Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meh Mo and Koe Meh

One of the reasons we'd like to start blogging is that it gives us a chance to tell the stories of our weavers. We love these women and really enjoy getting to know them. If you've ever met us or seen us interact with the weavers, you know that getting to know them is not always an easy thing for us. We'll tell you more soon about our regular meetings. But recently, we've been sitting down with the women one-on-one or in families to get to know them better. We began with the Mehs, a nickname we've given a group of Karenni sisters who are fabulous weavers and some of our favorite people.

This is Meh Mo. Meh Mo is a Burmese refugee living in Austin, a member of the Karenni hill tribe. In 1996, the Burmese Army launched a massive village relocation plan aimed at bringing the population under military control and eliminating ethnic resistance. At least 3,000 ethnic villages, including Meh Mo’s, have been destroyed since 1996, displacing or killing over one million people. When the Burmese Army came to her village, Meh Mo’s extended family fled across the border into Thailand, across 25 miles thick with jungle. Meh Mo had already lost her husband and her oldest daughter, and was fleeing with her five small children. But Meh Mo’s sister, Koe Meh was in a much worse condition.

At eight months pregnant, Koe Meh went into labor in the middle of the jungle. While the rest of the family raced on, Koe Meh, her husband and sister Meh Mo, found a refuge of sorts, a village that had already been destroyed by the Burmese army. Meh Mo remembers their frantic search for anything to boil water in so she could clean the newborn baby since the Burmese army busted out the bottoms of the cooking pots. In an abandoned hut in the ransacked village, Koe Meh gave birth to a tiny girl named Shay Meh, now a fourteen-year-old high school student. Two days later, Koe Meh was up running through the jungle again. The family was reunited in a make-shift refugee camp in Thailand, a no-man’s-land they waited in for fourteen years. Unable to work because of their refugee status in Thailand, Meh Mo pushed her family to apply to come to the States. Most of their family moved to Austin in 2009. Two of their brothers are living in Thailand and, through legal issues, will never be reunited with the rest of their family. Their father is dying in a hospital in Austin; they will not see each other again in this life. 

Growing up in their tiny village in Burma, Meh Mo stayed on their rice farm while her 8 younger sisters and brothers all went to a larger city to be educated. She learned to weave the traditional cloth, clothes and bags that women in her village had been making for generations. Meh Mo perfected her craft; her weaving is exquisite and intricate. All of the sisters weave well. But Meh Mo cannot speak English and is not literate in her own language; her employment options are limited. The agencies who brought Meh Mo and the other refugees to Austin are fierce and amazing. Their creative and continuous support of the refugee community has literally saved lives. Refugees come to Austin to give their children a future. Meh Mo is blessed to have a family that supports each other, so she is not as destitute as some of the other women we know, but she and other women like her are struggling to make it in their new lives.

1 comment:

  1. Caren redesigned our blog! It looks great! So much better than the blank canvas we had yesterday!