Ancient traditions assume the Magi travelled on camels, and maybe ... just maybe ... if they passed through Thailand on their way ... they switched to elephants or even ox carts
Those in power write the history; those who suffer write the songs, and they who give the orders are never those who die.
But once it was different, and so it is every Christmas.
At that first Christmas midnight, angels in the high heavens sang for joy over Bethlehem - a blessed joy that carried over the Judean hills and around the world, and has continued to do so every year on this day, for 2,008 years now.
In the end, Miss Sao, now 15 years old, came across Bangkok town with us to try to find out who her parents were so she could get her I.D. papers. We had the firepower with us - a Klong Toey plainclothes lad, and another from Special Branch - just in case. Plus her beloved substitute mum, Teacher, the one who had smuggled her out of the slum that rainy midnight eight years before. Tippy-toed past the rented shack where Miss Sao lived with her auntie, granny and grandfather - the sex abuser - to escape to safety and freedom.
Teacher had bought a bottle of foreign whiskey (with a higher alcohol content) for Sao's grand father. It was a high risk move, because liquored up was when he looked for his grand daughter, to come sit on his lap. But it worked. He passed out: totally hammered. She hadn't been back in all that time. Didn't dare. We didn't dare.
But justice comes in strange packages. Grandfather died, despised and unwanted after three years in a prison cell. The only ones still living in the rented shack were her dad's younger brother and his wife, the auntie who slapped her to stop her crying when grandfather hollered for her to come and give him a hug. Grandmother too had since died. Sao didn't know anything about her mum and dad, not even their names. Was always told they were useless and better off dead. So eventually, she stopped asking.
One of our children who goes by the nickname of Miss Nan told me she heard someone singing her a Christmas lullaby the other night when it was all quiet in the hospital. A lullaby so sweet, so beautiful, it would make the angels weep.
When she heard it, she awoke, looked around: only her crippled-up, Aid-struck, foster-Auntie Gung was there. And (Heavens to Betsy!) even Miss Nan's pet frog Albert can sing better than Auntie Gung. Everyone in the whole world knows Auntie Gung can't sing. But a lullaby it was that Miss Nan heard.
And who could doubt such a child? Miss Nan, who is only seven and was born with HIV, goes to the hospital a little longer each time now, so she has the learned the wisdom of such things. And Auntie Gung stays at her bedside for a week at a time - sometimes two weeks - sleeping at night on a mat on the floor next to Miss Nan's bed.
Here are just a few notes and updates to you, my friends, during Holy Week and the Thai Buddhist New Year:
Yesterday it felt like everyone in Klong Toey joined us at "Mercy Centre" as we celebrated the Thai New Year. Perhaps not totally everybody, but at least several hundred neighbors - mostly old folks and other slum "reputables" and, of course, our kids. There was great music played on third-hand instruments and dancing in the streets - old-time barn dancing led by the Motorbike Racing Granny, our favorite street vendor who is now 76. She has a bit of a bum knee, made stiff from kick-starting her stubborn "mini-chopper," a motorbike modified into her mobile coffee cart. Fortunately, she had a "wee swallie" or two or three from a not so well hidden flask of amber liquid that loosened her knees and had her stomping up a storm.
In the late morning, the Monks came for the annual New Year prayers and blessings for our Mercy Centre and to chant the Sutras. Our two hundred children were quiet (just for a while!), sitting beside the physically challenged and the old folks assembled; and after the prayers, everyone made merit and offered the monks a pre-noon meal.