Friday, January 30, 2009


So I've been living in the mountains of northern Thailand with the Karen tribe for the past two weeks, farming and weaving and chopping firewood and taking ice cold bucket baths whenever I can get up the courage. I'm spending the weekend in Pai, a really cool town about six hours away from the village. I absolutely adore Ban Huay Hee, but I'm so not complaining to have a real bed and a hot shower for three days. By not complaining, I mean I'm jumping for joy. And singing, and dancing, and shrieking... I'm completely over the moon. I was so, so dirty. Now I am clean!
My family in the village is great. I live with a grandma and grandpa in a large-ish bamboo hut with a kitchen, a living room, and a small store room. We share a bamboo outhouse with one of their sons, his wife, and their one year old baby (and Renee, who lives with them). Loads of chickens and pigs and small dogs live under our house, which is raised a good four feet off the ground on stilts of sorts. We've been learning Thai, but that hasn't helped me with my family. Only the younger people in the village speak Thai, the rest (aka my host parents) speak only the tribal language, Bakinyon (which I probably spelled atrociously). Like all the women in the village, my mother weaves. It's amazing, and there's no way I can describe it well enough to do it justice. So just wait, until I upload a video of her doing it. Renee and I have learned from her, and finally gotten good enough to not ruin whatever we're working on. It's the sort of loom that loops around your back, if any of you reading this know what you're talking about when it comes to weaving.
Because it's the dry season, they aren't doing too much farming. The harvest was finished a few months ago, so right now they are working on preparing the new field. They have more free time than they do in the main farming seasons, so there is a lot of weaving going on. Also, the women go every day to chop firewood, which is a really simple a way to describe this huge undertaking. My mother carries a large basket on her back, with a machete and ax in it. We literally hike up a mountain, to near where last years field was. When we've been walking for about twenty minutes or more, she and her friends decide it's a good place and proceed to completely destroy any fallen trees dumb enough to be in their way. They hack them into little bitty pieces and jam them into the baskets til they are overflowing. Sometimes they are done when the baskets are full- other times, they continue to chop down every tree they can get their hands on, chop them into logs, stack them, and abandon them. I really don't understand that part. It's possible they're letting the firewood dry out. It's possible they're starting to clear a new field. I have no clue. Either way, they finish their chopping, pack the axes into the baskets, and loop the basket strings around their heads so the weight is on their necks and backs. My mother here is a grandma, and actually looks extraordinarily like my (paternal)grandma back home. Yet she's only 48! She works all day, every day.
Ohhhhh wait, time for dinner. I'll write more tomorrow I swear! I have to tell you all about the farming in the village, which is amazing and totally sustainable and makes delicious, healthy food. Also about what we've been learning, and the hike to the top of the mountain and hanging out with the queen's personal guard when we got there (it was a training day), and lots of other stuff. That just there was a preview. Wait on the edge of your seats for the rest!
And delight in the knowledge that I am so, so, clean, and will be sleeping in a real bed tonight!

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