"White Girl"

"White Girl"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wise Man

Sitting across from me is an old friend. I've known this man for about 4 years now and he always has something new to say. For the most part I listen, and most times walk away having learned something.  Really, we are the most unlikely of friends.  See, he is a middle-aged, asian man from the jungles of Burma and Thailand, and I am a 20s something white girl from the most luxurious nations of all time, America.

His name is Saw Mu Lar, and first and foremost he is a father and husband. Secondly, he is a friend to most anyone. Thirdly, he is a leader in the sense of doing what little things he can to bring about good.

My name is Amber, and who I am is still in the making, but I would like to also think I am a friend to everyone (with some wise discretion to some characters, right?) and a leader in some aspects...

But, back to learning from my friend. He talks, I listen. Today, he is talking about how doing certain things leads to feeling not good, or to not being happy.  Some of his thoughts are based on his culture which is very interdependent and social. Saw Mu is Karen, and typically the Karen love socializing and don't always understand the concept of spending time alone (as I have found to be the case from my own experiences). Anyways, my point is that for Saw Mu Lar, spending time isolated from others leads to being unhappy and is "not good" or not healthy. He is talking about how so many Americans, get up and go to work, come home, eat some food, play on the internet/watch tv, go to sleep, get up and repeat. I had to agree with him, cuz I find myself doing the same thing. For example, the past few weeks I have found myself feeling stressed out and tense. I have been wondering why that is, and I was just thinking this past week that its because I spend too much time goofing off on the internet. My time is being used unwisely and not spent interacting with others. Sure, it would make sense to start  feeling stressed, tense, and not good by spending too much time on the internet or television, and not enough time spent with others.

Basically, Saw Mu Lar is pointing out that some of our daily American habits lead to being unhappy. I'm sitting here thinking, how many doctors and people with expensive degrees doing research does it take to figure out what this man from the jungle learned from just observing the new culture he found himself in? That's why I sit and listen to this man. Cuz he knows something from looking into my culture from the outside and he is not afraid to talk about it.

His remedy, he tells me, is to take time to sit down and eat together. If you're at work, call your friend and coworkers over to eat with you. Actually share your food with them, and ask them about their family. He said, "how many people actually know their coworkers' families? Know their names, and faces, and have met them". Also, take time to go visit other people in their homes.

He is telling me this while I sit on his living room floor on a mat eating with my hands the food he has shared with me. He always asks how my parents are doing, and if anything is new. If I talk about something, he listens. Sometimes he teases me and jokes, sometimes he is serious. In the end, we have always managed to share a few laughs and I leave smiling, and feeling happy inside.

Good ol'friends can beat out the internet any day in my book!

* Saw Mu Lar's village was attacked in Burma in the 90's. He fled with his wife and kids to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he helped build and lead a Christian church outside the camp in a small, remote Thai village where when he first approached it, they told him to leave and threatened him. He decided to give a Christmas/New Year celebration at the village bringing food and song, inviting everyone to come to the celebration. After that, village members where more open to Christianity. He now lives in the Twin Cities with his family. He came here so his children could have more education and better opportunities.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I haven't written anything for this blog in quite some time.  I think its because I find myself bored.  Thus, not inspired to write.  Being in your home country, state, and city seems to lack a certain adventurousness.  There doesn't seem to be that exciting, anticipatory state of being in the unknown.  Instead, it just seems like the same ol' things happening over and over again.  So for myself, the challenge has become to enjoy and anticipate the same ol' things that are happening in my life.  Really, I'm just kind of lost not being in a jungle.  That's the bare truth of it.  Its not that I don't enjoy being with my family and in my home, its just that I'm discovering that maybe I'm meant to be somewhere else, however difficult that is to admit.  Its a very scary thing, to be standing at the edge of adult hood, and not knowing how to handle the fact that I might not always be around for my family.  For some, it might be very easy to run off on some grand adventure, or feel that its a relief to leave, thinking good riddance! Having been bound to a home and to parents that may not have cherished and invested in that person, or perhaps your personality is a little more free then mine.

I have always felt a keen responsibility and love for my family, and for others as well. Got to admit that I have lived selfishly at times. Even now, I am a bit of a recluse anymore. Hiding myself off from the world, because if you put your heart into something, chances are you might lose something when you move on. We always feel more keenly the things we lose, than the things we gain.  Thats the trick to life, learning how to feel and appreciate all the things we have gained over the years and to be thankful instead of wallowing in some slight or troubling time.

Back in my university days (which wasn't so long ago), I had to write a Vocational Statement for a course I was taking. I thought I'd share my statement from that, "Oh, not so long ago time!" in order to better convey what I feel called to on a daily basis.

Personal Statement of Vocation

    I have always known since I was a little girl that I wanted to go.  But I never really knew what that meant until recently.  I remember looking at National Geographic growing up and thinking, I want to go there.  I want to meet those people, I want to climb that mountain, I want to see that ocean.  As I grew older and started learning about hurt, hunger, and homelessness, I began to have a heart for those in suffering and a strong urge to help.  Some call this compassion, I call this going.
    Going means seeing a need and assessing how to meet that need.  It means setting goals, organizing, and leading others to accomplish those goals.  It means never giving up when the going gets tough.  It means finding the positive in everything and the good in everyone.  It means helping those who aren't able to help themselves and standing up for those who can't.
    These are all parts of who I am and who I am becoming.  I know though that a strong part of me, my values and my sense of purpose, reside in my spirituality.  My belief in God and in Jesus has challenged me to live in awareness of others and to live for something beyond just me.  One of Jesus' teachings that I have carried with me is, if your neighbor lacks a shirt then you should give him the shirt off your back.  This idea of helping those in need is a huge part of going.   
    Going also means teaching and leading.  I try to encourage others and challenge them to become and achieve all that they can.  Going means sometimes speaking up, not being afraid and being bold.  To give advice that's unanticipated and maybe not wanted, but relevant.  It means being calm and collected in extreme situations and in the unexpected.  It means being respectful of others and being tolerant of differences.  It also means vocation.
    Going will be my vocation and my occupation.  I might end up as a teacher, a social worker, a globe trekker, or a sociologist.  But wherever I end up or wherever I go, I know that I will always have something to do.  Something that will fuel me and give me passion.  Something that will make me happy and fulfill me because wherever I go there will always be someone that can use a little encouragement, a little help, and a friend.

The real challenge now, is figuring out how to make going a reality, and where that next place is, and whether its here, there, or somewhere else altogether.

Monday, April 15, 2013

She Called Me Teacher

I'm not really sure, what kind of feeling or emotion one should experience when seeing a one-shoed woman walking down the road.  I happened to look outside, and I saw this woman carrying a bundle of leaves, with her two young boys trailing after her.  It was about midday and the sun was shining ferociously down upon her.  She was so poor, she only had one shoe.  But, I was strangely happy and pleasantly surprised. I knew this woman.

I had met her over three years ago now. The first time I had journeyed to Thailand. She came to Bamboo School were I was working at the time, to ask if she could stay there for awhile. Her husband had just left her for another woman. She had a year and a half old boy, and a baby on the way. She came and worked hard.  She was very pregnant but did her best to do odd jobs around, and to take care of her little boy. We began to build a relationship even though I couldn't speak Karen and she couldn't speak English. I allowed her to come to my beginner English class.  She would sit on the floor surrounded by 5-10 year olds, her little boy beside her as she practiced writing.  She learned how to say a few words.  I was proud of her.  She called me teacher.

Then, I had to go home. When I had returned to Thailand again, she was gone. I didn't know what had happened to her, or how she was doing. Then one day, I saw her at the market.  She looked so very thin, she had her two sons with her, and a very old woman. We couldn't say much to each other, but still she called me teacher.  Her face broke out into a smile as we hugged each other. I still didn't know enough Karen to ask her where she was, or what she was doing. She managed to communicate that she was going to Burma. She gave me this little heart ring.  It was dirty, but beautiful as she pressed in into my hand.

I thought that was the last I would see of her. Then, I saw her walking down the road with only one shoe on. I felt overjoyed to see her. I called to her from my window. I told her to come over. I rushed out the door to bring the little troop in. My Karen teacher was there, giving them a funny look so I explained to her how I knew this woman. I knew a little more Karen this time, so I began to ask questions.  Had you eaten yet? No.  So, of course I had to dig up some food.  She gave it to her little boys first, and then she ate.  I asked what had happened to her shoes. Why did she only have one? Where was she living? How was she doing? Did she have a job?...

She looked happy, but also like a very busy mother trying to provide for her family. Her oldest boy had managed to get into a local pre-school/kindergarten program three days a week. Then, she had gotten remarried. Was this man good to her? Did he take care of her and provide for her? Did he love her?... She said that they were trying to work, but it was tough because they were both from Burma and didn't speak Thai.  But, they had a new plan, a dream to start a Beetle Nut Tree farm in Burma. In fact, they were going to be moving that week.  She was getting tired, it was hot, and her little boys were cranky, so I took them back to their little bamboo house on my motorbike.  I was pleased to see that it was neat, tidy, and in good condition. That's a good sign. She still only had one shoe, so I gave her a pair of mine. Perhaps, it would express the same thanks and appreciation for her, that her little heart ring had done for me.

She tried to tell me in English, as I was leaving, that she was going back to Burma. She asked me to come visit her there.  I told her that I too would be going back to my country, but that I hoped to return at the New Year. Perhaps, one day I will see her again. As I left, she called me Teacher.

I never thought of myself as a teacher, but her belief in me has lead to me to see myself differently, and how I use my time differently.  I may not ever be a famous leader, nor write books, or impact a lot of people, but I know that I impacted one woman's life half way around the world, and that she too has changed mine. There is a verse from the Bible that has profoundly impacted my life. Its very simple, and often overlooked. But, most often its the simple things that can change lives, like being called Teacher, and giving someone your own shoes.

... Freely you have received; freely give.
                Matthew 10:8

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Grandpa Teachers

I'm not sure what kind of picture you conjure up when you think about pastors, I tend to imagine someone dressed in slacks with maybe a shirt tuck in, with a good, proper hair style. So, I was a little surpised (although I must say, pleasently surprised) when I met the pastor of the local church I am working with in Bongti, Thailand.

First, I thought he was a short, little wizard man of some sort. His hair was white and poking untamed every which way. Even his eyebrows shut up stubbornly defying grafity. He had giant 80ish glasses on and a red stained mouth opened in a big smile. I have to say his eyes where a little bit like Santa Clause's like he new some great, happy secret he was just waiting to share with everyone. He was quite pleasent to meet.

His name or title is Poo Thera Bee Bay, which in translation literally means, Grandpa Teacher. Isn't that a great title? He likes to wear sarangs, and to ride his bicycle (slightly wobbally) all over the town. He is a great chewy of beetle nut, and a just generally seems happy all the time. I believe he is around 85 yrs old and I keep telling myself I need to be like him.

One day, I was hanging out with a large family gathering that was butchering a pig for a big celebration. We are all standing around the river, watching the pig get killed and cleaned near the water, when all of a sudden a laughing blur comes hurtling at me from behind and tries to push me into the little river. It was Poo Thera or Grandpa Teacher! He was laughing his head off and trying to push all the his little grandkids in too. He managed to get a few of the younger boys in, to their great surprise and accompanied with shouts of anger. It just tickled me pink to watch him being such a goose.

Then, another favorite memory of mine, is when he painted all of his finger and toenails bright, sparkly hot pink. Why? I have no idea but I couldn't help but smile as he went up to preach, all manly in his sarong and pink finger nails. Oh, this is another great time too. It was Christmas day and the church was having a great, big celebration that included a reenactment of the Christmas Story and loud singing of songs by soloists. Well, Poo Thera went up there with his sarang, beetle nut chewing, Santa Clause twinking eyes, pink fingernails, and an electic guitar. He played and belted out in good fashion (and in English) Jingle Bells. Needless to say, he rocked that little church.

But, my favorite memory of him is every sunday he gets up in front of the concregration and leads them in singing the same hymn every week, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. And suddently I realize where that happy, twinking, goofyness of his nature comes from, his hope in Jesus. And that's the greatest lesson I have taken from this crazy, white haired Grandpa Teacher.