The smell of the fresh jungle and red dirt. The sight of bamboo huts and children running with the chickens. Elders greeting one another in Hmong language. It was a sight of life that is rich in resources, crafts, and family ties. Many babies were strapped to grandparents backs with the traditional weaved pattern on a cloth behind the baby. The sky seemed a little hazy as I looked up to the surrounding hills that towered in my eye sight. The hills that reached steep heights were covered in fields of corn and producing trees. The jungle overtook the rest of the land. As if taking a step back into time, the people love the same now as they have for hundreds of years. The only difference now is the use of vehicles and some electricity. The houses are still the same make of bamboo and wood. The clothing is from the city, but the traditional wear is still the same. There is no concept of time or day. Just season of crops and when the sun rises and falls. It reminded me of Haiti, and the sad reality of what Haiti could be if it were not stripped of its resources. We were introduced to the church elder and an older gentleman who seemed full of stories. I played peak-a-boo with a child that was strapped to her grandmas back as the men chatted. I smiled big, because it was the only form of communication I had. We rode over to the main part of the village. The houses were in rows and people were doing embroidery, rocking babies, cooking food, sitting around and chatting, and took a great chunk of their time staring at us. I smiled and nodded, and many of the women returned the same look. It almost felt like I was transported in time, but this is life for people here. They farm, the craft, and they live life simply.
What struck me the most however was one women. Her eyes were slightly sunken in. She looked incredibly thin and slightly sickly. And in her arms was a newborn child. I smiled at her and she smiled back. The life at first glance is glorified simplicity. People may seem content, which some are. But farming is no easy task and traditions that are centuries deep do not provide opportunities for the people. The youth struggle with drugs and the sharp comparison of life in the city. The rise of material wealth is becoming a way of life that Thailand did not know before, which causes daughters to become sex workers, sons to head to the city, and the continual happening of family ties broken. Right before my eyes, life is changing here. The cities are becoming more industrialized, more material, with taller buildings. Being in Chiang Rai is a taste of what Chiang Mai used to be, but it is soon to catch up.
After walking in the main part of the village, we returned to where the Christians live. It has become apparent in my travels here that many hilltribes still have animist beliefs and often force the Christians to move elsewhere or slightly away from the main village. They prepared us dinner, which consisted of rice, cooked up plants from the jungle, and fish. And when I say fish, I literally mean little fish they caught and fried up, with eye balls looking straight at you. I thought I would attempt to eat it, but gagged at the thought, so I slid it onto Chi’s plate to eat. After dinner the men sat around and chatted. I asked the one guy who knew English some questions about the village and the issues they face. I watched the children make pictures in the dirt and chase each other around. Such joy and laughter. As I watched them run around, I wondered what the future will look like for them. Will they follows their heritage of farming, or will they follow the changing world of materialism and the rise of technology. These children will suffer a different way as they grow in a developing society.
As the sun set about 6:30pm, activity slowed. The men met up in the church as Leah and I did some moon flow yoga. I have never met anyone who is so dedicated to yoga, and I have come to appreciate her love for it. I have to modify the workouts cause of my wrists, but it is a good way to get a small workout in. We spent the night in a tent, in the village church. It was incredibly humorous to me to be in a tiny tent in a big space. The bathroom situation was also entertaining to figure out. A squatty potty that was raised up a foot from the ground, and a giant bucket of water with a scooper for showering. I can now say I have taken a shower in a remote village! It seemed we barely slept as someone yelled wake up, it’s time for breakfast. I rolled over on the hard tile floor and sat up in the tent, poked my head out and said well good morning to you too. We had rice and fried egg for breakfast, which I ate little of cause it was so early. I had no idea what people were saying, but the body language gave clues of saying thanks and goodbye. We hopped back in the car and rode back through the windy bumpy hills of northern Thailand. It felt like the mountain drives I used to take at camp. I would sit with my head out the window and just watch the trees pass by. I attempted to sleep on the way home, but on bumpy roads, your head gets knocked around a lot. On the way home we stopped for keuw teow (soup noodles), but it had a chicken foot in it. Literally a foot, cooked up and served. I told Leah it was a foot and she was fine with it until she poked it with her chopstick and realized it really was a foot, skin and all. We laughed about that for awhile and the proceeded to scoop it into our drivers bowl. We returned to MMF a day early, and I still am not sure why, but I’m not complaining. Cabin fever would of kept going if we hadn’t.
Friday was a slow moving morning. I did not sleep well, but participated in a dance workout with Leah. We rode over to stay with a family who the husband works for MMF. It was nice to be in a home, with a shower that can be warm, and home cooked food. We wandered around the mall in the afternoon and sat in a coffee shop for a little while. We had rice noodles and spaghetti sauce for dinner before their bible study began. We sang worship songs with no instruments. The song called The Deer was sung, which I did not recognize at first, but the melody triggered a memory. A memory of when I was little and crying about a nightmare. In my Minny mouse pink footy pajamas I walked to my parents room and mom shuffled me out, picked me up and sang as she cradled me in a rocking chair. The melody triggered the memory, but it also made me appreciate the love and care I receive from my parents, even miles away from home. I am incredibly thankful for them. For creating a childhood I could thrive in and instilling in me a heart for the world.
The tragedy of traveling is perhaps the brokenness left behind. The reality that my friendships and relationships will change when I return. The frightening reality of returning home such a different person with newfound perspective. The journey that I set out in alone with the purpose of fulfilling a dream. No one can walk this journey with me, because it is the road that has been set out for me to take. I have the support of the people back home and the people here who are walking a similar experience, but we perceive the same situation differently. And we are effected differently by each motion that is presented before us.
Friday night was the first time that I let the tears fall. Shielded by darkness I let the reality of the ache of my body reveal itself. The uncomfortableness of yet another new sleeping surface with sheets that feel like sand paper and using my sweatshirt once again as a blanket and the hood as a pillow. I attempted to roll on my side, but the pain seemed too great. So while listening to Bon Iver on my iPad, I reminded myself this moment too shall pass. Three weeks of not sleeping well seemingly is adding up. Even when I woke up I was in a rather solemn mood. But the comfort of a real cup of coffee placed before me and some scrambled eggs was enough to stop the tears from daring to escape from my poor upset body. I could choose to not include everyone on the realities of the rough parts of studying abroad, but that would be unfair to avoid the raw experience of it. Strangely enough, I am not homesick. I’m just tired of being in pain and tired of not sleeping well. Perhaps it has come with maturity of life experience that I choose not to dwell on these things. My body will have to take the blow at least for another week before I can get any bug bite, rash, sore, tendon, or nerve to calm down. If anything it makes me appreciate the moments I can take a real shower, sit on something soft, or hear English and actually know what is going on. With each struggle of pain or newfound sore, I become a little more resilient. And a little more understanding of the struggles of being abroad.
Saturday we we got dropped off in downtown Chiang Rai. We sat in a coffee shop and had fries and fresh fruit and wrote out our thoughts for the week. We then walked around downtown, ate some spring rolls, and waited for the walking street to start. As the sun began to set, the walking street started to become a crowded place. The walking street here has a lot more clothing, but is limited for size small. Which is perfect for me! We ate some delicious coconut ice cream and sweated our way through the crowd. It’s cooler than in Chiang Mai, but it is still very hot. We got picked back up and returned to our host home to watch Sense and Sensibility. I am a huge Jane Austen fan and reacted to it as if it was the first time I was seeing it. It was also comforting to be in a home and have the chance to give my mind a break by watching something familiar. I had trouble falling asleep once again and woke up tired and worn. Not even a good attitude can fight the body not feeling well.
On Sunday, we went to Boom Rawd tea farm and enjoyed a hot cup of tea and the beautiful view. It was comforting to be amongst nature. I held the hot cup of tea in my hand and smiled at the comfort of its warmth. It was a moment of peace for my tired and worn out body. We chatted for awhile with our host lady and then returned back to the house where my body crash napped for a bit. In the evening we went to the night bizarre and had a delicious dinner, which included a dragon fruit frappe. In my attempts to sleep, I bought an angry birds fleece child’s blanket for five bucks. Hopefully it will help my body find some comfort in the attempt to sleep. We walked into one shop and chatted with the lady. She is a professor and her students make the things in the store. Leah and I both spotted a beautifully embroidered vest. It fit, but was costly, even for the “special student price”. In walking away from a purchase that would not have been practical for Oregon weather, I became inspired. I could make my own jacket. The embroidery design is more from the Hmong hilltribes. My partiality to weaving and my love for it, has brought me to the conclusion that I could make my own weaved jacket. And how much better would it feel to have made something by my design, but with my love for Lahu weaving be a part of it. Needless to say, when I return to Chiang Mai, I may be on quite the mission to accomplish a craft.
Thailand has been such a dream, but it is not without it’s challenges. My health is a battle, and it is incredibly frustrating. As the week shifts into rural village life on Wednesday, I have to strengthen myself to be ready for what it may bring, and the reality that my body will have to endure a few more hard surfaces before The Phuket beach next week. Thank you everyone for your prayers, I really appreciate it. One more week left of practicum and then the semester will move incredibly fast!