Five Things

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1. Wow, it's been a while. Let's blame bronchitis, shall we? Bronchitis, you are to blame!

After a rather long while where I didn't feel well at all, Chinua, my most beloved friend and soulmate, also my Superstar Husband, went to Australia on a little two week trip. That very night, the sickness that had been threatening began pouring buckets; I had such a scratchy throat that I couldn't sleep. It got progressively worse until it reached my bronchial tubes and turned them into a kind of wheezy flute. Seriously, there were at least six different notes harmonizing when I tried to lie down at night. It was beautiful. And scary. I considered recording it, but I was too busy trying to breathe. 

Did I mention that my husband is in Australia? Is this a rerun of some other part of my life? It wouldn't be hard to find out, it's all written down here. 

I'm doing much better, thanks to friends who took my kids and let me rest for a couple of afternoons, and thanks to ginger, holy basil, lemon, and honey. I have some very sexy phlegm hacking that I routinely have to get out of the way in the morning, and then I can get on with my day. 

2. The fruit lady has been looking rather smug lately.  

There is a lady who walks around our neighborhood with a little pink plastic basket of fruit that she sells. We often buy fruit from her because my rule in Asia is that if you can buy something (something you actually want) from someone wandering by hawking it, you are really living! This is as good as it gets! Baskets! Flowers! Brooms! So we buy fruit from this lady.

For years, (years ) she has been trying to get me to buy peanuts from her. But I pass them by every time. If I see that she only has a basket of bags of roasted peanuts in the shell, I say, "No, thanks! I don't want peanuts." 

But then I got a whiff of the truth. These peanuts are not roasted peanuts in the shell. They are BOILED peanuts in the shell. I tried some that belonged to someone else and I was instantly enamored with the beany, soft, edamame-like goodness of boiled peanuts.

So the fruit lady came back the other day and had bags of peanuts, I was a little wiser than I had been in my foolish, non-peanut-buying youth. "Are they boiled?" I asked. She didn't roll her eyes, bless her. "Yes," she told me. 

So I bought two kilos. And then next day I bought another kilo. And she said, "Good, aren't they?" And I said, "Yes! They are very very good, and I will eat them in a boat and with a goat and on a train and in the rain. .." and she didn't say "I told you so," but her smile was very satisfied and smug and now she gets a little glint in her eye whenever she sees me because she knows I am addicted to her boiled peanut line of work.

3.  October is my favorite month here, with a hint of coolness in the air, green everything everywhere, and skies so blue they could hypnotize you. I've been caught up in kids and sickness, but I'm looking forward to Chinua coming home so I can go on scooter rides past rice paddies, into hills, through huge stands of bamboo. 

We drove to clay day at homeschool co-op the other day and had to take the long way round because of some road work we got stuck in. The long way round is ridiculously scenic, and at one spot I looked out at the whole valley. Light, a million different shades of green and blue, rice and coconut trees and distant hills.  

"I can't believe that's real," I said to the kids, who were crowded into the chariot. They agreed. It makes the smoke season, the heat, the floods all worth it. I love where I live.

4. Isaac has new levels of imagination and silliness spouting from every pore. Everything is pretend, everything is a game. 

"I pretended I was teeny tiny," he says, "and I could get in the egg game and be teeny tiny in all the eggs and they were all big around me." He's my constant companion. He comes to the market and the fruit lady (a different fruit lady) hugs him with her elbows and gives him a rambutan to eat. He works on being polite. He is all boy, all fun and running and shouting and getting kind of angry when he doesn't get his way. He's my little bear.  

5. Since I started writing this, we've had a really sad event in Thailand. I can't write too much about it because of the laws here, but the beloved King of Thailand has passed away. We are wearing black and entering a period of one month of mourning. It feels sad and the future is a bit unknown. We go from day to day, and I am praying with all my heart for the people of Thailand.

 

Fevers.

Remember that one time when the flood happened? And after we were all happy because we knew that all it would take was some good strong elbow grease and everything would be back to normal? 

Well. Then the fevers came. Dun dun dun duuuuuun. Brendan, Neil, and Heather came down with fevers and chills, and we learned about a little thing called Tropical Infection. Or Mud Fever. Or Swamp Fever. Or Swine herds’ disease. It has many names, and all of them have to do with water and mud because—dun dun duuuunn—it comes from water and mud. Or wading around in floods, looking for lost motorbikes or helping your friends try to salvage their home.

Brendan was in Chiang Mai with chills so strong they were shaking the bed. Neil needed to visit immigration for a visa extension and sad miserably through that, trying to hold it together. And Heather was throwing up in Pai, thinking that perhaps it was just a little sickness, just something that would go away… maybe tomorrow? But thanks to the grace of God, Brendan made his way to the hospital and found out about this infection and, being a very thoughtful nurse, passed the news along to the rest of us. Untreated, it can cause bad things to happen in your body. Like not good things at all having to do with liver and kidneys and lungs and stuff. Neil was admitted that day with a fever of 104.3 (40.2 for you Celcius people—I am a Celcius person who still doesn’t understand body temperature in Celcius.) And in Pai Winnie brought Heather to the hospital, did some blood work, and we got worried. The Pai hospital was full of sick people and it took five hours for her to arrive, get blood work and get the results. The rooms were full, and Heather was dehydrated. So with the help of Winnie (who took care of my kids for the night, since Chinua was away on an epic birthday adventure with Kai) I rented a car and drove the four hours (because I was slow) to Chiang Mai with Heather trying not to throw up in the passenger seat. 

Helpfully, the sky decided to get dark and then pour down rain, what we call “heavy rain” in asia. That means there are no gaps between the drops. There is just water in buckets. With a sick girl in the car, I drove very, very slowly, which was good because 1. I couldn’t see, and 2. I rounded a few corners to find rivers crossing the road. At one such river there was a man with an umbrella standing under a street light, directing us to the one safe place to cross. 

“Man with the umbrella just going to stand there all night?” Heather asked sleepily.

We got to the hospital and I tried to relax my shoulders, which felt like they were glued to my ears. We walked into the beautiful, cool, dry, spacious hospital where the people cared for Heather tenderly and with much confidence. They tsked over her dehydration as they tried to take her blood. They examined her carefully. It all felt very heavenly, except for the part where Heather and I were clutching hands and looking away because it was taking so long to get a blood sample and they were milking her arm like a cow udder. I got light-headed, which was embarrassing but typical for me. 

And then we were admitted, after midnight, ushered into another spacious room with a nice sofa. I put some lavender drops on our pillows and we slept. For a few minutes and then the doctor came. You know how it goes. But we were happy! Because that was what we signed up for! All night care, monitoring, people coming in and out of the room, all there to MAKE SURE HEATHER IS OKAY. Phew. 

Heather is young, talented, Canadian, and little (though mighty, as you know if you have teased her when you are too close to her). We sometimes shorten her name to HH. I like to call her the DLF, or the Dear Little Friend, although she is not a grumpy dwarf. She is Dear, and Little, and our Friend, and that is three for three. She’s better now, and we’re leaving the hospital today. (We were here for three nights.) 

Thoughts about the hospital here.

There is no Pokemon Go allowed in the hospital. This brings up questions of why rule needed to be implemented. People roaming around the ICU with their phones held in front of them? Hmm.

The nurses are unbelievably kind. Same with the doctors. 

After a week of lying in bed, Heather’s hair was a bit of a mess. One nurse volunteered to help her wash it. I left to get some lunch and came back to find Heather sitting on the bed with her hair in a wild cloud of knots around her head. The nurse stood with a hair dryer in one hand and a tiny comb in the other. 

“How do you do this?” she asked me in Thai. “I have no idea.” 

“I can do it,” I said. And then I combed Heather’s hair like we were at a sleepover. It was awesome.

Ro and Neil came to visit. Neil looked a bit rough. They helped themselves to the Ovaltine in our room and in the space of half an hour, Ro said more words and made us laugh more than we had laughed in forty-eight hours. Every introvert should have an extrovert friend. Neil married his very own and he is lucky. They bring the verve and fun. They blow into a space and with them comes something that smells like Himalaya mountain air. Adventure, in other words.

Our plucky sick friends are spread around Chiang Mai. My family and Josh and Nay’s family, and our dear Pai friends are back in Pai. This is all very strange. We are used to community rhythms of meditation, gardening, and food together, nearly every day. We’ve had a lot of joy lately, a lot of dancing (even Brendan in a tiger suit) and fun. We’ve gone through some difficult talks and decisions and still came out laughing. And then came floods and fevers, making us live life on the survival level as we are all separated and helping our recovering patients.

Today we’re leaving the hospital. I’m traveling back to my family full up on love, ready to help my oldest boy celebrate his birthday. I think in some ways weird moments make you feel brand new, make you realize God’s love in different ways. I can totally see his love in these moments, and I am thankful.

Jungle neck.

In my dreams I’m climbing mountains, but in real, true life I’m a bit of a wreck. You know when a good chest cold comes, looks around, and decides to get comfortable in your lungs? Stretches, yawns, scratches its bum, and settles in? That’s my chest cold, just a mooch, unwelcome but persistent. So I’m not climbing mountains in my real, true life. I did go on a hike last Friday, a breathtaking, soul inspiring, humid, jungly hike. Our little homeschool co-op went together, after my friend Alisa and I were lamenting the fact that we don’t hike enough, despite the fact that we are surrounded by mountains. The jungle is a little intimidating with its poisonous plants, spiky caterpillars and ants that will eat your leg right off, or if not, at least bite you a lot. But we were determined, and off we went, into the most beautiful landscape, with giant, unidentified trees that lifted their branches out of the reach of the vines that wanted to entangle everything. Sometimes the trees didn't lift their branches out of reach and became completely enveloped in vines, like me with this chest cold, only much more beautiful.

I did make one minor miscalculation, which I am still paying for. The hike was on a trail I had taken before with the kids, and Isaac did fine, so I brought him along for the co-op hike, not realizing that the waterfall we were aiming for (Elephant’s Head Waterfall) was so much, much farther along. There was a point, as I was carrying Isaac further and further into the jungle, when it occurred to me that I had gotten myself into a bit of a predicament. Because I don’t carry Isaac, as a rule. It jacks up my old war wound of a fractured neck for weeks. And yet, there was no other way. I needed to carry him. And then I needed to carry him out. Because it took us about five hours, round trip, and no two year old who has missed his nap can walk that. He did walk a lot, mind you, walked and ran and sang and danced. And needed to be carried. 

There were two things this made me think about deeply. One was that I am forever capable of getting myself in over my head, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much experience in parenting I am racking up, I will still think, four hour hike, two-year-old? Great match! I’m the worst person to ask about whether something is doable because some stubborn part of my mind insists that everything is doable. (Examples include but are not limited to: sleeping in an Indian train station, rainbow gatherings in the mountains with an infant on my front and a toddler on my back, walking until I put myself into labor, moving to a developing country while pregnant with three children, without even a guidebook along.) The other thing, the main thing that swam around my brain as my arms and shoulders rebelled against the 17 kgs of cuddliness I carried, was that meditation has changed me. Because the meditation we practice is all about directing your thoughts to where you want them to go, being the master of your mind and your wandering brain, and waiting in the silence that ensues, for God to speak. I was determined to enjoy the day, and I did. I directed my thoughts. It was amazing, truly, with funny, smart kids, and jungle flowers, and birds that called to each other through the trees. 

(“What are they saying?” Isaac asked. 
“They’re saying, ‘Hello! Are you there? How are you?’” I answered.)

It was helpful that I have been meditating on something very specific lately. And that thing is a piece of advice that I would like to throw out there, to the world, and it is very simple, yet it is profound if you really hear it. I would have liked to understand it better before now, preferably when I was much younger, but I learn slowly. Here is the thing:

Find a way to separate your identity from your circumstances. 

Just soak that in for a while, and I’ll write more about it next time. Tell me how you think it plays out, or how you have failed or succeeded at doing it.

Meanwhile, I dream of mountain climbing, but in reality I wake up coughing myself into a fit several times a night and have to reach for my inhaler. I’m paying for lugging Isaac around; my payment being a week of muscle spasms in my neck. I dream of the snow white peaks of the Himalayas, but drift down to the dingy white of my outdoor kitchen, dishes in the sink, lovable dog asking for a treat, dark early morning, time to write, and a hot cup of coffee. Life is good.

A month of cooling.

I’m recovering from a few bad days of sickness and some nights which included the sudden start (in my life) of sickness-related asthma and a couple of middle-of-the-night trips to the hospital. Our town hospital. Argh. What can I say. I may have ended up in tears when I couldn’t breathe and the doctor was still insisting that nothing was wrong with me. I cried them into letting me use the nebulizer and then I could breathe again. I don’t know where the doctors I saw learned, or whether they want to be doctors, but they seem to have a grudge against people who are sick at 3:00 am. Which, fair enough, is a pain of a time to be diagnosing anyone. But to my credit, I don’t make a habit of dancing around village emergency rooms at 3:00 am for nothing

All is well. I now have an inhaler for my imagined inherited asthma, and I slept last night for the first night in days. 

 

And what I really want to talk about is the way that October has snuck up on us and given us a big bear hug from behind. October. I love October, and I don’t think it’s for the same reasons that you love October, because mine is probably different from yours. I love any new month, really, especially since I have begun making little creative goals for myself and have been mostly fulfilling them. And this is the month where it will cool down a little but it still isn’t really cold, and the rice is tall and green, and things will start picking up and getting exciting in the walking street market (by which I mean: food! Interesting food, right down the street from me!) and I will catch glimpses of our town’s Jack Sparrow, and the statue man who lets people paint on him and who Solo thought for years was a real statue. And people will take pictures of my house and I will try not to be annoyed, and the sky will be impossibly blue. 

October is rewriting, watching Skillshare videos (so exciting!), drawing and making mood boards, fall cleaning (Out, clutter! Out!), walking, running and riding my bicycle, better morning habits, living in joy, playing board games, going for hikes, cooking and cooking and cooking with no waste (my new goal), reading aloud to my kids, popcorn and tea and homeschooling. I think October will be good. 

Snap out of it!

(From a couple weeks ago...)

I’ve been having a bit of a rough time with the crazy that is my mind. Dreaming of cabins far away from the entire world, places where no children will look at me or talk to me. Trying to snap out of it, going to bed early, asking for help. I’m doing all the things, but all the things don’t always add up to equal normalness. Sometimes all the things add up to equal more crazy. But anyway, yesterday I had a day so chaotic that it sort of did snap me out of it. Maybe when all the rhythms and plans fall apart in a dose of Asian chaotic life, I can’t keep track of my insanity either and it slips away from me. Or maybe I’m finally on day 3 of my period.

The day started in the night, with a storm that took our breath away. Every person I talked to said they couldn’t sleep because of the heavy rains that seemed to get louder and stronger, louder and stronger, until it felt like the roof would fall onto us. (My Thai teacher said that her bedroom flooded and they were up cleaning out their drains in the middle of the night. In a storm.) Or thunder that sort of felt like an earthquake. It went on and on and I lay there and thought about the river that had already torn our bridge away. 

So first thing, I went down to the river to look at effects of several tons of water landing on our town overnight. It was overflowing its banks. There were people everywhere looking at it, and it was proud and spectacular and brown in the morning light. It was rushing like a thousand stampeding water buffalos. It was glorious, encroaching on our territory, threatening to flood. But the rain had stopped and the sun was out and we were in the clear. We are in the clear, for now anyway. 

Then I got a call from Neil, who told me that the contractor, who was supposed to come and help us on the next Monday was already at the garden, except that he was a different man. And Neil needed me to come and wrangle with a bit of Thai language. “How do I get there?” I asked. With the bridge gone, and the back roads a field of mud pits, we haven’t been able to reach the garden this week. But a group of truck driving angels had apparently filled the mud pit road with river rocks, so Neil was able to get through. I got in the chariot and went.

A brief side note here. I got in the chariot because I couldn’t find our little bike. Because it wasn’t at our house. Which happens sometimes, if one of us drives it somewhere and walks back, forgetting that we drove. (What can I say? We’re artists.) Chinua had no memory of driving it anywhere, and when I found it at the nearby 7-11, I accused him of sleep-driving, and he freaked out and we went so far as to discuss hiding the keys at night before I remembered that I had gone to 7-11 the previous evening and bought diapers. Then walked back. When you forget the motorbike and blame your husband for doing it in his sleep and then it turns out that it was you, I believe they call it eating crow.

So I got in the chariot, and drove over the river rocks, and we looked at the field and saw that the flood had come all the way to our kitchen door but had not come in. And the rest of the day became a dance between talking with construction workers and moving all of our things to get them out of harms way, piling things in mountains off the floor. To recap: surprise workers, lost bike, flooding river, no bridge. Just the sort of thing to snap you out of your melancholy stupor.

Update: The river had subsided a lot, to the point that unless there is another typhoon in China, we won't flood this year. We pray. And the bridge is still gone, but we are using the back roads carefully.