Thursday, November 6, 2008

One last blog...

This blog was dedicated to a year of ramblings from Zambia, so it really should end now that I am back in the United States. I arrived in Portland, Oregon on Monday morning and this week I have been soaking up the good life with my family. Yesterday my 5 year-old nephew Tate took me to his kindergarten class for “showing.” You know, this is where a child gets to bring in something special from home to show your class-mates. This was rather flattering, you know, that my nephew wanted to show off his “Auntie Carmen.”

I return to NYC just after the Thanksgiving holiday and look forward to re-connecting with folks from Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and my good friends in the Princeton/Philly area.

I rather like blogging, so stay tuned. Perhaps your Carmie will come up with something new. Maybe I’ll get high-tech and sophisticated. Ummm, probably not.

Thanks for reading.


I thought I should include some photos of just one of hundreds of beautiful, ornate temples that decorate the city of Chiang Mai. One must remove his or her shoes to enter the sacred space and although the thick red carpet absorbs a great deal of sound, I felt like I needed to tiptoe around this fascinating place. Again, I am an absolute moron when it comes to Buddhism, so I found myself observing the monks and the gold statues much like a child -- with confusion and curiosity, even a little bit of caution. I wanted to burst out laughing when I saw my first "farang" monk-- a tall white kid straight out of an Indiana basketball game with goofy tennis shoes, a closely shaved head, and awkward, thick glasses. But I guess all young men are welcomed to try out monk-hood.

The food is delish-- 70 cents will get you an exquisite meal nearly anywhere. There are food carts filled with fried bananas, meat skewers, and iced teas. Amazing curries are a dime a dozen and there are markets filled with rows and rows of fresh fruit and every imaginable noodle/rice dish and other spicy delights. I basically ate my way thru the last two weeks. Know what is good? Sautéed Morning Glory-- not the flower part, but the vines and leaves. Yummy.

Brett, Shelly and their girls Acacia and Anna lit this lantern for me just before I left Thailand. This lovely tradition can symbolize one's prayers and good wishes for a loved one as they depart. The mystery of physics and fire (neither of which I understand) raise lanterns like these into the night sky until they are miniature gold flecks.

What a lovely week.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Chiang Mai sits at the base of the Doi Sutep mountain range. I spent two rainy days with my girlfriend Shelly and her friend Rachel in Doi Intinan National Park where Rachel has been doing research for the last several years. We visited a small hill tribe (chao khao) village where we had a few quiet moments under a thatched roof as gossamer clouds moved across the sky, swirling and carving out deep pockets from the lush green mountainside. Rivulets of water flowed down the hillsides, the steep thatched roofs of local homes, and eventually the geography of our wet forms as we maneuvered up a muddy road to a local coffee shop where locals and the occasional lone tourist can drink strong, dark brew. The coffee is grown in nearby fields interspersed with rice paddies grown in giant terraces. We were invited for lunch and ate fish soup and rice with some villagers while our host, dressed in typical hill tribe garb, looked on from a bamboo mat near the doorway. During a brief respite from the rain we walked to a nearby waterfall where the air was thick and sweetly pungent from rotting crabapples whose round, hard bodies gave way under our boots as we trudged through the dense undergrowth.

After a day in the mountains I spent one morning with Brett who works for CAM (Church of Christ Thailand AIDS Ministry). I joined him for a site visit in Doi Saket where his organization regularly tends to the needs of AIDS patients and their families. Made a couple of hill tribe babies cry who had never seen a farang before (white person), but didn’t bat an eyelash because this happened fairly regularly in rural Zam. One of the patients we visited was a thin man wearing a tee-shirt with a big yellow barbell on the front that read “POWER” in big block-lettering. Seemed inconsistent with his tired eyes and small frame. Today I went to Hope Home where Shelly volunteers. This is a home equipped to care for high-needs orphans and disabled children. Brett and Shelly have hearts the size of Texas, so it has been fun to see Chiang Mai through their eyes.

Last night I was at a Halloween party that felt straight out of American suburbia—good old-fashioned American fun in Thailand. Fetch. Could have heard the Star Spangled Banner and it wouldn’t have felt out of place. Interestingly, this gathering paved the way for some fascinating conversation about mission/development work in Asia. Am trying to absorb and synthesize various perspectives as I think about development in Southern Africa and I have concluded that nothing is simple or black-and-white.... I don't know. There are loads of successes, heaps of failures, and good intensions abound. I am no expert, but the last year has given me a great deal to think about. Lord Jesus help us as we negotiate this broken beautiful world! Really.

I went to a Thai cooking class yesterday, via motorcycle I might add. Motorcycles are everywhere and their noisy little engines remind me of buzzing bees as we take off at every stoplight. Cooking class started in a market, so we could learn all about vegetables and the necessary ingredients used daily in Thai cooking. We then spent some time in the fields of a local farm before making it to the kitchen where we were given a mortar and pestle to begin the first task: curry paste. Very cool, but lets be honest, I want to just buy curry paste in a jar.

Here’s a glam picture of me in my traditional farmer’s hat and a live-action shot. Made about 5 Thai dishes that will be fun to try to recreate in my own kitchen one of these days. Anyone want to come for dinner?

Thailand is beautiful. The women tend to be soft-spoken and slender and the men equally mild-mannered. It is a culture that prizes “sanuk” or “fun” and I am told that there should be an element of joy in all things.

Thankfully, I have found that a big smile covers a multitude of sins.

Aren't these wee kids cute?! The little one on the right was one of the dear souls that was scared to death of us ghosts. This community preschool is full of little one's who are affected by HIV, many of whom are orphans.