If I were born in Huay Pu Keng village, I would be a man of two countries: Myanmar, from where my ancestors had fled, and Thailand, the country that welcomed them as refugees.
I would have to learn three official languages: Karenni, Thai and official Burmese. Besides these, I would study English, Mathematics, Geography and two classes of Social Studies each week. But only if my village could raise the money to hire a teacher and only if there were a teacher willing to commute daily by boat on the river Pai or to live in my village without electricity and running water.
If I were born a girl in Huay Pu Keng, I would wear a golden necklace meant to lengthen my neck. My grandma would teach me how to weave shawls, sing, and make jewelry and wooden figurines. You would visit as many tourists do, driven by a sincere, compassionate feeling and a harmless anthropological interest. While you take photos of me, I would smile. You would buy a shawl, a figurine or some piece of jewelry ten times cheaper than in your country. You would want them even cheaper and I would sell them so. The kids and I do not need the money. We eat what the earth offers.
I would go to church every Sunday morning and praise Jesus and Holy Mary of Lourdes. They wouldn’t mind that right after the service I would indulge into a little Kay Toboe, the religion of my elders who still believe every mountain, stone or water course hosts a deity. Which, forgive me God, is true.
As a boy, I would have a rabbit that I would kill and eat once I become a teenager. I would then catch a wild elephant, tame it and then sell it. I would spend my days fishing, swimming, weaving fishing nets, cutting the forest to make way for crops and get firewood.
I would marry a girl from the village, one to which I am probably related already, I would smack her from time to time but never touch her face so as not to scare the tourists, our only source of income. Half of the money you paid for the scarf, wooden figurine or the piece of jewelry I would spend on cheap beer and rice whisky while I am waiting together with the other men in the village. Waiting either for Thailand to grant me citizenship and the right to travel and work, or for a change of political regime in Myanmar so I can go back to my parents’ country by driving my boat up the river. The other half of the money I would set aside, in my wife’s crate. We will need it to buy gasoline once the time of freedom comes. Thank you.