Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wedding on the Border

Truth be told, I had some other things I'd rather be doing on Saturday. We're right smack in the middle of the dry season and the dessicated grass and brush in the empty plot next to our house has me worried. This area actually caught fire during the same period two years ago sending a two-story wall of flame rushing towards our two-story house.Bold Ellen was was recovering from a sick tummy and I was away in the hills with a group of UHDP volunteers. Fortunately, a small brigade of friends handling three garden hoses was successful in keeping the flames from reaching our house.

That's one of the main reasons we got goats in late 2007. We figured they'd keep the biomass in another adjacent lot (that comes with our rented house) under control. And they do. But we're not at liberty to release the herd into the plot with a history. We're grateful that Hmong neighbors have cleared some of the plot in which to conduct their "guerrilla urban farming." But I still need to cut a large band of dry grass and brush that runs between their garden, our home and the combustible bamboo/thatch chicken house and goat sheds in the other plot.

The Wedding

So early Saturday morning I picked up UHDP interns, Ruth and Brandon, at appointed spots in Chiang Mai for the trip to Baan Mai Samakhi, a community in the Chiang Dao District; a stone's throw from the Burma border. The residents of BMS are primarily Kachin, a minorityamong Thailand's numerous minorities. In fact, BMS is one of only two rural Kachin communities in northern Thailand. Most of the original residents were displaced from Burma's distant Kachin State that lies between China's Yunnan Province, Tibet and northeastern India.

The groom is Da, a former colleague at UHDP, who works with the project's documentation and citizenship efforts. His bride, Pimpapawn, is a lifelong BMS resident. They met when Da came to assist the Kachin of BMS with improving their legal residence status. By the way, Da is a Karen from Chiang Rai. Pimpapawn, despite growing up in Kachin culture, was born to Akha and Lahu parents. Can't get much more cosmopolitan than that.

And it was a great ceremony with tons of folks wearing variations of Kachin, Karen and Lahu tribal dress in attendance. A Karen pastor conducted the ceremony. Mac, a young Kachin leader, served as the master of ceremony. A Karen choir sang followed by a Kachin choir. And three hymns, all traditional western melodies with wedding theme lyrics, were robustly sung simultaneously in Thai, Kachin and Karen.

Vows were said with the congregation laughing it up each time the pastor, bride or groom flubbed a line. Rings were exchanged and then the Karen groom was presented with a Kachin ceremonial sword and shoulder bag, symbolizing his acceptance into the clan.

I had been asked to share a brief vignette. I truly did my best, reading a scripture passage and offering an insight or two based on almost 22 years of marriage.

The event concluded with a lunchtime feast. Great Kachin food and table conversation before the trip back to Chiang Mai.

So it's Sunday and I don't feel inclined to chop away at the dry brush today. But I'll keep the three water hoses handy just in case.

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