As with all good things, we at least started with a plan. We planned to host a community Christmas party on Monday night, hopefully giving us a few days to recover before we flew out to England. A couple weeks ago, I had some of the older kids help me create a map of the community so that I could count households, make sure we had the right number of gifts, and purchase gifts by age. Since we know the kids more and more each year, the gifts are getting more personalized and specific for what we know they’ll love.
We also had the blessing of our church behind us this year, committing to cover the expenses of a dinner and presents for the community. We were excited! We decided we’d get an individual gift for each person, but also do household gifts–a blanket, toothpaste, toothbrushes, baby powder, notebooks, pens, pencils, and soap–for every four people in the home. This meant that most homes received a single set, but some extra-fertile homes received as many as three.
Since the community is always in our home and around, it is difficult to “secretly” purchase hundreds of gifts that obviously aren’t for us. We postponed it all as long as we could, but sent out our friend Pranee to make the first purchases last Friday. She is an incredible negotiator and gets the best deals in town; everyone in the office knows it. So we sent her out to purchase rainbow bags to put the gifts in, a blanket for each household, a sarong for each woman, and a longyi for each man. These are more expensive pieces that I thought she’d be able to get the best deal on without my white face there. And she did incredible! She got them all for almost half of what we had estimated, and then managed to get them all on her motorbike! She is Mae Sot’s very own wonder woman.
Stephen and I planned to purchase all of the kids’ gifts on Saturday, plus the vegetables needed for the meal. We had so much fun deciding what to purchase. I mean, really–having enough money to purchase fun gifts for these kids that will love them anything so much? Knowing they’ll be excited for candy and a toothbrush, but being able to purchase a toy car or puzzle is really wonderful.
We got the first load purchased, which involved me carrying all of this on the way back on the motorbike. Whoa.
I will note that Stephen was skeptical of getting it all onto the motorbike, and so was the Thai man sitting outside who openly laughed when we set it down beside the motorbike. He then gave a nod of approval as I turned the rainbow bag into a backpack, and that made me pretty proud!
Just as we were setting out for our second load of presents, our plans we interrupted. An older woman in the community was quite sick, and we were asked to come to her house. She was non-responsive and covered in her own urine and vomit. The details are probably too many, but it turned into a long night. We spent a couple hours at the hospital without dinner until 9:30pm; we crawled into bed exhausted by 11. We then woke up after five phone calls at 1am, quite confused at what was really wanted of us. We knew they were calls from the hospital, but not sure what was going on since the people on the phone only knew Burmese and the Karen translator outside kept telling us to just go back to bed and go to the hospital at 8am tomorrow. We were stumped by this: why would someone call five times at 1am if they wanted us to just come at 8am tomorrow?
So I trekked across town at 1am to learn that Pipi had passed away, and the girls staying with her came back with me. With just three hours of sleep, Sunday became a day of helping with funeral preparations and trekking people back and forth from the hospital.
In addition to participating in the process of mourning, it delayed our preparations. I ended up purchasing more gifts in the pouring rain on Sunday afternoon, wrapping until 3:30am, and purchasing the final items on Monday morning.
At one place, we learned you get free gifts with bigger purchases. We purchased about $36 worth of toothbrushes–which are in my left hand in the photo below–and all the free stuff we got is in my right hand! How are they making profit?
We waited and told the community on Monday morning that we’d be having Christmas at 4pm. We had the door closed most of the day since toys and gifts were filling our floor, but the kids would come up to the window throughout the day. We’d have this conversation,
“Yes, four o’clock!”
We also needed to prepare a meal for about 200 people. I went by a rotisserie chicken stand on Sunday to order 25 whole chickens. We did this last year, and it was a big hit. It is also much easier to purchase 25 already-cooked chickens than to fit them all in my toaster oven.
I tried to communicate with my very limited Thai that I wanted 25 chickens to be ready tomorrow at 4pm. She tried to understand in her very limited Thai. We were struggling, when her friend came over to help, and translated “25 chickens, 4pm” into Karen. Oh! Well, this could be a lot easier, I thought. I started using Karen and we sorted it out pretty quickly. We had a nice little chat as they asked if it was for a Christmas party and where I lived and how long we lived here. They asked if it was for 4am, I said no; it was after the kids got back from school, for dinner. We confirmed and confirmed and confirmed. I left my phone number and left on a cloud thinking how easy that was having a common language.
And then a man called me about an hour later, and four other times on Sunday night. I caught a few of them, and he would ask again if I wanted 25 chickens at 4pm? Yes, I do; we’d hang up. Then he called at 6am on Monday morning to tell me the chickens were ready. What? I restated that we’d come by at 4pm. He sounded confused, so I said we’d drive by the stand in just a little bit. We were out of bed and in town by 7am, where we found the little chicken stand overflowing with 25 chickens.
At this point, I didn’t particularly care that they were ready super early. It’d still work, as people aren’t too picky about their food around here. I just reiterated that it was great they had them, we’d be back at 4pm when we had a truck to get them.
After spending the day wrapping gifts and cooking, we were just barely finishing by 3:30pm. I jumped in the shower while Stephen went out to pick up the chickens.
She had one waiting for us. One measly little chicken.
I have no idea where we went wrong. I honestly am still so baffled by how the whole situation went down. But Stephen patiently went around town from chicken cart to chicken cart trying to gather the remaining 24 rotisserie chickens.
After four carts with a few chickens each, he arrived at one down by the border. He was now a good seven kilometers from our house and five kilometers from the chicken stand we started at. He pulled up and asked if they had chickens, to which the lady replied, “Oh! 25 chickens, 4 o’clock. Merry Christmas!”
What?!? How do you know what our order is, and the man I spoke to twelve times didn’t seem to understand?!?!
Either way, Stephen was a champ and was home by 5pm with 25 chickens in tow. We had four friends here to help us host and translate and take photos, and piles of kids waiting at the front door.