The Colours

The change in weather here is just fantastic! I am very sensible to light, so with no curtains in my room I wake up very very very early. Sometimes i cover my face and go back to sleep. But the first light is just “unmissable” as the sky goes red, and pink, and golden, and it is just sooooooooooo beautiful! Out of my window I see anything but green fields, and trees and the occasional buffalo. Then the sun goes up, while the temperature rises, the sky becomes completely blue, everything is bathed by light and then suddenly the wind blows, and the dark, heavy, clouds seem to appear from nowhere, and they suddenly burst, strongly, washing it all….it almost feels like a painter painting a picture on a canvas, shade by shade, tone by tone, detail by detail and then when it reaches perfection the painter tired with so much beauty just pours water all over it, and then starts all over again.

Everything seems more alive here. The storms, the sun, the clouds, and the animals. I sat today in the little straw hut in the garden, i was supposedly going to do some yoga but as I sat the wind blew, and I decided to instead pay attention to the sounds. the birds were just so lovely, that I dozed off. And when I woke up the sky was dark, not because it was night, it was just the “painter” tired again.

Have I told you about the geckos? They are “GINmormous!!!” And they make the funniest noise ever. And they are actually sooo beautiful. When i first asked what is that? as I was hearing a loud and strange noise, Non Nan ( Oh I go back to explain who she is in a second, in fact I will explain the name thing, which i finally get it!) took me by hand to show me… I followed her till she pointed to the wall, I looked and saw nothing, she placed my head in the correct position, and when I saw the size of the gecko I almost fainted.. it was at least 40cm. Do they bite? I asked? She said yes. Well, after one fell in my foot one of these days i lost part of my fear, and could observe from up close how beautiful they actually look. Nature that lively and noisy is not a total surprise to a brazilian, but geckos that loud, and big, and fat are 🙂 (at least to a Brazilian from Sao Paulo)

Non Nan lives here in our house. Her mother abandoned her when she was born, and her father does not care about her, so Horm ( I have all this time been misspelling her name it is with a M and not N) took her in. She lives here, goes to the same school where I volunteer and is quite lovely. Before I came to Thailand, one of my very dear friends in England, who is actually Polish, gave me two little books with pictures from Brazil, when I showed my surprise he explained me it was to show the Thai “nothing better than pictures when you cant communicate!”. I have written about how moved I was in my Blog, but only now can I actually understand how right he was! Only Maciek could think about that. I showed Non Nan as we can barely communicate, and you know what she looked at the most? Not the cities, not the people, not the beaches, but the fruits and animals. We have so many alike. I thought it was just beautiful to look at her looking so attentively to the herbs, and fruits, and animals, from such a distant continent and smiling when recognizing them. Non Nan is 12 and is in the last year of our primary school, she is the one who teaches PE. In Thailand parents are obliged to send their kids to school from when they are 4 till 15. School provides meals, and i guess a somehow nationalistic feeling, and some Buddhist teaching as we do go to temple and do a short meditation before school starts. I am in a part of Thailand called Isaan. It is in the northeastern part of Thailand, and I just learned that what they speak home is actually something much closer to Laos than to Thai. In school they learn Thai and English.

They have names and nicknames. And the calling thing goes as folllow: everyone who is younger than you you should call Non and then nickname. So for instance older people call me Non Ju ( sounding more like Non tchu) Everyone that is older you should call Pi. Non means little sister, and Pi older. So that basically means people always ask your age when they first meet you. If you are the same age you just say the nickname. I have been by the way been given a longer name : Kunkrun Ju ( Tchu) LaiArat, which literally means teacher Ju the lovely lady 🙂

The sky is going pink again, the sun is setting. I should not miss that.

Thai Dancing

The rainy season is usually frowned upon by many prospective travellers to South-East Asia. Only now however, do i understand how great an enormous storm in the middle of the day can feel. The weather cools off, the stuffiness of the air disappears, and it feels like you’re starting anew. The storms themselves are just great. Rain pouring down, blasting thunders, lightning that seems to divide the sky into a million different pieces. unfortunately, however, even now during the rainy season these storms do not happen that often. In fact, this weekend the Hae Tian (a candle parade) is going to be celebrated. A Buddhist holiday marking the commencement of the rain’s retreat. That is why yesterday in class we spent half of the day practicing Thai traditional dancing. It was mayhem in school. Out of the 4 teachers there were only 2. One had missed school because of the funeral of her mother, while the other had a wedding of his son. So instead of teaching 2 classes we had 4. It was quite nice to see how caring Thai kids are. A couple of older kids took care of the kindergarden class, while Horn and i stayed with grade 1, 2, 5 and 6.

As it was sports day everbody was dressed in blue pants and red shirts. I realised this time that in the beginning of the day, apart from the little meditation and Buddhist prayer, they also sing the national anthem while the flag is being raised. The PE class was taught to the whole school by three 12-year-olds. It was basically some kind of dancing aerobics. In fact they are crazy about music. At some point during the day Horn made them all sing different songs. It was surreal, and i wish i had had my camera with me to record everything. Inside of a little classroom, with lots of echo, grade 1, 2, 5 and 6 were singing on the top of their lungs, drumming on everything that was around. Horn sometimes even conducted them so that one side of the class, grade 1 and 2, would compete against the other side of the class, to see who sang louder. I cannot describe how loud this was! All i could think of was about the very cranky teacher in the English primary school where i volunteered. Not allowing the children to sing loud. Here the kids had lots of fun.

We also played games, and i was invited to play chess and checkers, and even a very modified version of monopoly where nobody ever gets too rich, and the bank is always paying you money whenever you stop at a place. When i had to pay 4000 Bhat and didn’t have it, a litle Thai girl paid it for me. When i had more money i paid her back, even though she didn’t want to accept it. Thai dancing was defintely the highlight of the day. Most kids sucked at it. But the few girls that were really good spent an enormous amount of time teaching me. The other highlight was when during lunch time the cook brought me two large turtles to show me what they were going to eat for lunch. I seriously almost fainted… My heart raced, and i felt the blood drain from my face, and i could not contain my shock. I obviously did not eat the turtle! As they all know by now i am ‘farang’ and ‘Te’ (vegetarian).

On the way back home (did i tell you guys we ride a little motorbike with sometimes 4 people on it) we had to stop by the teachers house to Way her dead mother. In a big room there was a very shiny coffin looking like a big box wrapped with golden paper. There were ‘Christmas’ lights all around it that twinkled the whole time. There were candles, flowers, insence, and i was taught how to Way the dead person. I knelt by the coffin, lit a big stick of insence, held it in my hand in a Way position, said a little prayer, put the insence stick in a pot full of other insence sticks, and bowed my head on a little cushion put there for that purpose. It was actually quite nice. As i wasn’t feeling entirely good at night i didn’t make it to the Thai wedding, which was a pitty. Today, there is going to be a Hae Tian ceremony in the temple here. And this weekend Horn is taking me to Ubon Ratchatani to watch the biggest Hae Tian ceremony on the whole world! I will let you guys know how that goes.

School

Today i was quite homesick for a moment. I am not sure if it is the enormous heat, the lethargic state i am in, the difference in food and habits, or what is probably just referred to as the culture shock 🙂 These lows come and go and i hope this one will pass soon…

My village, my very rural village, has according to “horn” (my Thai hostess) about 100 houses. From my house i can’t see any of those. I can see rice fields, a garden, a dirt road, and many different kinds of fruits and flowers. The school has 50 students all together. Every morning they stand in the patio while first the elder kids say some things in Thai, which is followed by Horn giving other instructions. Then standing up they put their hands one over the other with the palms up in front of their bodies. They turn towards the Buddha in the school and they silently make a little meditation in thankfulness to those who helped them. I was quite moved when i first participated in this little ritual. It is all very informal, not like you would maybe think of an Asian country. Apart from the meditation moment the kids move about all the time. After that they all go to their rooms and are told to clean them before the teachers come in.

The school is really very very simple. It has almost nothing, is quite old, but absolutely spotless. There seems to a very intricate system for calling each other, that seems to depend on your age, your social role, your family status, and combining with my lack of knowledge of Thai it becomes almost impossible for me to remember how to call each person.

I am for instance Kru Krum Tchu. Kru Krum means teacher, and Tchu is what they can make out of my name. There are 4 teachers in the school and each class has two grades, with no more than 10 students. Again, everything is very informal, kids run around, talk, sing, walk out, come back. The teachers answer their phones in class, walk out and leave for a long period of time. And i not surprisingly love this informality, as the kids seem very happy, even though they are very poor and mainly live with a grandparent, as the parents have either left, died or live and work in some other city.

Lunch time for me is nightmare… This is due to mainly two factors. First, i absolutely am not used at all to the food. I have in fact been eating very little lately. Secondly, it is the most shocking time for me, as my host who is most of the time friendly and laughing, and kind grabs a broomstick and walks around shouting orders and hitting kids for faults such as forgetting to bring sticky rice, not having their shirts tucked in, not having had their hair cut, and other minor things. I must say that she hits them very softly, and they don’t cry and don’t seem to have any real pain. But i being a total pacifist and completely against physical or emotional violence can’t help but feel shocked, and personally against it. Noticing my discomfort Horn explained me that it is the job of a teacher to teach her students. I didn’t say anything, as it is absolutely clear to me that she loves these kids beyond anything, and even has a couple of them living in her house. And after all who am I to judge their ways?

Most of my first day in school was destined to help two little Thai girls (Tangmo, 9 years old, and Tangnoi, 12 years old), prepare English speeches for the provincial English speech competition the next day. I spent most of the time with Tangmo who is the brightest and cutest girl ever! I was exhausted, and knowing very little Thai i could not figure out whether she kept going just because i was there or because she wanted it. I decided eventually to go check on Horn and Tangnoi and when i found them laying down on the floor laughing a lot i just joined them in a non-stopable exhausted laughter. Later on, the two girls came over to sleep at Horns place. They were thrilled about it! And we practiced even more.

The day after we went to the competition which was held in a big public school. Students from all villages around came to the competition. I was invited to be photographed with every government offical that was around. Being the only ‘farang’ (foreigner) around i felt every move i made was being observed. Everybody was enormously kind and friendly, and somehow puzzled that i was staying in such a little school. I should note here that my school is so little that it is not even in the Thai rankings. To the principal and Horn and my enormous delight Tangmo (the 9 year old) came second in the competition! The first girl came from the first/best school of the province. So, being second in the competition was for that little poor Thai girl and for our school the equivalent to a Nigerian getting a silver medal in the Winter Olympics. And i, thanks to Horn’s enormous kindness, got my own Thai certificate as an English Trainer for Tangmo! I must say, her success has much more to do with her brightness and amazing personality and Horn’s work throughout the years than my couple of hours of help.

So this is what life here in my little village has been like lately. I must confess it is not always easy for me to get adapted to the different lifestyle. I eat too little, can never figure out whether i have a fever or if it is just very hot outside. As i have said in the beginning I sometimes feel homesick, and have even become comfortably aquainted with Filomena, Genevieve, and Isabella, the spiders that permanently live in my room and bathroom 🙂 But even those lonely moments seem unimportant when i realise the profoundness of my learning, the kindness of my host, and the loveliness of the children. So every day when i ‘Way’ (the way the Thai great each other by putting their hands in prayer form and bowing their head) and i am ‘Way-ed’ back by always smiling people i feel enormous gratitude for being here.

My Rural Life

I am finally in my rural village and let me tell you it is indeed quite rural (with gigantic geckoes, and other quite loud insects). I was picked up in the bus station by my host mother, who immidiately hugged me and told me to call her “thai moma”. With her was a danish older guy who wants to live forever in thailand, a lady in her 40s who i later learned is a lawyer and the cutest 15 year old girl i have ever seen in my life. Before that, I almost missed the bus stop as the driver totally forgot to let me know we were in the right place. Lucklily i had asked a thai lady to write in thai the name of where i had to get off and my neighbour said it was there when i randomly asked about it.

Horm my thai hostess seems to be plugged in electricity. She NEVER stops! She took me around a quite simple market, and quite apauled by my vegetarianism tried to figure out what to buy. I felt slightly bad for it, but only till later as they had the famous bugs as snack when we were visiting a lake. She then took me for lunch and ordered an unusual vegetarian pad thai. The water is served in cups full of ice and I had no courage to tell them I wanted to buy mineral water. I just didnt drink. I thought of all vaccinations i did not take, I didnt not want to be impolite and silently wanted to kiss the lady in london who convinced me to take at least the vaccination agaisnt hepatatites A. “A least to avoid paranoia” she had said. It is quite esy to watch out what you eat as a tourist, as a guest, it is another story!

After lunch I was taken to visit this lake, i in my naivite put my bikini on, only to realize that they all bathe in full clothes. The lake was nice, the highlight were the buffaloes bathing on it, the thai kids with their motrocylce, and it reminded me somehow kusturica “white cat black cat” in its mess. I loved it!

After that they took me to an even more surreal place, a DINOSSAUR park. Seriously, i could not figure out really what it was all about, tons of concrete dinossaurs .I could not understand as my guest ‘s english is for me very difficult to understand. I think there was a dinossaur found there, and it became this strange park after.

From the park we went to a Thai Buddhist Temple. It was gorgeous, and silent, and clean place. We visited all of its corners, until another paranoia hit me. I was being bitten, and I am not taking malaria pills, and I had forgotten my repellent. Well, not really forgotten, just had no idea we were going to be gone for soooooo long.

In sum it was a fantastic day. My host is kind of crazy 🙂 she speaks and eats non stop, and is doing everything to keep me happy and well adjusted. For those of you who know how much I love a burning hot shower you would be happy to know i had my first ever bucket brownish ice cold shower 🙂 It was not that bad, at least not until I noticed the strange looking like insect in the bathroom. I remembered a dear friend who had told me to carefully “swing” my cltohes before putting them on, and thanks to him I was saved from close contact with some other strange thai creature. Apart from the adrenaline releases in my body I kept calm and did not utter a sooound. Again it easier to be a tourist then a guest 🙂