Wednesday, May 03, 2006

bamboo school and the border police - 2



Part 2 of 3 - THE LONG WAY BACK

Bamboo School opened, as planned, on May 20th in spite of the raid by border police a week earlier. They will not have the satisfaction of shutting us down, determined principal Momo Cat.

She missed the help and friendship of Pastor David, who had been arrested in that raid. And she feared for 11-year-old Chickenbone. He had been shot by the soldiers when he had tried to distract them from beating the pastor. Had he survived?

May slipped into June. School days became routine. The fifteen dorm students woke every morning at 5:00 a.m. and went to bath in the river. Worship was at 6:00, breakfast at 7:00, then chores till 11:00. After lunch the students were joined by others who lived in the village and surrounding area, for classes. Everyone studied from 1:00 to 5:00 – languages (Thai and English), Bible (Thai, Karen), Health and Music. After a dinner break and worship, there was more studying from 6:30 - 8:30.

Through August, the students worked hard at their studies. Momo Cat formed a student choir which was soon singing in neighboring villages. She even arranged for them to travel all the way to Bangkok. The days at Bamboo School were mainly peaceful - except that the border police still made occasional visits.

On one of the trips away from Bong Ti, Momo Cat was reunited with Pastor David. He was in a place 200 km. from the school.

"They put me in solitary for 12 days," he confided to her. "They tried to make me say I was a spy. Now I am forced to stay in this house. I am worried. What will become of us?"

"God will take care of you and your family," Momo Cat reassured him. "Do you have any news of Chickenbone?"

"I heard he is alive," said Pastor David. "I think they took him to a refugee camp."

After a school break, classes started again in late September. Often, now, the border police swaggered into the village, and made their way up the hill to Bamboo School. When she saw them coming, Momo Cat prayed, and tried to hide her edginess from the students.

But in spite of her attempts to stay calm, the police made the students nervous too. Most of them didn’t have I.D. papers. They knew that one false move could see them loaded up and taken away - to prison, or a refugee camp or back to Myanmar and forced to join the army.

One October day a thin, disheveled boy wandered into the compound.

"Who’s that?" the students asked one another. They watched closely as he walked directly to the school building. He seemed to know his way around.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" asked one of the students.

"Is Momo Cat here?" the stranger asked, not raising his eyes.

The boy who had questioned him sized him up. There was something familiar about this ragged youth. Then it came to him. "Chickenbone!" he shouted. "You’re Chickenbone!"

Chickenbone's face softened to a hint of a smile. "Momo Cat," he said again, "Is she here?"

Quickly one of the students got her.

"Where have you been?" Mom Cat asked the exhausted boy. "And how did you find your way back here?"

Chickenbone didn’t seem eager to talk. But after he’d eaten, he told them a little.

"They took me in the truck, back over the border to Myanmar," he said. "They dumped me in a village. The people there cleaned my wound and put bandages on it. They fed me and took care of me for twelve weeks."

"But I didn’t want to stay," he went on. "As soon as I was strong, I left."

"How did you get back here?" Momo asked again.

"I made my rice way," he explained. "I worked a little. Enough for food. And then I traveled on. But I always had to watch out for the soldiers."

"How long did it take you?" asked Momo.

"Three months." Chickenbone replied. He showed Momo Cat his blistered and scarred feet, then snuggled close to her and took her hand.

"Now you are home," Momo Cat said to him, comfortingly.

But a few days later the border police again made their way up the hill toward the school. Fear filled Chickenbone’s eyes when he saw them.

All the time the police were talking with Momo Cat, Chickenbone hid. Finally they left. But the next morning, Chickenbone came up to her. "I am going," he said.

"But you just got here!" she exclaimed. "Where will you go?"

"To the camp," he replied, "to find my parents."

Momo looked into Chickenbone’s tired, fearful eyes and realized how terrifying the soldiers must seem to him, after what he’d been through. She went to the kitchen and made up a little bundle of food. Along with the food she packed some medicine for his feet and a new Bible. "God bless you," she said as she handed it to him.

She watched him make his way down the hill and disappear into the forest at the edge of the village. Would these kids ever be able to live in peace, without the soldiers or policemen hounding them, she wondered.

To be continued...


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