Our School is Made of World


"I went to the woods because I ran out of money but I didn't want to go home yet."

This travel journal is actually about a one year diversion, far off the beaten path of the South East Asia backpacker. Rather than heading south to the raving of The Beach, we begin in the back of a truck with a pig head in our lap, on our way to be a teacher in a bamboo schoolhouse on the border between Thailand and Burma where armed hill tribe insurgents still hold their land from the military junta ruling Burma. As this naive American is plunged into the jungle, we learn about growing up as a refugee in a plight completely uninteresting to the western media.

"Dear Sir, I get sick because I had the malaria. Let me stay home [from school] till I'm well. Please be kind to me."

The reader lives day-to-day through a journal of snapshots shot very close to the ground. We sit on the author's shoulder watching a hundred loosely strung vignettes unfold from and into the scrapbook that became this book. The story is anchored in a small mountain village accessible only by boat, but the trail slips in and out of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. It's light on the trials of backpackers, including the author's, saving film for trips down river, medicine men, the village chief, Thai police, explosive sex medicine, plates of dog, arms smugglers, prostitutes, assassins, flying jungle monks, and always the proud refugees; teenage soldiers who'd trade a good meal of pity for a little exposure from the "global" media.

"We're very tired and hungry but it's so very enjoyable is it not?"

Thanks to an absence of hastily manufactured conclusions, we are spared preaching, and allowed to judge the characters and politics as we would (if we choose). It's full of photos and tiny observations that are as tiny or as large as you make them. The freshness of the experience is on every page ("It's all true."), and we are always aware, even reminded, that it could have been our own.