Our last week of practicum was amazing. What I was initially apprehending as a trying experience in a dark, secluded place with no internet or electricity, running water and some sort of beat up hut of sleeping accommodations was so far from reality I wonder what the heck brought me to imagine such an awful thing haah.
One of the former forang project workers we met at Pete’s house had already dispelled those misconceptions and gotten me excited to go to what he called “heaven”. He was expressively envious of the time we were about to have and this was enough to dispel fears though it did not come close to painting the beautiful picture, atmosphere and just plain breathtaking peace, light and awe that encompass this Chit’s village.
We ventured off the main road after about 2.30 hours of driving and the scenery went from beautiful mainstream Thailand greenery and architecture to a breathtaking shining lake seen through glimpses between trees. The car climbed up the mountain that was still arrayed in fields of rice and passion fruit orchards drying corn stalks and smiling surprised and intrigued Karen faces. We passed several communities, still climbing with the blue jeep up the red red dirt road. Finally a single stretch and some wood houses on stilts, we went up a last little hill and parked. The lighting was eerie. Yellowy orange shining and warming the humid saturated green grass, the surrounding jungly hills; the rice fields, the orchids hanging from the trees, a little terraced ledge from where Chit’s boys David and Sung and their cousin were rolling down in spurts of giggly laughter and energy. Chit’s wife we met as she ran out of the shower still dripping in her Karen skirt. What was weird is that this wasn’t even awkward. It was just rushed because of the need for her to get dressed quick after her shower to be able to be with us and make dinner.
Chit’s house was a bamboo weaved house on stilts though there is a structure in front of it that he has begun building out of wood that is very high and large and has the common Karen wood table and 8 tree stump seats around it. Chickens wander around on the wood stills that make the structure on the low and higher level. I think its pretty safe to say that Chit’s house has one of the best views of the whole village though it is not always considered best in tribal society to be slightly removed from the rest of the community. In fact Chit, his wife and children spent a lot of time in other members homes be it their respective parents who lived in the main conglomeration of about 10 bamboo/wood houses or simply with relatives or friends. We would walk down the steep hill from his house on tire stairs. It was pretty cool.
I mentioned on my last blog that we were tired and exhausted and on edge. Thoruhout the week we did struggle with being totally in love with the community and yet very ready to be done with practicum. I knew that this wasn’t completely true. Now, as I am about to start my last set of classes I seriously wonder wWHY THE HECK I even had the feeling of wanting to be back. I guess the main thing was being tired. The sleeping conditions were not bad at all but the harsh reality is that sleeping on hard surfaces is really not that restful and pretty difficult to fall asleep. Maybe our minds were also just completely overloaded. Also we had been moving around so much, it was difficult to have any sense of comfort and we were ready to have and be around a familiar atmosphere. Unfortunately this was not the case upon returning to Doi Saket. As soon as we began our relatively short journey home I realized it. How seriously spoiled we had been. How we were about to go back to a world that had no idea of the one we had just come from that was so full of love and light and welcoming hospitality and care and concern for our happiness and well-being.
City life culture shock was intense. The reality is that I deeply love the jungle, the mountains and its people. I thrive on the tribal spirit. This comfort and understanding was made clear as soon as we arrived at the village.
We were not staying at Chit’s house, he brought us to the pastor’s assistant hosue and the house we were to stay in. It was a large wooden house on stilts. We are still unsure as to the usual use of the house. They set up bedding for us in the single closed off room of the house which was lined in windows overlooking the main fields of the villagers in the valley down below, just a few 100 meters away . Not even maybe.
There was a TV in the main room. We think it might have been the “common” room. Whatever the case, after Chit had us drop off our bags, we ventured up for a delicious dinner his wife had prepared and then he took us to meet his father and have some hot tea in a bamboo house.
Chit’s father was intensily sweet. He never did not smile to us. A tender, concerned smile of genuine happiness and comfort. There was so much in this smile that I was sometimes shy to look at him because I felt the urge to just hug ang laugh and dance with him whenever that smile fell on me for too long. The Karen are the most affectionate people I have ever encountered. Touching isn’t that common of a Thai thing. Though I know with my interactions with the Lahu students in Chiang-Mai that physical affection is expressed, I have not personally experienced the scope of that expression because of the framework that the Bible school imposes. It’s tribal people not really in tribal culture. The other interactions with tribal people have been too short to get really comfortable. Not here. Here the village is family and if you are in the village you are family. We were so at ease and at peace. The tone was set from the start as Bethany wandered off to shower in the outside tin shower and our host wandered off to give us both Karen skirts to go to the shower draped in. Chill. I’m down for a lack of prudishness when most technically useful. or always.. ha. In fact as I was practicing yoga that night in the closed room in my usual extremely minimal attire, our host opened the door as I was in a held plié position uttered “ma pen rei” and started making our bed. Slightly surprised for about half a second, I was more than happy to embrace this attitude of total chillness as to my sweaty practically naked self. My mom and Californian homies are the only ones that offer this level of nonchalance so I felt right at home. This feeling was only further enhanced as after the most frightening shower experience OF MY LIFE (took a really lame flashlight to the I later found out wrong shower that was covered in spider webs as I freaked out the whole time, trying to hastily dumb water from the bucket on my head to get the shampoo mostly out of my hair). Anyways I mentioned there was a TV. Every night there was a TV session and the best cuddle puddle of my life. seriously. So much love it was a cocoon of comfort.
The next day we were asked to teach English which then changed after I had prepared myself to teach into simply teaching a song which wasn’t too difficult though one never knows how much the kids actually retain.
After lunch we wandered around the village with Chit’s sister in law and her baby as they showed us Muré, the pet monkey that I fell in love with and visited every single day, some bunnies she didn’t seem to understand why I wasn’t as stoked to go see and some frogs in a brick circle that they bread for food. Around the village there were sooo many chicks and their mommas and beautiful colorful roosters that were not as loud as the ones at the Hmong dormitory in Naang Province at Jah’s. There were also a lot of pigs and piglets and dogs. super cute.
Khun Chit also brought us down to the fields for the first time that day, the villagers laughed and smiled and stared. One particular character walked by and handed us his scythe montinonning to already cut stalks? of rice. I was a little confused. How am I supposed to cut something that’s already cut? He just wanted us to know what it was like to cut so we both tried it out and it was pretty cool.
The next day we went into town with Chit and his wife to witness so we thought the milling of rice. What actually happened is that we dropped off the rice to get milled and came back once it was done. We were astonished at the fact that the milling reduces the size of the bag the rice is in to half. We were astonished through the week to think of how much effort it takes to cultivate rice and how little is gained. We remembered how Boon, the MMF worker who’s farm we visited with Pete the week before had told us the rice yield this year was not good. IT was also amazing to think of the fact that we were eating rice which had been cultivated by these very people. Very cool. Also interesting to think of what Chit said: “we cultivate to feed ourselves, not to sell”. But then how do they get money? They obviously need money for some things. Even if that’s meat or gas for the car or motto…
IT was really fun going to the day market with Chit and his wife. obviously not a common place for forangs ot be. I definitely felt like I was hanging out with some older cousins or older brother or something. They bought us pad thai to eat on the go and even coconut ice cream with sticky rice as a snack. My obvious favorite. I sadly have not been able to get my fix since then 😦
We picked up the rice and then stopped for qué ti ao because Chit was hungry. always. though interestingly throughout the week there were still times when we got extremely confused about the fact that no one seemed to be eating when we did. be it dinner or lunch we couldn’t understand how chit or his wife did not eat seemingly some days and then others ate 2 as much as one would expect. the lady at the qué tiao shop was a little senile. She commented that I was pretty but my feet “not good”. I had been sitting crossed so as not to turn my back to Chit but pointing ones feet towards anything is very disrespectful in Thailand so she was not happy about that. oops.
Chit brought us to the orchard he was setting up with his wife and we also spent some time with him and his family in their particular set of rice field as they picked up the cut rice form the previous day(s) and slammed it onto a laid out tarp (that would then be tied up and sent off to be milled) that had a rock slab on it to get the rice off of the stalks. I actually understand where the rice is now. They feed the stalks to the cows.
The villagers and specifically Chit’s dad were so very concerned about us. They are used to working hard and it was amazing that they knew that we are not used to this type of work. Totally different from American society where I believe there would have been a type of shaming for not doing the work hard enough or well enough or some comment about not feeling well in the heat and sun… This is a definite cultural gap that we had the refreshing opportunity to experience. A different type of human response that proves that we DO NOT have to interact with each other in negative ways. We felt so at home, accepted, able to ask questions, able to stumble…
As we waited on the side of the road to catch a ride back to Chiang Mai I literaly felt like an abandoned kitten that has to venture in the dirty city to find subsitence. I actually was singing a personal rendition of the old blues. But seriously, it shed a whooole new light to the knowledge of “forced” urbanization. If this is how displaced and depressed we felt after having experienced the comfort of the village atsmosphere for barely a week and having to leave it for something we have somewhat come from and been able to function in previously…CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW TRIBAL PEOPLE FEEL?? When they need to venture off to this cold world they have such limited knowledge of social norms. Where people walk past each other without acknowledging each other, where there is no depth, no affection, no grace… This reality was a lot to come to terms with.
It was really interesting and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I spent time with the village kids, one rowdy little extravert boy in particular that would come up to us to sleep on our stomachs or run after me with my hoola hoop. The day of our departure however, I was outside throwing away our trash and was so surprised that I hadn’t realized he was squatting between the two houses the whole time. He was being so quiet. He seemed sad, a little angry. Il boudait.
Our eyes met and he turned his away. We went up to eat breakfast and were surprised when Chit asked us if we were ready. We hadn’t seen his wife or children. His family was in the field. We packed up our things and headed out I nthe car. I was still surprised once we passed the lake that we hadn’t stopped on the way out to say our goodbyes. I was still half expecting it. What is the tribal costum for semi informal goodbyes? Do they shy away from departures? Did we not really mean much? Do they expect to ignore departure as something important so its just like any other day till the day we come back? It was difficult. Yet another connection that had no real closure. But maybe it is for the best. To not always be saying teary eyed goodbyes forever, around the world. Just to say hello, to spend good times together and to flow in and out of the different parts of my family. the different homes where I have left a aprt of my heart.
Our last night of practicum was surreal. Sureal because it was surreal to think that it was so benign what was happening but so wonderfly unique, so sweet and so ful of the peace of God. We have shaped a deep bond with Chit throughout our practicum. We have seen him in different situations. At work at the office where he is the “new kid” still to some extent, at work in Hmong villages, interacting with Karen villages and completely in his element in his village. We went on a long drive on Thursday with Chit and the 18 year old kid we had interacted with. Chit had been working in the field but had just showered, had on rolled up worn out jeans, a beautiful traiditonal Karen red woven shirt and powder on the nape of his neck. A different attire than the usual shirt he wears when interacting with villagers or at the office.
We visited two villages that were both quite dark feeling. Our last night I asked him through broken translation “Was there a problem”. Yes he said “but I can’t tell you.” Language barriers.
Our last night was a night of jokes and laughter that carried on outside in the light of the bright stars and the open fire we had and where a cricket Chit’s wife caught ended up getting grilled before chewed up “arroy”. Apparently the whole village thinkgs we’re monkeys because of how many bananas we eat. Fine by me as I laughed swinging from one of the stilts of the house in construction.
We also grew addicted to instant coffee. On the day we rode off to the villages I had already consumed 4 cups… oops. “I feel weird” I told Bethany as The car bounced up and down the windy dirt road. We soon figured out change in altitude+fatigue+absurd amount of caffeine = weird drive. Chit and Chacha? soon figured that out as well as on the way back I got Behtnay to sing a song with me and soon Chit was asking us “Sing a Song”. Which we did the whole hour and a half ride back. It was hilarious. though we may have scared the kid ahah. Chits words still ring with joy and laughter in my ears “I think tonight you are very happy! You make me very happy!”.
As we stared into the warm flames, Chit expressed how sorry he was he didn’t speak English. Moment fort. “We don’t understand your words” I said “but we know your heart. You know?” Yes I know he replied.
We spent a lot fo time talking or looking for words in our dictionary that night. I asked Chit if he liked working at MMF. “Yes because I like MCMP project”. True, seeing him interact with the Karen villagers you could tell how passionate and dedicated he is. I asked when he would come home again after being in Chiang Rai. Only in a month. He comes home once a month. He’s only been working at MMF for 3 months and it then dawned on me that Tim had told us before we knew any faces or stories that Chit’s wife was hoping ot find a place to work in Chiang Rai. But seriously… Who would want to live in the city when you live in the most beautiful place ever?
I tried to ask about missing his family. Chit and his wife spoke across the table in Karen for a couple minutes. It was so beautiful to watch them. “I work at MMF. My wife work at the village. You know? “ Bethany and I both chimed in Yes! and he instantly clipped this to our reply “But I don’t know.” This statement carried all the weight of the situation we had observed and been a part of. How much his wife and 7 and 8 year old must miss him, how dedicated to work he is…
We were enjoying each others presence and I was thinking about how this moment was a gem in a life. How anything added or substituted to it would render it unfeasible. After having shared our hearts, our music, our fears and hopes through language other than verbal, I asked if we could pray “atitan”. I led a short prayer in the light of the fire that I hope was stornlgy felt. We stayed a little longer and Chits wife brought us down to the house were the pastor’s assistant wife’s family was cuddling in front of the TV. She stayed a while and eclipsed herself into the dark night. Perhaps that was her goodbye. I hope I’ll see her again.
But I don’t know.