The scarf

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While we were at the big temple, Eid’s mother noticed a woman wearing a crocheted scarf. As someone who spends a lot of time doing crochet work (one of many things she has done over the years to support her family), she immediately expressed her admiration for the intricate pattern and asked the woman how much she paid for it. The woman, who was Burmese, couldn’t answer, but a friend explained in Thai that the woman made it herself, and usually sold them for 150 baht (about $5). I don’t know if Eid’s mother offered to buy the scarf, because I wasn’t paying attention up until this point, but I saw the Burmese woman (who appears on the left next to Eid’s mom in the photo above, with her daughter on the right) give the scarf to Eid’s mother. Both the giving and receiving were spontaneous and unhesitating, and both women were obviously very pleased with the instant bond that this simple act created between them.

At first I thought we should offer to pay the woman for the scarf, but it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t say anything at all. So I just asked them to stand together for a photo, and afterwards we spoke for a few minutes. Eid explained to the woman in the green blouse that I work with Burmese in Chiang Mai, but it wasn’t clear if she understood. The woman explained that they had all come from Mahachai, an area near Bangkok where thousands of Burmese migrants (many or most of them “illegal”) work. We asked her for her address, but she said she couldn’t read or write Thai, so Eid wrote it down for her (I like the way Eid looks like a reporter in the photo). The address wasn’t very specific, suggesting that the woman and her family live either in a temporary shanty or in one of the many derelict old buildings in the area where whole families (or sometimes more than one) live in a single room. In any case, I hope to be able to track her down at some point (perhaps with a Burmese colleague) to share these photos with her.

What strikes me in all of these photos is how expressive the hands are. In the first, the Burmese woman is holding her fingers in her hand in a way that matches the slightly nervous, diffident expression on her face. Her daughter seems equally uncertain, but there is less of a definite sense of humility (something that probably takes age to acquire). The woman in the green blouse also holds her hands in a very humble way, and looks away when Eid’s mother touches her hands in gratitude. She continues to look down when speaking to Eid, but this time with less emotion, and more of an air of obedience (something she would need to survive in Thailand, with its predatory police and other officials always ready to threaten Burmese with deportation).

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The last photo was taken after we returned to Phanat Nikhom and stopped at the local market. The seated woman is an old friend of Eid’s family: She shares a Chinese surname with Eid’s maternal grandmother, suggesting they have some common ancestry. Eid said she has known this woman and her sister, who have a shop selling baskets and other wicker products, since she was a small girl. After Eid’s father died, her mother made baskets and sold them to the two sisters, who always gave her a good price. Nearly half a century later, you can see (from their hands, as much as from the expressions on their faces) that the bonds of compassion between them are still strong.

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