SUMMARY OF JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2003 TRIP TO THAILAND
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The next day I re-packed and went for another long walk. Nah had gotten my bus ticket for me and I was to leave on the 9:30 PM bus. There is only one bus a day to the border and it leaves at night. I could have left last night, but I needed another day here to rest from the grueling plane trip. The night bus is not too bad if you can get to sleep and stay asleep. Jeffery came to the condo at 8:00 with the luggage cart to help me get my bags down to lobby where Nah was waiting. She was going to ride to bus depot with me to make sure I could find the right bus. Not speaking any Thai is a definite disadvantage! Even though, I have done it by myself before, I was very happy to have her help tonight. The bus left right on time and I was asleep within an hour.

I woke up about 3:00 AM and was very glad to see the dark old bus yard in Mae Sot when we pulled in at 4 AM. It was so dark, I could hardly see to get all my bags out of the luggage well of the bus. A tuk tuk driver saw me struggling and realized I was not being met, so he came over and loaded them on his tuk tuk and off we went for the good old Porn Thep hotel. The clerks at the desk remembered me from last year and before I knew it I was in a very nice room that would cost me $14.00 a night. I hoped I didn't have to stay too many nights before I could head out to the camps. I hate spending the money for a hotel room.

I took a long shower and had just stretched out on the bed for a short nap when my phone rang and a very familiar voice said, "Good Morning Pee Pee, it is me Po Jaw!"
He was down in the lobby and was coming to see me. We had a great reunion hug and he introduced me to a young woman who drove him over. Her name was Naw Play and she had a sweet, sweet smile. Her husband and Po Jaw were good friends and he offered his truck to meet me at the bus station. When they were ready to leave the house, Po Jaw told me they had planned to meet my bus, but they couldn't find the keys to the truck they were going to drive!! We all had a big laugh over that. Naw Play had to leave to get her daughter off to school, so Po Jaw and I went down to the cafe for breakfast.

We went shopping for some supplies that I wanted to buy to take into the camps when I went and I bought a cell phone. It is very hard to call the U.S. without a cell phone. It seems like in the past we were always looking for an International phone, trying to get the right International phone card, or trying to locate a phone that was working at the hours I needed to use it to call home. I also needed to make travel arrangements to move from camp to camp and a phone was not always available. I was able to buy one with a card with an hour calling time for about $100.00. Shortly after buying it, Po Jaw called our friend at the Karen Refugee Committee and he said he and Ya Nai would come to see me about 11 am. I was anxious to see them and catch up on all the news.

It had been 2 years since I had been allowed to visit the camp where Ya Nai and his family lived and I was really hoping to get down there this trip. When they arrived, we had a wonderful visit and Ya Nai gave me an update on all our sponsored children in Noe Poh refugee camp. I asked him if I could visit the camp and he told me there was fighting very close by right then and he wasn't sure it was safe enough for me. I was really disappointed and he promised to keep watch on the situation and let me know if and when he felt comfortable letting me travel there It takes almost a day to travel to the camp and I would want to spend at least 2 days in the camp once I got there. I had made a pact several years ago with my family that I would never go anywhere that the Karen leaders were not comfortable letting me go to.

Ya Nai then told me he had a surprise for me. He said I had a new Karen grandson! His wife had delivered by caesarian section January 1st and was still in Mae Sot with the baby. He wanted me to go see them and I happily agreed. He has a wonderful wife and I love her to pieces. She is a district representative for the Karen Women's Organization and has done a lot to help the Karen women in the camps. Myn Myn Eh was as happy to see me as I was her and their new little baby is beautiful! They said they hadn't named him yet, they were waiting for me to get there so they could ask me to name him. I held him close and told them I'd like to name him Benjamin. They were very pleased with my choice and said they would call him "Tah Thoo Po" or "Little Bear" as a nickname.

When we finally got back to the hotel I spent a couple hours sorting supplies to take into each camp. I then made a list of all the children who would receive sponsor disbursements and put the money in individual envelopes with their names on the outside. Every child does not get the same amount of money and I prefer to keep the amount given private. Not every sponsored child is on the same disbursement schedule, so I was only going to be giving money to those who were due. When a sponsor pays for a child once a year, I divide the money up and send it to them in 4 installments over the year. I used to give it to the family all at once, but the camp leaders asked me to stretch the disbursements out since $100.00 is a tremendous amount of money for them. Those children lucky enough to have sponsors at the second level, or $240.00 a year, really need the money sent a little at a time.

Po Jaw had made arrangements for me to meet with General Bo Mya that night. The General is a dear friend and just stepped down last year as the President of the Karen. He is still the Commanding General of the Karen Army and has a tremendous amount of influence. He was going to be celebrating his birthday in a few days and there would be a birthday celebration, but he wanted to meet with me privately before then. Po Jaw asked me to explain to him how my sponsorship program worked and answer any questions he might have about it.

We met with Bo Mya and his wife upstairs in their very lovely home in Thailand. They were both very interested in how our sponsorship program worked. They had heard over the years of what we were doing, but had never had an opportunity to discuss it personally with me. I had always been directly involved with General Hla Htoo and his wife Edena, who had "adopted" me as their daughter several years ago. General Hla Htoo died 2 years ago and we all still miss him terribly. Gen. Bo Mya asked me if I would visit Mae La Refugee camp and take pictures of 9 orphans living there in a hostel he had built for them. He needed help caring from them and asked if I could find sponsors for them. I told him my primary focus for this trip was to make contact with the children and their families that we have already sponsored (over 260 of them!) and to take pictures of new children needing sponsors. I told him I would do my very best to find sponsors for these children and would like to interview them for a report I am helping to gather information for. This report will be published by a journalist in Pennsylvania who has done some excellent articles on the plight of the Karen in the past.

After a nice visit, we told them good night. We had a big day tomorrow traveling to Mae La refugee camp and I had to divide all the gifts into smaller bags to take into the camp. It was very nice knowing that I had General Bo Mya's blessing to visit Mae La camp. I had been told foreigners were not being allowed into the camps. I have learned not to be alarmed by these reports, because I know that wherever I am supposed to go, the doors (or gates) would be open for me.


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