Full Circle

Seven years of Jen’s House has been the journey of a lifetime. I felt so privileged to be with my Karen family and share in the success that we, collectively have created! If I could have one wish for 2016 it would be that everyone, who has been a part of this adventure, could have been with us to share in the warmth, laughter, and love at this celebration! Where to begin?

Ingi and I arrived at Jen’s House early on December 26th to join the truckload of students who were heading up the morning of the celebration. It seemed odd not to have gone up ahead of time with Tamla. We usually head to her place together, little did I know there was a reason for the change. It was a quicker than normal songtao ride from Chiangmai out to Thung Siao. The truck for Nong Tao was ready and waiting when we walked through Jen’s House gates.

Five minutes into the ride the festivities began. Ingi and I had jumped into the box of the truck with some of the students to enjoy the fresh mountain air on the drive up. Everyone took turns donning the Christmas hats that I’d brought along for some fun kodak moments…and no, I’m not sharing the one of myself!

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More Hats

More Hats

It was refreshing to be out of the city and wasn’t long before we reached the Karen town of Nong Tao. Preparations were in full swing when we drove through the gate at Tamla and Chai’s home. Laughter, singing, cooking and decorating were under way and everywhere I looked our children, past and present, had been delegated a task. Pitching in is just the normal way of life. Trying to greet everyone was a wave of hugs, arms flying everywhere, as everyone tried to welcome Ingi and I at the same time. Love was in the air! I tried not to become overwhelmed to tears with the wonderful, open display of affection that surrounded me.

Not long after our greetings Chedede grabbed my arm and announced that she and her husband wanted Ingi and I to sleep at her new home. A couple of girls picked up my gear and we were off.  A group of girls surrounded Ingi and myself and we joked and teased our way through the town to her home.

Off to Chedede's new home!

"Piggy Gang"

 

Heads turned as the laughter from our, “gang” interrupted their activities. Malee, who was in great spirits decided we should be called “the piggy gang.” In Karen villages huge pigs that are tied underneath homes are certainly anything but desirable and it seemed an odd choice to me.  Malee explained that piggy meant the little new born, pink baby pigs not the huge hogs we passed along the way. And so, the name held through the festivities.

Surrounded by their mountain girl-friends from different villages, everyone enjoyed a more intimate time to catch up. It was interesting to see the unique bond and similarities between the three girls who had returned to their villages on their parents request and/or due to a sense of family responsibilities.

Sharing at Chedede's

Sharing at Chedede’s

The balance between education and cultural identity is one that must, at all costs, be respected if the Karen culture is to be protected. Girls return home to either care for ailing parents or for traditional arranged marriages; each an individual decisions based on family circumstances.

Chedede, the latest high school graduate form Jen’s House returned home to marry and start a family at the end of last year. She is expecting her first child in four months. Som Pon and Tasanee who both returned home to care for ailing parents are now married and mothers. They had lots to share with the new Mom-to- be and their children came along to the celebration. Tamla’s calls their children, Jen’s House grandchildren.

Som Pon's son. Our first Jen's House Grandson

Som Pon’s son. Our first Jen’s House Grandson

One day, these young mothers may also decide to offer their children the opportunity for education that Jen’s House creates.

Som Rudee, Tasanee's sister plays with her nephew. Som Rudee is studying English and Tourism at Chiang Mai College.

Som Rudee, Tasanee’s sister plays with her nephew. Som Rudee is studying English and Tourism at Chiang Mai College.

Chedede’s husband has built a brand new home for them, close to his parents. Walking through the downstairs doorway I was greeted with the lovely scent of freshly cured wood. Three doorways off of the main room lead to two separate bedrooms, one of which Ingi and I would share for the night, and the kitchen. Outside under the protection of the large roof, wooden steps lead up to the main living and visiting area.  It would be our equivalent of a family room and consists of an open porch and a large main room with a fire pit, where most family and close friends gather in the evenings.  Chedede’s mother has made a financially stable match for her and Chedede seems content with a baby growing in her belly.

The happy couple

The happy couple

Time to head back.

Time to head back.

I couldn’t help but tease her husband, telling him that he was very fortunate to have such a beautiful, educated, young bride. He seems to be a gentle soul and Tamla and Chai both say he is a good man. Our visit was drawing to a close and it was time for us to head back to reunite with the party.

 

Smoke was billowing above the back of the house. when we arrived.  I went to take a look and had to laugh at the sight of the men and boys gathered around the barbecue pits. Make shift barbecues were laden down with chicken and pork.

It seems to be the way of the world; men to the meat and women…everything else

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Let the games begin!

To be continued…