Friday, July 31, 2009

Mae La Refugee Camp

We arrived at the refugee camp a little after 9 a.m. Thursday morning without incident. We went directly to the Bible School Chapel where we were escorted to the stage. As I was walking up there, it occurred to me that this building with the chapel in it was a lot like my dad's haybarn. The frame building is somewhat the same, it's fairly open, with at tin roof and part cement/part dirt floor. The roof has leaves over the tin to dampen the sound that the rain made. It even smelled a lot like a barn minus the cow smells. We sang for the students during chapel, and then were immediately humbled when they sang a song. These people love to sing, and they are incredibly good at projecting their voices. It made me think of Ni Doh Paw.
On our drive over from Chiang Mai on Wed I told Roger Butz that I'd be interested in working on conversational English if some students wanted to practice in a small group setting, like 10 or 12. Well, after chapel they said there were 85 students who would like to practice English. Unfortunately, I couldn't do it then because we had to do the Bible story that I helped tell and work with the kids. So another woman from the team went with Jean Murrow to do that. I was bummed but we had a good time working with the kids anyway. After lunch the other woman and I switched places and I got to work with Jean teaching English. It was very fun interacting with these students in their early 20's. Later Roger asked if we'd put together some ideas for future trips to do more English teaching. He said he gets requests from people wherever they go to do that but have never known how or what to do.
After class I was able to find one student who knew Ni Doh Paw's father. This young man had been a part of Pastor Eh Day Htoo's church. That was helpful because I needed to deliver some things to his daughter. His daughter lived by Eh Day Htoo's old home, and the young man said it would take an hour to walk there. The house was in zone A, and we were in zone C. I was advised not to go there; they said that often if you cross into another zone they won't let you back. So this young guy called her, and she and her family soon came on a motor cycle--actually they went to the road, hired a cycle, and drove to zone C and then walked in to the Bible School. It was nice to connect with them, and they would deliver the other 'mail' that I brought from other refugees.
We ate rice for lunch and dinner, and sometime during the afternoon it started pouring down rain. Jim M said it can rain at the rate of 10 inches/hour, but didn't think this was quite that hard. It kept raining all afternoon and evening. We watched dirt and water pour down the hills and the river that was at least 100 feet away from the Bible school began to rise. By evening it was waste deep near the school. You can't think of this place like an ordinary Bible college. The halls, or walking between buildings and even rooms or up to the bathroom, are all dirt. And when it started raining the dirt turned to mud and the river water was brown. But it never dampens the people's spirits.
Sleeping was interesting. The girls slept in the loft above the chapel, all in a row on two sides of it, each with our own mosquito net. About the time it got dark we began to hear the most interesting noises, extremely loud frogs and other night creatures. It was sweet music to fall asleep to and I did sleep quite well. I forgot to mention that Dr. Simon, the director of the school, shared his story before we went to bed. It was quite interesting and I'll share it when I can.
In the morning most of the group went to see a place right along the Burma border where some new arrivals are being placed in temporary shelters. They probably won't be allowed to stay where they are, but they've crossed over to be safe and so they've put up temporary bamboo huts and covered them with big plastic tarps. Roger said that the strategy of the Burmese army is to threaten a village, demanding that they provide porters or else pay money. If they can do neither they set land mines around the village, rape the women, and whatever else goes with it. These people don't want to stay in Thailand, but can't go back across the border, and can't go into the camps because there is no room.
Jean and I, along with Katy, Sophie, and a girl named Shannon stayed behind and taught the English class again. It was fun to have them ask the girls questions about life in America. Then we turned the tables on them and asked them questions. We also taught them some common idioms. The girls all said it was fun.
Before we left we got a chance to walk through the camp a little bit, only in zone C. We walked over to an orphanage. It looked like these kids were camping out in a fort, that's what the 'house' they lived in looked like to me. They sang for us, and again, they sang to the Lord with great joy and enthusiasm. It messes with my head to think of how that compares with our singing.
more later...

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