Saturday, July 30, 2011

Faces & Stories

Despite the best of intentions, it's been way too long since I've written, and so much has changed! A few weeks ago, I left Mae Sot (on the Thai-Burma border) to move back to the US of A. Even though I was confident that the timing was right to come back, it was nothing short of heart-breaking to say good-bye to such special people.

Here are a few faces that have captured my heart:

Chat has lived and worked in one of Compasio’s childrens’ homes for two years with his wife, Nee. They have two sons (Wai Wai, 4, and a new baby named Noah). They’re from a small Thai-Karen village, and now they care for about five other children whose mothers are in prison. I’m always overwhelmed by the warmth in their home every time I visit, and how things like money, my busy to-do list, and even time, don't seem to matter anymore.

During my last week in Mae Sot, I had dinner at their home, which consisted of fish we just caught from a pond in their backyard. I had recently set up an email account for Chat at his request, but he told me he still wasn't sure how to use it. So, we met at a coffee shop the next day, and we practiced on their computer... logging in and out of his email, sending me one from his, checking it in my email, etc. This is what he wrote to me (in Thai) while he was practicing how to send an email:

Hello Stephanie, how are you? Today my family was so excited to learn how to use email from our kind friend. For 2 years and 4 months I haven't been able to use a computer. Thank you so much for spending time with me.

We love you so much,

Chat thank you

Tell me that wouldn't melt your heart! It also struck me that I frequented this coffee shop to work or to study language, but it was such a treat for them to be there. Chat bought banana cake for us, and we all hung out for the last time. It feels so good to be part of their life, and now we can keep in touch via email :)


I met Yuzana a few months ago in the context of her helping me learn Burmese. When I first asked her about pay, she said, “I don’t want to talk about money. I’m just happy that you want to learn my language”. She had a full time job with an organization in town, but she let me come over to her house on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and every Saturday. She was an excellent language helper, enthusiastically embracing any project I brought to do, and pushing me further than I thought I could go. She was firm and encouraging. I heard things like, “I think you did not study today” after I had spent the entire day practicing (way to burst my bubble!), but also told me that she was always bragging about me to her friends at work, saying that I was trying so hard and learning so much.

During the last couple weeks, she started taking a two hour Thai lesson after work and asked if I could come over a little later in the evening. I told her that sounded like way too much - an eight hour work day, two hours of learning a language (believe me, it’s exhausting) and then helping me practice for over an hour? She said there was still so much she’d like to teach me, and that she wanted to see me every day if she could before I left. So, I went almost every day from then on, and absolutely treasured all the time I got to spend with her. I went to her Burmese church with her one Sunday (a five hour ordeal), and we went out for pedicures on my last day in town... I couldn't think of anyone better to spend some quality girl time with!

I saw another piece of her character at the end, which moved me to consider whether I'd be so selfless. When she heard that a local school her cousin worked with was struggling, she gave up her little apartment (where she enjoyed living alone), moved into the dorm-like housing with all of the students, and agreed to help with teaching mornings, evenings and weekends.

I love how spirited she is, and appreciate her cute sense of humor. The last thing she taught me to say in Burmese was so that I could ask her cousin this at breakfast the next morning: “Do you think I’m lovely? ...Because Yuzana says I’m lovely”.


I’ve been spending time with people from Mae Sot’s garbage dump for the last year and a half, and because I could never speak Burmese, I would play with the kids. There was a group of four or five kids that we called the “dream team” (because they were just that awesome), and this girl stole my heart on day one.

I don’t know her name, because I never understood the sounds well enough to remember it. She’d always run up to me when she saw me and insist on being held the whole time. She has the most infectious giggle, and even though I couldn’t understand her words, I could tell she was pretty sassy as well.

Because I had focused the bulk of my time learning the Thai language, which these people don’t speak, I had accepted the fact that I wouldn’t really be able to communicate. Playing and laughing was fine for awhile, but I eventually felt all kinds of frustration that I couldn’t really communicate with these kids I loved so much.

When I finished my work with Compasio, there was a couple month gap where I was learning Burmese, going to the border and the Burmese Market, spending time with a visiting team, etc, and I didn’t go to the garbage dump. I went during my last week to say good-bye, and was just praying I’d see my girl again.

She ran out of her little hut alongside the mountain of garbage as I pulled up on my motorbike, and grabbed my hand to run off with her. I sat down with her and a few other kids, and was finally able to have a conversation with them! I asked their names and ages in Burmese, and they joked about taking my motorbike for a joy-ride. While it was all pretty basic, it felt incredible to finally speak with them in their language. It’s like I had been waiting for this for years... a dream come true.

I don't know what's in store for this precious little one, but I've seen enough examples of God's love being stronger than bad circumstances, that I have hope for good things in her future.

One thing I learned from my life in Mae Sot, is that everyone has a story. Everyone has been through something, is battling something, dreaming about something. It might not be as dramatic as a refugee's from Burma, but everyone we meet has something special that's waiting to be discovered and shared.

There are many more people whose lives have made their mark on me, and I'm lucky to have wonderful friends from all over the world now. Back in the US, my story is slowly unfolding. More on that as it comes...