Thursday, February 6, 2014

Village Life!

After settling our feet in Chiang Mai and moving into our new homes near campus, we left town to spend four nights and five days with host families in a Northern Thai village.  It was by far one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had!  The village is about two hours north of Chiang Mai and the drive up was beautiful, as we headed out of the city and into rolling mountains.  It was is if you could feel time slowing down.  I had no idea what to expect, but was open for a new experience.  One of the very first things that I realized was that we were headed into farmland - and more specifically - rice!  We had the opportunity to help work in the rice fields and got to get our hands dirty!  It was nice to be out working and we all had our hats on to avoid the hot sun.  We also had many chances to enjoy the fruits of labor as rice is a staple served at every meal!  I did not complain! The food just kept getting better and our lovely host mother (who we called 'mae' for mother) spent hours preparing our meals.

Rice fields and rolling mountains!

While living in the village for a week it was amazing to see how self sustaining the community was and how they all worked together.  Our family had chickens which provided eggs and meat, as well as fish in large cement containers and not too far from our house - pigs!  They also kept frogs, which I did not get the pleasure of trying.  Mae practically spent all day in the kitchen preparing our meals, which I could not thank her enough for.  I offered many times to help and she insisted otherwise.  The houses are closely placed together and none of them have boundary fences therefore anyone can walk through the yard of any house.  The community spirit was unlike any I had seen before.  The calm, friendly demeanor of everyone made me feel like I was part of the family and it was difficult to leave. 
Gai! (chicken)

A hot coal stove for cooking and broom.

Neighbors overlooking the rice fields.
Mu! (pig)

Sunset over the rice fields.
One morning we had the opportunity to participate in a Buddhist ceremony.  We left at 7am piled in the back of pick up trucks to the temple (Wat) a short few miles away.  Although the temperature rises to the 90s midday, the winter months in the mountains bring cool mornings, my guesstimate being 40-50 degrees F.  (I know that is considered a heatwave in my hometown back in Maine, USA about now!) One of the courses I am taking at school is Buddhism and it was great to see first hand some of the traditions and actually participate in making offerings to Buddhist monks.  We brought large bowls filled with food and rice as well as bouquets of flowers with candles and incense in which we piled into heaps of colorful offerings. After placing the offerings on the table we sat in a covered area to hear the monks share (unfortunately I could not understand as they spoke in Thai, but I could pick up on the tones and vibes of the ancient practices).  I was blown away at how much our host mother wanted us be involved and guided us at every step of the way.  My first impressions of Buddhism were all inclusive, community participation and deep tradition and meaning in everything they do.  I am very excited to learn more through the semester and realize how lucky I am to get to experience it first hand here in Thailand!

Breakfast provided after the ceremony.
Wat (temple)

A lesson on homemade shampoo!
Got to take some with me to try!
Towards the end of the week we were able to venture out in the day to learn about organic gardening practices in the area.  First stop was an organic farmer who believes in growing foods free from harmful pesticides.  It was their experience that when growing crops and applying the chemicals, sometimes an order to pickup came before the "ok" time was able to pass on these foods, therefore leaving the farm while still potentially harmful.  Having a clear conscious this farmer was not going to continue with these practices and began to research alternative methods to provide crops that are safe for him to farm as well as for the consumer to have.  While here we helped plant seeds for marigold plants and caught fish in a pond! (without using a single fishing pole!) We cooked the fish in a giant pot of soup with vegetables and spices and munched on sticky rice with banana (becoming a quick favorite of mine!).  We also learned about how farmers are making their own organic fertilizers and had a few demonstrations on their processes.  The farmers were all eager to teach and show us how they work to make better farming - and all with tremendous passion.  At the end of a full day we had the pleasure of heading to a forested park to cool off before we made it back to the village for dinner - - with waterfalls!

Cooking fish soup!
Mixing organic fertilizer!
Flower garden.

Most nights while the last preparations for dinner were taking place, I went out for a bike ride through the streets that wove through the rice fields and connected neighboring villages.  It was hard to imagine at times that I was here, biking through fields surrounded by mountains, palm trees, temples, buffalo and the occasional passing of a fire pit burning.  Oh, and lets not forget the swarms of bugs to pedal through!  I took in every moment, even if I had to ride with my mouth closed.  What a beautiful opportunity to take in Northern Thailand, to experience life a bit slower than back home with the most friendly and hospitable group of people.

At the end of our stay we made a trip to the hot springs.  There were a few containers that held water too hot to touch, instead, they were reserved for boiling eggs.  We all enjoyed boiled eggs for snacks while we waded in larger pools of water that was just bearable to enter.  An interesting way to pass the time - especially in 90 degree weather!
Freshly boiled eggs!
Hot spring.
It was very sad to leave the village, even though we were only there for a relatively short time.  During the stay we broke through language barriers with smiles, hand gestures and searches through Thai-English dictionaries to understand each other.  I was able to see what life is like on literally the other side of the world!  I will always be grateful to my host family and the village for welcoming us with open arms into their homes.  To conclude the stay we had a community dinner, which included another wonderful meal prepared by all of the houses, and a display of authentic Thai dance put on by the young girls in the village as well as the older girls.  They were adorable!  After dinner we had a huge surprise - releasing lanterns!!  I did not think I would get the opportunity to do this in Thailand (which is not the case because I see lanterns flying through the sky every night!), and we sent quite a few floating into the clear night. Amazing.  We also sat by the fire pit and cooked sticky rice!! Which is soaked rice placed in bamboo and cooked on the fireplace (another quick favorite of mine). Then the microphone came out and the entire village sang and danced into the night, all celebrating the wonderful week we shared together.

My host family and two roommates!

End to a wonderful week experiencing village life.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Carly! Just wanted to let you know that Martha, Angie, Ann and I were checking out your blog this morning and you have some pretty AMAZING pictures and facts on here! We all miss you but we are all happy to see that it looks like you are having a great time! Yesterday Ann was asking about how to boil an egg so I pointed out to her today that obviously you need to drop it in a hot spring! Haha Also about the 'cool morning' of 40-50 degrees F. I know you probably didn't go to the ceremony on February 6th but I went back and checked the weather here in your home town for that day and it was a Hi of 23F and a Low of 8F.. lol but nothing compared to Today (the 28th) where at 11:22a it is a Sunny 18F and feeling like 1 degree! Heatwave is a great word for it because at this point it would feel like the tropics for us! Well keep the updates coming! We hope everything is going great and you are staying safe!

    -Your Family at the Center!