Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Week 4 – Bits and pieces
As I write, there is a massive storm starting to break around us. It is 2pm in the afternoon, and is darker than it would normally be at 6pm. The sky is a dark grey-brown and the rain is pouring down outside with thunder all around us. This is the first storm we have had here. It is fantastic. “The rains are here!” we’ve been saying to each other... I have been just waiting for rain to come, because everything is so dusty. If you think of what it was like in Sydney after the dust storm, with a fine layer of dust over everything, it is a little like that here. After today, everything will be shining and clean.
This week there has not been much happening.... A lot of us started coming down with the flu. As a result, I have had days with not much happening as I haven’t been up to very much with my intern work.
Last weekend we went to Phu Chi Faa to watch the sunrise over the mountains looking over Laos.
We had Thai interns move in with us into our communal living this week, which has made it a bit squishy (14 in one room). Initially we struggled with the different times people go to bed (they would get up at like 5am, whereas the farang always sleep in til just before breakfast). However we have overcome that initial challenge. They also do not speak much English, and I don’t speak a whole bunch of Thai... Still, I have made some friends over the week! They are so generous. While I was sick, they left presents for me at the end of my bed while I was sleeping. They also shared food with me last night teaching me different foods. Last night, two Thai interns also went on the biggest wild goose chase to pick up our 8 takeaway pizzas by motorbike from the police station closest to us, because the pizza company refused to deliver any further from Chiang Rai town. They were gone an hour in pitch black dark, because the police station had apparently moved! I tried calling the Pizza Company to see if the pizzas had been delivered at all and tried to speak in Thai but they couldn’t understand me and i couldn’t understand them. I got transferred to management in Chiang Mai, where I finally managed to establish that my ‘husband’ Evan had ordered pizzas already. After trying to say ‘friend’ (in English) a couple of times, I gave in to ‘your husband? Your husband evan? Your husband?) And just said... ‘Yes, my husband....’
I taught English two days this week to Goi and Manop, who are from Aja village (an Akha village), and I teach them everyday from 1 -3pm at the kitchen from Tues – Sat. I love teaching them. At the end of each lesson, I make them come and practice their new English phrases with the other volunteers (asassama). The outdoor team plus new volunteers went on a homestay this week (about 20 volunteers) to Baan Jalae (Jalae Village), so there were 5 of us left behind here. As a result, I have semi-joined the indoor team this week, as they have only had 5 to run all the indoor programs teaching English to various groups of people. I taught young people English two days this week, for two hours per time, again up at the kitchen, armed with a whiteboard, coloured paper, my Thai phrase book, and another volunteer! Anne Marie and I taught one lesson about ‘make’ (tham). We asked the students to make buildings out of paper that could hold plastic fruit, and then used the lesson to demonstrate the difference between tall, short, strong, difficult etc. Then we got them to dance with a plastic piece of fruit held between two foreheads. It was pretty funny!
I also taught some women in their thirties one night this week, and taught them about past and future tense of ‘go’. When I teach English, I sometimes explain concepts in Thai so that they can understand, eg. ‘ca’ is inserted before a Thai verb to make it future, and ‘gamlang’ to make it present tense. I use these when I talk about the future and present tense in English, and sometimes write words in Thai on the board. Also attending at this particular lesson was a guy from Bangkok, who decided to join us, about my age. He was talking to the women in Thai quietly for a while, after which one of the women asked me ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy grinning. ‘May mii,’ I quickly answered. ‘May aw’: “I don’t have one, I don’t want one!’. These women continued to press for him – ‘he could teach you Thai’.
I also helped teach a local guide English this week, topography terms like ‘mountain’, ‘river’, and adjectives to describe the path. We then went for a short walk soon after, describing the path: ‘Is this path narrow? Yes this path is narrow. Is this path steep? Yes! This path is steep!’ The path wasn’t slippery but we were pretending to trip to use the word.
This week I had a meeting with P’Moo, Salapao (who I work with in anti-human trafficking) and another guy. We talked about the Anti-Human Trafficking Project here, and we had a complex meeting that went for over an hour, with them discussing in Thai (that I couldn’t understand), and then them translating for me into English while I frantically typed on my computer. Essentially, it was a project direction meeting, mapping out the work of the project for the next 2 years, which I will put together into a funding proposal. The Project will engage with local government staff in 15 subdistricts in the first year, educating them about human trafficking, and then also running youth camps for youth from those subdistricts, who will create plans for how to engage with their community in awareness raising campaigns. They will receive funding from the Project in the first year, with an aim for local government to work in partnership for funding in the second year.
In other exciting news, I have found out that this week I will be the sole farang (white person) travelling to Naan province, which is two provinces south of Chiang Rai, while still in the north. I will be going with the hilltribe team, who are all Thai, many of whom do not speak much English. So that will be interesting! I will be possibly writing about what I see and what the hilltribe does and...?(watch this space). Even more interesting, I will be going to see who P’Moo described as the ‘banana leaf people’. (?) I have no idea what this will entail. Tonight we will be watching a documentary about the place where I am going in Thai up at the kitchen, where there is a tiny (the only) TV. People will translate for the program for us.
Apparently the organisation here was on Thai TV recently. Stories about the hilltribes have been coming out on TV. We heard one over breakfast: there was a lady from a hilltribe, who was stateless – she wasn’t a Thai citizen (which is often the case). She developed cancer. However, she couldn’t afford medical treatment – which is more expensive if you are not a citizen. As a result, she didn’t seek medical assistance. Eventually, when she did, the cancer had advanced to such a level, that the cancer was terminal and she was going to die. She also had children she would leave behind.
Such stories tear me apart. I would love to raise awareness about these issues more in Australia. However, for that to happen, I still have so much more to learn. In part, that is why I am looking forward to going to Naan.
Something else that has been really hard this week is other volunteers leaving the organisation and going on the next step of their adventuring. Seven volunteers left this weekend, which was about a third of us. In addition, the three volunteers I was closest to, and were my closest friends here, left this weekend. It was heartbreaking. There were many tears. Because I am here for so long, (most people are here only a month or less), I will eventually have to say goodbye to every single person currently here (but one) and see them leave. And befriend, and say goodbye to the new volunteers that are still to come here. I think that is going to be the hardest part of being here. But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The rain has stopped now. Everything is shining and clean. Even the smoke hanging over the mountains has been washed away.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Our India Development Scholarship holders Aemelia and Claire are now back on home turf - and have passed on this amazing video they created about the education of girls and women in India. What an insight, thanks girls.
Monday, 22 March 2010
The little things
This week I started my intern work, which has been very self-driven and I have created proposals of new ideas for the organisation utilising volunteer networks, researched funding bodies and started writing an article on statelessness, as well as teaching an intensive 2 hour English class every day....
But, today I want to write about the little things.
Today is Saturday (wan saw) and this afternoon we have time off until Tuesday (wan ankaan). I will be going to Phu chi Faa which is a Thai tourist destination where you see the sunrise over the mountains looking over into Laos.
There are so many little things that need to be written about, so that you can understand why being here feels like such perfect freedom.
Last night, I was walking around, and then Pi O, who is one of the staff here, gestured to me to come sit down with her at a table outside out the back of her house, with the two cooks and two of the other volunteers. (Pi is a sign of respect, you call people older than you Pi). On the table were leftovers from dinner, a bowl of strawberries, a couple of mugs of water, a shot glass and a bottle of herbal whisky - a whisky bottle filled with herbs and plants. I was offered some of the whisky, poured a tiny shot (its strong stuff) and downed it. Aroy? (Delicious?) I said Aroy nit noy (A little bit delicious) while grimacing as it burnt my throat with herbs and skulled a mug of water. I then sat down and chatted with Pi O, Luke and Steve (the cooks left) and ate strawberries and peanuts... Pi O was so beautiful to us. She told us about coming to work here 12 years ago, and about how it all started. We just talked into the night for hours, drinking very small amounts of whisky, and eating the strawberries.
Her daughter went to the front garden and picked me flowers on long stalks....
Pi O said that we are friends and so therefore we are like family, and we can use her oven anytime.... Her kitchen anytime.... Because that’s what it is like with family.....
Last night after hanging out with Pi O, we all went up to the bonfire. Often the volunteers will have a bonfire behind the girls dorm. Eline who is from Canada, plays the guitar, and we sing together 'Rocking in the Free World', 'Iris' and 'Hallelujah'. Last night it was so beautiful, with the darkness all around, and us all quietly singing Geoff Buckley's 'Hallelujah' in the dark, with the flames from the fire lighting up our faces, with harmonies resonating with Lisa's violin...
I play percussion as well as sing. Someone passes over Lisa's violin case, and it becomes my drum.
This was my night last night: sitting around the bonfire, singing harmonies, bashing out rhythm on an old violin case.... hearing the guitar, the violin, the fire crackling.... sitting with beautiful beautiful people, under the stars. Afterwards, we put sticks in the fire, and danced around in the dark with the ends glowing - our own fire sticks.
Today we had cereal, Frosties and a kind of cereal that looked like tiny chocolate chip cookies.... You appreciate things so much more here. Cereal. Strawberries. Garlic bread. Toilet paper (costs 5 baht per roll).
Other little things....
The joy of a 3 in 1 (a coffee drink where you add boiling water)
The joy of knowing breakfast/lunch/dinner is good: the appreciation you feel when there is mango/your favourite meal....
The sound of the gecko who lives near the girl’s room (ah AH ah AH ah AH ah AH)
Eating banana bread from the shop down the road
Doing your washing by hand in the plastic tub
Buying an ice cream at lunch from the Red Streets Icecream vendor that comes on his motorbike
The joy of having clean hair after washing it
The joy of having clean feet after washing them
Going on a motorbike for 200 metres
Riding on the back of the song taaw
Riding on the roof of the song taaw in the dark, which is freezing cold!
The ”resort” - Pi O set up an umbrella and chairs next to the pond. It has become the most chilled out place here
Clearing plants out of said pond wearing bright orange rubber knee high boots, sinking with each step into thick sucking mud. Finding out later there were SNAKES in the water. As well as diseased fish and LEECHES.
Laughing at translations in Thai (see photo)
Meeting new beautiful people, who already have so much in common with you...
Meeting Thai Christians in Chiang Mai night bazaar, and singing songs and dancing with them in the street....
Meeting a new Thai friend in the Chiang Rai night market and talking in Thai....
Singing in the Chiang Rai night market with an Akha lady who sells handicrafts: and singing hymns with her in Akha...
RAIN. It rained the other night, for the first time in months here in Chiang Rai. There was lightning (‘Phar Lap’, like the horse that won the Melbourne Cup)... and a huge fire was lighting up the mountains on the other side of us, so the sky was bright orange at 9pm at night. And then we sat at the resort and waited for it to rain, yelling out when we felt a drop touch us, so cold and refreshing on our skin. Each drop so much joy.
Teaching English - I teach English every day now to Goi, who is 24, who is one of Suda's friends, and she lives in Aja village (an Akha village in Chiang Rai). We sit up at the kitchen, with a whiteboard and pens, and I teach for two hours. We also have had other people come, eg Manop, who is a fourteen year old guy from her village, and Tuisin, who is ten. Goi has come everyday and has promised me a ride on her motorbike (we went 200 metres last time because I had to go back to do work). Yesterday we just practiced speaking English, and talked in broken Thai and English. So I learn Thai at the same time! We play Hangman and even played Celebrity Heads the other day, with a choice selection of four people that we all knew in common to choose from!
Yesterday Pi O made garlic bread, beautiful crunchy buttery garlic bread, and brought it to me while I was teaching Goi.... and has offered to make it with me. And teach me how to make Pad Sieew (my favourite food).
Just now, I went to help the other volunteers teach English to the local guides. One particular man was unable to understand anything that my friend Anne Marie was teaching him. It turned out he had never been to high school and he was unable to write in Thai, or even his name in Thai, and didn’t understand the concept of writing. I could write more Thai than him. I found this absolutely unbelievable. He is from a village called Yaafu. He did not understand even the concept of writing letters. I explained to him in Thai by using Thai consonants and then taught him the letters A B and C by speaking Thai the whole time, and by writing dotted letters for him to trace. Today he learnt the letter C.
There are just so many little things that I love. Yesterday it was another girl, Emily's birthday. We got her a cake, and all put in some money to buy her goodies from the shop down the road: pineapples, Chang beer, toilet paper, peanut brittle, Capsicum crackers, 3 in 1, banana bread, and a bracelet from the Shop. The choicest things. They are like gold. We put it all in one of the teaching resources baskets (Hamish said a small one looked better because it all overflowed). Hamish attached three big balloons, and we presented it to her after singing Happy Birthday.
Later when Pi O came up to the campfire, she basically picked the whole flowerpot of flowers near her door, and gave them to Emily as a birthday present.
There is so much love here, its magical. Already I have three presents that Thai people have given me. Such generosity. Such love. I love the little things.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
I have had another wonderful week! I love it here!
This past week I travelled with other volunteers to Phukai Village which was a predominantly Lahu village in the mountains. We stayed near the top of the village, in a building made entirely of bamboo.... bamboo woven floors, walls and roof. From the open verandah where we slept, at night you could see Chiang Rai town sparkling in the distance.
We were there as volunteers to assist with the Phukai Information Centre and the child care centre. When we arrived, there was a new building at the front of the village with plain grey cement walls that the Japanese volunteers had helped to create. Our job was to design a mural for all four walls of the building, and paint it. In a few days. In this time, we also decided to strip the inside of the child care centre and paint it. When we arrived, the child care centre was extremely grubby, with fine dust and dirt caked over everything. The walls were unpainted cement bricks covered with paper. We decided to paint the walls, which was extremely difficult, as the cement in between the bricks was so uneven we had to paint all the cracks as well as the bricks. Afterwards the others hung up the resources they had made, and the centre looked so much more clean and brighter.
The information centre
For the information centre, my friend Lisa and I designed the basic design of what would go on each wall: she designed the side wall, and I the front one (it is the one with the words on it in the photos: "Phukai Life and Culture Centre"). Then we all worked hard priming the walls, and then painting them white. For our task, we had two big tubs of white paint, a tub of bright blue, bright red and bright yellow, and two of apricot. The colour mixing feats that we achieved were amazing. We decided to paint the hills all different colours and to paint trees that would be continuous over the walls to join them. A boy from the village, Jatna, also joined us for painting. He did not speak any English but he painted the tree on the left hand side of 'my' wall. He was lovely. One night, the kids came and watched us play the game "Mafia" at the place where we stayed. The children were very shy, but then joined us for a game of murder winks. Jatna was one of the quickest to pick it up and hung around with us in the village.
Interviewing the village
Two nights, we also interviewed the head of the village. As the NGO is focused on restoring and preserving the culture of many hilltribes, we were interviewing about the village so that we could produce the answers into information in English that will be printed out and put up on the walls inside the centre. I was partnered with another volunteer and we asked questions about demographics and history. So at night, the head of the village came to meet us and we all sat down and listened to his answers spoken through Pi Ay our translator. Two facts to share with you: the average income of one person per day would not exceed 150 baht. If there was a family, only the husband would work as the mother would look after the children. That means 150 baht per family per day. As a comparator, 27 baht = 1 dollar. One night's cheap accommodation costs 100 baht, and an average meal out costs 40 baht.
Another fact - one that I am growing to have a deeper interest in - about 38% of the village was stateless. I.e. - they did not have a nationality. This is a basic human right, but impacts on so many other human rights eg access to education, health care (stateless persons need to pay, whereas Thai citizens don't), and work. Stateless persons cannot travel very far to work or they will get into trouble with the police.
I have recently (late last week) started my intern work and my first assignment is writing a funding proposal applying to make a short film about stateless people. It will aim to raise awareness about statelessness and reverse trends of discrimination against hilltribe people.
In the past week, I have also hiked to a waterfall, and ridden an elephant! On the weekend (which we have off), I also travelled to Chiang Mai, and walked for five hours through the Sunday Walking Market, where they closed off what must have been about 16 blocks of roads. Even though I was there five hours, I still didn't cover the whole thing!
I love it here. Now I am running off to teach English to a hilltribe girl who is coming here specially for a 2 hour daily intensive which starts today with just her and me. Her name is Goi and she is 24 years old.
The last photo is a picture of the rice field down the road from where we are, which we pass as we go to the shop.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Three of our GapBreak students reflect on their weekend at the Antipodeans Abroad GapBreak Training Camp, held in February. Nerves, excitement and late nights were all part of the fun as students get to meet the Antipodeans staff that will be looking after them, as well as their fellow travelers!
" The Gapbreak training weekend 2010 was, for starters, really fun. More importantly though, it was a bit of a reality check and incredibly informative. Sitting in comfy chairs at Elanora Conference centre discussing various scenarios that we could be confronted with, it was easy to joke about them. But there was silence as Colin relayed the importance of safety whilst travelling overseas. It put things into perspective for most of us.
We also had an in depth analysis of every possible health issue that we need to be aware of whilst on our placements.
Three hours of intensive teaching instruction was one of the best parts of the weekend, especially having to structure and execute our own lesson plans. I felt that all awkward barriers between my group and me dropped in this exercise as we drew happy faces on the whiteboard and had to use high-pitched voices and actions to demonstrate ‘weather.’ That was real teamwork.
Being able to talk to experienced travellers and past- Gapbreakers about anything and everything from the best bus company in Kathmandu to how to decline another mountain of rice on your plate was reassuring and amazingly helpful.
My brain had expanded ten-fold from the information we were given. Thanks so much for the training weekend Antips! Loved every minute of it."
Jess Guiiliat (Nepal)
"It all began here. The journey we had all been waiting to embark on had finally begun in Sydney; the weekend where many queries, concerns, and questions were confirmed and answered. It begun with a comforting introduction of the experience that was ahead of us. We were then able to meet the closest thing we would have to family; our fellow travellers (and to my relief they were all open, friendly and welcoming people). Throughout the weekend we undertook teaching classes, where we were brought to the basics on how a teacher should be addressed, how to interact with students and how to address the needs of students of a “beginner” or “intermediate” level of English. It definitely was beginning to sound harder than it looked – as reality struck – I realised the real existence of a language barrier between us and the students, so communicating activities and keeping them attentive was going to be a challenge. It was amusing to see, after only a few hours, that we had formed these little clicks depending on our destination. We all moved as one. We lined up for meals together, we sat together, we left the table together, we moved as a team. Before the weekend came to an end, we were given the opportunity to talk to Hayley and Tamsin who had returned from Ghana in December – I couldn’t decide whether it was comforting to know they survived it and thought of it as the most amazing experience they would ever have, or whether it was daunting hearing of the challenges that arose over the 3 months (i.e. sickness, confronting situations, unfamiliar lands, etc) and realising how real and life changing this trip is going to be. All in all, the weekend prepared us for an experience of a lifetime. "
"Walking into the large Stewart Hall at Elanora Conference Centre, I knew no-one. I was there for the training weekend, an opportunity to meet our fellow travellers and learn all about the adventure we had all signed up for..Over the next two days, these companions would become firm friends as we learned about each other, our destination and the challenges we would face. After an initial general briefing, we split into destination groups, providing an opportunity to learn a bit about the people we would spend 3 months with. The remaining sessions covered a lot of information and variety of experiences - from tales of an ex-student to the more general information of who we stay with and how to dress. Broken up by food breaks, the sessions allowed us to learn, marvel and build our excitement for what is sure to be a great trip. I cannot wait."
Emily Jacobs (India)
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Emily's first blog from Thailand :-)
Where to start in writing a blog.... first, my name is Emily, I am twenty four and I am currently living in Mae Yao, Chiang Rai, Thailand. I flew in from Sydney - Bangkok - Chiang Rai on Monday afternoon, which is only a week ago, but it already feels like I've been here for a very long time, but a short time also!
I am staying at a Thai NGO that works largely with hilltribe people. There are a lot of people from the hilltribes around Mae Yao. The NGO teaches English, has a microfinance project, an anti trafficking project, and also a citizenship project. Volunteers are largely from Japan, Canada, USA, and Australia as well as many from Thailand.
The place where we are staying, if you can imagine, imagine this.... I am staying in a mud brick house with about twenty beds in it. Outside, there are big hills on either side, covered in bamboo, forest and a field which I think is being fallow at moment so that it can generate properly before the planting season. Everything is covered in a fine dust. It is getting into the hot season, which means that the air perpetually looks smoky where we are. If you walk down from the girls room, there is a pond with a bridge over it, and a kitchen with a roof made of dried banana/bamboo leaves.
Down the road, if you keep walking to the little shop where we buy toilet paper and snacks (you buy all your own toilet paper), you walk past rice paddies stretching green and green and green into the distance where there are hills with a few wooden villages sprawled across them. and then sky.
I am constantly in awe that I am actually in Thailand, actually in Chiang Rai. I am having the best time every time I just see the Thai script (EVERYWHERE) because I try to read it everywhere I go. I got really excited the other day when I was able to read the numberplates. It says เจิยงไร - just for the record, this means CHIANG RAI I read the signs!!!
I have been placed in the outdoor team for the first two weeks to get me orientated to the organisation. After that I will start working as an intern. There are two teams: the indoor team and the outdoor team. The indoor team concentrates on teaching English etc to kids, hill tribe housewives, child care centre and also some schools. The outdoor team focuses on construction.
Typical construction work here = making bricks.
All of the bricks that are used here are made onsite, in a painstaking process that takes a couple of hours. Apparently the record for brick making is 115 in one day, which was the record we set the other day. Brick making involves:
- digging dirt up out of the ground
- BAM BAMMING the dirt in a sack with a big stick
- sifting the dirt
- sieving the dirt
- mixing it with sand and cement
- setting the bricks one by one.
So far I havent done anything involved in the brick making (yet) but that is because the outdoor team is quite large at the moment. But in the past week, I have helped carry bricks in a brick line (you pass them along the line to the building); I have helped carry concrete in a concrete line, raked an entire hill that was covered in leaves as big as your chest.... And a building is being built at the moment from scratch. We put down half the concrete floor just the other day.
I have also taught at an English camp!! I went along as they were short of indoor people. We went to a school in Mae Yao district on Friday. I was paired with a guy called Tristan, and we were designated to teach about SPORT. We taught classes for one hour each from 9.30 til 4 with a lunch break, to students ranging in age from seven to seventeen, so we had to keep tailoring the lesson.
We made pictures of different sports,basketball and tennis and table tennis, and wrote the English word underneath. Then we played a game we made up called 'what sport is this?' where the class would have to call out what sport we pointed to. We also taught verbs like 'play' 'like' and 'like to play'. One lesson really bombed when we tried to explain Bingo. No one could understand when we were trying to explain to draw a square in their book. We tried to explain for about ten painful minutes. Painstakingly time ticked by. I was even rifling through my phrasebook in the class thinking HOW DO I SAY WRITE in Thai!!!! (its khian for all those out there needing this knowledge equally badly). Anyway apart from that one, our class went so well and we were throwing around a tennis ball in the class, getting the class to say responses and questions in English. A key sample:
Do you play basketball?
No I don't play basketball.
Do you play tennis?
Yes I play tennis.
Do you like cricket? (often pronounced QUICKET)
No I don't play quicket.
We were trying to suggest ways of pronouncing things by singing out lalalalala which helped with making the L sound. Often r and l are slurred together here so chiang rai can sometimes be chaing lai.
It was great fun teaching English. Sometimes I would speak in Thai like - do you understand? in thai. (Khaw cai may?) Everytime I did, they kept laughing. So i stopped after a while! But apparently they were laughing because they are impressed I speak Thai, not that I am necessarily bad at it. Since then I, I have started speaking Thai more confidently, as I learnt Thai for around 30 weeks last year in Sydney. (Chan rian phaa saa Thai 30 aathit leew thii Sydney). i am able to hold basic conversations with Thai people and am trying to learn more and more.
What I will be doing
I will be starting work on the Anti-Human Trafficking Project the week after this (aathit naa). This project goes into villages and performs dramas for the hilltribes about the dangers of human trafficking to inform the community. Often hill tribe girls are recruited from the North. The project is running severely low on funding, so by me helping out there I will be working on funding proposals and things like that, it will be made more clear closer to the time. Already I did some translation work the other day for a girl working on the project. She is Japanese. She doesnt write English well, so she had written the stories of some of the individuals that had been impacted by the NGO and then I helped to make it sound more academic and better English.
So it looks like at this point my main activities will actually be in the Anti Human Trafficking Project. The first two weeks I am so glad I am on outdoor team as it gives me a chance to meet the other volunteers and be friends with them. Most of the volunteers are from the USA or Canada. There are about four or five of us from Australia. Apparently 'reckon' and 'heaps' are Australian words that they find really funny.
Housewarming at an Akha village
I have also been to an Akha village. We had a housewarming party for Suda, who is a girl from an Akha tribe that volunteers at Mirror. Her parents and her were moving into a new house. The house warming party was in the house, and because it had been newly built, none of the furniture was inside it. Instead, virtually the whole village came to her house, and sat on the floor on tables, on chairs, everywhere possible in the whole house! And we were all served food. I am not sure of what I ate. I think at some point there may have been some seasoned offal. (It was good). Raw meat was also available. The village was beautiful, with wooden houses, and some people dressed in the traditional Akha dress, which some of you may have seen before. It constitutes an embroidered headdress as well as embroidered clothing.
As we were leaving, there was a large fire on the hill. Fires here are quite normal, and the hilltribe people know how to fight them effectively. On my second day, we had a fire near Mirror (about 200 - 300 metres away from the girls dorm). Seeing the fire, at first I was thinking 'oh NO' as I am used to Australian fires that spread fast through a forest.... But here, the forest doesnt catch in the same way, and fires are lit to meet the fire by the communities. So while we were leaving the Akha village, there was a fire on the mountain nearby across the valley. It was quite beautiful, like really big fairy lights. The flames were quite large in some places. But everyone was not even looking at the fire!!! It was all about the party. Apparently some people were already dealing with it and setting off fires to backburn to meet the fire. So it was all good. But its just such a difference in culture.
At the moment, I am in Chiang Rai (the town). On Saturday afternoons, we can be dropped in town by a song taaw (a truck with open sides and a roof) as volunteers have Sundays (wan aathit)and Mondays (wan jan) off . Chiang Rai is not very big. There is Thai script everywhere of course, so I am having a great time reading it. Last night we went to the Walking Market, where a whole street is filled up with lanterns and fairy lights and there are stalls in two lines down the road, filled with everything from watches to clothes to awesome food. There was a big grassy area where a Thai band was playing and heaps of people were dancing. It was great.
Also in Chiang Rai is the Night Bazaar, which we have been to twice this week. It sells a lot of touristy things like embroidered bags, beautiful baggy pants and skirts. In town, I also ate deep fried crickets, which are very small, about as big as the top end of your little finger. They are crunchy and they are like what you would eat in front of a TV. I also went to the Fish Bar. It is a place where you put your feet inside glass tanks full of fish and they nibble the skin off your feet. The first five minutes are excruciatingly awful because all you can think of is the fish eating you.
This week I will be going to a homestay in a hilltribe village. At the moment, I am not sure which village it will be, but it will probably be an Akha or Lahu village. We will be doing some construction work as well as interviewing the community about their culture, history and recording demographical statistics. I am really looking forward to it, and look forward to speaking with the families in Thai, and learning a little Akha/Lahu as well.