Mae La Thoughts
Last week, I got to visit Mae La Refugee Camp. It was a major this is it moment. The bamboo homes – piled one after another, up & down the mountain. Narrow pathways, barbed wire fences, energetic children & mama hens.
Mae La is home to some 50,000 refugees from Burma, a majority Karen. Many, many of my dear friends & clients in St. Paul called Mae La home for years, decades even. Youth regularly call Mae La their hometown.
I’ve always believed the descriptions of the make-shift mountain village. I’ve never doubted the cramped conditions. I’ve measured out the food rations & have held the hands of those who couldn’t shake the days of being a bird in a cage. But to be there, to be there & feel it – was a greater mix of emotions than I expected / can adequately describe.
During my days at KOM my fellow Employment Counselor & friend Bwet would shared stories about his life in Burma/Thailand. He’d laugh, saying his fondest memories from the camp where when foreigners would visit. He always offered to carry their bags or shade them with umbrellas because it offered a rare, short glimpse into life ‘outside’ & an opportunity to practice English.
Last week, the moment we stepped out of our van – there sat a crowd of youth, eager to carry our bags. I had no bag, but plenty of English. Thanks to Bwet – I got it. I knew to be patient & clear. Winding through the steep, dusty pathways I answered & asked question after question about siblings, parents, school, hobbies, age & relationship status. & during those exchanges, things came together. The connectedness of it all – St. Paul – KOM – Thailand – Partners. I feel a mix of genuine, deep gratefulness & total bewilderment at how it has all come to be.