In part 1 I outlined some basic facts about hill-tribes in Northern Thailand and shared one story that made a lasting impression on myself. For part 2 I will continue with my stories and impressions.
One thing that stuck out in my mind that was common across all the villages was the feeling of community and the lack of selfish behavior. All of the villages do not have police or police stations and it was very apparent that everyone takes care of each other. Quick story; at the Lawa village we went walking to visit a friend and along the way were followed by a man who was clearly intoxicated and wanted us to come with him to drink whiskey. He came with to the friend’s house and ended up spending the whole night with us. No one was ever nasty to him even though at times he was clearly annoying some. Everyone treated him nicely and they referred to him as their ‘brother’. I was thinking about this situation and compared it to how it would probably be handled elsewhere.
Adding to the notion of community, it was overall simply a wonderful feeling to be in that environment. Being born and raised on the East coast of the US, there were times of community feelings, but generally the outlook is to take care of you. I am not sure how else to describe the feeling other than that it felt so natural and so warm. When we walked through these villages everyone always offers for you to come inside their home where they would offer food and drink. A side note, which is humorous to me, is how many missionaries have come to these villages and tried to spread the word of god and build churches. It is ironic because the people in these villages are more Christian/Catholic and live their lives according to what Jesus preached more than the missionaries themselves. And they didn’t even need a bible to tell them that!
Lastly, to drag out this sense of community I felt with one last story. In the villages I visited most of them produce their own alcohol which they call whiskey but is technically rum because it comes from rice. Either way, when they drink together they only use one glass and they always pour for someone else. Compare that to other countries where everyone has their own glass and own plate of food. Not to sound cheesy or make it more than it is, but to me this just felt right and felt warm. (Pun intended, as the village whiskey is pretty strong!)
During our trip we visited my girlfriend’s sister’s new home where there would be a house blessing. House blessings are very common in Thailand and it is a ceremony preformed by Buddhist monks after a new house is finished being built. It is meant to bring good luck to the new home and its residents and also to wish them happiness for the future. The night before the house blessing was a time for the family and village to come together and prepare for the ceremony and also to enjoy good food and good drink. That night we met lots of people from the village and also the local community. It is very common for the men to sit together and enjoy homemade village whiskey. As I was mingling around and meeting people I was invited into the house to join a small circle of men from the village. Included in the circle were the number one and two leaders of the village (similar to a mayor). Even though I have a decent grasp on Thai language between their accents and them speaking their hill-tribe language there was not a lot of communication. We sat in a circle and proceeded to drink and pour each other village whiskey. All of the men were clearly excited to be in the presence of a foreigner and even though we could not talk or communicate very much it was extremely comfortable and a situation where body language and sign language was enough to convey our emotions. They kept giving me whiskey and having me try different leaves and different local dishes. No matter what my reaction was they were super pumped about everything and the excitement in the air was palpable. Being treated so kindly and being brought into their circle was a fun moment for me and I truly hope to be in a position to repay the hospitality someday.
The other thing that stuck out to me was the sense of pride from the people from the different villages. Wearing the traditional dress and talking about their culture was hard not to notice. I guess I am jealous of their strong heritage and traditions. Coming from a mixed background with no dominant nationality or family traditions, I guess that I yearn for what they have in a sense.
To sum it up, if you couldn’t guess by now, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting, visiting, and staying with the different villages. I felt like I was 12 years old again building a fort with that sense of excitement and adventure there in full force.
I am very hopeful that the project to bring volunteers to teach English and learn the unique culture and lifestyle will be a success. The experience even though it was brief, affected me in a positive way.
Check out this short video to see the school and children from the village. (Change to 1080p for maximum viewing pleasure!)
I am writing this from my room in Doi Saket on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I think now I will continue with my routine and go get half a chicken and sticky rice, but this time watch the latest episode of ‘Sons of Anarchy’. (I recently bought my first motorcycle so watching that show is twice as cool or me now!)
David Poppe, Programs Director