We live in this neighborhood of migrants in Mae Sot, and we live amongst poverty.
But we are not in poverty. We have this really cute little house that we can lock. We sleep on a bed at night and have electricity. We have nice clothes and a motorbike and a car!
Sometimes, our life in Mae Sot seems so easy. People imagine it so dramatically, when really, sometimes I feel spoiled. We have a Dairy Queen now, and sometimes, we go get ice cream. For cooking, I can now purchase nearly everything I could imagine in Mae Sot, including flax seed, rye flour, frozen spinach, and chocolate chips. Add that to spectacular mangoes, avocados, and strawberries, and sometimes I feel spoiled. My husband just put up these beautiful, unique shelves in our kitchen, and we purchased a bread maker from some friends that were moving back. He has this fun little set up in his studio, and we read books together in the evening. Our neighbor kids come over to play, and I help them put puzzles together and we pet our little cute bunny. It feel so idealistic, as if we live in this storybook of another country.
I wonder why I could ever want more. Why do I want more clothes and more things and more friends? When Stephen and I go out to dinner or maybe I wear a nice dress to church, sometimes I feel guilty as the neighbors look on from their bamboo huts, ripped clothing, and bowls of rice. I don’t need new, nice things. I don’t need all that I have.
Sometimes I feel like the spoiled princess across the street.
While we were in Chiang Mai last week, Stephen needed to run a few errands for my birthday. He dropped me off at one of three new malls in that huge city, and I wandered around while he ran off to find surprises.
I explored my latest favorite store, Uniqlo, which is simply the Japanese version of Gap. I tried on a lovely black dress, but then meandered through Chiang Mai’s new H&M and found about twelve more beautiful dresses. I then found the Jelly Bunny store, which was so Asian and wonderful. It’s an entire shop of jelly shoes in every color and style you could imagine. I found these great mint sandals that I really considered purchasing in argument that they’d be great for rainy season.
It was somewhere between these stores I really felt the tension–this odd collision of the many lives we lead.
I had brought my best clothes to Chiang Mai, as I always do. It’s a city, and everyone is so put together. I try to make sure I have real shoes that I can walk in and actually match my outfit, as opposed to Mae Sot where I simply need to get to my destination and my shoes will be left at the door. I could care less if they match while I ride the motorbike. In Chiang Mai I’ll wear dresses or nice shirts; I attempt to do my hair.
As I walked through the mall, I was so aware of this desire to be put together, to feel really lovely. I wanted to purchase dresses and have fun little shoes in a couple different colors. I wanted to feel like something in our lives were put together and ready for a photo.
It is similar to how I feel when we go back to the States. I want to feel like I fit and can blend into this entirely different society. I want to wear the right things and know the right trends and current events. I want it to not be obvious that for the other 330 days of the year, my life is so far from here.
And then I feel so small, so disconnected from this whole world out there. Somehow I went from feeling like a spoiled princess to feeling like I’m on the other side of the street, peeking over the gate.
On my birthday, we were driving away from the hospital after dropping off a little ten-year-old boy to stay with the man that had been stabbed. We had given him two dollars for meals while he was there, and told him we’d be back tomorrow.
As we drove away from the hospital, we were talking about how to “save” the day, to make it feel like it was still a fun-happy-go-lucky birthday. The truck in front of us was full of Burmese migrants in the back, and suddenly one of them started vomiting out the back of the truck.
I know you’re wondering now why I’m telling you that little piece of information.
Because in that moment I thought how much I wanted out: just for a day I wanted to pretend that we didn’t live here. And then I realized that this was the same town–some days it feel so easy, and some days it feel so hard.
Somedays I make delicious Western food in my kitchen; I play with sweet kids; I take my laundry out of a machine and open a care package with treasures from America, and I feel spoiled. I feel like I owe a confessional to all of our friends and family that our lives really aren’t that hard! We aren’t brave, we aren’t doing anything special. Don’t send us undeserved care packages!
Then there are other days, when I just can’t catch a break. Somedays I clean up vomit and pee off the floor three times; I cry for the neighbors across the street; we pray for wisdom on what to do about more domestic violence, more drunkenness, and more brokenness. I study language for one more hour; I make dinner in 100 degree heat at 9pm at night when we get back from the hospital; and I’m just spent. And then I feel like I want to shout to our friends and family, Please come visit! Please send more care packages! Please pray! I don’t know what we got ourselves into–help!
And it collides again, because we are in the same town or the same country or the same life, and it is just one collision after the other.
Though this might be an obvious statement, this entire stabbing incident has rocked me a bit. I’m sure it has something to do with the blood; it was so much blood, just standing at our front door and then in our car and…
There is a reason I’m not in the medical profession.
But beyond that, it was just a collision in and of itself. It was a collision of what I know–stories, research, and statistics about impoverished areas and domestic violence–and the people I love–this little family where we know the mother and father, we know the little six-year-old boy and three-year-old girl.
It was our cute little home suddenly invaded with blood. It was our sweet friends suddenly broken and hurting.
It was the little girl running up to the car with shouts of joy when we brought her dad home from the hospital.
And now, even after he’s home, it’s me changing his bandages each and every morning. His little girl comes with him and sits by him while I clean his stitched up knife wound. It’s a reminder of the brokenness.
Tornadoes rolled through our hometown in Arkansas this week. I watched as photos filled social media of destroyed homes, neighborhoods, and communities. We saw photos of brokenness on that side of the world, too.
So when I think that maybe it will be easier to just go home, it won’t.
I don’t know when to just be quiet and be happy. I don’t know when to just buy a dress and shoes and that be okay. I don’t know when to stay and believe that good is coming from all of this. I don’t know when to say that we’re okay and we’re not that different. I don’t know when to say I’m not okay, and I need help; this life is weird and pulling me under. I don’t know when to pretend the collisions don’t exist, or when to admit that the gaps feel huge. I don’t know when to write what I really think and when to just post a photo of a cute kid in sepia tone.