The village of Mah Wah Glow is home to four students from Jen’s House. Tong Chai, who is currently studying law, Su Cha Da,(whose Mom is pictured above) and Jen Jera attending Sa Pa Tong High School, and sweet Rungtiwa who is in her first year at middle school. I spent a day with their families catching up and enjoying the rhythm of the village. There is a peace that comes over me whenever I amble through the small Karen villages. Alone with the children’s mothers a sense of belonging and acceptance fills me. In spite of my limited Karen language there is a communication beyond words, it is in the common desire that all mothers have for the happiness and success of their children. A kinship that I am privileged to share, as we work together towards providing the opportunities that will lead to their children’s happiness.

I traveled up, and I mean up from Nong Tao with the students, Jen’s House parents, Chai and Tamla and Amika. On our arrival we received a warm welcome at Jenjera’s home and as is the Karen way went down the hill to Su Cha Da’s to share a meal of  rice, tin fish, (sardines) and a spicy sauce which accompanies all meals. A huge basket of strawberries was laid out which everyone dug into.

Strawberry WineIt is the dry season in northern Thailand now which means no rice crop. The Karen farmers are busy with other vegetable crops and more recently strawberries. I think strawberry growing may be linked to royal projects and crop substitution by the Karen and other hill tribes, who are subsistence farmers. The months from November to February are the time that strawberries ripen in this area and we were lucky to be there to enjoy perfectly ripened strawberries.

The strawberries that were shared with us looked like the ones we would pass over if we were shopping in Canada. They were the deepest dark red and the outer skin looked a little shriveled and furry. You know how we are about how things look. We like to buy the best looking strawberries only to find that when we get them home they are sometimes hard and sour, and then spend our time trying to decide how much sugar needs to be added. Anyway, these shriveled up berries were the best I’ve eaten in my life. Perfectly ripe, firm and juicy. I was told they were grown organically but there’s got to be more to it than that.

In no time the basket was empty and we were invited to go to the field and pick some to take home. Who am I to say no?  So off we went, a truck full of us.  As soon as we hit the field the kids picked and ate, then went off to the river to play with the fish. Tamla and I picked for a while, decided it was time to say thanks and headed in licking our fingers and making a feeble attempt to wipe the juice off our faces.

It was back to the village for me where I enjoyed more… you know it, strawberries, chats with the villagers and a rest from the heat. It wasn’t long before the others were back and it was time to head down to Nong Tao. The parents of the students at Jen’s House are so grateful and it is hard for them to see us go, they insist that I stay overnight and do everything they can to convince me, but regretfully it was not to be this time. As I tried to break away two of the Moms decided to try a last pitch. “Do you want to drink strawberry wine”?

What could I do?  So rude to say no! I had no choice, I was trapped.   I have been to Maw Wah Glow many times but never to this particular area, and the others were told to wait for us. We headed out, up and down a number of hills, finally arriving at what looked to be something out of the back woods, oh ya, it is the back woods.

village-BoysInTheField-websizeOne of the first things that struck me were the young boys turning soil along the mountain side; I’m not sure what that was about. As the Mom’s spoke with those in charge I tried to divert the suspicious glances being sent my way.  Finally it became clear that there was no wine, it had all been drunk.  As I began to back away with, “mai ben rai”, (never mind) the ladies were not to be discouraged; they were not about to be turned away empty handed.  After much discussion the wine makers were convinced that I should be given a large empty Pepsi bottle full of the mixture that was currently being brewed.  So it was that we headed back to the truck with a bottle of fermenting strawberry wine and instructions on what I should do and when it would be ready. That evening!

Not knowing what to do with it, I have brought is all the way back to Chiang Mai where it sits in my fridge waiting for it’s unveiling. Actually a few of us had a taste of it once back in Nong Tao and it’s actually very delicious. Amika and I plan to make spritzers one evening and watch the sunset from my balcony before heading our separate ways.