Police, Parents and Prodigals
The highways in Thailand are scattered with police checkpoints. Imagine driving down a major highway like I-70 or I-5 and every few miles having to slow down and drive through a coned area with the Police stopping or searching every few cars looking for drugs or signs of human-trafficking and illegal immigrants. Being largely surrounded by Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia there is a significant need for these checkpoints. To the Akha, however, they serve as a frequent reminder that they are a people without a country and are often unwanted by the countries they are in. Even today as we drove down from Mae Salong with an Akha friend of ours we were stopped and he had to show proof (by ID cards) that he had the right to drive down to Chiang Rai.
Two nights ago, however, four of the families from our village were very grateful for one of these checkpoints. On Saturday night as things were winding down in the village and kids were heading home from playing in the village and the surrounding area on their day off from school, one of the village elders came running to me in a panic. "The police have my little boy! The police have caught my little boy! You have to go get him!" Soon the whole village was gathered and talking and we understood that five Akha boys from our village, aged 7 to 12, were at a police checkpoint thirty miles from our village.
Now, at this point, you need to understand a little bit about Akha boys. Perhaps the best American illustration that I can use to illustrate a typical Akha boy is that of Huckleberry Finn. Independent, adventurous, intimately knowledgeable about their surroundings, fearless (at least during the daylight hours) and generally unconcerned about trivial things such as their appearance or whether their parents know where they are.
Well, five of these little Huckleberrys from our village had apparently decided they were going to run away (probably to one of their relatives villages) to a town about 45 miles from Dama Gojo in Mae Salong. They gathered a few baht together and hopped in a song tau (Thai taxi/minibus system) towards Mahinte. No one from our village knew where the were until a phone call came from one of these police checkpoints.
Apparently, the policemen at this checkpoint thought it was highly suspicious that five Akha boys would be traveling on their own so they pulled them into their office and eventually got the story of what village they belonged to. They then called our village and the very worried parents sent the pastor (who speaks fluent Thai) and I down to fetch them.
About 9:00 at night we arrived to a sober group of hungry Akha boys. The police had turned them over to an Akha family who gave them a good talking-to and this vagabond group was not looking forward to going home to their worried parents. After visiting with the Akha family for a short while and purchasing some snacks for the boys to take an edge of their hunger (the adventure had distracted them from eating all day), all seven of us trudged through the rain and into our little four-seat Suzuki Caribbean.
An hour later, we were back in the village again having added another surreal chapter to our lives with the Akha.