I remember one particular day–maybe six or eight months after we arrived in Mae Sot–very clearly.
We were just getting to know the neighbors and would just interact with them on occasion through the week. Mo Bya knew Karen, which we were studying, and was one of the first adults we had come to know. He came to talk to us.
I have no idea what he talked to us about, but I remember he was covered in paint. His feet and clothes and shoes and hair were covered–he had paint all over him. He looked like a migrant worker.
We see migrant workers all over town, as they are nearly half the population of Mae Sot. We know their usual jobs and their usual lifestyle. We know they ride bicycles or get rides on trucks. We see them on every road and every shop and every construction site. We know the statistics, the dangers, the tragedies. We know the crimes that are committed by them and to them. We know the horror stories and risks and corrupt practices.
That is just life here and a part of what we do.
Until that day, when Mo Bya was no longer just my neighbor–he was a migrant worker, too.
It struck me so oddly because I knew he was a migrant worker. But there was something different about seeing him there, looking more like a migrant worker than my friend.
The same thing happened a few weeks ago. I took two girls about fifteen years old to a craft party that some friends were having. They both love crafts and have the best English in the community, so it seemed like a great opportunity.
Looking back now, I’m not sure either of us were ready for our worlds to collide in that way, but it was such fun all the same.
We were driving to my friend’s house in Mae Sot Villa, the primary “neighborhood” in Mae Sot–it’s a gated and guarded community with mostly foreigners, wealthier Thais, and Chinese businessmen. As we drove in, the girls were chattering about the different houses–not about what they looked like or how big they were, but about who worked there. They pointed out where one of their mothers worked, another where a friend worked, another where a different mother in the community worked, another where one of the girls herself–a 15-year-old–worked on Saturday and Sunday when she wasn’t at school.
For me, this is where many of my friends live. This is where I go to home church and where I deliver flowers and where I have lunch with friends and where I go to parties like this little craft party.
Parties that they are responsible for cleaning up for.
This isn’t bad: I love my friends and home church and lunch dates and parties. I know why they have chosen this neighborhood: for safety, for their kids to ride their bicycles. I know why they have chosen to have house help: they are doing amazing ministry and loving their families well.
Again, I know that most of the expat community has house help. I know that many of my neighbors work as house help. But in that moment, I was on both sides. I understood both parties; both parties were a part of me. And at the very same moment, I wasn’t a part of either.
This past Wednesday I had a car of three girls headed off to the doctor, and we were just driving through town. This time, it was just a wave. It was a man from the community headed home from work, sitting on the roof of a semi truck, where migrant workers often sit.
They often call out something in English: Hello! Where are you going? What is your name? Merry Christmas!–whatever English phrase they can think of in the moment. But this time, he waved. The same way you’d wave to a friend as you drove through town, because really that’s all we were–just two friends passing each other in town.
But again, he looked more like a migrant worker than my friend. All the statistics and stories come rushing through my mind, but with the face of my friend.
I was singing O Holy Night this week as we took a drive through the rice fields. These were my favorite lines.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
I was struck by the sin & error that pines around us, that our world is built upon. I was struck by the chains of hierarchy and development and inequality. The chains of wealth and poverty.
The power of Christ: a thrill of hope, a soul knowing it’s worth, a law of love and a story of peace, a slave as a brother.
I can’t wait for Christmas.
I can’t wait for eternity.
I can’t wait for all oppression to cease!