Sloth in a Foot Race with Kenyans

I held my breath for just a second as my entire body stiffened. Then, after two shallow, quick breaths, I resigned myself for the hundredth time as the words "buck up" flashed across my mind and I plunged my body into the icy river water - for my bath. As I stumbled out of the river I often thought "burr this water is freezing" and "man, this is inconvenient taking a bath with a body size wash cloth draped around me" or "quick, where's my towel" but this time I thought "phew, I'm so glad I cut my hair; it makes bath time quicker!!"

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.

"We talk different but we laugh and cry the same"

- Htoo Htoo Eh; FBR Ranger


The Enemy Without

How do you summarize two months of heart rending, life changing, explosive moments in a few short paragraphs? I didn't know whether to laugh at the absurdity of my position or poop my pants at the possible outcomes. Heidi and I huddled under the tarp in the early morning dawn as the long boat sped down the river to deliver us to our jumping off point to walk into the Burma jungle. All we could see were feet of our security and the buts of their AR15 rifles. Hiking under the cover of darkness the first night with a few hours rest then over the mountains to the FBR training camp we felt like we were coming home as the Eubank family and many other local folks greeted us and welcomed us to the camp. The adventure was only beginning.

I don't think there is a single person in America that can truly relate to our friends in Karen state Burma. Imagine living in a beautiful country ravaged by constant war since your grandpa was a boy. Imagine, if you can, not having a penny to your name, the home you lived in as a child was burned; then you were forced to move not once but sometimes more than once a month as men encroached on your territory that would not hesitate to kill or torture you for days at their leisure. If the bad guys are coming you may have several hours warning or they may sneak to your village, surround it and shoot into your bamboo houses, killing children, men, and women as they run. Imagine, if it is possible, to raise a family in a situation were you have no security at all other than the faith you may have that there is a God and He really cares for you. Can you imagine these same people sharing their rice with you, smiling, and laughing and loving? I could never imagine anything like it unless I had seen it with my own eyes. These people are so genuine and speak of their trials so easily I feel embarrassed that I ever complain about anything at all.
The first section of our trip we had the privilege of seeing the new batch of graduates from the FBR training camp complete their three day exam in which they are not allowed to sleep or eat on a race type situation through many different obstacles testing their skills in everything from land mine detection and disarming, medical trauma patient assistance, multiple river crossings, and navigation. Heidi and I stayed busy doing any task we could lay our hands and brains to before we all packed up and headed down the trail to start our actual missions into the different areas to help people. Heidi joined the GLC group and I joined the headquarters group and we parted ways for two weeks. For our first anniversary we could only dream of each other and by our second Christmas we still had a few more days to wait before reuniting.
I thought it ironic that a man with an AK-47 strapped to his back plays with legos.

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating the situation that our new friends are in and how a lifetime of war would effect your perspective. I find these folks no different really than me, they breath air like I do, they grow and marry their true love like I did, they dream big dreams like I do but a big difference is most of their energy is fighting an enemy that they can see and feel. For most of the people reading this your enemy is likely more insidious and deceptive as it is for me. The evil that catches me is not so palpable and blatant. I find myself fighting improper desires for wealth and fame (more likely infamy : ) and to some degree power. How different it is to have your enemy be a honest to goodness bad guy out there seeking to kill you.
Heidi crossing one of the many bridges in Karen state.
A real live super hero, this man killed enimies with his sword and first fought the Japanese in the rice padi that we met him in during World War Two when he was twelve.
Home made land mines by the good guys
Despite what it looks like the two dudes on the right are not wearing skirts, they are lungies and they are very comfortable.
In a discussion among the whities about the proper way for each gender to tie their lungie we were informed that the men have a lump in the front and the womens are flat. . .