–it was almost ten o’clock, and well, the general answer is yes. It’s a courtesy question.
We both looked at each other, and then asked her if she wanted some of the chicken left over. Or maybe some noodles? She nodded emphatically for both, and we fixed her up a nice little dinner and she ate in our kitchen while we washed dishes.
We now make it a common question, most any time we eat. They often watch us, and we decided it was best we ask to make sure they’ve eaten themselves. Sometimes they all have, other times we are serving up noodles to five kids at nine o’clock.
It’s always noodles, really, and you might judge me for this. I just keep Ramen-style noodles, or Mama noodles here, on hand. I have tried to give them healthier left overs–spaghetti, falafel, pizza, bread…it just doesn’t go over well. And it seems wasteful to have their faces sour over delicious made-from-scratch Western food! If I have things they will like–roasted chicken or curries–I’ll serve up that. But mostly, I just give them Mama, knowing its not the healthiest option, but it is food.
I can’t count how many times we’ve served up these little meals now. Two kids had lunch with me just yesterday.
But how many times are they hungry, and we aren’t here to ask if they are? When is it because they didn’t eat enough at dinner, or because enough wasn’t available to them?
I don’t know.
When we moved in, the community quickly became our neighbors. They were poor neighbors, but they were simply neighbors. They became opportunities to minister and serve; and then very quickly became friends. And now, they are very much friends–very good friends that you see every day and live life with.
I suppose it becomes similar to siblings or college roommates: you live together day in and day out. The relationship becomes more than just a friendship because you eat together and are sick together and do laundry together. It is a more integrated friendship.
But the situations that have arisen recently have given me a different view. They have caused me to see a more detached view, to see that in many ways, my friends are also a part of a poor community and struggle with the endemic problems of poverty. As we deal with gambling addictions, drunkenness, sexual issues, broken homes, hungry children, physical abuse, repeated sickness, domestic abuse and cavity after cavity, I see the statistics they carry on their shoulders.
I have read about them, researching development and underdevelopment; local culture and the culture of poverty. I have studied their chances and the challenges ahead.
It kind of makes me sick.
I don’t know if anything we do really changes any of these endemic problems.
That isn’t even my primary goal. While I do want them to see different futures on earth, I want them to see Christ. I want them to have the hope that there is a Kingdom coming that will wipe away their tears. I want to see them sheltered in His presence, without hunger or thirst. I don’t want them to face the scorching heat. I want the leaves of the tree to bring healing to the nations. (Revelation 7:15-17, 22:2)
Chit Ne Oo asked me to go to the temple with her the other day. I think it was a holiday, but it wasn’t clear. I asked her what we would do there, since sometimes there are community events or funerals at temples, but she said we would pray. I told her I wouldn’t go to pray there, because I don’t believe in the temples here; I believe in Jesus. But I was happy to help her and drive her there, I just wouldn’t go to pray.
Do they have any concept of what we believe or why we are here? I don’t know.
“…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” (Romans 9:2-3)
This community has brought me to understand and ache with and cry over this verse in a way I never have before. I’m not sure its entirely true for me yet.
As I write this, I know without a doubt that Christ is all we have standing with us right now. It has been a hard season; I have never leaned on Christ for day-to-day events like I am now.
Cutting myself off from Christ would remove the hope; it takes the love and grace out of all this mess. But that they might know–that they might walk forward in the hope, love, and grace that is holding us up even now?
I don’t know.