Lyle and I entered Karen State under a tarp in a wooden long boat. As we road along, suffocated from the heat under the tarp, it dawned on me that I was under this tarp because of what I looked like, where I came from, who I was. I was too different to blend in and my difference wasn't allowed where I was. I can't remember that ever happening to me before and it made me think of the thousands of people throughout history who have had to hide, run, or change because they where different. My situation was nothing compared to theirs, in fact the absurdity of it all was it felt like just another day.
After my very first cold shower in Karen State I realized what a pain my long hair was going to be for the next two months while I bathed in cold rivers. So, upon Lyle's suggestion we cut off a healthy chunk of my hair and I realized that particularly cold bath day it was much easier to manage in the jungle.
In Karen State I'm the white girl with no hops and everyone else is a Kenyan. Kenyans are known for their runners. They are born with it, it's easy, natural. The Karen are born into simple living in a war torn land. They know how to bathe in cold rivers in a dress, cook amazing food over a fire, walk for days with 30 kilos, build anything out of bamboo, and, most importantly, live under the constant threat of being attacked. Through it all they have a grace, like Kenyans running, in their actions and speech. Times when I was almost paralyzed by the hopelessness of the situation they laughed and said "we have to keep going, we wont be at war forever". When I was exhausted, sweaty, and stinky from a 10 hour hike and all I wanted was to sit, they ran about, with a smile on their faces, preparing hot water and food . . . FOR ME! and often wouldn't even let me help. When I took a bath with my hand always ready to grab my surong before it fell of, which it inevidable did at the worst times, they seemed to perform a smooth dance as they skillfully took their surongs on and off. When I carelessly loaded up logs full of ants into the firewood basket slung across my back and they worked their way down into my pants causing me to suffer from bights all over my bottom that itch even as I write this, a month later, they seem to never be bothered by the biting, stinging, poking wildlife. When I'm constantly questioning God about why these people have to endure years of injustice they are praising Him for His rich blessings of life, food, education, and family. When I cry after hearing a teacher's story about running from the enemy the same teacher tells me, with hope and joy in her eyes, that the only way we can form relationships with each other and make things better is to "pray for each and every family and for each and every village". And then they came to me and asked how to improve their education system, or how to make things better for their children, or how to play with Lego's.
Grace, humility, hope, generosity, humor, determination, and love radiates out of these people. If life was a foot race the ethnic groups of Burma would be the Kenyans. I was privileged to watch them run, just for a bit, and see what it looks like to really run.