The squishy journey of my poor mangoes
I left Phnom Penh with a box of heavy mangoes, fresh from a farm. They must weigh 10 kg and I miraculously got past check-in even though I didn’t purchase baggage. Three white guys before me had all their bags weighed; and they had little bags. I had a medium sized backpack, a ukulele and a box of mangoes. The man didn’t even blink as he handed me my passport back without asking me anything. I thanked God that no one was planning to seize my poor mangoes.
An hour later, after a mostly smooth ride, my mangoes and I arrived in Bangkok. The taxi driver sure was grumpy. I was trying to get to Victory Monument, not knowing the Thai name was Anusawari. He argued with me about the name, but we got there anyhows, and he dropped my mangoes and I at the exact place I needed to be, so it was a good thing, even for a grumpy taxi driver.
What followed was a long van ride to Kanchanaburi, followed by a short motorcycle ride to a friend’s home. By now, my mangoes were groaning and bruised. I released a few of them to a few friends. My friend, Sunday was waiting for me. She had arrived from Ratchaburi that morning, having been awaiting news about her refugee status to the US.
“Would you like to come to the refugee camp with me?” She asked, “Your friend Killo is waiting for you.”
Killo lives in the refugee camp and I found out that she and her family were also emigrating to the US. So I said I would go.
“I will tell Killo,” Sunday says excitedly, “She will make dinner.”
Another bumpy ride. My mangoes were getting more bruised and ripe by the minute.
“Are you sure I could go into the camp? Do I even look Karen?” I asked, “Especially with my glasses?”
We stopped off at a place called Suan Phueng. Everyone tells me I should take off my glasses when we pass the checkpoint, and a letter was miraculously procured to give me an excuse to enter and exit. On the way to the refugee camp, Sunday tells a story of how Killo’s family were once detained by Thai police when they came out of the camp and put in a detention centre and they reacted by cheerfully singing and praying. She was laughing; everyone in the car was laughing at the story. That’s the thing about the Karen, nothing ever seems like too big of a problem.
We reached the checkpoint. I took off my glasses and saw blur images of two guys sticking their head through the driver’s window. I said “hello” softly in Karen and then shut my mouth. The rest chatted. Five minutes later, we were on our way. My flip-flops were new out of the bag, a free gift from somewhere. When I got off the car, I was slipping almost every second on the muddy ground. The rain had stopped.
I had taught in a Karen school in the border and visited a few Karen villages, so their houses weren’t foreign to me. But the proximity was. Each house was located extremely close to one another; Sunday told me this was different in another camp. We stopped at Killo’s house and she beamed and gave me a warm hug. I also met her sister and mother. My mangoes heaved a sigh of relief as I finally stopped slipping on mud and put them down to rest.
“Shower?” Sunday asked.
“Is it okay if we shower outside?”
I was used to showering in an outhouse toilet, with a door. But this time, it was open air. I followed my friend out in a sarong, slipping (again) as we went down a tiny path to the river. There, we filled up the buckets with water. Across the river, a man was taking a shower. I eyed him gingerly as I splashed myself with a small bucket, careful not to let anything slip. In the end, a city girl likes her privacy.
It had started to rain again even before we finished. I followed Sunday up the path when she suddenly said, “There’s a snake!”
I jumped back. I hate snakes. I hate snakes. I hate snakes.
“WHERE?! WHERE?!” My glasses had water drops all over, if there was a snake around, I probably couldn’t see it clearly.
“It’s gone now. It went in the hole.”
I still had to go up the path, the path with the hole where the snake just went in. Squealing inside, I hurried up the path to the safety of the house where my mangoes lay.
After a dinner of rice, canned fish and fresh vegetables, we sat around while I taught Killo’s sister how to play the ukulele. She was a fast learner, being the guitar player at church. Sunday was missing her daughter badly. She hadn’t seen her almost 2 year old in weeks since the little girl and her father was registered in another refugee camp in Mae Sot in Northern Thailand. The longer the wait for their status, the longer she couldn’t see her family. I wished I could see her too; the last time I saw her, she couldn’t speak yet. I heard that she was now quite the chatterbox, speaking both Karen and English.
At 8.30pm, we went to bed. A little early than what I was used to, but as we wrapped the mosquito net around us, the cool air was a relief from the warm weather I was exposed to in both Phnom Penh and Bangkok. I’m sure my mangoes were quite relieved too. There wasn’t a single light, I could hear the cute babbling of a baby next door as I drifted to sleep…