Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter Five: The School

 

The first focus of my work with the Akha beyond medicine was the language, to make it accessible for the children.  This became a very long project, of many years.  For the first years I tried to combine the effort with a school for the local street children.  The expenses were high and in those days I did not have the moneys to support such work properly but a couple schools I did run.

 

Running an Akha School

Operating an Akha school started in Maesai and was only something that I could do when I got a chunk of money and the money lasted for enough time.  When the money really dried up and I had sold nearly everything that I had, then I had to close it again till I could re-open it.  The school also depended on the need of the children at the time, and in this case it was the street Akha beggar children of Maesai.

Being able to run a school for them for half a day and then they left again appeared to be the ideal situation for including some learning and stability in their lives, which they did not regularly get. Their parents depended on the money, their villages hung on the edge of major social economic changes, they tried to make the best of it. “Beggar did not mean they were orphans or that their parents were not around, it was part of the family income. Sometimes not too shabby.

In later years I began to operate a school in the Akha Villages, it started with a night school but the need for a full time school was quite obvious.  Later, Pah Nmm Akha was the second village to seriously request an Akha school in addition to Cheh Pah Akha.  And it is always easier to start and run something when it is the village's idea than when it is a suggested idea from myself as in the "outside".

   The school was made up of numbers of people that I hired to run it. There were teachers who covered the different languages, Akha, Thai, Burmese, English and Chinese. Someone taught math and writing. As well I had a person to cook, help clean up after all those kids, run them out at noon and get things ready for the next day.

   The kids could make plenty of trouble in town so sometimes the police came by looking for this or that kid in which case we tried to keep them cool, and other police came by because they were bad police.

   The neighbors didn’t mind, were glad to see something going on, and we tried to keep the roar and fights to a minimum between kids who hadn’t even owned a pencil before.

   We also had one of the older Akha go over the traditions, because many of the border Akha were catholic and while remembering some of it, never hurt to talk about it. Sometimes chiefs from local villages came by to see me and comment on problems we were having and how to fix them. Was all hard to do on limited language skills and so many different languages.

   A school needed to be connected to the reality of the Akha, their daily needs and a vision for the future.

 

Problems of Running an Akha School

   Sometimes fights broke out between the kids, girls were the worst, as they didn’t let up, so we kept a healthy number of older women around to cope with that.

   Other times strangers came by the school, so I always had to drill the older women on security, to make sure that they knew who was standing around, walking in, talking to the kids, cause sometimes I was off in a village during the day.

   Lack or resources made the operation always difficult, not so bad as to discourage me, but sure bad enough to make me ask more than once how I was going to go on.

 

The School

27 and more kids in the school

Moving well. Not easy for me to control it all in a foreign language.  But it progressed and the kids were happy, and they enjoyed it and the food we fed them of course.
   Nick the Kiwi comes in to use the phone but sometimes it is a real bother. He doesn’t appear to make note of it. But we got it straightened out.

   Been so long since I took time to write or get any peace to do so, so I left the school and came down to the old guest house where I can sit peacefrully this evening and think and write.

 

Aug 97

The school

Ah Nyu, who first spoke english here and used to help me with medicine. She has become the secret mistress of a Thai. That didn’t last long and she was a slave to prostitution after that. Her dad went to prison for selling opium.  The money goes to her mom who is loud.

There is a moral crisis in this region of the world in that everything seems a sell out. Nothing feels secure. I have had to completely  revamp my work after Andy McGrath got done with this whole thing. I had spent huge energy building up the school into something that would last a long time, and then we saw things too different and I was on a deep energy downturn.  Conscious of it I was trying to recharge.  To find back some joy.  It had been a  very negative thing, seperating between friends.

Oh well, it can be laughable at times, how often one has to start over. We ended up friends just the same.

 

Broke In Maesai

I am in Maesai and quite alone. There is no business left and the expenses, although meager, keep rolling on. I live on just about nothing. My main worries and concerns are with the rent, paying the help, being able to renew my visa and keeping the kids fed while improving the school for them. The girlfriend is not around for the moment, probably noting the absence of money.

But I am learning to view the poverty as a challenge and am being forced to dig deep into what ever skills I can dig up and work on. There isn’t much one can do here that the locals can’t do much cheaper.

 

Girls Come To Learn To Write Akha

In between schools I stayed at the guest house. The cook left back to the Burma side and then Mooh Dzurh came over from the Burma side to teach Ahka to a couple of girls who were teaching night class in one of the villages. They quickly learned to read and write Akha. Mooh Dzurh had spent years at this, and often on the Thai side there was no support for Akha language and it effected the kids desire to learn. But compared to the cook’s kids, they were enthusiastic and worked hard. Big change.  They made progress quickly and they were also helpful on the book project as we were wrapping it up now and I was able to adjust the design of the book by seeing what was working for them.  The work book and reader section definitely needed more pictures, the workbook section especially, things to make it interesting. Later they got married so I had to find more teachers. Ah Gaw was one young fellow who taught for a while, he was really good at that. But then he got married and left for a job in Chiangmai.

 

History of the school

One of the schools ran for only 2 months in 1994. The school after that ran about five months. 

   The current school was staffed and operated based on principles and experiences, relationships to the people over the last six years.

   Currently there are 50 plus students in the school with expectation of 100 within two months but not room for more than about fifty. One could run more of these schools if there was the money for it.

 

Running a School

I set up a school.  I didn’t have enough funding so I must close it.  I spent a lot of money on that and the teacher Cheri was very good.  I was glad to have her work for me even if she did make a few mistakes. 

I found I had no private life.  Soon I had no money either.  Then I didn’t have the money to buy enough supplies and materials, and decorations to give each child their sense of having some part that was theirs, that was secure.  Life for these bridge children was not secure very often and so anything helped.

But no one came with funding and the children went away.  Money does not come of empty promises which is what I often got from westerners.

The other Akha found fault because I was not helping them and the non Akha found fault because I wasn’t helping their people.  I got tired of all those who knew better but weren’t doing it themselves.

   I tried to do many things to raise money and restart the school but I was unable.  So finally I gave up and moved back into the guest house.  I gave up on a lot of things out of necessity.

 

The guy

One of the bridge vendors I had known for a long time he came to the school and was covered with spots, told me he had AIDS and wondered if I had any medicine. I asked him about the Maesai hospital, but he said that there was a hospital night angel in Maesai, “don’t do me that kind of favor”. I asked him what he ment?

   He was afraid to go to the Maesai hospital because he said the nurses would give him an injection in the night, they called her the night angel, and then you died. Just like that. Especially if they thought you had AIDS and came from Burma. The kind of brutality that went on here at the border most people would not imagine it. He curled up in a ball on the floor of the school. Nearly thirty. I had known him for five years.  He had bumps on his face, looked really scared, was curled up of the pain of fear.  He asked me if I had any medicine that would help.  I had none.  Finally he went home to Burma and his friends cared for him until he died.  It was very sad to see a friend that way.

   The Burmese guys said he went through a lot of girls because he had money but in the end it killed him. 

 

The Hornets

The bees got in my hair.  I shed numerous of the one inch long black and orange bastards while they stung my head all up.  And then I shed my hair at the barber. There had been this huge black hornet nest hanging off the back rafter of the building, over the river. I knew it had a lot of larva in it, we could sell that. My idea was right, only one error, I hadn’t calculated HOW much larvae there were and what they would weigh. So after getting the poop bejeez stung out of me, on the second pass I used fire on a rag to burn the bastards, using a long pole, and then after they were all dead and gone we hooked a rice sack on the end of the  same pole to hoop it over the large nest from below. But it weighted at least fourty pounds and when we broke it loose it dropped into the rice sack and snapped the end of the bamboo pole right off and plunged into the swift current of the Maesai river that lapped at the bottom of the building piers.

 

Oven

Andy was gone, he gave the oven to Charlie, the building was more empty than it had been and life went on.  Progress that had been made was lost but much learned as well.  Charlie came over and asked me to teach him how to gas the oven which I did but also wanted me to teach him how to bake which I did not.  He had the oven and all the gear and supplies crowded into a very small place and was trying to get started.  I felt sorry for him even though I didn’t like him that much, but learning to bake takes time, I didn’t have enough and you can’t do it in one day.

He seemed completely to not notice that the oven had been for the kids.

As the years went by I rebuilt, my tiny help growing to where it was helping so many more people.

 

Mothers, Babies and Quick Death

Now many Akha women stop with their babies and kids.

Some live, some die.  It is all very sad.  The ones who live seem only to live so they can die later, not so much later even. That is tragic. There are not very many good endings, and seeing so many people die, as a matter of course, is something that one never gets used to. I have photos of lots of the kids who are now dead. The photos their parents have are worn and moldy, and have faded like the memories, which don’t fade nearly as well. I wondered how they coped with it, even now, looking back, remembering all those I knew who lost their children. Tourists came to town, they didn’t know about this and what had happened to all these people, south of the border most people were busy having a joke.

 

The old woman

Aug 22, 1997

The passing old woman

This was a town of passing souls.  If you got to know anyone, someone was going to die.  Too common it seemed.  The old Akha woman with the cane, heck she had bad hearing, I thought in terms of how unfortunate that was.  But she didn’t mind because she was busy dying. Letting the life meat and juice be sucked out of her by August’s relentless heat, rain and humidity.

   I bought her coke and rice, willing to answer any request of one in the dying business.  She had two kids, one dead and one gone south and a small girl she wanted me to have.  I don’t know what came of her.  They’d put her in a grave if she was lucky, burn her if not. 
God grasps the hands of people like her.  She was nothing but did she look forward to passing on, not at all, but solidly held on to the arm of her husband.  I’d been surprised if she wasn’t more than forty plus a little.  Her face in a grimmace, the flesh wasted away as if by radiation.

It was all I could do to eat right and hang on just to witness it.  How different to actually be able to do anything about it. How different to have it actually happening to you.

To have been able to offer her hospice care, but these people go till they die.

I remembered her for the goodies she bought for the kids at the school, the widow’s mite if you will. I don’t know if I have a picture all these years later or not, memory doesn’t even pull them up so well after so much time, but they were what made the face of every day when they were still with us.

   In her yellow dress, cane, ragged hair and beetle nut stained teeth, she came by the newer school, often I would see her on the other side of the street buying some small thing before she arrived at our door, just so she could give it to the kids. I never saw her after that or where her daughter went to.  There is much to children having to go with just who ever will take them or can feed them.  This sister, brother, uncle, aunt. Many poor Akha ending up as servants in houses this way for Thai people, the connections to their family totally lost, not even knowing who they are or from where they have come. Many Thais preyed on the children this way near the border, always looking for a kid to move south. Viscious, the Thais, like a ghost looking out of the head of a dead fish.

 

Amurh and her ill mother at school

Ah Murh's mother died slowly.  She came to the school for help and a little food which I gave her and she rested on a mat on the floor upstairs.

Ah Murh came by, young and beautiful and full of life and rude to her dying mother. Dirty, thin, withered, lying there on my floor.  I bought what I could for her to eat and drink, the small things she asked for.  She went home and died in a couple of days on the Burma side.

That was all.

Later Ah Murh, maybe a year later, came and told me how sorry she was for being cruel to her mother, that she was young, that she didn't know, that the other girls trouncing about made her think she was young and wise, when she was young and foolish and now sad, cause her mother was gone for good. I kept track of Ah Murh for years, she worked in Bangkok, ran a small restaurant, wanted to leave Thailand. I talked to her on the phone, “my family in Burma is so poor Matthew.” Yeah, I know.

 

Meeh Sheh

Worked for me at school house, from Agaw. She painted pictures for the walls of water colors and paper. She made beautiful Akha designs, what ever she wanted, colors for rows of things she planted in the fields.

 

Boney

She worked for me watching the house when I was gone. I went to Burma to travel with a professor from Singapore. I got back late, the roce ran out and she was gone, so she hid all the stuff when I didn't come back on time.

I came in the house and all was empty.   Then I thought much had been stolen, but no, she was scared of thieves so she wrapped all I had that looked of any value in newspaper and hid it behind boxes.

I never saw her again.

 

Snake dies in house

I had this big python that the Burmese men brought me. Always slept in the toilet tank, maid was scared. It was a BIG snake. I think they injured it when they caught it before I rescued it.  It just up and died out in the middle of the floor, a Burmese Python, surely three meters long and big around.

 

Store onwner

The store owner who did the air conditioning installations he was was my local landlord. When the real landlord died he dropped doing then rent went down, the local guy had been skimming it, but now he got it all.

 

My landlord, stainless gun, dead

The real landlord always wore a gun in his belt, drove a little Honda car, silver. Anyone who wore a gun was either killing people, which was common here, or afraid it was his turn.  They said he ran into a tree, but he was killed up in Burma moving drugs, running from the competition.  Course I didn't know much about all this at that time.  Even though I lived fifty meters away, Burma was a long ways away, a mystery land, trapped in time. He was suppose to be up there working on the road, but a job was never a job to a Thai, it was just the beginning of seeing how many girls you could sell, how much drugs you could run, or if anyone needed killing.

 

The cop visits

Yeah, all the kids went running and I came out from the back where I was cooking to see what the fuss was and it was a cop.  He didn't know what to make of it.  He knew me, and could see it was a school.  So the teacher told all the kids not to make any trouble for him out on the street with their begging. He was satisfied and left.

 

Sell fax machine

I sold my fax machine I brought from the US to the guy who ran the air conditioning shop there at the mini mart on Sailom Joi.  Needed the bucks for the school, in those days there weren't many fax machines in town, and now no body wants them. You always get calls in the middle of the night.

 

The car barn next to my place and all the gamblers and the Thai woman cop who speaks Burmese

Yeah, that place was behind the first school, the Thai woman cop, everyone went there to gamble.  A big empty building right on the river back in the days when everyone was going to make it rich in the black car market, shipping them to Burma.  But then it was empty, those days fast over.  So they set up a gambling den instead.  This went on for months, a cop standing gaurd out front. The Thai woman who was a cop, she was really from Burma, see here at the border people had been from one side or the other, things were pretty slushy.

 

Baking oven

I rented the first one from Mr. Boom.  Wonder if he was the owner of Boom short time hotel, since it was across the road from his house?  He was a quiet man with glasses. Some said Lisu. I didn't know, he was a member at the Baptist church, but stern or untrusting I think one could say.  We didn't talk after the hill tribe disputes began. Later I was told that he was a translator before for the CIA and that he was also the treasurer for the Baptist church and sure knew where the money came from and why. He was married to a woman who looked Chinese. They always sold Chinese candies on the street of late. He must have been pretty secure, he had a nice house and didn’t look like he was under any kind of pressure. He sold next to the guy who sold hats. Once I asked him about the culture of the Akha, but he didn’t want to talk about it. By then it was real clear what I stood for, and his church was one of the problems.

 

Meeh Daw

Meeh Daw was the cook. My friend Jon called her the green mango, because she complained a lot. Sour. She went to the market and came back after buying something. She said that one woman wouldn’t give her the five baht change she had coming.  Foreigners have lots of money the woman said, she was going to buy some bread with it. The woman knew she worked for me.

 

Chicken pie

While I had the school and the oven I baked pies. My mom is a good cook and baker of such things so I was demanding and got my skill to where they were good pies. Chicken pie was a favorite, the woman at the top north hotel and the woman who owns the seven eleven likes them. The Chinese family at the pharmacy likes the apple pies instead.

 

Sah Peeh Tauh

July 6, 95

Maesai

Spicy dinner.  Spicy breakfast, rice, greens, meat, bamboo shoots, salted fish, lemon grass, tea.  Sah peeh tauh was an excellent hammered Akha chilli dish for adding to your food.  Salt, lime, garlic, gingertop and right good chillis.

   After a feed I always feel better. These years I never took a feed for granted.

 

Running Children

One time I heard some man yelling outside of my house.  When I came to see I saw a tourist policeman turning his motorcycle around and going away.  I knew him and from that context was able to surmise that he had been chasing children. He was an evil man, his name was Prasit.

After he left I went out and looked especially down near the river.  Sure enough there were two children panting and out of breath from runnning so fast to get away.  Between the two building there was a car where the policeman’s motorcycle couldn’t go but beyond that there was only the river against the buidings and still quite powerful and deep at this time of year.  There was no where else to go except into the water, and I think the children one severn and one ten would have jumped in the river and tried to get away had he come further. But there the river narrowed and the bank was steep, so they would have been swept away toward the bridge, not easy for children, enough of them died in the river.

 

Koomyo, Ow Ow work for me

Two Burmese boys came and worked for me until their uncle was able to come and get them.  They had no place to stay. They were kind and worked keeping the place clean and got fed well.

 

Cheri

I have a maid now called Cheri. She is the daughter of Sahoo. He is the village headman of Mallipaco Akha village in Burma some 15 miles. He is also the head of the Baptist Society in Burma this district or state.

He was from the old school. But the new religious types didn’t have time for him or the older Christians in his village, and this was the source of problems one could tell.

Cherry cleaned up all the mud stains on the walls, and once that was done has taken up as teacher for the kids. I feed them a meal when they come so I hope that it catches on and keeps her busy, because with her limited english and my limited Akha it is “boring” as she put it to Twammy, her friend from Maesai Plaza Guest House where I stayed for two years.

The walls were brown because the river flooded up this high in the old days.

Slowly the kids are catching on.

 

Toma

  Toma was an Akha from San Mah Keeh in Thailand. He worked for Dep as an intern. A rich, spoiled Japanese girl with a real self righteous attitude, she was his girlfriend for a while. Later he became the chief of his village and we became friends. Looking back, one sees how often time and things and situations turn around.

 

Begging

 

The Story of Ah Dteeh

Semi - Daily notes of events here in Maesai.

Topic: Recovering a malnurished child, whose parents died, and a blind man was using him for a beggar.

I get no less than great delight in relaying to you the following tale.

Because Ah Dteeh once lived at our school but the blind man stole him away about a month ago and he lost weight till he is half as big now a month later.

As follows.

This morning the woman married to the blind man came and told me that she had left him and that she was very concerned for the health of Ah Dteeh, that he might die.

I went over onto the Burma side and went to the far end of the road and up one hill in a very dirty village and there I found poor Ah Dtee starved down to far less than a dying monkey. I asked them to give him to me to take care till he was healthy and strong but in stout pig headed fashion they would not, so I told them I would go get the police, not knowing if I really could or if they would even help. But I found the one long haired Burmese man who was my friend and he helped explain it to one officer with a photo that I had of Ah Dtee.

The officer understood full well, and to those who bad mouth Burma they should take note. He went with me to the village, and the hut was          locked and abandoned. He knew more than I so he went behind and there in a hut one old woman was busy dying. Weepingly she begged me not to let her die.

I told her she had to be willing to get up and go to Maesai where I could help her.

The policeman asked where Ah Dteeh had gone to? He asked the man to get out and show him which he did. We found Ah Dteeh, a bunch of            villagers sitting around laughing and saying they weren’t going to let him go with me. Ah Dtee sat squatted there wisely on his haunches, wasted down to near nothing.

The policeman changed all that, told them they could all go take a hike and I picked Ah Dtee up and carried him down the hill.

The policeman took me to a Government office, I registered my Maesai name and address for where I was taking him, went to Immigration and registered there again, where they were all more than appreciative and kind and then I took him back to our school where Meeh Daw began

plying him with food and ice cream. He is about half his weight from before, but here once again, and if you ever have any doubts about what can be helped or accomplish here just come and see for yourself. Volunteer.

On another note, the bridge scene appears to have deteriorated with the increasing heat to a very highly organized mafia of sorts. Yesterday three  or more girls ganged up on one girl and proceeded to beat and strangle her over a money dispute of some trifling baht. Two of those involved              really surprised me as they were well behaved students at our school briefly in the past.

One smaller girl was the ringleader, egging the bigger girls on like a small yapping terrier. The girls broke up, all hurling abuses from the bridge for interupting the throttling of the other girl.

The whole village is down there.

Today we got some sort of happy official visit from an Akha and some Thai government people. They were very glad to see what was happening and took photos and the grand tour, posing with all the children. Since I wasn’t there (over getting Ah Dtee) they said they would come back tomorrow.        

Then as I typed this the bloke of a blind man showed up with the little sister and an old woman to get back Ah Dtee for the purpose of

begging, whether he died or not. I convinced of otherwise, gave him something to eat or drink and then he consented that it would be good for him to stay there and eat all day till he was fat again.

The little boy and his sister had no father or mother and this blind man had somehow seized upon them to guide him for begging and fed the little boy nothing it would seem. We confirmed this from numerous neighbors.

 

Ah Dteeh Dies

Skin Itch

1997

When Andy established his policy of doling out money daily to the kids without thought for the context of this it started a rotation of the children away from the school and my work with them for many years towards his payroll.

I felt at the time that this sent the wrong message to many of the kids, that there would be favorites, and that some of the kids would only be loosers in the end. That was to say nothing of the fact that I didn’t have money, so the kids noticed this. I didn’t mind that humiliation, but I knew things would get worse than that.

The kids did rotate toward Andy, I moved to another building and Ah Dteeh, the small tiny boy from Burma, decided not to stay with me and the cook but move back to the village and think in terms of Andy.

Health care quality is very poor in this region of Maesai be it the clinics or  hospital, that I can understand how none of these people want to touch anothers disease or even come close to it.  They risk contracting even a simple illness which can lead to weakness and death under these conditions.  Maybe us foreigners can afford bigger risks, maybe not.

The case of Ah Dteeh was an example, no one wanting their young ones to contract his scabie infestation.  This was after Ah Dteeh left. I saw him scrounging around with his sister under the bridge in the trash and garbage. Where was Andy? I told him that he was free to leave, but that it could be fatal for him, and that we gave him care all day long, and soon he would be strong. But the lure of potential money was too much. Then when he got too ill they took him to the Maesai hospital where he died of chronic runs and wasting.  A Chinese charity accepted his body for burial.

He was first to contact me for help and I had asked the Burmese police to let him stay with me. I had many photos of him and got him back in health, and his uncle agreed finally to let him stay there at the school, but the dole of money caused him to think that money could replace care and work at providing for him, people's time.  Andy had money but not time.  But after leaving the guest house where I now cared for him, he headed back to the other side to see Andy and get what he could.  But he was soon roming about.  I look back at it and think that I should not have given in to his sentiment to leave, but encouraged him to stay, but I was tired.  I knew what the consequences would be. To each his own.  Ah Dteeh left. And then when Andy wasn't there for him, he died.  You can't have it both ways.

Many of the girls who wanted all the attention and money they thought they would get with Andy, took as much as they could, and then when they had worn out their welcome, they too were out in the cold and many of them became hookers.  I didn't see them any more after years, they dispersed, for a long time across from the Wang Thong Hotel in the massage house but then gone.

My point to Andy was that you don't give people money you give them care and then you make them do something to show that they are willing to invest in their own future as well. Ok, money, but it can be different in different places. Giving these kids money near the bridge was like throwing gas on fire.

Without long term investment it is useless.

Ah Dteeh Dies.

Andy was a gentleman who came to Maesai and wanted to help with my idea for a school.  I ran everything long term, and when I got money I pumped it into setting the foundation.  The agreement was that I would get help for the first year and then become independent of any funding.  But Andy felt that it was good to give out small moneys and I disagreed with him on this.  I felt that in such poverty situation, it was best to provide for people long term stable resources rather than easy money on demand.  As it was the women were feeding the children breakfast when they came. They took writing classes till noon, and then ate again all they could and went home or onto the streets to beg for a few hours.

Various children spent their time being cute for Andy so they could go to the market and buy something, which was disruptive to all the children who were embarassed to be in the game.  The workers resented this also and so I was caught from both sides. I felt in time that it would undo much effort that I had invested.  At any rate, I could not operate that way and so parted company and went back to the guest house.  Everything was sold by Andy, cause he bought it, was soon dispersed to here and there.  The kids thought that Andy always had money, and had no more time for me.  I suppose on one level I could say it hurt, but as well, there was no long term care for the kids, none of the cycles were broken, and most of the girls still went on into prostitution anyway.

Course no one ever asked me what I was doing or how I was going to go about it. 

I had a long term investment in the children's lives, I was there every day and I was trying to build something up for them.  But since money was king, there was no longer reward in trying to be of help.

Neither was there any sense in trying to build anything for them in the way of schooling only to hear on a daily basis "Andy, he's got money, the other guy has none." 

   The girls who were best at winning favor abused the other children, striking them and telling them to go away, that this was their "hoard".  And so it was. The gang of six. Self Esteem?  Most of them work in the sex house across from the Wang Tong now.

Naturally if money was the measure of my work or the measure of anything, I wouldn't have been here.

One could not ignore protocol or the local economics.

Andy came back every month or so.  There was a clamor while he was here, passing whatever out, and then it was back to begging or prostitution.  I couldn't figure how it penciled over the long term except for the favored kids.

Ah Dteeh was staying at the building at the time, didn't want to come with me, since I "had no money" so he went home.  I saw him under the bridge one day, on the other side, mucking around in the dirt with his sister.  Back right where he started, two months later he was dead.

At any rate, since Andy now owned the bridge, and I didn't need abuse from kids I had helped and kept alive for years, just because I wasn't awash in cash, I made my way off to work in the mountains, maybe my passing wasn't even noticed.

Andy, he learned from his mistakes and continued to pay for the education of those who wanted it. The way it happened, was it worth it, I don’t think so, but then it happened that way.

 

May 30, 1997

The School and Work

Every day here is busy. Not just busy but so many different tasks to tend to and mostly in foreign language.

People coming in and out.  Bills to pay for the school, money to find.  Today I got Andy Harris's $100.  Then off to buy rice and art supplies for the kids.  New art canvasses.  Carried in one hand on motorbike back from Chiang Rai, a full hour like that. Also bought some more paints, and some linseed oil.

Stopped at Afect, Dapa and computer store as well.   Stopped at Italian restaurant only to be shocked to find out that Gabriel had died.     No one seemed to care, the cooks stole the restaurant from his Lahu wife, the man from Eden House took all his apartment furnishings it is said and his wife hung herself.  She had no ID card and Gabriel didn't think of this. Tragic, and the stories like that go on and on.

Ah Gah from Pah Meeh Akha called.  He wanted me to testify in court for his brother about the shooting on the ridge road near Bala Akha where the police man was killed and the other one hurt.  I passed.

Asaw Nimit stopped by.  He always wanted to shop lift something.

Meeh Daw went out to buy more rice.

I hung paintings that Ah Meeh and the others did up on the walls. 

Gas for the motorbike.

Stopped by Martin and Goi’s. He later gets deported who knows why?

Nick the Kiwi comes by.

Ah Dteeh is getting better.

Blane Jackman is coming in from the states. His first trip.

Took Ah Dteeh for a ride, bought computer paper and some kitchen gear.

And this was a slow day.

Plus all the computer and email time.

 

 

May 31, 1997

Blane came today.

Brought most of my writing, most of my language work, a gps that didn't work, spurs, roper's lasso, food items, candy, and good cheer.  Blane was a great guy.

Good to have him here.

We went together into Burma to Pah Laen Akha where the Akha guy who looked like Clint Eastwood from Nimit's village lived. Ymm Boeuh. We stopped by world vision in Burma to fix their computer.

 

A Sunday in June

Maesai 1997

Getting some rest today.

Always getting pushed by the needs of others be it as individuals or as the schoool and the work to run it.  So nice to have a day off.

Then on Thursday Andy went with me to Chiangmai where we bought bakery gear, I used it one day, he got disappointed and we both quit. That was that.

No more school, no more of it, and I moved back to the guest house done with competing with the kids for Andy and his money. He got sullen, he never really talked to me about things, was usually on his way to the market, was sad to see it go this way. Humans.

 

July 97

Andy is gone

I walk down to the house to settle my thoughts and write at one of the wooden tables in the wooden deck of the guest house, back here after the closing of the school.

Meeh Daw and Ah Dteeh came with me but then Ah Dteeh went home and died a little while later.

Two kids came by, Meeh Daw put a dressing on a Lahu Kid's head and I pulled stitches out of the head of another, odd.

Now Blane is seeing the reality of the work here. No phones, no money.  We finished the school teaching for one month in the empty building of the landlord's across the street from the guest house.

I asked Blane what he thought and he said he could see how hard it was.  It was easy to complain in this job, you had to be clever, not talk too much about it and keep your faith and hopefullness.

The city was about to put concrete on the road here of Sailom Joi now. After it was done one couldn’t remember when it wasn’t that way.

I thought of work ideas.

Zera could work with me but he didn't and never had time to listen.  I always felt like he was running a scam because he couldn't agree to work on one thing together.

I got some donation and helped buy two Akha women vegetable carts.  They paid back half but hit on hard times so I forgave the rest.  They sold mangos from the carts and I saw those carts for many years helping their lives and they always gave me fruit and thanked me.

I think now as I look back on it those carts were a good deal, but have them pay it all back, but still a good deal if you ask me. Then I could have lent it again. But one can get surprised by a success story like that.

When I decided to drop the rest of what they had to pay back, only cost, Meeh Daw was not happy, like it was skin off her nose.

 

July 24, 1997

School Moves to new building

The kids were back in the school in the new half finished building, for the rest of the time before their school started on the burma side again. The others had gone with Andy.

 

Aug. 97

Blane has gone back.

He was a great help and great company though it took a lot of energy to explain a lot of things to him and some he could not cope with but he was a good guy.

A good hearted patient person.

 

Akha Publications

   I worked hard to pull Akha publications together for the school and for the language. Was a lot of work. It went on for years.

 

Mooh Dzurh

   He was my editor from Burma. He got diabetes with time, I warned him about how serious it was but he didn’t seem to care so much about those details, but later it cost him dearly.

 

Akha comics

   I thought that one day comics in Akha language would be fun. But never got there yet.

 

The Gang of Six

   The Gang of Six is what we called the six girls that took up all of Andy’s time, but their welcome got old and they were soon enough on their own.

 

The Cook

Meeh Jooh and Ah Meeh took computer classes, but didn’t want any more school after that. Then they went back to Burma and had it pretty rough.

 

Meeh Daw

Dec 1998

A tragic figure, Meeh Daw farms her kids out to be prostitutes.

Meeh Juuh goes to a Burmese Karaoke first and then on the Thai side to the Wang Thong Hotel Massage.

Meeh Daw pushed them. Mothers and daughters, I don’t get it. She did it of anger and stubborness.

Rather than have her kids learn more in school.

 

The Case of Meeh Daw

I think that my cook, Meeh Daw, was a real classic case in regards to the results of the missionaries. People messing around in communities, taking away people's sense of control and being who they were by asking them to be someone they are not.

Her kids were somewhat apart from other kids from her iron rule but it was rather bankrupt in many ways, particularly the end.

Only the oldest one knew how to work in the fields.  None of them knew how to sew, sing, or dance of their culture.

The village had been catholic after a while, a small band, and then switched to protestant when the preacher did.  Made a mess of it.

And yet they also had a very limited understanding of God.  To boot I found the cook the most judgmental of people I know, very much a score keeper.

Christianity seemed to be an element of being better than everyone else without substance.

Christianity looked to be rooted in destroying the old and replacing it with nothing but mindless consumption and servitude.  After all, her kids did seem to know about that quite well.  Many paralels with Booti, the flat village, in what they/she wanted and what they got. All flash, not much knowledge, though Booti was way ahead.

The only possible consideration was that possibly they had escaped both the promiscuity of the christian villages for the moment.  Theirs was considered christian anyway.  But it was riddled with drugs, and hooking. Some died of aids. Villages had it really rough, and one could not figure out what the Christians thought they were doing, as what they were doing had no power, only they never noticed. They felt it did have power because they used it to jerk people around, but life needs to be more dependable than that as well as one’s faith.

 

The Cook

I thnk she meant to break me that last time, I hoped so much for her one daughter who had so much flair, that it would get pointed in the right direction.

I think she did it to spite me.  In the morning with her increasingly typical long face she told me that she sent the daughter back to work at the Thai restaurant on the side street.  This was a no where move.  Rather than hope, convenient despair.  I had done tons for her, but she relished stamping on the goals I had to make something come out well. I think people can feel that someone’s life is better, and being so close to others lives like that it can make them bitter. No mistake about it, her life on the Burma side was not cool, even if she did work for me and get paid. I really cared about her kids, she was a widow, and that is how it was.  She was angry. She wanted to control my house, my money, who I saw, where I went, who my visitors were and what Akha I helped. Well none came by any more so it was easy on the latter part. Course I didn’t know this till friends told me that she treated them bad when I was away and they stopped by to visit.

My one American friend called her the green mango woman because she was so sour.

She liked to claim she was Christian without knowing what that meant.  It didn't pencil.  There were as many addicts and prostitutes and totally inept people in her village as any other and she could use some learning of the ways of kindness for others, especially for her kids.

I think mothers have to learn to love their kids.

I could hear when she dug down in the gravel and began to use that voice to hack on them.  What a lovely endearing sound that was.  Her youngest daughter is happy in the house this morning, I step into the kitchen and wack, end of that little fun face.  Oh she was joking around her mother said, so she slapped the girl of 8.  With her gravel voice she could cut like a knife. Looking back, all I could figure was it was bitterness and envy.

She was really no different than the 6 girls, the gang of 6 as I called them.  Consolidating everything for herself and driving all competitors away even though it wasn't hers.

So I terminated her work and in the end we weren't so close friends though I stopped by her house after she got married. She got married to a Burmese motorcycle taxi driver I was told but also to an Akha man.  She farmed Meeh Jooh and Ah Meeh both out to be prostitutes for a couple of years and messed up their lives, that was the unbelieveable part, really was. They were such great kids, what they must have gone through. Just the same, she could tell some fantastic stories, she knew the goings on, and stories, well for good stories, one can forgive a LOT.

 

Fighting with the Mouth

Meeh Daw says that those who fight with the mouth have peaceful hearts of friends.

Those who don't fight with the mouth have hearts of enemies.

I can see that. That is an Akha saying. Mostly it is true.

Those who fight with mouths have hearts that are straight.

Those who don't fight with words of mouth hold the words of dirt inside and have a bent heart like a bent tree.  Avoiders we might call them, but I like the Akha description better.

When done fighting with words of the mouth the anger is finished.

Fighting to resolve something leaves a light heart.

 

The Death of Meeh Daw's brother

Keng Tung, found dead.

You see, he worked for this Shan family in Keng Tung for a year, but his dad needed him back on the mountain to help with the owrk, so he came with the other brother to get him.  The Shan man said that he would have all his stuff packed and be ready to leave in the morning.  But in the morning when they came back to pick him up he was gone.  The Shan man said he didn't know where he went off to.  The father and brother looked all over and then found him dead, floating face down in the water near there, a stream.  They were so gripped with fear that they fled back to the mountain and didn't even try to get his body out of the water.  Word was that in years to come both the Shan man and his wife died in their young 50's.

People now relate that the Shan often killed the Akha with impunity.

 

Meeh Daw

The cook and I went up to Keng Tung.

She saw her memories and I saw my dreams.

As a child she played on the road at the north end of the valley from Keng Tung.  Then she married and moved to Tachilek where she lived for twenty years.  This was her first time home twenty years later.  We went to the big annual dance festival. She very enjoyed the dance of the new year and met many old friends there.         

Towards the end of the dance the local young Christian Akha tried to fit in but one could see that they were uncomfortable but trying.  Most of them came from the local Catholic crowd where most all of the culture had been destroyed by the Catholic Church.

I met the retired police chief in a coffee shop.  He gave me a $3 impression.  I suppose he had participated in a few events over the years. He kept saying to me, “trust me”.

The road was not fixed.  Someone was still taking the road money.  Roads pay for themselves. They should.

I met this Shan woman at the lake, she lived in an old quaint house. We talked. The teachings of Budda or at least what people itnerpreted them as really didn’t make much sense. 

The chicken’s at the market were dead already so a long as you did not order the killing you weren’t doing so?   Certainly your demand for meat was an order.  And I don’t know what the Thais would do if alcohol consumption was a violation of the five precepts?  What about selling another man’s daughter? 

Meeh Daw was a sad person. I had not seen a more tragic person in my life, someone who so worked against themselves. She was a very selfish person, very self righteous as well, and though she didn’t live very far from the edge she would not hesitate to condemn or judge another, how bad they were, this kind of lack of character or that kind, and their brother did this and that and on and on.  I don’t know why her kids are better than some but she is certainly not a gracious person, certainly not a loving person.  She has not much room for others.  Reality is that many of the others are worse.  But she has received a lot of benefit from me and you would think that would mellow her, the security, but no, she was just like the 6 girls, "all of it for me and just so the rest of you won’t think you will get any fuck you all."

She doesn’t hesitate to tell me how unhappy she is, what a bad time she had when we went some where and so forth.  Not at all, on the contrary the more misery she can put around the better. 

They claim to be “Christian” but they know nothing about it.

She has a destructive steak and would seem to steal sucess and joy from her own children, dream crusher, joy thief, as I call her.  She has this long face, with this big lip that insists the clouds will never end during your day if she can help it.  She has grown her root very deep.

She was the kind who had the capacity to do a job but leave no one any joy around her. At the same time, she was a reflection of the intense hardness in her village, maybe my place was the only place where it was safe for it to come out. Life has not so many friends.

At some point you have to quit doing what seems to make sense and go for the joy, even if it will only be your own, otherwise it all just gets to be a burden and is no fun any more.

I have put up with her to help her kids but think that now even this is over because she will certainly burn them down too and it is just a matter of putting it off.           It is beyond me that someone can not recognize the good that they are getting and become just this jealous selfish person. Years later we laughed about it, I didn’t have to say anthing and neither did she.

She had worked for me for a year, cook, house keeper.  She had her good side, she knew a lot about the culture and could convey it but she also had her cranky side, her "green mango" side, as I called it and that part got worse and worse with time to where I really didn't enjoy her working for me after a while.  But finally, after lots of work and investment in her kids it was time to go. She argued with one of the writers and I asked her to pack and leave and that was the last time we really spoke for quite a while.  We met once, she seemed mystified as to what happened and why but I figured that if she didn't know by then, no amount of talking would make it work out.

That was too bad, I hate to end relationships and give up the connection with friends but it would seem that it comes to that.

One time she said to me, “why did you give me a stove? The kids don’t know how to work it and I am afraid there will be a fire.”  I said, “well why did you say you wanted it if you don’t want it? I didn’t, my kids wanted it, but I didn’t and you didn’t ask me.  What do you mean you didn’t ask me, you were there at the shop when I got it.  I asked your kids, you were there, if you didn’t want it why didn’t you speak up, I could have saved the 5,000 baht.  You have a tongue.  If you would have said you didn’t want it I wouldn’t have gotten it, but you said nothing.  Then today you tell me I did a bad thing.  So I loose in two ways, the money and then the stove is bad.  Hey I am beginning to be afraid to do anything for fear that somehow tomorrow it will be my fault.  So if it burns your house down tomorrow is that my fault?  I suppose so.”

When I looked back at this I had to laugh.

You favor my kids not me, you this, you that, you think my kids are big and I am small and on and on in this competition with the kids.  With youth I think really.

Hey, I was beginning to give up on this one. 

No matter what you did it was reason for complaint, not appreciation, not even for your intent, just you didn’t do this and you didn’t do that right.

Hey, I was slow but I was learning, and quite frankly I thought it was getting difficult to teach anything.

You really do get to this point where you don’t want to give any more because you will be the bad guy and you are the monkey that they all talk about and I was ready, really ready to go to Africa to see the other monkeys. Just how did he mean that “the poor you will have always”?

He certainly did not say “Blessed are the poor” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” not necessarily the same.

 

Meeh daws trip to Wah Dtah Poh and Keng Tung

Wah Dtah Poh is the western junction from where one takes the trail to Loh Meeh Shaw mountain where so many of the old Akha villages are, way up in Burma.      

I tried to get to Wah Dtah Poh junction at the bridge there but just before it there was a new immigration check point and they caught me.  They really chewed Meeh Daw out and then they sent me back, she and her friend went on and visited the villages by themselves.  They were looking for different items for me and said that they found none of what I wanted.

The man who went with her had three wives with some thirteen kids. He was like a country gentleman.  He had 13 or more kids.  He ran his house orderly but his second wife didn't like the third wife so much and she had a little hut of her own attatched to the big adobe house.

He knew how to have excellent beetle nut wrapped and so I would have him order for me as it always came out sweet.

He was also a good singer, once he got ahead of me on the trail to a village and began to sing out beautifully in Akha these different ballads about being in love with a young girl. The ballads were always full of humor and jokes too, making fun of one’s self or others.

He always wore a dark suit coat of blue and a hat of black like a fedora.

The three of us go to a mountain village, where the headman's daughter wants to remarry.

   She is up talking to all the men building a house in the village, checking out her chances. She just left one marriage and can only return back to her father's house for 13 days.

Later that day we end back up in Keng Tung at the dance for the end of the new year. The streets are dark and cold and the traditional Akha dance is hard to hear the music because of all the stupid vendors who are selling all the crap and running some kind of music stage on the other side.  The traditional dance is always held at the old high school grounds.

There are old people who dance and sing. Sometimes there is a singing competition.

Over at the Catholic Mission a woman named Booh Chooh is also a very good singer, and she sings beautifully. I had her sing a number of songs in the church for me one time where the accoustics were excellent because of the heavy adobe walls.

Booh Chooh lived in a part of Joseph called Soon Sat Goh.

I think her husband died.    She remarried and then her daughter got married and they both had a new child at the same time.

Visiting Keng Tung really is a step back in time, everything effected by the oldness and timelessness of the place. There are many old beautiful doors.

But now as the road to Maesai and China gets better and closer to being well finished the whole region is about to significantly change, the hill peoples will be looted of who they are, and life will move on towards the complete commercialization of all areas, and the computerization of all life after that.

Man is not headed in the right direction.

Ah Daw's was a trader woman I had known for a long time. She is married to a bastard at best, and he serves as family money spender and guard dog, drunk and stupid most all of the time. But every family needs a guard dog, so what are you going to do? Obviously she could have thrown him out, but she didn’t, there was a lot I didn’t know.

I often stopped at her house up in the Catholic Village Joseph. It was very poor and never got any new blood in the ideas with time.  Just poor, just catholic and not much of the culture left or allowed.

 

Meeh Daw’s story about some dirt from the floor of the mans bed.

She told me this story, I didn’t get it right, it seemed important.

 

Meeh Daw's Brother, The Policeman

He was ambushing a caravan of chinese drug runners, himself and 20 other cops against a caravan of horses with nearly a hundred men guarding two hundred horses with opium and so forth.

Naturally he got the worst end of the deal. He was shot and killed, the caravan went on.

End

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