I stepped my feet to the right in attempt to follow the Lahu lady’s steps as we our hands swung in and out of the circle. The men danced around in the middle of the circle with two of them playing tribal flutes. Everyone was laughing and trying to figure out the steps. I looked up to notice the Grandma of the family who was taking care of us. Her eyes showed a reflection of joy. I watched her as she looked upon the scene of us and the Lahu dancing around the room. I did not need translation to understand her feeling in this moment. Her eyes and her gentle smile revealed it all. She leaned against the wall with her hands resting on the wall near her head. A depiction of happiness, calm, and the essence of pure joy. My heart in the moment was content. And the feeling was strong that perhaps I have found what I have been looking for all along in Thailand.
We left early Thursday morning for the village of Lampang. I rolled my body out of bed and packed my things. A normal day in the life of a traveler, and only now have I gotten faster at packing what I need. I walked downstairs with sleepy eyes, grabbed a muffin, and shuffled to the truck. I played with the two little ones in the truck on the way over to the village. As soon as the truck turned down the road to the village, I could sense familiarity of village life. The dogs on the road. The chickens running about. The smell of jungle and smoky air. The noise of chatter, motos, and barking. We arrived where we would be staying and ate lunch in a grand setting on the floor. The afternoon consisted of basket weaving with bamboo. I sat down, tucked my Lahu skirt around my feet and tried to pay acute attention to the Grandma’s weaving of the bamboo. It made sense when she did it, but she passed it over to me and I had trouble figuring it out. She put her hands over mine and guided them to weave the bamboo strip in between the others. As instructed, I used my foot to keep the line of bamboo in place as I started to weave. Grandma was patient with me and guided me. I do not fully understand how to make a weaved basket, but as I got the rhythm down I felt a part of something. The village started out doing basket weaving, and the Grandma who taught me was the one who brought basket weaving to the village. Although the practice is not as much since they transitioned to a coffee village, the task is beautiful and incredibly creative. Leah and I were shuffled into the kitchen to finish a whip stitch of bamboo on the top of each of our baskets. The motion brought memories of my heritage and the familiar feeling of hand sewing something. Except this time it was with bamboo. My heart was calm. I listened to the chatter of Lahu and English, the crackle of the fire, and the endless giggles from our host. It was a tranquil moment as I stitched the top of my basket. The evening ended with a walk through the village and laughter by a fire.
Saturday I awoke to the sounds of a usual village morning. Loud talking, dogs barking, laughter, and the smell of the freshly started fire. I smiled (which usually does not happen in the morning for me). I smiled because it felt like home. It felt like my family reunion. And in a way it was. A family reunion with a family I had never met, but God destined for me to meet. And the commonality of all loving God created the beautiful moment of sharing, laughter, and endless joy. After a family style breakfast we headed out to the coffee fields. We rode in the back of a truck across a couple creeks and up a bumpy road. It felt like an Indiana Jones ride! Now I am wondering why people make rides for thrill, when they could just ride in a truck through a village! The sun seemed in harmony with the world. The rays of light gently passed in between branches of the coffee trees and covered the hills in glorious light. I wrapped my scarf over my head, was handed a basket, and worked alongside the Lahu workers. I reached up to grab the red berries that mysteriously contain coffee beans and noticed the perfect lighting. My first instinct was to take a picture, but instead, I just soaked up the moment. I stared up at the red berries as the morning light delicately shined against the leaves. I smiled at the beautiful feeling of being alive and being able to work alongside people who pick coffee for months. To see and understand with my own eyes. To seek answers and to be with people. To experience life a world away from what I have known and to see the world bigger than I have before. It was a morning of laughter, picking coffee, and soaking up all life had to offer in a village. We took a break to have plum juice with honey that had been fermented for six years. I held kittens and played with the two year old that was with us before returning to picking berries. I stepped a few trees away to hide in the shade, but was distracted by the scenery. I could hear the crackles of the creek, the wind through the trees, the fresh smoky filled air from the kitchens, and the soft sound of birds chirping. I could hear the Lahu talking a few feet away from me. I picked coffee slowly to not upset my wrists too much, and let the calm of the moment seep deep into my heart. To never forget the tremendous peace that surrounds the village and the peace that surrounds my heart. We ate lunch in our hosts house, which had a western toilet, gasp! Literally the nicest bathroom I think I have been in for weeks, and it is up in the hills of the coffee village. After Lunch I rested with a kitten purring on my chest. I let the moment seep further into me as I listened to the hum of the kitten’s purr and the Lahu worship music coming from the radio above my head (which also somehow echoes to the field). I stepped back outside to continue picking and had heartfelt conversations about life and communicating with people.
In the evening we had dinner, danced, and laughed. We had a unique time of being able to ask the villagers questions about their daily life and struggles. I learned the village has many looms, which is started and funded by the royal project. The people also wish they could expand into the jungle, but the government does not allow them too. They grow coffee and passion fruit because it works best with the terrain they live on. I most in captivated by what Grandma said. She articulated her joy and happiness of being with people. The joy of having us there, even though they worked slower so they could be in community with us. In community. Village life is about community and taking care of one another. Something I think I came to find and understand. Community, joy, and love. I see how everyone in a village is connected and how generations live together. I see how hard the moms work to keep their children healthy and loved. I see the seed of joy that grows abundantly as their crops do in the fields. I see life clearer. How love leads everyone to take care of one another. How strong love can be and how it bonds communities together. Incredible. I am blessed to be able to be in community with people who love relentlessly and hospitality is in their nature.
On Saturday I woke up to the sound of So Pa (our host) giggling and yelling gin cao (eat rice). After banging on the bamboo slit wall, she poked her head in and looked at me and repeated “gin cao!” I could not help but giggle. We ate porridge rice, had some coffee, and headed off for a jungle trek. We trekked literally straight up the mountain. I was struggling to keep up with the muddy hills and ducking under the orchard wires. The Lahu men cut a stick of bamboo and handed it to me to use for a trekking pole, which helped tremendously. I heaved my way up the hill, all the while soaking up the scenery. Tall trees, orchards, coffee trees, tiny trails leading straight up the mountain, birds chirping in song, and leaves surrounding the ground in array of diversity. We stopped on occasion to catch our breath and stare out at the scenery. We were handed various nuts from trees to try from our Lahu guides. I felt as if I was training to summit Mt. Hood it was so steep. I hit a moment of perfect rhythm of breath, movement, and thought. I was thinking about hard work and love. How hard the Lahu work just to take care of their families. How many times they have trekked up this mountain to grow crops just to earn a few dollars at the market. And here I was heaving up the hill. We ate lunch at the top of the mountain on a pile of leaves they made for a table. My body was nervous for the decent, I figured it would be muddy and slick. I knew the danger of my arm becoming worse if I fell. And my clumsy feet could not hold a steady balance with the mud and downhill slope. I was thankful for the assistance of the Director and one of our Ajarn’s that were on either side of me during the descent. They held me steady and upright so I did not fall or slide down the hill. My body almost shook out of the nervousness of the possibility of falling. Considering what happened last time, I did not want to fall if I could avoid. In the moment of the director testing the ground, while hanging onto my right arm, and Ajarn hanging onto my left, I realized it really does take a village to get me anywhere. I was also thankful for the village mentality of community. How I was not holding anyone back, because everyone moves together. The insecurity always arises of holding people back because of my inability to move very quickly. The verbal reassurance of I could take my time helped calm the worry of weakness. It was incredibly physically challenging, but I can feel myself get physically and mentally stronger with every experience that seems to wrench every part of me.
God broke and burned pieces of me so I could grow stronger. So I could understand the pieces of my heart, my story, and my journey better. It will be a long road of discovery, and perhaps God will break all the pieces again to be rebuilt. For now, it is a healing of body and heart. I think a part of me in coming to Thailand was looking for joy. To understand joy and what it looks like in suffering. I can physically suffer and be in pain constantly, but my heart can still be joyous. My heart can acknowledge the pain, but not take it fully in. Which is incredibly difficult for one who takes on the emotions around her to better understand people. I can see, feel, and understand. But I do not have to let it all seep into my being. I continue to contemplate joy, and through every exerting jungle trek, I better understand my levels of joy in the moment and pain in the past.
After the morning jungle trek, we loaded up our things and headed back to Doi Saket. The hum of the car and the sleeping children next to me lulled me to sleep. Arriving back at the house I was tired and a little worn out, but my heart is full of joy. In two weeks I will be home, and what bittersweet feelings it brings even thinking of it. This week we have finals for our classes and then the last week is packing and taking in everything we possibly can before leaving. It has all gone by fast and I am trying to take in every last moment.
more photos can be found here: http://s1369.photobucket.com/user/Bethany_Widdicombe/library/Joy%20In%20Community?sort=3&page=1