You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.

It’s spring break, songkran festival, and political chaos.

I spent Saturday wandering intentionally through local villages in search of a cotton-weaving factory. By taxitruck and foot, I met some incredib(ly hospitable) Thais along the way. Many were wearing red shirts, and carrying buckets of water (some climbed into the truck and made sure I was sufficiently soaked before departing). Most took time to converse.

Sonkran is the Northern Thai new year. It’s three days of holiday stretched into a week of some sort of region-wide water fight. Seriously. Everyone seems to be carrying squirt guns and/or riding in the back of pickup trucks with drums of water. There is no shelter, the holiday has yet to officially begin, and the city is packed.

I returned home last night (wet, as expected), to find my host father positioned in front of the radio. After watching the news with him today (already knowing a bit of the situation, and that the ASEAN summit had been canceled), I headed over to the internet cafe (our neighbor’s garage) to do some self-informing.

Tomorrow I will join my family for three days of celebration back in their village in the Lampang Province. While the protests provide no personal threat (I’m entirely safe), the situation is quite incredible to be experiencing from within the country.

Watching as the next week unfolds, Reb.

Advertisements

I’m trying to be quiet more often. To listen more fully. To pay attention to silent spaces.

This time studying river ecosystems and issues having to do with human rights has set before me an incredible narrative, of the relationship between humans and their environment, a connection that holds both sorrow and joy. I’m not quite sure how to share this through a blog post, but I’ll try.

In Thai, the word for river is “Meh Nam,” which literally translates as “Mother Water.” This reality, one of life bound up in the river, was humbly evident in the two communities that we stayed over the past two weeks. I would particularly like to share with you about my time in the first village, Nawg Poh, along the Mun River.

3309_624027915892_122745_36742935_4853022_n

The integrity of this river ecosystem and the integrity of its fifty-five villages exist in a seamless relationship. The families there relied almost entirely upon the river. The relationship manifested itself in many ways. That is, many fished (both for subsistence and some income), but the river’s importance spanned far beyond this one, direct connection. Its flood cycle was a curcial part to the agriculture too, rice fields relied upon the flood cycle, as did the commonly-held forests and wetlands (producing vegetables that women, in particular, gathered for food and sale). River-side gardens were an important reality in the dry seasons, as were the dug out pools in the rice fields, created during floods and stocked with fish to breed and createa  source of protein during the drier half of the year, when the river was low.

The Pak Mun Dam project was a hydro-electric initiative. Dam projects are often seen positively not only because of their energy production, but also for their creation of a reservoir upstream is often seen as an opportunity to stock fish and prawns.

However, dams, in how they cut the flow of a river, have damaging impacts upon the communities that hold relationship with the river. The legacy was evident in Nawg Poh. As a dam cuts the flow of a river, fish, sediments, and nutrients (not to mention water) are unable to pass through. This has drastically cut both the quantity and diversity of fish (they can no longer travel upstream to spawn). In addition, the flood cycle is lost, negatively impacting the commons (forests and wetlands) and agriculture efforts. At the same time, the Pak Mun Dam is not actually economically viable. The project has produced far less than it had intended.

Nawg Poh today is a place lacking a generation, where young adults have been forced to leave and search for work elsewhere. Most move to Bangkok or other larger cities, as wage laborers and migrant construction workers. The people of Nawg Poh (mostly grandparents and grandchildren) expressed their mourning not only for the river, but also for their culture and way of life.

 

This is a brief, unthorough explanation of what I was studying in Nawng Poh. However, let it be an introduction to the topic. Perhaps I will return throughout the next two weeks (before I leave the city again) and revisit the issue and flesh out a few more thoughts.

If you are interested in reading details regarding the issue, feel free to check out the official report from the World Commission on Dams.

Until later. Peace, Reb.

This past week has been saturated with good reads and early morning market visits.

School work, and a large portion of my thought-energy has been directed towards the understanding of what it means to integrate human rights and the environment. Hm. In that context, we have been developing our knowledge of river ecosystems and the impacts of dams – both in how they serve as a destructive force in the ecological health of streams, and how they have repeatedly displaced communities along rivers in many different countries (often forcibly and without adequate compensation).

Tomorrow morning I leave for our first expedition course. We will be visiting two different areas of Thailand. I will be staying in rural communities that have been impacted by the construction of a dam and learning how their lives have changed. I will also be paddling another river where there is a proposed site for a dam project.

I look forward to sharing with you all when I return. Until then, I’m going to set myself toward listening, watching, learning, and reflecting. I’m excited about being completely unplugged for three weeks.

Until then, I hope you all stay well.

Peace, Love, and Water Buffalo.
Reb

Life at the moment feels like a nervous new plastic space.

We just moved out of our homestays this morning. My parents dropped me off in my new room with a plastic bag containing bee pollen to drink, sweet purple potatoes, a ceramic mug, and a few slices of green mangos (the hues are slightly shifting to tints of orange, promising sweeter fruit soon).

So much seems to have happened since I’ve last written, but after arriving back from a weekend at Mae Taa where I lived and worked with a community of organic farmers, the last week with my parents in Chiang Mai seemed too valuable to go off and spend an hour at the computer.

To begin, a list of interesting food I’ve encountered recently: larp (raw veal stomach, complete with gastric juices), larvae-containing honey comb, fried chicken feet, and cow/pig placenta. These, of course, are interspersed with boiled eggs, fresh fruit, sweet green (young) rice covered in coconut shreds, fried pumpkin in egg, and an assortment of curries/fish soups/boiled vegetables.

Last weekend provided a series of wonderful events. Mae Taa itself provided a refreshingly calm space outside of Chiang Mai that was both my first introduction to rural life in Thailand as well as an opportunity to move my body around a bit more. The first evening, language immediately became a challenge. Scraping and scrambling through my limited supply of vocabulary, twisting the different tones to hopefully offer anything vaguely recognizable to my host mother was an obvious task. But I opted to stay at a home by myself, precisely to be forced to maneuver through these tasks on my own, so the challenge was slightly exciting.

But perhaps not the most difficult part. That was, to my surprise, trying to prove that I actually wanted to work. As in, plant and weed, hoe and sweat. For a good part of the afternoon my mother insisted I sit in the protection of their cool cement room, bundling produce for the market. While I was happy to help in this way, there finally came a break through on Friday afternoon – when I stubbornly followed her to the field. She chuckled and shook her head but I insisted upon hoeing the ground next to her. When she went to get some greens to transplant, I pushed along and kept working, until the entire section had been completed. It helped, because when she returned to find my face dripping in sweat and my lower shins coated in dust, she seemed to understand my intent. So, together, we crouched over in the irrigation trough and began transplanting the greens. Of course, even with my strong will, I was unable to keep pace with her thirty years of experience, but I managed to hold my part  and complete my section. It felt great.

And so did selling the vegetables at six am on Saturday morning. All together, I was able to attend a co-op meeting (where the farmers chose what vegetables to grow next season), scrap coconuts while squatting on little stump device at a gathering of neighbors (they were making some sort of dessert to sell at the market), and talk a bit with a woman who had just spent the past year on an exchange program in Nepal. There, she worked with a community, teaching them about what the villagers in Mae Taa were doing so that they could adopt a similar program.

The weekend, of course was not finished. Soon after the market on Saturday, my host parents from Chiang Mai picked me off and we drove another two hours outside of the city, to my second village visit. We spent a night in Lampang, the town from which they came. There, the idea of  “Thai family” became more real. Siblings and parents, cousins, aunts uncles – living in close proximity and often on the same piece of land. My parents proudly showed me their childhood homes, how to fish in the canal, and the land where they hope to live one day (both said that if they could choose, they would move back closer to their families).

At one point, I found myself on teh back of this village woman’s motorcycle (I didn’t know her, but met her when I went with my aunt to some celebration), heading towards a wedding. There, eight Thai women toted me around. They fed me crab chips and curry, filled my glass with fanta (while they worked through several servings of whiskey), and giggled at the idea of me performing kareoke on stage. Eventually, I agreed to at least go up and dance. My father eventually came over to the wedding as well. When he arrived, I was dancing with a crowd of women – not one of which who came to above my shoulder in height.

 

So there’s a brief synopsis. I’m now off to my apartment. It should be an interesting change to experience the city in complete freedom. I was sad to leave my parents, but the opportunities are also pretty exciting. (Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll have been to the buffalo market).

Peace, Reb