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Transformed in Thailand

In August 2008, I went to Mae Sot, Thailand. A number of Buddhist monks whom I had met in Burma in 2006 left their monastery in Yangon, Myanmar to avoid arrest by the military regime. Their crime was daring to participate in the non-violent pro-democracy "saffron rebellion" of September 2007. They were in hiding in the jungle (between Myanmar and the Thai border) for about two months before they were able to safely cross the border into Thailand In November 2007.

I am not sure why now, but I was afraid to travel by myself to Thailand. Bangkok, a behemoth of a city, was my first challenge. But I found a guest house to stay in and successfully negotiated the city, even catching a "Ladyboy" show on my return trip.

The bus trip to Mae Sot was 8-9 hours. Mae Sot is a bit of a frontier town--there is an interesting mix of Muslim, Chinese, Karen (Christian), and other minorities, many seeking refugee status. I spent time (daily) at the markets (questioning the edibility of toads, turtles, eels, all variety of fish and unrecognizable roots and fruits). Afternoons were spent with Nirelle (English teacher) and the monks (Bandawee, Santawara, Koweeda, Masamee, Agga, and others) who were so funny and creative in their approach not only to learning English, but also to life in general--Buddhist balance and optimism in practice.

I met the most interesting people, and was indeed, transformed in Thailand. Poi, a Thai medical anthropologist (currently living in Australia) and Nirelle (an American raised in Israel, living in Spain) were especially wonderful.

Fred Stockwell (a British expatriate living in Mae Sot) allowed me to visit the Mae Sot City Dump where more than 500 refugees live; they get 1 baht (about 4 cents) for each kilo (2.2 lbs.) of plastic bags that they collect. Thanks to a $200.00 contribution from Muriel McBeth (thanks, mom!), I was able to buy 100 pairs of boots for the children and adults of the dump.

This is what I wrote in my journal in the Seattle airport (a 10 hour layover--the last part of the adventure...): "The monk's subtle humor, compassion, and youth have charmed me in a way I thought not possible. Somehow this trip has awakened in me a spark of the spiritual that I had nearly lost. How I stay alive in Greeley is really up to me, but I know how to begin now that I have been transformed in Thailand.

"All you touch and all you see is all that you will ever be." [Pink Floyd]

The monks from the Mae Sot monastery arrived in America as legal refugees beginning in early 2009. They live everywhere from San Francisco to Utica, New York.