A few thoughts and observations this week on the strangeness of spending Christmas away from home.
But first I want to share this with you:
This is Phil Towns, who comes from Durham and has been coming out to the border for several years. I am so full of admiration for this man. He recently set off on his bike to cycle over 2000 km through Myanmar raising money for a project called Kickstart Art. He was alone on this marathon, cycling in punishing temperatures and stopping at various guesthouses along the way. He kept us updated on Facebook with selfies and comments but even so it must have been hellishly lonely at times.
At the last count he had raised enough money to keep the project going for another 6 months at least, which is an amazing achievement. Kickstart Art uses art therapy with children to help them recover after trauma. This is putting it very simply, but I have seen the results of some of these sessions and they are really awe inspiring. The people, especially some of the children, in this area have been through some horrendous experiences which I don’t feel that any of us “back home” can begin to imagine. However, if you look at any photos of kids in schools here, both Migrant and Thai, the recurring theme is smiles! Phil was renamed “Mr Smiles” on his journey through Myanmar and I think nothing could be more apt. Respect.
There are a few scraggy looking Christmas trees around town, and some of the shops have tins of biscuits with red ribbons. Apart from that you could be forgiven for forgetting that it is December, which is actually quite nice for me. I am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas, for reasons I will not explore here, or anywhere in the public domain for that matter, so I am enjoying wearing shorts in December and contemplating an ex pat Christmas meal that will be nothing like anything I’ve done before.
I am certainly NOT missing the ridiculous hysteria and consumer gluttony that marks this month back home. I do not miss not being able to find a parking space when all I want is my regular shopping. I do not miss the traffic jams and the rain/sleet and it getting dark at 4pm. I do not miss the Christmas cookery programmes that are on a loop every year, or the stress of buying presents and trying to please everybody (and failing miserably).
The other thing I do not miss is work related. I left my salaried teaching job early for a reason, well many reasons, but this time of year always brings back the kind of memories that make me shudder. I don’t know why, but our team always suffered the agony of “observations” in the 2 weeks before breaking up for Christmas. So, on top of all of the above demands on most of us, we were up our necks in schemes of work and stressful inspections. It’s still the same! My heart goes out to my former colleagues at this time. We literally used to “crawl” to the end of term, which is no way to live.
However, there are things that I do miss! I miss my family and friends and our get togethers and Christmas “fuddles” and I am definitely missing both of my kids now. For the first time in the history of the world ever I actually wrapped presents in September! I had to use last year’s wrapping paper because the shops hadn’t got round to getting it in. I’ve forgotten what I bought now. Thank heaven for Skype and Whatsapp, at least I can talk to everyone back home, although it does feel strange to be in such a different environment.
The students I teach in Mae La are Christian (baptist) and I also have Buddhist friends so I’m happy to have a multi faith celebration!
And just so that you know I’m not Ebeneezer Scrooge or The Grinch re-purposed:
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!