Every year, Chevron’s Thailand division puts on a big party for the Mercy kids. Today was that party. The KFC chicken sang and danced with the kids, as did the Chevron guy. The children loved it!
Today a 10-foot python was found roaming the grounds around Mercy. Since Thais are Buddhists, they will not kill any living thing ~so it was calmly caught in a burlap bag and driven out to the jungle. Yikes.
John and I took five Mercy kids to Lumpini Park on Sunday. The children played on the swings, careened down slides, and road on paddleboats in the lake. We picked up a barbecue chicken feast at a popular outdoor restaurant and went back to John’s house to eat. The boys played catch in the street outside his house, the girls colored, and we ended the afternoon with a dance-off in John’s living room!
Dear Friends and Family,
I spent yesterday with my friend Sister Joan. This retired seventy-something Australian nun could be livin’ the good life, but instead has spent the last 15+ years living in the poorest slums in Bangkok and handing out milk to babies. If you want somewhere to donate those last two cents you have ~you won’t find a worthier cause:
Wednesday I was in a meeting with Mike the architect, his employees, and Father Joe. Mike is an American architect working in Thailand who agreed to draw up plans to fix plumbing problems at Mercy as a donation to Father Joe. As the meeting began, Father Joe looked out the window and said to me, “Mike, the Israelis are here! Would you please go greet them.” This is typical here. We wear many hats. I walked out to the reception desk and laid my best Hebrew on an Israeli musician, apparently quite famous in Israel. He was here to entertain the children. I gave him and his entourage from the Israeli Embassy a tour of Mercy and then turned them over to a Thai staffer and jumped back in the engineering meeting.
We joined 100 of the children upstairs in the open-air deck area, off the children’s dorms. They moved the venue at the last minute because of mosquitoes! His performance consisted of the mastery of many instruments, including guitar, harp, saw, and bagpipes. He sang Danny Boy beautifully, and engaged the children by bringing them up front to play instruments and dance during his performance. He sang Hava Nagila and dedicated it to Mike [way to go Michael with the Hebrew]. He pulled out a regular-looking saw and played it like a fine instrument.
Father Joe had to rush off to the Spanish Embassy, so he asked Michael and I to “take care of the guests from the Israeli Embassy,” and asked us to please explain to the guests that when 40 of the children rose in the middle of the concert at three minutes to six o’clock to not be offended. They’d be heading to the infirmary to take their AIDS medication. The guests looked stunned when we explained why the children were suddenly rising, and it IS shocking to see that many infected children. One of the women looked at me like she was going to cry, and she said, “They just keep coming and coming…,” as the AIDS Brigade filed past us. But the show must go on, and the children soon joined the party again, the evening performance stretched on, many of the Thai staff got up and danced and sang, and a good time was had by all!
The woodshop is back in full production! Tong Chai, my one-armed assistant, is working with me again. A new young man, Om, has come in to help. He is sharp and learns quickly! This week we made five bedside storage units for boys living in the house next to the woodshop. When I arrived this time, I saw they had nothing except their sleeping mats and decided the first thing I would build would be small pieces of furniture for them to store their few possessions in. I have high hopes for the boy Om continuing to run the woodshop when I leave.
The traveling Klong Toey “Starbucks” woman seems to have a permanent post at Mercy now. So when things get tough ~ and we are hot or tired or sleepy, we buy a huge, sugary, cream-laden “frappachino” from her for 20 Baht (less than 50 cents). Starbucks, Eat your Heart Out! Her beetle-nut colored teeth, cracked and broken off from years of chewing, only adds to her charm!
A half-hour’s drive from Mercy in congested Klong Toey, Bangkok, and we arrived at the “farm.” The farm is about 2 1/2 acres, located off an expressway. It has a large pond, and a klong [canel] makes up one of the borders.
Three years ago, Father Joe asked me to look at a structure that was half-built on the farm. The land was donated, and Father Joe had procured a load of used teak and mahogany. The plan was to build a structure reminiscent of old Thailand. At that point, construction problems had come up, so we didn’t know what we would find waiting for us this time. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived yesterday and found a beautiful Thai-style house, including high thresholds to keep out the ghosts.
The interior of the house is one large, open room, with a small room in the center. All the woodwork is Thai mahogany.
Fourteen boys, ages 10-12, are living at the farm right now. Wannee plans to move seven more boys out there soon. They are from Mercy, but are enjoying the “country” living away from Klong Toey slums. They can walk to school!
Once we’d seen the inside, we donned large-brimmed hats as the sun is painfully hot these days, and walked the property behind the house with Wannee.
The staff and boys are trying to get a working mini-farm going. Of course, one of the obstacles is money. Always money. They need more. But for now, they have a small garden going. (The land is extremely dry and cracked, and they need money for machinery to bring the water from the klong and turn over the soil.) Here is a picture of the garden right now.
The bamboo arches are cut from bamboo in front of Father Joe’s house at the main compound! The bamboo sticks are soaked in the pond and bent over the garden to form trellises! While we were there, the staff cut big bunches of cilantro for us to take back to the main compound kitchen cooks. Nothing is wasted, and here Wannee explains the way they make an organic, natural pesticide from old wood. The wood is burned in a barbecue, the oil from the wood is contained in a pipe that flows into bottles, thus making the pesticide for the garden.
The housemom made us a great lunch while we were there: chicken, eggs, soup, fried fish caught by the boys in the pond, and of course, the ever-present vat of white rice.
Of course, it isn’t idyllic: the boys sleep on that hard, wooden platform you see in the interior picture above [with little more than straw mats below them], there isn’t enough money in the budget to keep the projects going, and the boys are far from the action at Mercy Centre, but by all accounts, the boys are very happy in this world of their own creation.
I spare everyone the gutwrenching stories, but just know that they are all represented here at Mercy. Sometimes I think that I can’t bear to hear another sad story ~ but then something happens like the fragile, underweight baby boy who showed up here this week ~ and then watching him with the housemom ~ sucking on a bottle and gaining back some of his strength day by day, gives me the strength to be here another day.