Sometimes crisis comes out of nowhere and the challenge of knowing how to respond in the moment looms large. We hear violence so this is nothing new but this time it is right against our house. She is cowering, bent over in pain and he is in a blind rage just yelling and yelling. We know the protocol by now; if you don’t know them personally just make your presence known, let them know you are watching. “If you get involved” our Thai friend patiently explains again “it will be worse for her when they are alone because you have caused him to lose face in public”. We are grateful for this guidence because we often don’t understand the dynamics of a shame based culture. Doors open in unison and we all step out into the soi. We are shaken but we try to exchange smalltalk and wait for the anger to die down. He won’t hit her again because we are here.
We quickly learn who the peacemakers are in this community; the old guy that we all call ‘Uncle’ is shuffling in circles round the block with his flashlight making a point of passing in front of the angry man. There is a crowd of children gathering and we are relieved that our two are tucked up in bed. We turn our attention to these kids who seem so unphased. Then all of a sudden it is quiet and we don’t know what changed but the couple have moved on. I try to go back to my book but I can’t get her face out of my mind. I am afraid of what might be happening to her now. There are no easy answers but one question niggles away at me: ‘if this woman experiences no compassion in her helplessness is that a greater blow than the one her partner may inflict later?’
It’s late and the neighbourhood is quieter than usual. Half an hour passes, maybe less, then I hear running and it errupts again. As I step out of the house it’s like a weird replay of events but this time I realise I am the only other person there. I have a shameful desire to hide and I quickly press myself against the wall. I’m completely visible but at least I don’t have to look at him. I take a deep breath and reach out my hand at a right-angle to hers. A male relative has arrived and at last is talking some sense to him. In this moment of distraction the woman reaches for my hand. I think she is asking me, a stranger, to help.
She stayed at our house that night. We listened to her partner smashing things in the house which it turns out they share with his extended family not far from ours. She planned to return to him the next day and had no-where else to go. Sitting just inside our door and unable to meet our eyes she sat wringing a tear stained towel enduring our broken questioning. We had so little to offer but right then we were all she had. In that deep pit of a night our lives collided and we shared something meaningful. There is no happy ending. Please pray for her.
How many other invisible neighbours do we have? If it weren’t for the circumstances we may never have met this new friend as she leaves for work before we are up and gets back in the dark. If that anecdote highlights the darkness of our neighbourhood then today’s experience is brimming with hope and light. We joined hundreds of neighbours in celebrating the existence of ten year old Tear one of the cheekiest, kindest kids we know! From what we could gather this was a kind of coming of age ceremony where his hair knot (rat’s tail!) was removed in the presence of lots of monks. By the time we rocked up he was already shaven, suited and enjoying the full-on band/cabaret show/feast put on for the after party. Totally random as ever, we were delighted to be part of this rare extravagance soaking up the togetherness and feeling the privelege of genuine welcome.
Since this update has been a bit intense so far, I will now update you on the weather. It is too hot! And it’s only the very start of hot season! It’s felt like a breakthrough month with language and relationships, there is still awkwardness but we are more able to join in and be part of things. Module 3 has been a slog but we begin our first reading and writing module tomorrow which will be a welcome change! I excelled myself at house church by sharing a prayer request that accidently used the Thai word for penis! Feeling stupid is a recurring theme but we do get to laugh a lot! Elliot and Sam enjoyed celebrating Chinese New Year this month and love any opportunity to dress up! They throw themselves into school life and look forward to kids club outings at the weekend. Elliot is Harry Potter crazy (so is Jon who reads with him each night!) Sam recently bought his first football kit at a night market and has hardly taken it off!
Jon is currently away on a camp with the Pioneers – young men who have grown up in the slum community coming to the end of a year long apprenticeship program. Hopefully this will be a great opportunity for them to reflect outside of the usual setting. As a UNOH team we are both growing closer and attempting to be more inclusive of the amazing Thai leaders in our projects. We’ve been prayer walking the Klong Toey area and appreciating how distinct each neighbourhood is. As we listen to each other’s dreams for this place and discern together where God might be leading us to relocate there is great hope for the future. I hope you get the picture that some days it is hard here but when we take a step back there’s nowhere we’d rather be!