Friday, August 31, 2012

Rolled Up Sleeves

In an effort to become slightly cooler (in both senses of the word) I've taken to rolling up the sleeves of my t-shirt. Some people do this and look effortlessly fashionable: I do it and look slightly deranged, but I don't care, because this perpetual sheen of sweat is really irritating.

I'm waiting for my flight to Almaty (I wonder if anyone in the history of the world has ever flown Chiang Rai - Bangkok - Almaty - Bishkek?) and while the wi-fi continues, I'm going to write. Once on the plane, I have the following things to console me: Tim Keller podcasts, Father Brown stories, Tom Wright's commentary on the pastoral epistles, and a large packet of dried pineapple. Oh, and some sort of pill that I'm told will make me sleep. I've never slept on a plane yet, but stranger things have happened. Plus, I'm pretty tired.

This summer has been a surreal experience: two months, four countries, hundreds of people. I'm not just physically tired - I'm worn out mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and any other way you care to mention. The idea of being in a classroom in two days time is too farfetched to be alarming, and yet that's the way it is. Could I have done these months any differently? I don't think so. America was wonderful - I wouldn't have missed being in Erica's Ithaca wedding, seeing Val in Boston, or experiencing Texas with Aubre, for anything. Nor would I have done it differently in Australia, given the choice. Telling people about Kyrgyzstan was wonderful; hanging out with school and church communities and other groups of friends was a delight; spending time with friends and family was beyond price.

And if you think I'd have gone home without seeing my sister after nearly two years, you're dreaming!

But there's a price to pay, especially for a determined introvert like me. I don't know what it is, yet. But I do know that the God who has sustained and provided and challenged and grown me over the last two years in still in charge, and all this falls within his mandate of care. That makes me very content.

More anon.

(Postscript: upgraded to Business Class! Heck yes!)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Last Morning in Chiang Rai

I'm sitting in a most peculiar cafe, just down the road from the DR office; it's delightfully retro, with a big Astroboy in the corner and fantastic thin-limbed leather chairs with funky cushions. There are kewpie dolls and gumball machines on display, and Bebel Gilberto is drifting through the ancient speakers. I just inhaled a gorgeous piece of coconut cake and a very good coffee: so good that I might have another. However, what makes the whole setup peculiar is the requisite portrait of the bespectacled Thai king on the whitewashed wall, and also the tropical downpour that began several minutes ago: this isn't, in fact, inner city Melbourne. My arm is resting on my motorbike helmet, since Bess dropped me off and is likely to pick me up again. Being chauffeured on the back of a motorcycle is a pretty decent way of getting around - I'll miss it.

I do like Chiang Rai. I like my sister, too. But I'll be leaving it, and her, tomorrow - yoicks. Yet another transition, yet another goodbye. So many in the last three months - and it hasn't gotten easier with practice.

I began my sponsorship of a DR rescued girl this morning. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. She's one of Bess's cafe trainees: she's sixteen, understands enough English to have a conversation, and is a cheerful, keen learner. Her name is Sunsanee and her story is both typical and tragic. Here's what I know: both her parents are farmers. Her father is sick with tubercolosis and is an alcoholic. She has nine siblings. She moved to Chiang Rai to find a job to pay off a large debt incurred by her parents, and ended up working in a bar, becoming exposed to the sex trade. Before being rescued by a DR team, she experienced things no child should ever encounter.

Now, she lives in one of the DR homes, where she's learning English, training to work in the cafe, and discovering what it's like to be loved unconditionally. She's acquiring skills and community for life. I get to help finance that - what could be better? Yes, I know I'm living on a minimal wage that is provided by my supporters - but I don't think they're the kind of people who will begrudge this small expenditure.

You'll see a link to Destiny Rescue on the right of the page. There are lots of girls (and a few boys) who need sponsoring, both in Thailand and elsewhere. I've seen firsthand how donated money is used: all foreign workers here are volunteers and self-funded, which means that 100% of your money goes directly to the welfare of the child, rather than administrative costs. This is a grassroots Christian organisation with great accountability and integrity. They make it easy to sponsor kids. Check them out!

Big, fat, bucketing rain - I might not be going anywhere for a while.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Adopt a Babushka!

Would you consider adopting a babushka? It isn't uncommon to see elderly women (and men) selling their last possessions on the streets of Bishkek - lightbulbs, socks, cups and saucers - in an effort not to become beggars. The Kyrgyz pension is around 16 euros per month: hardly enough to buy food, let alone pay for heating or transport or basic needs. This organisation, Babushka Adoption, is a legitimate means of supplementing an income for elderly people without families and without dignity: an extra 10 euros per month can greatly enhance quality of life. It also arranges social and healthcare visits to the elderly.

Check it out! (And don't mind the loud Russian advertisement on the homepage!)

Chiang Rai

I'm kickstarting my return to regular blogging, with help from one of the abundant and free wi-fi cafes in Chiang Rai. It's pretty obvious that I'm a fulang (foreigner), since I'm about twice as tall (and wide) as most Thai people, and very pale. Though I'm a fulang in Kyrgyzstan too, it's less obvious because I can pass for Russian. Here, there's nothing I can do (short of extensive and probably world-first surgery) to blend in. Thus, I have embraced my foreignness by ordering a rum frappacino and cranking up the Mac, while Bess is off buying supplies for cafe training.

What am I doing in Chiang Rai? That's a sensible question, and thanks for noticing. It's the last stopover along a very frantic summer. My sister, Bess, recently started working here, and since I can write openly about it, I shall proceed to do so.

She works for an organisation called Destiny Rescue. Please read about them here. To summarise, there are about 800,000 child prostitutes in Thailand, which contributes to a billion-dollar sex industry - one of the biggest destinations for 'sex tourists.' Destiny Rescue exists to rescue and restore sexually exploited children, in Thailand and elsewhere. How do they do this?

- They send trained teams into red-light districts, who identify and rescue children being exploited. Last month in Thailand, 25 children were rescued by DR teams.
- The children are brought to "safe homes" where they are given intensive psychological, emotional, and physical care. They are also given tools and skills to reintegrate into society.
- DR focuses on hill tribe communities and slum communities. They offer opportunities and employment to 'at-risk' girls, and provide education and awareness training.
- They also alleviate poverty by providing training/development programs for families; things like small business loans, agricultural training, supplying running water, etc. This means families are less likely to sell their children for income.

Bess's job is to train a group of rescued girls to run a cafe: she is teaching them to cook, to wait, to speak enough English to serve fulangs. The cafe opens in a month and she'll be overseeing and managing the project for at least a year. She also teaches dance classes - fun! And let me tell you: these girls are happy. They are cared for; they have hope for the future; they're not just rescued from unthinkable darkness, they're being redeemed. It's impossible to see this work and not respond.

Please read up on the DR website - this is truly remarkable and heart-rending work. You can sponsor girls, you can volunteer here, there are so many tangible ways you can help.

I've heard such stories and I'm bursting with the desire to write about them - I'm leaving on Friday, though, so it'll be a while before I can do that.

In the meantime, there has been much motorbike riding and delicious food, torrential rain and crazy humidity, elephants and coffee and waterfalls. I've been posting the pictures on FB, so go check them out!