San Chai Mai
San Chai Village was a village that I spent a lot of time in while working on an Akha book. This village was illustrative of the worst exchanges with the Thai world and low lands as well as the diminishing edges of mountain culture as though it had overextended itself. One could only begin to know what pressures were exerted on this village.
Elders and children alike were forced to suffer.
Outside police, missions and NGO's preyed on the difficult position of this village with no one making any effort to assist it in any true way.
Drug addiction, prostitution and crime was at its worst as a result.
Many of the Akha in this village died, there were many murders and many of its people ended up in prison. Drugs contributed significantly to the death and imprisonment factor.
The Thai police were heavily involved, San Chai was their slave village. While getting their drugs here, the police could also arrest when needed. I sat in Nimit’s house when police came and smoked or shot up heroin. Other times police came and raided the house like commandos.
Nimit's Dark Side
One man said the other day, here in October of ‘98 that Nimit had planted drugs on a sister because she wouldn’t loan him heroin and she just got out or is getting out this month for doing six years after he set the cops on her. You would never know that to meet Nimit. One would never know the whole story. Yet I knew his meanness a time or two. I remember the time I took Meeh Suur, the girl who had been burned badly to see him. While we were there a pretty girl invited me outside to talk. While we were gone out under the light, sitting on the bench talking, Nimit became angry at me with envy I suppose and told the burned girl many cruel things. So when we were headed back to her village, she cried and told me this.
John Gunther AUA director Chiangmai, don't tell him that asoh sent me
Nimit sent me to talk to John Gunther. Asked me not to mention his name, maybe he had pissed some money in the past. Lots of people had contacted the Akha through Nimit. But he ate the money and the good will when he could. The savvy could benefit, the foolish could loose. He had a tremendous heroin habit. San Chai had been a good man, and the village had lots of good things as well as lots of bad luck. Nimit could act up like there was no tomorrow, laugh and make the fool, and then turn and say very deeply felt kind things or stories of a situation.
Missionaries had come and tried to exploit the village, make inroads, but they never were able.
It was odd, yet predictable, that a person who had such complex problems, in a village that had such complex problems, could at the same time have a strong capacity to hold onto its culture in ways that other villages didn’t do so well. What ever the components, San Chai Mai, and the people of San Chai Mai, had a strong foundation.
Nimit and San Chai
Nimit searched, as all of us, for the meaning and substance in life, by his existence, to live a life of meaning, to be engaged, yet so often missing the mark, that is much the story of Nimit. For Nimit's side there is the problem of his surrender to drugs, and a surrender it must be called, repeated surrender, despite the effort of many friends, pulled his heart and the habits of his heart, far over to one side.
Now in latter years he had once again dried out, but the habits of his mouth and heart, did not particularly stop. The most notable thing was that he did not have a positive reputation, and this didn't leave much to build on once the drugs were gone, always pulling at him.
As well, many years of feeding the evil side left a very dark patch on his heart even after the heroin was gone, and one could feel the pull of this. If he would stand up above it was hard to know.
There was often no bone in his tongue.
But Nimit also had a good heart, and he was an excellent singer, and had deep feeling for his people. In the west we make people to be either good or bad, so we can judge and speak of them quickly, with the Akha and Akha language this is not so much so, and for myself personally I allow people at least 15 sides to their personality, and frankly don't care how much bad they have in some of them, because that can be spoken for all of us.
It is particularly important to note that some of us are not nearly as bad as we could be, merely because we didn't get the opportunity to be as corrupt as we might have had the heart and will for. This can not be overlooked.
So the magic of Nimit was this struggle in his life, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish, but always surprising. People often dissed Nimit, but whatever my disappointment, Nimit didn’t give up on being Akha in a very tough world at the edge between the Akha and all that is bad in Thai society. A hard act to follow.
It was in San Chai Mai where I first began to see the serious problems a village could have, but it was many years after San Chai Mai that I saw the secret forces that imposed themselves in devious ways from outside the village, that then explained a lot of what I had seen in San Chai Mai. This had left a profound impression on Nimit. Some people spoke of him as if he was the most evil man, but I learned later how convenient this was, and how inaccurate.
Living In San Chai
Sometimes the Akha can be such a pain, especially in a heroin household, and then they will do something that really endears themselves to you.
such case was where all I heard about was money, all Phillip heard about was
money, and then Phillip left. Asoh said that it was “Fucked Up”. And in such a way that maybe he meant it
was sad to see someone doing so much for the Akha by way of filming, go
away. Then the first thing out of his
mouth was that he got up early for the
Then Asoh says to me that they don’t just think about money, him and Mee Yoh, but that they have to keep eating. I thought of all the money they went through for their heroin habit and yet something rang gentle about his voice.
He never could explain to me why every time he saw me he asked for money.
But as the years went by, I realized that these drug households, the men, if nothing else, were quite expert at a constant flow of money, they had to be, while many households which didn’t have drugs going on, could be pretty broke sometimes. The drugs were a complex culture, not all bad, that was part of the support system of a people forced to live on the edge.
Although villages and people in them had ways of sharing, coming from the outside one could feel the Akha were pretty stingy. But they were stingy with everything, and not just to other people, but to themselves as well. It was a matter of economic survival in a life situation that wasn’t forgiving. Sometimes it rubbed me raw when out of one side they spoke evil of me, that I was cheap, then the next time I was helping them, and then the next time not and they were speaking bad again.
Hearing the Akha speak bad of me was very common. Some of it was just meaness. Some of it was envy, pain, failed hope, or all three. Or they thought I had lots of money. Or that I was helping some other village but not theirs. Hey, life was very difficult, I didn’t put it too much to their account when I learned what could happen to people in these villages.
I was having a rough day. I was paying to stay at Nimits, and also didn’t have much spare money, and so was basically living on the same sparse diet as everyone else, and it was really difficult when you eat like the Akha have to eat, then you get some feeling of what it means to have your energy limited by your calorie intake. So I was in the back of Nimit’s hut, where we were all talking and suddenly the Akha wife of Nimit's one son said that I should go home to see my mother and then come back in one month. It was a kind thing to say, I couldn’t do it, but it was the kind of thing that was important to Akhas, family.
She was from
I could give out $50 of medicine in the village one night, and then the next morning when I needed a ride to the corner they would charge me for it.
I got plenty of knowledge of them and life living in their villages, but my survival was up to me, to live long enough to do so. This experience varied depending on the villages of course. What are western attitudes and actions, must be set aside in an Akha village till one KNOWS what is going on and WHY. After I had lived with the Akha for 15 years, the experiences in the village could be just as impoverished, but knowing what they were about made all the difference. One was much less likely to rush to judgment based on appearances. And what one could look at and have a good laugh with the Akha about was much more.
I don't know that I am so hard on them, the mountain environment is extremely tough.
Household hospitality among the Akha was very good.
I wished that I had found more people among the Akha who shared my vision for the writing of the literature.
I found it consistently true, that foreigners categorized the Akha much more harshly than when faced with a similar behavior in the west. There was very much a double standard applied to these people.
Fish Tank San Chai
I hadn’t been in the Akha village all that long when it was necessary for me to pull out the tools and fix the fish tank pump of all things. You see, on a rickety metal stool in the center of the hut sits a fish tank. Brought up by a customer or friend. One big gold fish is left, the other one dead and quite humorously pitched out into the yard by Ah Bay, the grand son, with great announcement at its death.
So I ended up fixing the wires inside the pump, fine copper fillaments that were impossible to solder because I didn’t have any flux. But winding the wires and stripping off the varnish I was able to get it going for the moment. The small aquarium was not much bigger than a car battery, tapes, the glass chipped along one edge, a piece of life here in this place, an attempt to embrace life, here on the hut floor, the woven bamboo matt, all the people passed out in post heroin sleep, or sitting about talking. The hut was the center of a form of life in the village, always there was someone different coming and going, or here when you got here.
Eventually yah bah became popular and then the one side of the room, Nimit with his back against the wall, became an evolving litter of gourds, pvc, plastic water bottles, tubing of any kind, any means by which to construct a bong, candles burning, melting plastic pipes to weld them together, some little wood here, some metal there, a rod down through the middle to clean it out, like they were finely burnishing wood, the job never done.
So there were only a couple hours a day that were real good to work on the Akha language, that was why I was here. Working on the alphabet. I had been working on it for a while. So when that part of my day was over, meaning that it was either dark, or Nimit was sleeping, or some guest was there, or some big thing going on, then I joined the rest of them for talk, for listening or for asking Nimit about this and that in Akha language and culture. Because he could speak English. So I improved my knowledge of Akha culture and language in this way, hours every day, listening, asking questions and talking.
Sometimes I went to another village, walked around San Chai Mai or found something else to do.
Once I had even tried to inspire a hutside garden, it helped a little, until Meeh Oh died, but the weight on this place was too heavy for much to grow up.
But in the end days there were not so many people around, the joy rides were over. And then the house was even gone.
This Bump on My Back
The Akha often got these plugged pores, one that was very active, and it kept growing and growing, filling up with grease.
I Just finished cleaning out one from one man’s cheek the size of a grape and the he asks me if I can get the one off his back, well, actually two. I cleaned them out by making a small poke with a lance. I look at the first one, right on the spine the size of a nut. Not too bad I thought, then his wife pulled his jacket aside and showed me the one below it that was the size of a fist. He said he had it for seven years.
Suffice it to say, it needed cleaning and was such a disgusting job that the guy on the camera couldn't cope with it any more and had to leave. People say pigs are dirty and chickens clean, but the chickens came and ate that up like it was pate.
The Girl From
I had no sooner taken care of the one fellow than a woman came with her daughter to talk to Phillip. Nimit translated, and the girl told her story. She was Akha, and only twenty five. Her arm was all swollen from a recent motorcycle accident which had broken her collar bone as well, and it had not healed well or completely yet. Her collar bone hung down. She was dressed in pajamas and her over all appearance was of a young person who was quite early wearing out. A sad picture at best.
She had come
back after 8 years working in
Nimit smokes lots of meth. At least he spends a lot of time doing it.
His wife is green and dying. Probably organ failure. Still smoking the ole heroin though. She doesn’t shoot up too often any more, but she does all the injections for Nimit. He is very careful, he brings it up, and Mee Oh does it so well that in all the years he has only a small small track down his arm, after some 20 years of injecting every day several times.
Then I visit and Nimit says, “I don’t know what happen, she get sick again.”
Nimit’s Mother Dies
Nimit’s mother is dead .
Nimit’s wife is next to dead, probably back pain from liver failure.
She lays there piercing herself with a needle hammer, stick of bamboo with two syringes that are stuck through its end just far enough to use as a hammer to puncture the skin, then this draws blood. She got excessive massage Nimit says. But she really is dying. Nimit isn’t coping with it well, life coming to an end, closing in around him. A spirit man sits there like a cross between Fu Man Chu and the court jester, gotee hanging down, a sort of howl on his old face. Not a very good description but represented my discomfort with the situation at the moment, my feeling. I had lived a lot in this house, sleeping along the wall of the main room with everyone else. I had grown an affection for these people, while nearly starving with them, coping with the mud and the rain, and all that went on. Sometimes cops came in the day, would sit there with Nimit after shooting up, or smoking heroin, or smoking meth, or eating and then would whip out a 9mm automatic and jack a cartridge through the gun. Everyone sort of froze. Guess I’ll leave that last piece of pineapple.
Nimit, he had this scar on his neck where a cop walked up behind him and shot him. His brother went to find out who did it and he was killed. He had a couple brothers left. The goofy one and then the old one down the hill at the other village.
So when the cop sat there behind him and jacked the gun we sort of all sucked it up for a moment.
For what ever Nimit’s faults, he gave
me some truth, and part of his life, the good and the bad, his victories and
his tragedy. Other people came to get his help. Sometimes he helped them,
sometimes he screwed them, was hard for me to tell, he had the details, which
explained a lot. But in those days there weren’t roads so much.
Together with Nimit I went to some great villages,
About missionaries. If there was one person who could say it, it was Nimit, that they weren’t there to teach the Akha about the love of Jesus. They were there to get what they could for themselves.
I knew Nimit’s mother. Actually she was the second wife of San Chai. I am not sure if she was Nimit’s mother, I think she was dead. But the second wife was a tough old woman, came walking through bow legged, stooped with age, dragging some food from the jungle, always an Akha no matter what, a tough old and dear woman. When she died it was a really big event and people came from all over, that was for sure.
Nimit’s Wife Dies
Nimit, his wife died. She was a heroin addict like he was and in the end he got a second wife, a Thai woman, and moved down to another shack at the bottom of the village. His wife couldn't get food or help with the heroin like before, started injecting into her hands and I knew it was the end for her. She was gone in a few months.
I had spent many a day talking to her and near the end she had grown dark and withered, unable now to outrun internal problems that were eating her. In the heat, the dust and the poverty it was hard to see such a thing, as if on an island yet with no water, to pass away in a kind of deep abandoned loneliness. I could only get to the village when I had money to rent a motorbike.
I went up to see Nimit after she was dead. He was sad. Probably within a year or two he would be in the same grave so to speak. But many had thought this of him often, that he always looked on his last leg, but he pulled through somehow.
I had warned Meeh Oh there wasn’t much time left. I hoped she had heeded that she needed to make her peace with Jesus Christ. I added this onto what I told Nimit as well but I doubted he would do it. I could not change what had been done in their lives, yet I felt great compassion for them. So much had happened at their village and at their hand. It disturbed me deeply, all the situation. I believed in Jesus Christ, but it was for helping people. Not taking over villages. I wondered why the missions couldn’t see this. They just used it to take power away from the village leadership and give it to themselves. In the process no one was interested what name they gave to greed, as compared to spirit.
I had lived in
that village before, San Chai. I had been there in some happy times amid
all the despair. They were going
through the pains of a people in a village not needed so often now by the
Thais, often discarded, after having been much abused. I could not speak or
know what it was to be like them. By
comparison I was utterly rich with privilege.
There was no joking about that and if they had been I they would no
longer be there but in the
I remember going to a dance with Nimit and he looked so pathetically shriveled up as a human being, like the Devil had eaten all the man away leaving the last shred of life only. I say a darkness because it was so negative in appearance and that is the best what defines what comes to mind in what I saw. It was not a nice thing, I felt sorry for him. He was a worthwhile human being, he had a lot to contribute but time had not been kind and it was running short.
I had tried to encourage them to refurbish their village, gardens, ecology, composting, replanting bamboo, etc. Was hard to do with the cops coming one day to the village for drugs, and the next day zinging in to kill or arrest people. A little hard to figure out. Living there for months I could see the pressure and this was just a nano second in the years of that village.
Nimit borrowed a grinder I never got back, but hey, I sort of knew that when I gave it to him.
Nimit was part of my process too. I learned about the Akha from him. We had a lot of good talks. But people said of Nimit that he was a person who could talk and make you feel good but his heart was pure evil. I don't know. I know he did his share of real bad things to people. Hadn’t we all.
But in a way he represented the tragedies that were occuring among the Akha. He felt passed over by some of the people that worked with the Akha. Yet he knew much of what had gone on, it was up to me to sort it all out.
Nimit was one of the few people interested in the script I worked on. I had nearly gone to quit when I met him and with his encouragement continued on and that was the completion of the beginning of a dream and work on Akha literature. Even if it was strictly to gain money and an angle, it still was a stage the work progressed through and that is what helped the script to its point today and at that time no one else helped or believed except Nimit.
He has a story. He had a story. Maybe some time I will get to write it all down.
Nimits one brother was a goofy. He had a really nice son.
They all were involved with drugs it seemed and they all lost their shirts, got shot, went to jail, lost their motorbikes and trucks and lived in poverty when it was all done in the stereotypic battle with the country sherriff as it were. A very corrupt sheriff.
died at Nimit's house as well, by last count Meeh Oh told me more than 24 directly at the hands of
heroin. Opium is child's play compared
to heroin and what can go wrong. Nimit said that
this professor took him to
One young man fell over dead right there on the floor when they were all tokin and smokin and died. Nobody flinched. Eventually the family came and got him but no one moved even then.
I didn't see it but my friend did and he said it was quite the thing, real unnerving how detatched they all were.
Heroin, besides it being illegal, dangerous, contaminated and all of that, sure won't help you get the work done. They did not much more than sleep all day.
I was hoping Nimit would go in for rehabilitation but it became more and more unlikely, don't know if you can even communicate some things to some people let alone get them to change their ways.
At the same time I noted that often those with the greatest trouble, are also the ones who kept the culture the strongest. Surely this could be said of Nimit. The drugs hounded him, but they were also what helped him hold his own against those who wanted to squash who Nimit was.
I have Nimit to thank for his encouragement keeping the book project alive even if there were self serving parts, he did agree that it was an attempt to help all Akhas.
Ah Saw’s Son
This was the son who spent three years in Prison for Dad.
Now how that happened was like this. Dad was pretty well known for heroin, so on the day of the raid, Dad wasn’t home but the cops found some heroin in the house after a good search and since the son was the only one in the house, someone was going to do the time and it was going to be him.
His son was born while he was in prison.
I got lots of picks of corrupt cops in Nimit’s house so it was real hard to guess the justice of all the police raids. The cops were Nimit’s best customers, and as I later found out, sometimes they ordered the drugs and you had best deliver.
After the son
got out, well, he worked with a drug rehab agency for a while till he got
tired of it, Jenny Grey’s operation.
That was a carnival in itself, one village had her operation, she was
dating a Thai cop it was said, and funny enough there were continuous drug
raids on San Chai right next door. She had big grant bucks, which it was said
got spent mostly flying her family back and forth to
Jenny wasn’t a doctor, but she had this program and the Akha were smacked on heroin and methadone all at the same time.
Then Jenny got smart and told the women all their husbands had AIDS, so the families split up, then the men went and got tested and when it turned out they didn’t have AIDS Jenny agreed to pay them. So the story goes. What a mess it was.
Then Ah Saw’s son worked his way up to being head man of the village. He was a hard guy to figure, always happy for the most part but one often wondered about dark goings on in the background of his face.
He was said to have more than three wives and to be an excellent hand at gambling.
Course they said he had killed a lot of people too.
All makes you wonder.
His wife, nice woman, and the kids real good.
Then there was the time that the younger brother went either by himself or with some others and killed a Thai man and his wife who were building a house in San Chai Gow, not sure how this all occurred, but they got dead, then younger brother went and got older brother and older brother came and shot the two dead boys, I mean the couple, and they were dead or not dead yet, not sure, then hauled and burned their bodies, and then after that the uncle’s son went to jail, the younger brother went to prison for the killings, and the older brother got quite sad having shot these two and the whole mess of it, he wasn’t the same after that, I could see it. The thing started this way. The younger brother in a panic stirred up by something, said that two “thieves” were trying to leave the village and he attacked them. So that way the older brother and half a dozen guys shot down there in the truck and the situation was already messed up and the couple got dead the rest of the way. Then they realized how messed up things had gotten in the dark. But it was too late, and all they could do was deal with it. It was a tragedy all the way around. When I had seen the cops come in and shoot a man who was a deaf mute you could see how stupid things could get going. All the village telling the cops the man was goofy and deaf, and them chasing him off in the jungle blasting away trying to catch him, till they shot him and dragged him out.
Then the daughter of Nimit, his only daughter it would seem, Ah May, ran away to Chiang Mai at 17, having dropped out of school after they kicked her out for chasing the boys too much, teacher didn’t have time for it or something, but she wanted a lift one day and the house she wanted me to drop her off at turned out to be a place where lots of Akha girls who were busy selling themselves stayed. That is how I figured that one out. I told her I couldn’t do that and dropped her off at Nimit’s place, that is Ah Saw’s other name, the one we know him by most. She was a little pissed at me but got over it.
Nimit had been married before. He told me that Paul Lewis told his wife to leave him. He was broke up about that, but Paul Lewis and Bill Young, they did come to his place, he said they were both CIA, wasn’t hard to figure when one saw more of that whole picture. Anyway, I met his first wife in Mae Chan. Nimit hada couple kids by her.
Blood Butt One and Blood Butt Two
Then there is
blood butt one and blood butt two. The first is some
kin to Asaw who went to
Then there is the brother’s son, life squared away for the moment, then off to prison for a while. He was the husky one. I saw him down at the low village at Mae Salong years later.
Nimit’s name was Asaw in Akha, or Ah Soh, but he would say to western people, “Yeah, its ‘asshole’.” Making fun of how they got confused over the name. The tone wasn’t the same, they didn’t know that however.
Course, they foreigners would say that this or that was “ok”. But to the Akha that was the same as saying “Oh SHIT!” because the letter “k” means shit in Akha. Akha wondered why every time something good happened the foreigners said it was nothing but a bunch of shit.
mother dead, wife and son nearly, daughter, one son in prison, one booh seh, and nimit had a whore in his house last time I was there.
Nimit, fertilizer, meeh suur
Well Meeh Suur and I went up there to talk to Nimit about fertilizer one time. The stars were out. We left late. We stopped there near the edge of the hill where all the passion fruit grew on the lattice and looked out over San Sook, the stars, the mist moving along on an otherwise clear warm night.
Nimit Kept the Money?
Word was anyway that people gave lots to nimit for the village, for votes, you name it and he just kept it for himself.
Through joseph matin luther yohanz
nimit signed the papers according to joseph
lets check it out
Joseph said that German people gave money and the Thai ate it and the Akha got none. Nimit, he got some small part maybe.
Joseph married Akha girl in the mountain.
Visitors to San Chai
There are a couple regulars who visit San Chai Mai. Foreigners. One German man has a wife and has built a house next door that is built like a bunker, with a concrete roof, but then the windows are the standard wood, so one wonders why the ceiling of cement slab? Very humid as a result. He has only come here once in two months and the relationship to the village tends to be typically sleazy. They get money out of it and that is about the limit of the relationship.
Then there is Martin and Goi. They have a guest house a few metres from the intersection at Ban Basang with the highway to Maesai and Chiangrai. He is Swedish I believe or German, married to a Thai, and pleasant in someways. What foreigners know about the area usually isn’t worth going through to learn or it is grossly inaccurate, based on perception more than fact. The foreigners are very quick to have a heavy prejudice about how something is especially to show that they are the local expert on information and knowledge. Especially when their sign says “Information” But some of the information was good and helpful so one didn’t go to harshly and learned what they could from every angle. Martin did these bike treks here and there when the roads were bad in all those years.
Then there is Ande from
Aids and mosquitos buzzing about?
Coming on Friday or the next few days is another German, also married to an Akha woman from some village over. He is supposedly interested in helping with some kind of AIDS and Drug information program, although a user of the stuff himself.
Phillip, the photographer, is gone. Back to New
He did a lot of filming of the Akha and was the person who I gave the information about the sterilizations to. He dug into it and got a lot of information which he shared with me and then in turn I was able to clarify some of it for him also. He also filmed a lot of cultural events as they occured and related to his basic story about how so many people dealt the Akha out.
He ended up with a lot of tape. Maybe the Akha will see some of it some day. Cause they are in it.
There are many characters here in the village. At the time the one of the most grating I thought, be it justified so much or not, is the old granny in the back room. Good hearted that she is I still call her “spider woman” because she usually sits in her cove, behind the netting and in a deep, grating, hollow voice bellows and blithers on about things as to nobody. The pigs squealing about at night is more pleasant. But then I found out she was the second wife of San Chai, barking directions, keeping the ship on course, very much the Akha way. But I didn’t know that at the time. It was just noise to me, and I couldn’t speak enough Akha to know what she was talking about, I am sure had I know it would have been pretty interesting. That was one of my greatest regrets, when I was first working with the Akha in those crucial years when the Thais were busy hammering new roads in, then was when lots of Akhas were being forced to relocate.
At Nimit’s house there were great scenes, like a piglet dangled down through an opening in the porch, a foot in its gut to cause it’s testicles to protrude and then the old man slits the skin with a razor and squeezes the testicles out through the small slit and cuts their cords. Disgusting but sort of standard in any farmyard, and actually much more exact and surgical than what I have seen in the west. Then the pig is dropped below in a kind of rude gratitude and runs off screaming.
Then there was the skinny, dark, funny old fellow with the burgundy sky cap, and the long tassle of hair.
San Chai’s other son and his son next, I like. A big fellow, he doesn’t do drugs, but drinks a little is all. He has two good looking kids and seems responsible. The one son of Asoh, is in prison for cutting in on one bull woman’s business by selling to people just as they came up the driveway. She took him out immediately. Then her daughter was here, A big bruise and clot of blood still in her leg from a motorcycle wreck and a broken, mishealed collarbone. Her Thai lay in tow, she looked a wreck.
The cops are frequent visitors, sometimes to do raids, other times to use the candy. Once they came in like gangbusters, zooming right up to the house in the truck and jumping out in a hurry, racing around and through the house. Asoh had just left to some political event, where the politician was buying votes in the traditional way and Asoh directed traffic and got his cut, filling out 250 some ballots in one day himself.
Other cops come to get smacked up themselves, usually leaving their guns behind, just in case there is a run in with other cops.
However one cop came once and as Asoh ate, he was laying down behind Asoh and pulled out his 9mm and jacked it up while he was sitting directly behind Asoh. I was wondering what was being gotten across. It was a shoulder holster under his shirt.
Asoh some years before had been shot in the neck from behind by a cop while waiting to be picked up after a movie at Doi Mae Salong. His brother went up there and talked to much about it and someone killed him a week later. Maybe they don’t tend to be so wreckless these days. Another brother was shot and killed also, some say over guns. The father, San Chai, was a friend of the King. He died 15 to 17 years ago. By the way, last night the King’s mother died, she headed up the Doi Tung project for hilltribe, if one believes it really helped them, I don’t know.
I see a lot of good intention for the hilltribe by the government and the Royal Family but individuals and the army all seem to have other plans. Lots of time the Royal Projects are for a cover for a big rip off.
I recently got a letter from Dorothy Ulrich who is a missionary who holds to the old school of authoritarian fundamentalists and anti-communists, do what you will to the people.
San Chai’s wife is still alive at 85. She hobbles over to Asoh’s hut and smokes her toot and babbles on in her gravelly voice about this and that, nobody appearing to be listening. Short and impressively wide but not fat. Probably from hauling too many bamboo trunks up the hill for the pigs.
Mee Yoh, Asoh’s wife, is generally pleasant.
The television runs here from about eight oclock in the morning till . devil’s shit.
Phillip is back in the Chiangrai area after his trip to the phillipines to check into the prostitution story there. He said the phillipines around subic was really bad with a lot of out of work whores and weird western guys who stayed on.
Right now he is still digging into the Paul Lewis sterilizations but the focus is turning more on the Thais who are also villains in all this, trying to deal the Akha out, off their land and the whole works.
One of the stories that he has found is how the doctors told a woman her baby was sick so go home and come back in a few days. When she came back she was told that the baby died. No records, corpse burned, etc. Quite obviously 91/2 month Akha babies don’t just up and die, so it can be suspected now that the Thai hospitals may also be in the baby racket. Where it could all lead? Who knows but the more digging the better.
There is also word that the leader in Pah Meeh village near Maesai is in a position in the cultural society. This we are going to check into as this would be a great improvement over other present options.
Luka is working on a school, rehab and ag project. He worked for Paul Lewis. Dapa.
The children’s book is finished and I am looking for ways to print it in large quantities. I also want to run it by the fellow at Pami because it would be good to know that there is still not any major cultural errors. I also want to go out to Paih ah Paih village, a traditional Lomi village and see what their village is like and what they have to say about things these days.
Yesterday, the generosity of San Chai Mai increased. One pleasant fellow came down and gave me a ride all the way to Pasang. Halfway off the mountain before San Sook, the rain hit us, the mountains mostly engulfed anyway. Then it was getting soaked all the way down the mountain. I had no protection for the computer case but to tuck my rag in the front edge exposed so no water shot back in, but otherwise we were both drenched. He asked me if I was worried about the computer and I said just go on. We got soaked. The computer stayed dry even though I continued to get soaked till the bus came. Then I made it to Chiangrai about and met Phillip where we caught up on all that was going on.
Nimit came to my house. Sometimes he needed some financial help. I watched, but did what I could for him.
I met his son in town sometimes too. He was headman now.
Nimit knew lots of expressions.
Killing from the backside.
How someone did you in.
Night Mountain Trip To find Nimit
There were problems of communication at the school here in Maesai going on, and some of the older children were making it hard on the smaller street children who wanted to attend, telling them that basically it was “their” school and that the younger kids should stay away. This probem was intensified by the fact that the chief donor handled money in such a way as to insure that the kids knew there was lots of it, which was not good. (Eventually this brought this particular school to an end, as it was impossible to function in this fashion.)
I was going to need some help on this, since I could not say what all needed to be explained in Akha language so I would take the evening off and go into the mountains to get my friend to come in and help with the translation of it all. Finding Nimit might be another story.
I realized I had better get a move on it
so I went next door to hire a bike.
She said it was too late in the day.
Across the street was closed.
Up the street the American owner who recently moved to Maesai was back in Bangkok, his little motorcycle rent
shop closed because he left his girl friend no keys for some odd reason. I went to
Then up to the
right road and the cutoff which took us to the village on the
mountainside. Now we were on the
Some of the characters in San Chai Mai
There are lots of different great characters in San Chai. I start tying together other Akha I know already who come here to visit.
There is Asaw Nimit.
He is from a leadership family.
Then there is his brother, who is really funny.
The funniest man is the Pima. He has this great laugh.
Then there is BB two, wasted away but a pleasant man, yet two unkept kids and not much life left.
Other characters, but I enjoy Asaw’s brother most.
The son married the daughter of the family with the shop in the village.
Then there is the 85 year old wife of San Chai. Ah Sor’s mother.
Fog releases mountain island from the chambers of its heat
San Chai Bread
The woven basket rice dish, half gone from use and apparently abandoned to the bugs was wedged against the bamboo wall next to the fire hearth.
As she baked the sticks of bread she hid most of them in a second basket behind her because she said she did all the work and all the people came to eat, but never gave her respect and never fed her when she went to their house.
San Chai 2
The thing that ruins much of the flavor of San Chai is the television. The Akha don’t know about the television and most of all cultures will be well finished before the people figure it out. The television is the most intrusive, God like divice ever invented. Devil’s Shit, I call it.
I am trying to gain a clear idea of what it is that I am going to do. I think that full time work for the Akha is not possible. In the end I have nothing for myself and there are many personal affairs that I must take care of.
The next best thing that I can think of is to work on a book about the region. This will be fun and there is much that I must do to accomplish that. I am not completely sure but I think that the Maesai story will be about all of the region with a second theme being a close look at the Akha, as from personal preference, all though I admit that may change with time.
What I have sensed as I work here is that I must reserve something for myself. One of the things that I would like to continue with is my system for multiple languages.
I have noted
that in working with multiple languages, if you work on two languages it
seems to work faster as if you get some kind of mental ping pong going on,
tossing two different words back and forth which have the same meaning but
are in different languages, for instance Akha and
Also a book
would allow me to do the writing that I like to do and to get more travel and
specific study done in this region.
There are a lot of places in
These days of
late, writing has not been fun for me.
I am planning on pulling out of the village and going back to the
In writing one must have observations, but it is very important to also go after specific information that can cost light on the situation. This is the investigative aspect, of finding out what the power structure is, what the economics of the region is, and so forth. Below is a possible list of areas to check out:
Source of money and economics
Aspects of the Culture
marriage and dating
A lot of questions are only to take me in the general direction and then I find out more when I get there. For me I am interested more for the stories that come to mind, the human interaction, the unspoken, than what is scientific. This requires the ability to pull back from the situation or move on and check out something else, which I am not particularly able to do at this time.
As well, I think that I will find a limit of scope for the book, and a practical cut off point for the first book, such that I will learn how to get books behind me.
Akha families coasting down the hill in Akha dreams, in neutral, engines off, silently as wayfarers to the world below.
When I came off the hill to basang at the maesai chingrai jct. the cops waved for me to come over across the highway where they were stopping every freight truck of interest, and person of interest, but I ignored them and went and got an ice cram.
As I waited for the bus I figured they could get more interested, Thai police always looking for a way to snag a buck.
If the government made it against the law to litter the police could collect infinite money.
On the way down from the san Sook jct on the song tow and akha woman wanted me to marry her friend. She was fluent in Akha,lahu, lisaw, labu and palow, whterver that is and thai, not bad.
I enjoy the akha I meet on the song tows. as soon as they know that I understand some akha they become a lot of fun.
One Akha girl on the song tow has a seized elbow from a reversal fracture.
San Chai Mai 1
I am living here at San Chai Mai for the time being while I wait for money to
come and then I shall return to the
San Chai Mai is one of the oldest villages in
The village is located on a ridge crest. The land is valuable, rich with opportunity but the people making use of it are poor. Mountain rice is one crop, and then a few vegetables, pigs, ducks, chickens and things which grow in the jungle. Most huts have small fenced plots for vegetables, if you can call them that, all of which is ravaged by the pigs and chickens.
Dog carts come through the village regularly, selling small dogs for 15 to 20 baht a kilo on the paw. The Akha make short work of a dog and use every part of it except maybe the last foot of intestine. Starting out by smacking the dog over the head with a blunt object, they bleed it out with an incision and knife thrust to the heart from the throat. Then they throw the dog on the fire, burning off all of the hair and scraping the hide for anything on it. Then it is gutted and chopped up. The bile gland is saved and used in some ceremonies as a seasoning. Sometimes the brains of the dog are mixed with the brains of a small pig and eaten raw in the same ceremony. The dog meat is cheaper by half than pork, so that is all the Akha can afford in many villages. Protein, that is how tough it is here. Yuk, the Akha’s eat dogs? Well, try being poor and eating a stone.
San Chai has two small shops that sell odds and ends, and dried fish, oil, canned milk, and all the little goodies people need and like, the plastic wrappers littering the village. The manufacturer not bearing any responsibility for the littering in the process of making a profit.
There are a couple bathing points in the village, concrete pads with a water spicket. The women and men bathe in the open with no thought given to western concepts of nudity and such. The body doesn’t appear to be near the item to be hid as it is in the west. In the Akha village and Akha life as a whole, there doesn’t appear to be much that is in need of hiding.
I remember one insident when the Akha children told me that there was this Burmese boy screwing a Shan girl right along side the trail, about two feet away in the grass. I asked them what they did. They said they watched. I asked what the couple did. They said they just kept at it.
Or take the one girl who took a baht a piece from the young boys in the village for her services. A pretty rough and tumble life but really not much different than the stories that were common in the west, with much higher levels of denial.
And this reminds me of a point, from what I can tell there are two kinds of people and two different ways in which those people lie. Non religious people lie at random when it profits them with no particular pattern or great effort to it. Religious people on the other hand seem to be motivated to lie to a much greater degree in order to keep up face with their religious belief. In other words they don’t just lie off the cuff because it is convenient as the non religious do. This convenient lying is always quite transparent and there is never much effort given to conceal it. If one looks for long there are all kinds of holes in it and the individual doesn’t seem to follow it up much in order to cover the first lie. But the religious, having to keep up an image consistent with a religious agenda that they have been using to control people for their ends, must continue to construct intricate lies about what is really going on such that the entire matter can be perpetuated. One way to trace the lies, is to discover their particular agenda and then try to pereceive what lies need to go along with that.
Then there are the funny truths. I was sitting in this hut in the evening. A swallow was roosting in the rafters over head and shit on the back of my shirt as I was just beginning to eat at the round basket table in front of me. I asked the wife of the household if there was shit on the back of my shirt. She looked and said no. Later I discovered that there was a massive turd there.
Most Akha houses were well constructed of bamboo, being raised above the ground on posts, there being enough rooom for the pigs and chickens to house underneath. I had never noticed lice in the huts, except that some households have a problem with head lice in the bedding.
The kitchen has a hutch hung above the fire bed. The fire bed is a framed patch of dirt added on top of the floor. This is suspended as well as the rest of the house so it is sort of neat. The smoke from the fire laquers all of the bamboo and gourd utensils that are stored in the kitchen with a black laquer that is very nice. All of the grass shingles of the kitchen are also laquered in such a fashion.
Houses have a room divider for men and women if they are small houses and some have rooms if they are bigger houses. The house walls are sometimes made of wood, leaning out, in Shan style, but mostly of spit or woven bamboo. In the north like Cheng Tung area, many of the houses are made of sun baked mud bricks which get so hard in the sun baking process that when you tweak them with your finger you get a pottery sound from them. Elsewhere in the valley actual brick ovens are in process baking bricks from bottom clay. This is mostly a bad process as it uses huge amounts of deforested wood in order to fire even one batch of bricks. The brick mounds appear as trunkated piramids, steam rising from them out in the valley rice fields.
The grass roofs of the huts leak enough to get the wrong things wet but don’t leak for long, even in a good raging rain storm. The beauty of them is that they breathe the air well for such a humid and foggy mountain position. The upper walls are usually open, hence the swallows. Some households have even but up gourds in the roof to attrack swallows to their house. Certainly the swallows are nice. Beneath their roosts, woven bamboo has been laid on the cross members to catch the droppings.
Board floors may be covered with bamboo woven mats which are really nice. Some huts have one section that uses the earth for a floor and then the bed and eating areas are raised bambooo or wood.
These days in San Chai you can always hear the Thai helicopters, police or army, patroling back and forth to the border regions.
Now along these border regions there are a special group of border patrol called Black Shirts. The story goes that black shirts can take that lonely job or go to prison for something they have done. They often have a somewhat unsavory air to them which would be consistent with this concept. In addition in my experiences with the younger ones I find that they are forcefully belligerant. Usually when I have met them at their outposts in the ranges, they are drunk or busy drinking, brandishing weapons and gernades in a most undisciplined fashion. As well the Akha say that they often rape the Akha girls at will, their outposts often being near the Akha or Lahu villages in this northern Thai region. The regular army and the border police seem to more disciplined. The regular army or the border patrol army seeming to be the most dixciplined. Any blackshirt or police unit of any kind seem to do as they will with the Akha girls from all that I have heard. Thai officials want girls when visiting the village seems the standard procedure what I saw. The girls say that it is easier to get it over with.
Nimits mother daughter wails
The dying thing the daughters have to do. Weird the first time you see it, affected the second time you would say. So many things like that in an Akha village, off when you don’t know how and why they fit in. Most people unfortunately stop there.
Life in San Chai Mai Aug. 95
My work to help the Akha was often deeply frustrating. Many times I did not know how to proceed or how to move my efforts forward. This was one such occasion.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Money had been sent to me but it got lost. After it does come I will have to pay much of it out for rent and food charges here in the village where I am working.
I have been staying at Asoh Nimits house.
As soon as I am
paid off here I want to get back to the
Meanwhile I sit around the hut quite broke. Listening to the rain or going for short walks.
I gave Asoh’s wife all my household goods when I moved up here.
But now all the veins in his arms were gone after surgery, for they had collapsed apparently.
He knew his time was short but tried to take good care of himself now.
Sometimes I would find him at the back of the hut near the fire, trying to find a vein in his hand for one more injection.
Later he moved to Hatyai where he got extremely ill in the stomach. He wanted to fly home but the doctor told him he wouldn’t make it and offered him a death shot instead so he opted for the death injection and it was over. I myself would have opted to go home no matter what.
He was a good guy. Never a bad word for anyone and no bitterness that you could see.
Sold computer, book finished
Finally sold the computer, paid off Asoh and moved my writing to maesai. Wanted to go back to US. Which I did.
The Children’s Book
I have been in the village for two months almost and have done a huge amount of work on the Children’s book while here to say nothing of the work that I had already done on a collective basis over the past four years working up to this moment. All of this previous work is what gave me the ability to know how close or far off of target I was on the new information that was given to me here.
The quality of the information given to me here is better.
The rice growing scam, nimit tells.
Grow a special rice or go back to
The rice was from
Shake down for drugs, driveway to san chai mai, man in bushes
According to nimit the crashed plane near doi tung
Burning of 7 villages
I saw the stumps of all the huts.
San Chai Gow
San Chai Pattana
Looking for him in this hut or that in the village.
He claimed it was his cousin who helped beat Ah Pah who died from a brain hemorhage. I believe him.
Jeff Clair said it was one of the girls from Afect School's father at San Mah Keeh village who worked at Sam Yak Police box and knew about the Akha who died, was there when he was arrested.
The Good Ole Men And Women of Nimit's village
She had a son out near Pooh Jeeh Fah
Mee Oh: dirty shirt:
She said that she would wash my shirt. The Akha man dressed in rags, showed me that his was clean.
So I was in the flat village checking out the second night of music. Som Ah Kohm Akha. Afect.
So I loaded up and went to San Chai to say hello to Nimit.
Nimit, we talked, I encouraged him to write some, to learn to write Akha so he could tell his stories.
Wish I had the money to help him do it, get started.
He sat there squirting water out of a heroin syringe at bugs in the bamboo mat. Then he would try to burn them out with the heat of a cigarette but I could never see them. I wonder if it was the meth. Always, as tonight some wild looking thai pops in. this one had tatoos and a swastica over one armpit. Yeah, he was in the right place for the death business.
The clinic the Thais had built had not openened yet, I assumed they would need to fix the road before the staff of any kind would come there. It was only one mile but very eroded and bumpy and with its steep parts.
Many thai medical staff don’t have cars so they would have to come on bikes and I don’t think it would happen.
I took the turnoff at the police station that was a shortcut and headed for the highway.
Driving a motorbike at night is the definition of dangerous.
Dogs, they are your worst obstacle and you don’t see them in the road or crossing it in the dark till it is too late. Then there are the jackass drivers who all zip out and turn without looking. If you were scared, you were too small for them to see or care about. If they are scared, they stop first when they see your size.
Then because my stomach was in the worst way I headed straight home on the last of my gas and the last of my money.
To me there was always something sad about him, like HE felt sad about what was being lost and what was going on. I remember the time his nephew Ah Cha came to see him from england, Ah Cha's parents lived in San Chai Pattana. Well, one of them ran the video and Nimit walked through the forest with Ah Cha, singing about the mountains, about love. Nimit was a wonderful singer.
Nimit told how so many times the missionaries had tried to take over his village. But it had never happened.
The second wife of Ah Doh who was killed in Bpah Mah Han lived there, she came back afterwards and married someone else. She had gotten shot many times when Ah Doh was killed. She lost the baby.
Ah Juuhxv was
He hadn't always been a bad guy. And then his story was over. They said he took his younger brother and family out in the hills and killed them all too, I think he thought there was money to be had. There is the potential for very bad blood between brothers, like things gone wrong, done wrong, that an outside person would never break off like that.
Aleh, Nimits son
He later became Pah Luang and in many ways became corrupt. After the killings I could see that his heart got very sad, he tried to always talk big and keep a straight face and the foolish talking increased with time. He took a second wife and his wife became sad over this, not because of the one or more but because of the selection.
Sometimes he carried a gun, the house got a little bigger with time, the wall got bigger and higher, falling down, being rebuilt, like he didn't want a drive by shooting.
Lots of people hung out at his house, Thai and Akha. That is where I saw Ado for the first time. He was dead a couple of nights later.
Then Ajong shot himself when the army surrounded the house.
Nimit Jan 2002
Now his son Ah Jung is dead.
I knew him when he was in his early twenties, a small boy, who was always friendly and his nice wife. He worked for Jenny Gray in those days and then gave up on it when he saw what a scam it was.
He later became headman and then things went bad.
Nimit Family Update
Of late Nimit's wife is looking worse than bad. Josef says aids, but she has always been thin for years and I see no sign of illness other than abandonment, heartbreak, and the birds coming home to roost. Meeh Oh was always faithful to Nimit as a good friend.
The third and youngest son looks like he has aids though, course that is the same look as meth addicts and he is that too.
Nimit himself is a mosquito of a man and how he lives so long or still lives now I don't know.
Two of his sons are in prison now and one son is head man. Ah Jung.
A daughter goes to school, tries to keep a sober face and is greatly saddened by what is going on.
Nimit New Wife
The Thai girl came. Some people said her father was a falang.
Sure, some people spoke ill of her and she was a wreck, smoking meth all the time but she loved him and she was kind to him when he was half dead and no one else would touch him.
She was young, his life was old and hard, a pirate in a mountain, a broken pirate.
I remember her going to the wooden cabinet in the corner of the broken wooden cabinet in the corner of the broken wooden hut and pulling at clothes her face obscured by hair, crying in long sobs like pain can only be in a young girl's heart, and it hurt me too, not that he had done anything wrong but just at life with its sudden hardness, words hung wrong as if they fell on a blade first.
She wasn't Akha. She was Thai. Her face pocked with marks, her arms as well. When she first came he told her to quit smoking that shit, but she swore she would the day after he quit, two people in the hard of it.
His first wife, actually his second, was dead now. Died a year ago. She was really sad and faint in the end. I came by two weeks before she passed on and spent some time talking to her. She was staying in the old house by herself, at the square of the village, and he was down in another hut with this new Thai wife.
In some ways they had played the game together and she had lost first. She certainly couldn't have put it over on him, her hand deep in the jar for many years.
Like all people he had a good side and his bad side. Something that impressed me about bad people was that they seemed to have more passion. And when the good passed across that stream of energy it got fired out all that much more forcefully.
And so it was with Nimit. In all the despair his eyes could still find your idea. And he could accept the hardness, not all of it his, quite bravely as well.
I was waiting for him one day and along he came in the rain with a bag of passion fruit slung over his shoulder. Funny how life can't drown us rats, and the rain had him soked like that, a sad man struggling on, still understanding how sweet fruit can be. He wore a purple shirt, black baseball hat, cut offs and the road was nothing but mud where he came back from Aih Oh Mai village up above his.
Then he sat down in his busted hut and he ate a meal like a king.
Later he kicked the Thai girl out, I am not sure what she did, or if anything at all, but he told me she had a problem with the police, or maybe she wanted too many of his pills when he had them. Squatted there, pipe bongs for smoking all around him in various stages of use. They say pills fry the brain, they n ever fried Nimit's brain, he was always the same Nimit. Asaw.
I came. Everyone was sitting around smoking speed, Asaw wanted Ah May's Budda locket and sold it.
Last time I was here the oldest brother and Asaw were fighting with Brother 3. Brother 3 said the oldest brother said that Asaw's son was not running the village right because he didn't listen enough to the elders. The old brother insisted that he did not say he was a bad headman but only that he didn't listen to the elders.
The one young boy in the house was telling how he was doing a radio show for kids to not use drugs. Always the authorities are happy to put out that message, putting the burden on the poor. They never spoke about rights, land rights, human rights, how the police took and exploited.
So the young children thought that only the Akha had the potential to be bad, from the way things went on, all they heard was people telling them to stop being bad. No one every praised them for the good they were.
All about HOW the facts or myths are presented to the young.
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