Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter One: Early Days

The Road To Maesai
Time and feeling rushed by, catching me on the wave and taking me to some new beach. New air, new ideas, new experiences.  In Oregon the weather was cold, and I was soon enough gone to Hawaii
The last fringes of pneumonia hung on.  I lay on the beach, swam in the surf, watched the big rays play beneath the lights at the piers, and slept on the beach in a cove to wake in the night as the whales came in, and the large sand crabs running from their holes and down to the water, like trolls from under the bridge, back before sunrise. With the mornig sun the dragon flies came darting in and out of the light, golden in the air. The edge of the light illuminating bugs in a special way, the easier to catch.
I reflected.

Slipping from New Zealand to Australia, to Hong Kong and China and then I made a stop over in Thailand
I only stayed two days in Thailand as I was headed to India and Greece actually. Least that is what I thought.  I was still tired from the pneumonia and my time in Australia.  I asked a tour agent in Bangkok where I might spend a couple days and he said Pattaya was good.  I had no idea what its reputation really was, nor what the reputation of Thailand was but soon found out.  (I wondered why the lady at the travel agent laughed when I asked for a ticket to Bangkok?) Climbing onto a colorfully painted bus I took the trip from Bangkok
Walking about town I encountered women trying to sell their daughter or someone else's daughter to me at every section of the sidewalk.  I walked by a bar, a man pulled a woman's blouse up, exposing her solid breasts. "Like this?" he asked.  A hagard western man about 55 was negotiating with a Thai man for two small boys for the night where they were standing near the beach.  The boys were maybe 10 years old.  I kept walking. A woman appeared beside me walking at my shoulder, like she was cut into the film there, and so I took a seat at a sidewalk bar and bought her a drink.  The women had faces like traffic lights, their eyes pulsing, pointing the way to their oversold organs of sex. Reminded me of San Diego, outside the Navy yards.  I made my way on, without her.

The hotels were big but unkept feeling, dank. Like the finer details weren't going to be missed by those who did their sex business here.  I got a room, went out for some dinner and got a good nights rest.  I took the bus back to Bangkok and the airport the next day.
My travels carried on and I returned to Oregon, then moved to Hawaii for the moment.
In 1990 while I was living in Hawaii, on the Big Island I painted a few houses with a man named Greg Kirschmann.  I had a friend at the Rainbow Book Store by the name of Bell Churchhill.  She had been to Thailand and suggested that I stop at Chiangmai.  Feeling there was more I wanted to explore, I saved my money and I headed there.  I stayed only about two weeks, but couldn't help but notice all the colorful handicrafts and textiles. The Thais were very creative. I was looking for a new business venture.  I didn't have a clue where to start. I was faced with the fact that time and money were running out. Reluctantly I thought I'd head to Phuket and the beach before going home and probably returning to construction work out of necessity which I didn't look forward to.  Maybe I would build a small house on a lot, or buy one and sort of "settle in" for the "long haul" of a boring life.  The thought nauseated me.  I lay on my back in a Chiangmai guest house thinking, watching the fan spin slowly on the ceiling. There was more to life than just work, things, time.  We were here to do something, or we were watches to just mark the time and then be gone, doing nothing. The latter did not appeal to me. I headed for the airport. 
 
At the airport there was a man in the line ahead of me who missed his plane, turned around commenting on it, said he was headed to Chiangrai and on to a place called Maesai.  Said he was going to buy hats in Maesai.  They came from BurmaCalaga hats.  I imagined a container load, but when he told me he might buy 100 I figured he knew something I didn't if 100 hats had enough profit in them to go all the way to the border.  Not having been any place like that I asked if I could join him?  So I bought a ticket to Chiangrai instead of Phuket and my life made a turn.
The American named George Darveaux showed me some of the tricks of buying for export, generous enough to offer and give someone a break. I went to the different shops with him, he showed me various trade beads and discussed how to sell them.  "You walk into a shop in the US and you say: 'Here are the beads, give me the money'.  No consignement, no billing, all cash and move on. They either like them or not." 
Maesai that time of year was cool already.  We went down the street squashed into two rickshaws, looking at all the strange sights and then finding some dinner.  Half of Maesai was brothels, dirt floored shacks, a gaggle of girls waiting their next slave. 
The next day I bought beads with the funds I had and thus began a small business.  I took them back to the US and Hawaii and they sold, much to my surprise. 
It wasn't just the beads, I wanted a new look at life, I wanted a change, something different than the life I knew with its predictable turns. So I decided to move to Thailand and sell beads from there.  This was before the days of internet, ATM machines and mobile phones. In those early days any communication or movement of money was complicated and frustrating. Very frustrating.
Putting together a little partnership I moved to Thailand in August, 1991. First to Chiangmai, and then I came up to Maesai and liked the simple border town atmosphere so much I stayed.
       I made many trips back and forth to the US in that time. Muling beads.
       I made one trip to Kunming, China, looking for more merchandise. There was a lot of tea and silks, too much to look at and the Chinese seemed eager to work and do business. I stayed at an old but well used hotel, called the Three Leaves Hotel.  Course all that region has changed now. Growing rapidly, full on effort at tourism and such.
      I decided early on while in Maesai,  that I wasn't going to rot around drinking beer but try to do something with my time so I went every day to the bridge to watch the people who crossed back and forth rather than spending all day in the guest house.  It was here I met the Akha and my life took another turn. 
       My work went on. I looked at all the different types of beads and tried to learn as much as I could. 
Surin silver resin filled beads were sold in Maesai, popular for a while so I went to Surin to take a closer look at the process which was really interesting.  Surin was actually a Kmer place.  East of Bangkok. I had yet to see any original Thai place.  Everyone was from Burma, China, Laos, or Cambodia, so I still had no idea what the "Thai" race was that they were always bragging on. 
In Surin I got familiar with the hand production of these small foil beads, each family making a different kind of bead, different size, then changing to another shape or size for their next batch, which the buyers came for and bought up entirely.  Maybe it was a growing concern, I wasn't sure, would be interesting to go back and see what had come of the place.  I met George in Surin, a real interesting fellow from New Zealand.  He had more stories than I could imagine.  He was taking care of a Thai woman with half a dozen kids, didn't seem to mind. Everyone knew George, in those days life was tough and he tried to eek out a living there. He had years of experience in electronics and even now built things from scratch, basic circuits and devices.
Kao Sin A rin was the actual name of the bead village and George lived some fifteen kilometers from there way out in the rice flats towards the Cambodian Border.  There was another fellow in town, married to one of the Kmer girls.  He worked on jewelry too, another refugee from the west, wanting a simpler life but still trying to survive.  His wife made little tiny rectangular earings from traditional silk sewn into cube shapes.  Mudmee silk was really nice.  George and I went to see the very interesting local process by which the locals raised silk worms, seperated the silk and then the method they used for dying it different color patterns as they wove it.

Good strong granulated silver design beads came from Bali so I made one trip there to investigate that.  At Jogjakarta there was another variety of strong silver beads.  There was also a lot of filligree that came into the stores there from little village work shops. The workers showed me how they did the granulated silver soldering process, using a crushed bean for the paste to glue the silver beads in place while heating it all. 
On the way out of Thialand, I forgot to change my money into US dollars and ended up loosing nearly 30% on the Indonesian exchange rate, no one in Indonesia wanted Thai baht.  Traveling can tire you out sometimes and then you make foolish mistakes.
Moving to Maesai near the end of the rainy season my first year started with very nice weather for me.  I slid into the next rainy season slowly and didn't mind it so much.  Maesai is good weather year around, but the dry season is very pleasant indeed.

In those days maesai was a slow border town, not much action and this was the beauty of the place, it had much variety, but all at a very slow pace.
In the evenings the town closed up quickly after 6 pm.  The end of the street near the bridge was hit by a cool wind that came out of the canyon to the west, blowing the dust and litter, giving a kind of lonely feeling to the place.  Rickshaws hustled up and down the street.  A tuk tuk or two.  Motorcycle taxis.  Everyone was out to cheat you on the fares, find out if you "knew" or not how much it cost for all the rest of the people to go from "here" to "there".  After they found out you knew the standard price they didn't overcharge you any more.
I learned to pace myself, walking here or there, as in those days there was not a lot to do after 6pm.  And the slow pace was good for writing, reading, observing, soaking up the very differences of the place, leaning a different kind of thinking.  One ended up balancing between that place where nothing mattered, and that place where people went a little slower, a nice contrast to the fast western pace.
I settled into the Maesai Plaza Guest house, room number 28 way up on the balcony, cool nights, a clear view of the clapboard shacks on both sides of the river.  A kind of remote forlorness in some ways, I got to reflect often on the emotion of the place, caught between two worlds.  While I reflected on what had gone by in life, and what there was new to learn here, I in fact slipped into what was a new life for myself.  I would work, loose, win, fail, succeed and go on.  Sadness, joy, dissapoitment. Trying to keep track of the passing time as if running life now on two watches, one stopped for the moment, a new one started, yet in the end they would become one and I would have to know if it was worth it all.

Beads
I shipped beads on some days, either through the post or by going down to Chiangmai.
If I was done getting a shipment out then later in the day I would go down to the Akha market. I didn't ship every day.  Sometimes not very often at all which caused me to feel time was slipping by in a way I didn't like. Today in this really rootin hot sun sitting on this motorbike.  Bloody well hot because the Akha women sit on the shady side of their little alley and got the whole wall taken up and no where else to sit. Someone would soon leave for the day and I would get a spot. The Akha women wore many layers of clothes to protect from the sun shining through the cloth and making them hot.
Their alley is off the main narrow street that the Thais all have their afternoon market set up on.  So this is Akha alley as I call it, the daily afternoon market.  You can buy some vegetables here but mostly it is specialty items that the Akha collect and sell to the Thais, such as bamboo shoots, banana buds off the end of the stems of bananas and little green 3/8 inch been like things which grow on trees and they cook and eat or maybe eat raw.  Later I found out that these were wild egg plant. Round, they are found in clusters on the tree. Bound up banana leaves for wrapping foood are also for sale.  The day here is dry and hot, getting near Sonklan and the end of the dry season when even this northern mountain region turns into a smoke filled inferno from burning in the forest.  Even though many of the trees survive, the burning creates incredible pollution.  I wondered why the Thais were so crazy about setting all the forests on fire?  With the heavy rains, the undergrowth rots in a year.
There must be some fifty Akha women here today selling all kinds of bark and garlic and cherry tomatoes and squash and leaves and cabbage and papayas and fern tips and chili peppers.  Sometimes there are even collections of bugs.  The few Yao women who live in the Akha village are particularly good at collectin Jerusalem crickets, an armour plated bug.  One woman is selling flowers which look like daisies.
I know probably about thirty percent of the women here.
Toward the main market road there is the Thai flow-over and the Yao. Coming dow the line to my right from left there are a few more familiar faces but many of the names I don't know until I reach Mita, Meeyer and Meesoo's mother.
Meeyer's mother is the strongest looking of the ones I know with a good look to her face and to her children.  Also a dilligent worker and always sells her vegetables and herbs well.  She makes maybe fifty or sixty baht  a day on the afternoon market and maybe some on the morning market as well.  Some bring their babies wrapped on their backs, asleep in the sun.  Often the wrap is a cotton blue and white and red plaid.  Others come in their traditional Akha clothes and then others just some come however which is a pretty haphazard categorie in this neck of the woods.  The christian Akha have been discouraged from wearing their full traditional garb, taught it is evil, that it is only ok "sometimes".  This is very different than from the traditional villages.  In theological circles this is called "extraction theology", removing people completely from their culture to make them into good white bread children. In traditional villages few Akha are ashamed of who they are.
   Half of the difficulty for me here is that I don't yet know enough of the Akha language. Of course not knowing what it is they are saying is probably psychologically less painfull considering that they are usually laughing at me. 
   One Thai women is waiving a squash around trying to get the pleasant Akha wome to lower her price.  Three baht, and still no deal.  That is too cheap but at this point the Thai woman's face is in it so she finally cuts some deal and takes all of the squash. 
   Now here comes the woman who was cut across one side of her face and lost the eye. Many of the Akha wear some kind of scar from forest accidents, some of the men bear scars from wars, serving as porters and such.
   A vehicle pulls up the lane from my right and though I can't see it yet I know it has to be some Thai vendor who is going to get his vehicle up this lane to the main market.  It is about impossible to do and it disrupts everything and makes everyone move their products, when he damn well could go around on one of the regular streets instead of this alley. 
   Behind the wall the Akhas stand against is a lychee orchard which looks very cool at this moment.

POW's
Back in 1990 when I first moved to Maesai, I hired a English teacher from burma, a hill tribe man, for teaching a friend. 
One day a few other hill tribe guys came along and told me that they had seen in the last two years a party of ten to twenty foreigners in a caravan that was well guarded, walking north in Laos in the mountain jungle. (that would make it about 1989)
They sat very quietly and watched while the men went by, unseen.  The men did not have enough goods or packs to be traveling so it was assumed they were staying close in the area.  The hill tribe guys were on a pig buying trip for mountain pigs to bring to the burma side and raise.
I stopped by the US embassy in Bangkok and happened to mention it to their officer there, who commented that there were 2400 men still missing, but most sightings were hoaxes.
Well about a week later, way up here in the north on the border, I just got back in town and somebody stopped me on the street and told me I had a phone call at the Top North Hotel.  That was strange, who could possibly know I was back in town after only 30 minutes just back from the US?
I got on the line, and it was the US embassy.
They said that two special officers had flown in from Hawaii and were on their way to Chiangrai and would be at the guest house in the morning and sure enough they were.  Lots of questions, that I didn't have enough answers for.  People from a place called "Stony Beach".
Their intensity and deliberateness was amazing.
I had no protection for my sources who were scared shitless, so I didn't say much.

Cops
My wife is always concerned of getting arrested by the police for staying the night in Thailand. Back in those days the cops watched everyone.  Everything was poor and so everyone was looking for any way possible to scoop some extra money.
She always cringed when there was a heavy knock on the door late at night.
My buisness and money situation left me feeling very tenuous. This was pretty hard to describe.  Sitting there on the bench on the balcony of room 28, looking out over Burma, all those people trying to get a new life, some kind of life at all, and things being so poor.  Course at the time I didn't know half the story behind the poverty. I'd sit up there in the evenings, drinking a beer, trying to absorb it all.  Mostly the room was quiet.  But early in the morning the movie theatre people would send a truck with bill boards and speakers blaring to tell about some movie playing.  I had my old tomatoes, bananas lined up on the railing and would lead the target far below on the road before letting fly, bouncing fruit off the man's truck hood.   He began to realize it was a dangerous spot on the road, and would look up when he went by there. 
In those days the cops grabbed who they wanted, fined them, sent them to jail. People were murdered, put in the river.  Nothing has changed.
Once one of the cops came up to the railing when I was gone, but thought better of doing anything.
But the place wasn't America, and it had a magic that most of America had lost a long time ago. The Americans had come here and killed people, but couldn't escape the life that caged them, the kind of thinking, the take on life, that fenced them in. I figure people are free in their minds first. 

Empty Room
Life was always full of changes.  I came back to my room one time, by now I was in room 61, and when I opened the door, the room was empty.  Very empty.  The paint squeaked the room was so empty. There wasn't a damn thing left.  Guess she took me at my word when I told her take anything she wanted.

Opium heads on the mountain road 
While I was out motorbike riding in the hills I saw opium heads for floral display on the road near an Akha village in Burma called Bala Akha, there on the border road. The Chinese woman my wife worked for was so glad to hear of it that I went back and got her some. I bought them from an Akha woman.  Dry opium heads, the heads bearing the marks of the knife that let the raw opium drain out.  Full of opium seeds, the same kind what you use on buns when they say "Poppy Seed Buns".
   The Chinese lady was glad to see them because she remembered the good ole days when she smoked it and sold it and made lots of money, which was how she owned the building one might guess. I strapped the big trash bag full of the dried heads and stems onto the back of the motorbike and took it back to town for her.  She thought it was dangerous to do that, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

Mangos
So here I sit on the edge of the road at a mango fruit stand while good ole Ms. Q cuts me up her fresh ripe mango.  Fruit is obscene, pit and all. Not far from the Top North Hotel, just before the road up to the temple.
A dusty street, stained with cooking food from all the carts and vendors.  But you never had to walk far in Thailand for food, and always something different. I like that.  The main street of Maesai, giving impressions of a small town, all its complicated guts out of sight. I like watching people go by and now I am in an easy chair with a good view.
Buildings bristling with antennas, signs and bars, noisy vehicles, and complete smoke cloud cover hanging over the town from all the burning in Thailand and Burma.  In both countries they didn't have a notion about air pollution.  All they would have to do is ask and they would get the whole book on it, no need to wait to re-invent the wheel.
You could get mango's cut up on sticky rice with coconut syrup poured over it all, that was a real treat, or sweet potatoes with the syrup poured over them.  Thais like their confections. There were these little carts with all kinds of puddings, gels, cakes, cut in small pieces, you can get a couple pieces for a few baht.  The display case was on a cart, powered by like everthing else, a motorcycle, set up like a side car.  After you got a feel for the lights, the look of each different kind of cart, you could see them from a far way off, putting along, a single bulb hanging above, beeping on a little squeeze horn, sometimes like lonely centuries in the winter night, looking for a customer who would venture out. Maesai got real cold in the winter with a wind close to the bridge that blew down Silom Joi Rd. Maesai right near the bridge got a real strong wind that whipped the dust up in the cold evenings. If there was any building that had activity at night, these little carts came along, selling all their different kinds of food.  Some had a barbecue pot full of coals, sold sausage, spicy sausage, fish and pork balls, stinky salty dried squid,, chest nuts, bamboo with sticky rice inside, chicken livers on a stick, chicken's feet on a stick, you name it.  Down the road in the cold nights they went.  Like ghosts, some of them I got to know, some of them not.  Simple working people trying to make a living, seeing the sites along the way, knowing the streets, the houses, the brothels, the people.  I bet they could tell a few stories.

Lazy Feeling
Flies buzzed lazily about, I drank the soda and finished off the last of my faorite Peka Pow, full of chillis and basil. The Shan woman who was cook at the Maesai Plaza made really good food, and always she was so kind.  Sometimes the owner, who could be gruff at times, made her cry.  Many of her kids had died, and in later years her grandchild would die also. And then the mother died too, leaving just the old Shan woman and her one son, who grew up to be a kind fellow.

Playing Jacks
   There she sat, on top of the table, as composed as she could be.  Long hair thick as a horse's main, like wire, dark, haunting, wondering.  She was tossing some object up in the air and grabbing a bunch of small stones, I was reminded of jacks, then she would toss the little stones up in the air and turn her hand over, landing them on the back of her hand and starting all over again. The window was open, the wooden room of boards, the air cold, a quiet peaceful, enchanting place.  Fog rolled in, shrouding the walls.

CCR Music and the Taxi Driver
I took a trip to Chiang Mai. The taxi driver played CCR relentlessly.  John Denver was dead, but was the singer in Thailand who is better known than any other figure.  Country Roads.  What the Thai singers could do to that song, I think it was what finally brought the poor man's plane down.  I had seen John Denver when he came to the Puyallop Washington State Fair in the 70's when he was first starting, only a few people sat in the small set of stands.  At the time I didn't know who he was or what he was going to become.
The Taxi driver took me to the top of Doi Suthep.  Once in a life time was good enough.  He gave me the tape.  I picked up a few tapes, played them a while, then the Akha's carried them away for me when I got tired of them or was moving.  I  had a Dire Straits tape I liked and a nice cotton pair of trousers that the same Canadian had given me.  Those were great for sleeping in during the dark cold winter nights, which was quite a temperature contrast in the normally hot tropics.  A few books would wander in and out of my room, left in the dining area of the guest house by travelers. In those days there were a lot of tourists, a certain kind, people who liked to travel and talk.  But then slowly the Lonely Planet mentality took over more and more, kind of like having a list of places at the back of the book that the young people checked off when they had been to them, with little concern or memory for the place after they were gone.  They seldom talked, such a tight travel schedule, moving into town tonight, gone tomorrow morning, figuring they had seen the place.

Mick fights in cowboy bar
There was this mick guy in town.  He was from Australia.  Some people said a retired prisoner, I didn't know and didn't care, but he was strange.  Nice thing about life is that if you wait long enough everyone changes and  you become strange, maybe something like that. 
He wanted this one girl, an Akha girl named Mingey, she always had malaria. She worked at the Cowboy Bar as it was called at the time.  A big Thai preoccupation with Cowboys.  Not sure why. The bar was there on Sailom Joi road near the river. Mick, he tore the whole place apart and still didn't get her. The owner refused to rent her out and the whole place got smashed making that point. There were always cops there and guns and fights and loud music, John Denver trapped in the body of a Thai again. 
Later Mick married a real nice girl from Burma, and promptly left for Australia.  Took him 13 years.  He agreed though, that people who came to Thailand to marry, and thought they were going to do it quick, were in for a surprise.
Years later, I saw Mingey again, on the Burma side, just coming back from Thailand.  She had a baby, said she was married to a Chinese fellow. I was amazed when some of these people survived at all, and in the case of Mingey, this was sure a happy note.

Special Work
The maid at the guest house, she was Akha too.  The other maid confided to me, that when times were hard, and no body was looking, the other girl would let this or that guest sleep with her for 1500 baht.  The girls took little care to health, seldom used condoms, let alone requiring them, had various infections.  It was a wonder they lived at all.  The foreigners, many of them, prided themselves on sex without condoms, least willing to admit that maybe THEY were infected and it was irresponsible for them not to offer the girl protection.  With many of the Thai men it maybe was below them, but with the foreign men it was a very macho thing not to wear a condom. 

Marie Deherde from India
She raised money from gathering embroidery and selling it in Europe so she could buy school clothes and books for children in India. She reminded me of my Aunt Loius and was very kind.  She was very common sense in lots of ways from her experiences.  She liked Akha embroidery.
She went with me on the motorbike to some villages, some of the very nice villages. It was obvious to her that the Akha had no place to go in the situation that they were in.  Little did I know at the time. She commented that they appeared to be "waiting" and contrasted that to people in India that were very immediate.

Calling Out of Town
I used to call home from Maesai, what a hassle, that was long ago. In those days there weren't many phones in Maesai and getting a call out required a big favor from someone.  Getting a fax out, or receiving one was even harder.  Sometimes I used the Northern Guest House, or my own guest house, or the big hotel after they built it. Now everyone has mobile phones.

First Computer
When I first got computer equipment it was an Apple 180 notebook.  Those were great days, not many notebook computers out yet and I could do lots of writing and publishing.  It was in those days that I formated the basic pattern for my publishing for the Akha language, moving forward slowly. Now one can not imagine a time without computers, they are cheap and everywhere.
For that first computer I had to put in a ground rod.  I didn't have a hammer but I had an old motor so I pried the armature out of the center, and broke the aluminum fan blades off it and then gripping the end of the shaft with a rag I beat the ground yard more than a meter into the ground.  The surge protector I had didn't work here, the wiring wasn't right and it soon blew up, a huge cloud of black smoke shooting up out of it. Keeping a computer alive without much in the way of tech support required a kind of "user's religion".  You had to do things just so.  Never push the computer.  There are a lot of things a computer can do, will do, is suppose to do.  But the computer is the boss and if you go to pushing it to see all what it can handle at once you just may live to regret it.  I wouldn't have dreamed of using a PC in those days, or even now.  All the PC systems are highly prone to crash, people loosing all their data, loading up a ton of spare files on the hard drive, and a jillion windows popping up to ask you if you want to dial your great grandmother and ask her what her shoe size is? Yes? No?  That is why they call it windows.  PC's always reminded you that you hated computers, Apple's were like Toyota's, you just drove them without thinking you had a car. 

General Suchinda
Suchinda got himself into that mess.  Killing all those students. 1991  I saw enough pics to know what happened wasn't pretty.  Governments, police, army, they do what they want.  Explanations demanded are never forth coming.
I knew about the demonstrations in Bangkok, but didn't think of it till I got to the airport.  I decided there was not enough time to justify going back to my hotel, cause my flight was a early morning one, and then saw that my hotel, The Royal Hotel, was being shot up while watching tv in the airport lobby.  A lot of kids died and disappeared.  They said that the police and army guys went from room to room and shot people.  Even a few foreigners had been shot on the street and died.
I thought of people trying to hide under beds, but they were bolted to the floor and there was no "under" to crawl to.  In one of those rooms, some even without windows, there would be no escape.  To this day the army and police have lied about the whole thing.  May they receive the karma they deserve. In the end, after everyone was dead, the government said the killings should stop. 

The Thai Nurse
She used to come by in the early years to talk, a Thai in deep denial of the health risks and epidemic. She wanted to speak English and go to America of course.  The blood practices weren't very clean at the hospital, they are always a little scornful of procedure, and it isn't uncommon to see blood handled carelessly or splattered around in emergency.  The maesai hospital has improved with time, but there still seems to be some basic flaw about how it is all handled.  Myself, when I take Akha's in I always feel as cattle are being herded.  People wander around, the nurse may be gone, the doctor may be gone, a dog may be sleeping on the floor of emergency, wounds are sometimes handled roughly, there is a lacking of real concern and there are always bubbles in the syringes when the injections are made.
Anyway, I remember asking this "AIDS" project nurse why AIDS was an issue if closing down the Maesai brothels, where any infection would spread, was not. She could not answer of course.

The Italian
He came here to buy silver rings and such.  Bought $5000 dollors worth in Indonesia and uh, er, uh, left it in the taxi. Sold his wares in the Italian street markets, was buying a house.  So when he got to Maesai he wasn't so happy, he was traveling with his dad this time and it had sort of distracted him.  Anyway, he bought more silver rings in Thailand and a few other things and made his way on.
Sometimes foreigners came to town and I tried to help them make their buys, but after a while town got too busy and so did I and I no longer did much of that.

Akha Friends
I worked to improve conditions for the Akha.  My first effort was first aid. 
Then as I began attempting to learn the language I realized that there were many problems with available language material which was very scarce.
I looked for books, reference books.  When I saw how little there was around, I questioned wether the Akha children would be likely to learn to read and write at all. Then I became interested in helping the Akha preserve their language.  For this I began designing books.  I worked first on a children's book, then a reader, which made a big step forward.  The reader had a lot of information about culture and grammar.
       I was told by Norwin, the Bible translator from Mallepaco to quit working on the script.  I received much critism from the Paul Lewis group in Chiang Rai as well.  The whole issue became an issue of control from what I could see.  The existing missionaries didnít like the idea of the Akha language being more accessable and certainly they did not appear to like the idea of some non missionary as myself making it more accessible. 
I learned this the hard way.  I heard people discuss my efforts with no knowledge of what it was I was doing and why. 
In these early days I got to know many of the Akha while helping them with first aid work, language work and so forth.  Little by little I got into the villages in the process of finding out more about their culture.

At the Bank
So the bank could not understand what the problem was.  They had told me that the transaction would take two weeks but it was now five.  I really enjoyed the people.  I never had a problem with them. And I didnít want a problem with them.
There was a communication barrier, they didnít loose any money on the delay, as I had, so it was hardly their problem.
Banking in Maesai was difficult at best.  I had an account and a passbook but money transfers got repeatedly screwed up and one had to call the head office in Bangkok etc, which was expensive and a real pain.  Many of the people there didnít know what was going on either, just told you to call back in two weeks, like you were checking on a job position.  The fact that you might be totally out of money did not occur to them.  Naturally this was not all their fault, as they worked with the international banking system where just about nothing was clear.
Later years when ATM cards were born, life got a lot easier. You could easily check your account from a rapidly growing number of machines in each town.  Foreigners sometimes got angry in the bank when their money didn't come.  Anger never got one very far, broke more things than it fixed.

Visa Runs, Butterworth Station, Busses
When I first arrived in Maesai I had to make visa runs every two or three months to Malaysia.  The Thais wanted tourists but made life really hard on  you if you stayed over two weeks.  If I took a bus to the border I alwasy got dreadfully sick off fungus that was hiding in the air conditioner system.  The whole bus had it, so even if I plugged the air conditioning vent right over me which helped, I still usually caught lung congestion anyway. 
       The bus was a day long ride to Bangkok then another day to the border, stay in a cheap Chinese hotel in Panang for about three days while the Thai embassy made a new visa. While I was there I met Bobby Clampitt from California, a person interested in bamboo cultivation. We remained friends many years.
To get to Panang from the Butterworth station one had to take a ferry across the sound.  Generally Malaysia was clean, quite clean.  I met some westerners who lived there.  They said the laws were strict.  Their son had gone to the border with some friends and the friends bought drugs and came back.  He got caught too and they all got the death sentence.  The family was appealing the situation but it looked grim.  I could imagine only a fraction of their despair.
The difference in Malaysia was that all the gold shops had armed guards out front, while in Thailand not.  Naturally the hazard of robbing a shop was much higher in Thailand, thus no need for guards.
I hated the trip down and back, took up to ten days, and sometimes I took the train.  The train was old, wobbled down the tracks, had sleeper cars or hard seat cars.  People near the border were always smuggling things back into Thailand or over into Malaysia so customs and the police were always searching the train good on either side of the border.  At the border check point you had to get off the train briefly.  There was a great big sign there with a skeletal like ghost painted on it, face in a grimace, warning Malaysians about AIDS in Thailand.
There was this old British man with his son, staying in the hotel once.  He told me how he married to a woman from French Guiana, but she thought she would divorce and get everything.  She didn't, he brought his son here on vacation, and while here he met a very nice Thai girl.  He said it wasn't often one fell in love, but this once he let her go, as it bothered his son too much. He couldn't remember being in love like that in many years.

This kid named Ado
An Akha boy named Ah Doh used to beg at the bridge. The police beat him.  He was slow.  He had big sores on his legs from injuring himself while swimming the river.  He was afraid to go through the checkpoints and walk across the bridge.  But best I could tell he died.  Drowned in the river I think.  A lot of people drowned in the river.  A lot of people died here, violently.  People with power killed.  People with only the power to kill also killed.  Few people took the time to heal, those of us who wanted to heal did our best to band together on the small resources we had.  I made friends that lasted the years.  There were not many people who wanted to take the time to heal.  Most everyone was after money so that they could buy and keep this or that. People like Ado were forgotten.  So this is my little piece to him, I saw a few days of his life.  I am  no poet, but just some lines, so that somewhere, there is something written down about him, his parents probably knowing as much as I do about what happened to him, when we couldn't find him any more.  So many people I knew, don't gotta come back here no more.  Does anyone know their names?

Ado was a little bit slow
Sometimes "the people" took him in tow
And then they whipped him fierce
ëCause he didnít know no better
And donít you come back here no more

He had no clothes but dirty old rags
And his legs were raw  and scabby
ëCause he always slept on the ground
So I bought him some new trousers
And donít you come back here no more

I went down in the morning to the riverside
To find that Ado boy
But all I found was his carry bag
New clothes were heavy and the river deep
And donít you come back here no more

So that last night God took home
A battered and slow young boy
He had new clothes for going away
Maybe the river was his chariot that day
And donít gotta come back there no more

And he donít gotta come back there no more!
 

Joe Comes To Town
This American guy named Joe came to town when I was first here.  Some kind of guy running from something.  His name always changed as did where he came from and what he used to do.  Time a few years went by he had been everywhere once and done everything twice.
The cheap skate Chinese woman rented him the dumpy top floor and he tried to make a guest house in the attic before he moved to Sailom Joi. There is the Maesai Complex building next to the river and the bridge on the right side.
He was always a brash overconfident guy.  He didnít like the Akha kids because they took naps on the distant porch three stories below at the other end of the building near the bridge.
       In those days he had a brawling Thai wife, with lots of drunk family, and they soon parted company.
   I visited there once and while we were there Rich the rudy red faced Australian came storming up the stairs and cussed Joe out for how cheap he was. 
The Chinese woman who rented out the building never got a good tenant.  The people in town said that she did something really bad to other people and so no one would ever do business with her, and they were right, because she never had a tenant from town the entire time since the building was built.  Always it was mostly empty except for a tiny noodle shop she ran and people parking cars in the first floor next to the river.  Sometimes a group from out of town would rent it.
       Two red haired Australian men stopped by. They both had gobs of money and were screwing their brains out from one hop house to the next, laughing the whole way, girls were cheap here they said, ah, who needs a condom, why eat candy with the wrapper on it?

Boober Digs Out The Bamboo
I had this big bamboo stump  in my back yard, when I had a house that I rented for a while.  I wanted to dig it out so I could put a fence up there. The Thai guys wouldnít do it so I asked my Akha girl friend to help me, which she was more than glad to do.  We had it out in an hour or two. The Thai workmen got this sort of sheepish look upon seeing that.

The Garden
       Turning my garden over with a shovel, I got hot so I took off my shirt. The day was humid.  The neighborhood Shan women turned out to watch.  Ah Burh helped turn the bigger clods into smaller ones for planting. I took a little time off to write under a tree on a stone table.  There was one of those vines in the tree, the kind the Burmese use the leaves off of for wrapping beetle nut. An old lady came every day or two and collected leaves from it. The bamboo that we had cut down, nobody helped stack it, but the neighbors all came and took pieces without saying a word until it was all gone. I built a good work bench a few days later. 
       I got tired of being next door to Cary and moved. He was a crook.  He ripped off lots of foreigners in overpriced gem deals. He was just like a Thai, not an honest bone in his body.

The Mushroom Restaurant

South End of town. Jon and Tom and I ate there now and then.

Also the cowboy bar across from the Yunnan Restaurant. Sort of out of doors, cool, benches, sometimes wet.

The Tutor
While I lived in room 28 I tried to teach my wife English. I gave it up and found it was a lot easier to pay someone to teach her. I found this true about many things, that if you are in relationship to someone, be it girl friend, wife or child you are better off asigning the teaching to someone else. 

May I take your picture?
Now often when I travel I have someone ask for my photo.  Usually I am in good mood for it and card up or play along.  However on this one occasion while I was at the bridge I was cross at my circumstances and as a result, when I saw the girls coming, feeling so bitter, I could not give this favor. They asked me for a photo next to them.  I myself was crushed down.  So I said no when they asked me and then the young girl wearing blue jeans and a shirt of orange sat down to my left side close touching my shoulder.  She said something in Thai but ìNOî already rolled off my lips and my heart smote me as I heard her soft and gentle words.  I donít know what it meant but I was full of regret as she slowly walked away with her friends, often looking back over her shoulder to me. Her voice should have been able to melt a heart of stone.
When our minds are dark, when we fight some problem that we have not yet the answer to, when events get us down, then hardly we can overcome to experience the moment of the joy around us, so dark is the fog.

Owls
The hill people sold me two owls in the market, pigmy owls.  I took them to my room to release them the next morning, but in the night one flew into the ceiling fan, and cut its leg.  The leg was broken, I tried to rescue it but got my hand firmly bit in the process, before I was able to put it out of its misery.  The other one I was able to release the next day, flying well enough. 

Doi Tung
A very scenic trip on the ridge road to Doi tung from  maesai has occupied me many times .  The first 5 km or so are paved.  I pass through the upper edge of Pami Akha Village and then up to the army camp on more pavement which only a year ago was muck.  After the army camp the road turns into an eroded steep and muddy derby to the top.  In rainy season that is.  During the dry season the corners and steep parts can be just as hazardous due to loose dirt.
The trip up is well worth it as the views to east and west which are typical of ridge roads are always spectacular.  Flat rice lands on the Thai side to the east and rolling hills and moiuntains covered in green jungle to the west.  On the western slopes I can see many an Akha village.  All still surviving in the traditinal ways.
From Doi Tung I can descend on one of several roads still in Thailand at this point.  New roads take me straight south west to Haen Taek or Doi Mae Salong.   Doi Tung is the highest point in this region and the wind sweeps past its huge transplanted trees  majestically.  I am told that the shrines on the high part of the hill are hundreds of years old.  There is a large stone sticking out of the ground.  The locals call it the "Sleeping Elephant".  The whole mountain range is called "Sleeping Woman Mountain" because that is what it looks like.

Destroying the mountain with roads
I rode a motorcycle into the Thailand mountains bordering on Burma near Mae Sai.  What I found saddened me profoundly.  Looking from the temple mountain of Doi Tung and as far as he could see , the Thai government was building a huge network of roads to every crook and cranny of each Akha village .  This was very disturbing.  A lush jungle scarred with muddy red roads, some times big enough for tour busses, pushed in as close to fifty feet of a village or even right through it.  This was the obvious work of touristic expansionists.  Where the Akha had grown their living they were now hired for a few baht a day to tend to the tree farm projects of the Thais who figured they owned everything. Electricity, roads, inspections, troops, border police, televisions, Thai language schools and Thai teachers to these ìdirty peopleî so in need of help.
This was a story, the world over of how the West was forcing its way in with concepts of land ownership which are as unacceptable to the Akha as it was to the American Indians. 
   There was a thumb in the north of Thailand to the west where I often traveled spending a night in a village here or there and always bringing goodies of pens or paper or clothes or food for the kids, with some gift whiskey for the head man, as was the appropriate thing and also courtesy money.  The small expense was always well worth it.  Getting to know these people as an extended family had a lot of satisfaction.  The one steep crook in the trail was so steep the front of my rented Honda 250 came up off the ground on an occasion.  After all the village did nestle in the bench near the mountain top looking north west toward Mae Kom
Often the trail was worse to ride going down, the gravel or slime poor enough traction that I couldnít hold my weight and the motorcycle back.  To say nothing of the time I took the big Dutch girl up there and dang near crushed the family jewels on the gas tank coming down as she pressed against me not knowing how to control her weight.
Then there was child after child in the villages.  Some distinct in features as the boy with the little crew cut who was all of two feet and a half tall and every bit a little man.  This was Ajewís brother little.  A half wit kept stepping in the "doe kay" or cow shit in the middle of the village and helped scatter it around, later it all got swept up as the twice or once daily chore.  They were all amazed when I still struggled during the height of the rainy season to come up to their village, Ah Leh Akha.

Peanuts
 I and another fellow were riding our motorbikes up on the ridge behind Maesai when we saw two men with a pack loaded with bags of fresh dug peanuts next to a horse.  We stopped and helped them load it, then left, only to see them taking it off the horse again. They stood there wondering what it was we wanted. Of course they had just unloaded the peanuts after coming up the hill, to give the horse a rest. The bags were large but we misread it and figured they could use a hand. We had a good laugh about that.

Broken Chain
One of my first early trips to Hua Mae Kom was with Joe, and the chain on the motorbike broke, so we had to cut one link off with the saw on his swiss army knife.   That was the first  time I had reason to believe in those knives.  You know how tough motorbike chain is.  Cutting the broken link, fitting the chain back together, we got going again. Because the chain had stretched we were still able to use it, not having any wrenches with us.

All The Sleeping People
On a trip alone up a different mountain I drive down into this creek, near Bpah Mah Hahn back when there was only a dirt track. There was a lip there on  the other side and then the motorcyle hung back for a moment, compressing the shock, then shot over it with a ding ding ding and crashed without me on it, going up in the air.  Suddenly people came out of everywhere that I had not even seen till then, wondering what had happened.  Maybe they had hid when they heard me coming.  There were always a lot of people in the jungle. One was never to think they were alone.  The hill tribe would generally run and hide in the brush. As the years went by I found out why.  Killings and rapes by soldiers were common and stayed common.

Akha Woman With Five Kids
Couldnít help but remember the Akha woman with five kids.  Whose husband had died.  She worked at the little hut store at the corner on our way up the mountain past their village with a dirt bike.  Pah Meeh Akha. She farmed the kids out all over as they got older.
She was thin and ornate.  Refined.  I talked with her a number of times at the corner store next to the jungle or I just waved as I went by.
Then another day she tapped me on the shoulder in the post office in Maesai, far from her mountain home, and asked me to address an envelope to a German friend.  Everyoneís looking for a little hope in a hard old world.

Side The Trail
Attur, one time she said that she was coming from her village to town and there on the trailside, just in the meadow near the cemetary there was a shan boy giving it to a shan girl known for those services.  Guess it couldnít wait. 
You had to sort of walk up through this dark skinned shanty town to get up to the meadow and then down and up again into her village.  The place evolved over years, so much history there.

The Mist
Mist hung thick shrouding the moist jungleís deep shades of green.
The horses moved slowly with their burders up the trail, the men silently moving ahead and behind them. In places the blue broke through and then one could see forever over the tops of the fog and the jungle mountain peaks pushing up through it, completely hiding the life below.
A green viper lay motionless next to the trail, head held up, watching, motionless, frosty white and green deceptive. One could hardly tell it was even a snake and not a leaf of bamboo, head shaped like a wedge, fierce eyes, and all no bigger than a small finger in girth, yet very long.
Motionless now it could dart and tumble going like a whip across the ground.  But for this moment it held still, letting horses and men pass, content to watch, undisturbed by them even though they spotted it with trained eye.
There were some sixty men, more horses, many packing, some men walking. 
One could not imagine what occurred to the small group of adventurous police, that they would try to ambush this well armed caravan of opium, but so they did.  Their first shots allerted the caravan and in the blaze of responding gunfire that followed, two policemen were killed and the rest fled from their ill conceived attack down the mountain the way they had come.
The woman buried her brother, one of three she had, the younger one already dead at the hand of his boss.

The Younger Brother
She reflected, remembering the events well.  He was fourteen and had gone to Keng Tung to find work.  He worked two years for a Shan family until one day his father and brother went to fetch him because they could not keep up with  the work in the fields.  The Shan boss did not want to let him go but told the father to find a place to sleep and come back in the morning and the son would be ready to go.  But in the morning when they came to fetch the son he was no where to be found and the boss said he had no idea why the boy did not turn up.  The father and brother searched all about and suddenly discovered the boy lying face down in some water not so far away, dead.  They became so fearful that the boss would come and kill them too that they fled back to the mountain and did not even dare retrieve his body from the water. 
Years went by and it became known that the Shan man and woman both died in their late forties, some great secret eating up the years, their house coming to nothing.
   The memories of the Akha about how they were treated by the Shans, makes one ponder what has happened to the Shan now.

Livestock
They crawled off the massive shining bus like livestock, huge white legs and girths so packed with excessive living that it took a broad sail to wrap them.
Starved looking beggar children gathered quickly about.
One hand clutching their colorful bags, the other thrust to their face holding some strange black appendage, pivoting their heads here and there and thrusting the object towards anything of interest as if they were sucking up the finest dust to take back home and grow bean seeds in.
One woman, her hair cut firmly against her head, thrust this device often to the faces of the passing native women, making them stop, while she sucked up their dust.  When they held out a coin seeking hand for their trouble she wagged her long bony finger at them in disapproval of their bad moral and character habit and strutted off confident she had successfully delivered her lesson on morality and money to the two disappointed villagers,  every warble begging to escape from her tight spandex wraps.

The Old Woman
The one old woman gasped for breath on the porch of one hut in another village closer to Mae Salong.  The younger generation seemed oblivious to her struggle yet her wizened gray hair and deeply uniformly wrinkled face shone the resplendent beauties of such a fantastic creator.  I considered such a contrast to end this way rather than drugged out of your head and drooling along side your cheek and nose tubes at a rest home.
This was at a recently relocated village up behind Hooh Mah Akha..  I wonder where all those Akha have got to?  In those days the Thai army was shifting the Akha to the wind, but an unexperienced eye could not tell it.

Morning Market
   The market was representative of my first effort to find the Akha where THEY were and deliver services to them.  It was also an opportunity for me to sit with them amidst their life, as they lived it and learn what they spoke of, something of their economy, toil and humor.
The morning market was different from the afternoon market, not as lively or crowded, in these last years they had rebuilt it which was really nice, but still it didnít have the same mood as the lazy afternoon market I so enjoyed.
Up behind the shops that line the main street in Maesai. The market was behind that to the west.
However you tried to get in it was difficult.  Motorcycles lined the walks, a man leaving you with a metal tag for reclaiming your motorbike. With so many more motorbikes when I came back it was hard to recognize where I had parked it.  Three wheel bicycle taxiís full of groceries, tried to make it down the rows. I always wondered about people who drove through a market with anything bigger than themselves.  Just walking was hard enough.  The Thais had infinite patience for the easily avoided traffic come to a traffic jam.
ìNahm dah hooî was a soy drink that I had with one family. I used to try and stop by there every now and then. Creature of habit.
They sold fish too, cooked fish, and I used to drink the soy milk there in the morning along with some bread, chinese oil bread I called it, the ghost bread stuff.  They were always very friendly and warm.  Had eggs to put in the soy milk raw, which was good in hot soy milk. Their little table was along the walk, a good place to watch people, near the fish end of the market.  They always had some small coals going too, only now I couldnít remember what they cooked on those coals. Ah, maybe it was a fish wrapped in banana leaf, or some other little things similarly wrapped, like in little pyramids, never looked inside them.
The fish in nearby tubs were catfish, perch and so forth.
The perch were in water with an ariator going.
The catfish were not so lucky.  The old woman with the fish knife was cutting parallel slits in their sides.  They didnít seem to like this.  Maybe it was to show customers how to do it, how good the meat was, how well they cooked up?  Or because it was necessary for cooking and saved people time if she did it?  The tradition looked cruel to me, over just thumping their heads once.
There was this really big variety of catfish, but it was greasy to me, I didnít like it.
Over on the other end, Akha women, near their section could catch a bowl of cheap noodle soup while they waited to sell all their vegetables.
There was everything for sale in big bulk. Some people bought here and then resold for a little more in the afternoon market.  So if you couldnít get up in time for this one, you could go to the other one, which I enjoyed more anyway, more personal.  And in the morning market till they rebuilt it here recently, you could snag your head real good on the low hanging tin.  I always kept my cowboy hat on for this reason.  Tin detector.  Course there was that time up in Keng Tung when I forgot to for a moment and the corrugated tin sure found my noggin with its razor edge. 
I remember the one time I was filming all these people in the market.  Afterwards I went home and looked at the footage, and there was this one woman I was filming, her and her mother, and they were buying oranges, and they had the bag and were filling it, and every other orange went in her pocket, and then when it got on the scale and she argued about the accuracy of the needle, and the price, the oranges kept going into her side bag as well, all the time she was articulating.  The Thai woman finally pointed out this matter to her, after they settled on the price of the bag on the scale, and the woman looked, like, ìOh, you donít say?  Was my hand doing that again?  I hate it when it does that!î

Afternoon Market
Strong faces, burnished copper, hiding the grim realities of the day surrounding them.  Vegetables for sale  at their wooden sitting tables, covered with tin roofs, some not.
They talk with their hands, some claw like, so worn by work. The Thais try for the cheap price but Akha women are no slouches when selling.
By their standards I donít know much about money.  Most of us function on such a slush of money as compared to their shaving of a one baht coin.
The afternoon market used to define my life here as much as the bridge.  I was friends with so many Akha there. 
I would go down to the market around 1 pm and stay till it closed at 6, walking back to the bridge with all the Akha.  For a while, maybe six months, I had worked first aid at the bridge at 3 pm.  Then later I found the Akha in the market and moved there.
In Maesai I knew of three things that were my introduction into the world here.
The guest house, Maesai Plaza, then the bridge to Burma, and then the afternoon market. The Akha had a little side street off it that had all the Akha selling their vegetables and herbs.
ìDown Akha Alleyî I used to call it.
It was full of little tables along the side, women with their vegetables laid out on banana leaves, sprinkling water on them to keep them fresh, and passing the time.  Near closing time the prices would go down before the women and a few men formed a long line and headed back to the bridge to cross over into Burma and go to their homes again.  I think they had very hard lives.  I could not ever know much about that reality apart from identifying the fact. 
I would buy some fish and share it with that one man who was nothing more than hard working skin and bones.  Some of those were the simple pleasures in those days, sharing food and watching all the people go by and talking to everyone. A meal of fish, chili sauce and sticky rice.
My first impressions and joys of this town were there.  Now of days it seems like such a dream, so far away.  When the mind was like a spring, not loaded down as now with so many things to tend to.
Akha Alley was in a district called the Koh Sai district, between some brothels and the main market street. Always one would see them coming, the working girls, in their odd choice of colored clothing, taking a stroll before the evening shift to get some dinner items from the market.  In those days the brothels were dirt floored shacks along the river. 
Course now, most everyone was dead that ever used them. Cause AIDS had ripped pretty good through Maesai, and lots of folks didnít make it.  Back in those days nobody thought carefully.
Life is foolish, cruel, and like a thin glass, where as if you are not careful, it will break in your hand and cut you, without once looking in your face to see who you are, or to watch you smile or cry.

The Long Years
The years could grind you. Not much to do. Booze, girls, foolishness. I decided these were not the best choices. Over the years I saw bad habits eat the soul of many a person.  Many who got hauled away dead. 

Another Old Woman
I remember being in the afternoon Akha market talking to some of the girls when a really old Akha woman came along.  She held forward her left hand, drew circles in her left hand as if a watch spring and then chopped her palm several times like a knife, with her other hand.  The girls all laughed.  I felt she was saying something at my expense and so I sort of ambled away.  I was wrong however, because the next day I asked one of the girls what she meant and she said, ìOh, the woman said you should marry many wives!î

Akha Market
The Akha were at the market on the part of a desperate struggle to stay alive, feed their families, and they worked very hard at it.  They carried heavy baskets from their villages and the jungle on the Burma side, and hassled with the crossing of the bridge, getting back in time before the gates closed, and even crossing the river in the water when the bridge got closed by governmental disputes.  Some of them drowned doing this, the water being high and fast depending on the time of year.
One whole line of people swung away once when one person fell down, fourteen people drowning. Another time a woman stood up in the boat she was in and it flipped over, everyone drowning.  She was from Ymm Boeuhís village.
I could not change where I came from or where they came from, so I tried to help them, to learn the language, to get them medicine when they needed it.  Now as I look back it feels so feeble, so little, compared to what I know now about the hardness of their lives.  It gives me reason to feel sad, that I knew so little of what they went through.

The knife
The brown wood handled knife stuck in the gray block wall through a hole, and a plastic bag of orange ice tea  hung on it by a rubber band with straw pointing upward from a slight space left ungathered by the rubber band.  Condensation textured the bag and collected drops which dripped down.  Flat edge along the bottom, two corners and burgeoning like a bladder.  The Akha woman sold her good, and let it hang there till when she would drink it later.

Akha Working Girl
This evening as we walked in the Akha market Thai side we saw an Akha girl, definitely a high end prostitute who had a real attitude.  Lots of gold and she was sort of flaunting her life to the Akha women who sat poorly, selling vegetables.
I asked her where she worked and she said not to mind, my having known already when I asked where she worked.  But I resented her scorn of her poorer elders.  They really didnít look down on her though, and maybe some of them envied her.  And maybe in her heart she envied them.

Mushrooms
I went down to the afternoon market as I usually do most of the time and took some developed photos to one of the Akha.  Then after strolling the lane I picked out an empty spot next to one of the older Akha women and sat down on a cloth sack she had spread out next to her produce where she was sitting. I liked to sit down amongst them and enjoy the customers coming and going and buying their vegetables.  That way I could get out of the afternoon sun and learn a little more of the language.  Matter of fact they sort of knew when I was looking for a place to get out of the sun and one of the women would make a spot for me.  That was a little kindness I very much appreciated.  A little cramped but never mind about that.  On this occasion I sat there for some time chatting with her.  Eventually one of the young Akha girls who was also selling vegetables came over to me and began telling me to move quickly.  I thought this was sort of odd for being so sudden and emphatic. Being easy to get along with, I moved over slightly and sat on a stone.  Only when the girl rolled back the flat cloth to show me a thick layer of mushrooms did I recoil in surprise.  Then I asked the woman who I had been chatting with why she didnít say anything, since I was thinking that was a spot she had made for me to sit?  She said she was embarrassed to say anything!  So I wondered at all the thoughts that were going through her head about her dayís income as I sat there on her pleasantly soft mushrooms.

Night food market
The night food market was behind the main street store fronts.
A big covered area, open sides, concrete pillars and roof. Painted a sickly green, much more area than what was used, dirty, abandoned by feel, if not people.  A ratís paradise.
The food always looked sort of iffy.
I only ate there a few times at best in ten years, never in the last five, I think that was honest to say.
Here in maesai, good place to get the shits.
I used to know one cook from one of the stalls, he was my landlord next to Cary, who worked along with his daughter, but then that stall got taken over by some Akhas.Many stalls, other tables, cases of various meats and of course, flies.
There used to be a snooker room in the back there and also my one Akha friend worked there for a while too, she had long ago been one of the photo girls on the bridge.
There was one stand at the front corner that sold soy milk in the winter with chinese ghost bread.  In the winters when it was cold, I and some of the Japanese used to head down there from the guest house for a cup of hot soy milk late in the evenings. We always sort of headed down around the same time, saw each other, never said anything, and just went on.  Was always fun to watch the people there make the dough and slip the rectangles into the boiling oil one by one.  I always wondered what someone working like a machine like that, thought of every night, year in and year out?  He rolled the dough out, dusted it with flour, cut it in pieces quickly.

Buying Goods At The Chiangmai Night Bazaar
The chiangmai night market was where I first thought I would make it successful in the trade business, buying this and that, lots of stuff, lots of junk too.  I found the Akha shops and they had interesting items.  The guy who now lives near Huai Krai was one of the shop owners and he had lots of cloth and beads for sale but he gave the Akha just about nothing who sold it and they didnít know what he got for it.  So he got a truck and a house and kept on going.  When I last met him he said he no longer had the shop, been ten years. I saw him at the flat village festival, the village just below his.
   Anyway, I bought beads there at his shop and would ship from Chiang Mai but the business really never worked out and I donít know if they ever do.  Life where you send from is so different from life where you sell at and the problems are different as well and one party can not see what it is like for the other party and the parties donít communicate so good and there it goes.  If no course corrections get made that help it along such businesses fail to be successful.

These were the routines of the day, a little money work, a lot of work helping the Akha and the spare time to write and eat.  Always I wished I had more resources to help the Akha, and to know more of their story.  As the years went by I did both.

End

Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akha@akha.org
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel