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Lisu Christmas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Every Lisu Christmas is celebrated for three or fours days with singing, dancing, and eating Lisu rice pancakes in the village.

Originally from China, Lisu people now reside mainly in Southeast Asia. There are over a million of these very spiritual people. They often practice ancestral worship, though thousands have converted to Christianity. This year my dad and I plan to go with his school in Northern Thailand, the Lisu Bible Institute (LBI), into a Burmese village called Nafuku. Early in the morning, we board trucks and wrestle the fiercely bitter wind. Once we reach the base of the enormous rocky mountain, we must hike the long and tiring four hours to the other side.

The red dirt that covers every village comes into view, and we rush to rest our trembling legs. For the next three days, I force my aching body to move, hoping to alleviate its stiffness more quickly, but my father stays in bed, too weak from the pain.

My hostess, J-KO-NI, and I put on our longi, a long traditional Burmese skirt. It is time to bathe. Taking a public shower proves to be a challenging and embarrassing experience, and I shiver as I enter the unwelcoming, slightly brown stream of water. The skirt makes it hard for me to clean myself, yet J-KO-NI bathes with ease.

At night, the LBI students and I attend the village church. After the service, we watch everyone dance and sing until midnight. The color-coordinated groups dance to Lisu pop music with graceful movements. The soloists sing loudly and proudly. The audience cheers, placing tinsel around the performers' necks.

The next morning I force my still-aching body out of bed. After stuffing my stomach with the traditional rice pancakes that are made every Christmas and New Year, we walk the dusty road. As we watch a cow cart approaching, I ask, “Can we ride that?”

J-KO-NI smiles and replies, “Let's go!” She grabs my hand, and we climb onto the back, which is piled high with hay. The driver grins at our enthusiasm and continues on to the rice field. As we rock from side to side, we greet all we pass. A stream comes into view and I get nervous as the water rises to where I can dip my feet in, but the cow plows through the rushing water to the other side.

At the rice field, the cart halts and we hop off. “Jezu Thim Ba Deh,” (Thank you) we tell the driver.
J-KO-NI leads me to the far side of the field and joins her brother planting rice. I watch their feet squish in the mushy mud and try to ignore the strong smell of manure. Some dead crabs are lying in the field, and I grimace at the sight of one of them, cracked with dried orange blood staining its shell.

After they finish, we return to their house. We drive an old, dusty, and dying motorbike to where the others are. My father is slowly getting used to his legs and is sitting around the campfire with the other students.

To pass time, seven of us gear up and grab our flashlights to venture into the unknown of a nearby cave. A prickly field separates us from our destination, but we force our way through and climb up the side of a rough gray rock. We help each other up the steep surface and head toward the cave's opening. Inside, the walls seem delicately carved, and I cannot help but touch the rugged texture.

We hear the beating of wings, and a bat flies by from deep within the dark cave. The guys hastily snap off a large branch to kill the bats. I stay behind while they venture farther in. Then we hear a shout of success. They take a picture with my camera showing an upside-down bat glaring with beady red eyes, obviously disturbed.

Two of the boys proudly boast about their kill and show it off. The creature fits into the palm of his hand with its wings folded neatly around its body. The boy then reveals the bat's full wing span stretching them well past his shoulders. I marvel but am terrified of the dead bat. I gingerly skim my finger over its belly and am surprised at how soft its fur is – softer than anything I could have imagined. The bat looks like a mouse in disguise.

We take our souvenirs and head back. I personally believe it is wrong to kill bats, but the people who live here say a bat makes wondrous medicine, and they plan to cook and eat it. I cringe at the thought. Back at camp, however, I am beaming at the thought of another night of celebration.

This adventure is full of surprises and mysteries. Joining in the spirit of Lisu Christmas lets me embrace my ethnicity with pride. F

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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