The village is quite well off due to an abundance of water and land for the people to farm with. On the central two streets quite a few shops lined the dusty road and most of the homes looked strong and cared for. After asking for directions and of course being offered a ride, we made it to Oshi's house.
A quick side note on the logistics of property in many of the villages around here. Fences are a rare commodity and the yards are garden mesh and blend together. Oshi only has one in fact. Just a small black fabric barrier because the cows have trampled his lettuce one too many times. This lack of barriers matches with the attitude I have experienced throughout the Thai countryside. An attitude of being friends and coworkers with one' neighbors. Land here is divided equally among all children if they desire to keep the land, although more and more rural children are "escaping" the simple life from the mountains of Thailand to the condensing cornfields of Iowa. Oshi however, is sticking it out and lives within shouting distance of mother, brother, and other family members that I didn't meet during our brief stay.
Anyway, Oshi gave us a brief tour of some of the land he works outside his house. He also has a large coffee plantation outside of town. As we examined the varieties of fruit grown on the land and the various structures, I was again impressed with the local craftiness. Firepits were spoked with logs slowly burning to ash at the desired heat for whatever needed warming. These branches can be easily picked up and moved to a friend's fire if need be. Marco remarked that if we tried that we go through the wood so fast. I agreed thinking back to my pyro days in boy scouts and some large blazes I have whipped up on camping trips. The ingenuity continued in the buildings. Oshi's house was sealed up tight, but not with paint as Marco's and many others back home are. A mixture of kasava and sand plastered the walls, giving a rough and earnest feel all from materials found right outside.
After walking for a bit, his wife offered to feed us lunch. No matter how politely Marco tried to refuse, we were of course plunked down on a table to dine. Oshi's house doubles as a town noodle shop and we were treated to blazing papaya salad, a streaming bowl of noodles, and a bit of homegrown coffee. We asked to pay for the meal, but we of course refused. We were taking some of Oshi's best banana trees back to our farm, and he said we could just repay him by transplanting those back at his place when our soil was depleted. Despite our successful banana exchange, we had another purpose for paying a visit to Oshi.
We spent the delicious meal convincing him to take on volunteers as Marco does. Oshi is a very thoughtful man, taking time to chew on most words he hears and speaks. He has understandable reservations on harbouring long term foreigners in his home. He worries that some other villagers might see this in a less than positive light, and from the amount of bikinied rafters on the river here, I can understand why. But Oshi also sees the great benefit in creating a dialogue between Karen and western people. Oshi has a fierce pride in Karen culture from the farming techniques to the custom of anyone being a guest the first night and then family on the second night. And he wants to share that with visitors and also remind Karen youngsters who have move away how much they have to be proud of. I hope that many end up at Oshi's house helping this dream become a reality. Who knows? I could be one of them.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
December 31st started out like most days, except for the fact that there was apparently quite a lot of rice whiskey being processed by 8 in the morning down in the village. Thai people really embody the play hard, work hard mantra. And New Year's is when they play the hardest. While the party started around December 31, it was a week long affair.
After watering some baby plants and cooking a mean chili sauce, our New Year's Eve party began. We had quite the global group down at Marco and Nok's house with volunteers and rentors alike, as well as a plethora of locals. We all gathered around a popping and sizzling electric stove as bits of pork were tossed on one by one. Disregarding what any health department would have to say about this method of choosing ones meat when they deemed it cooked enough next to the raw pieces, it was absolutely delicious. We washed it down with tin cups full of homemade rice wine poured out of an old Coke bottle. Thai and English mingled together in the night air. While the party ended well before midnight, I felt ready to embrace a new year.
A NEW YEARS PROCESSIONNAL
That year started off quite fantastically. Early in the morning Madeline( the volunteer who was here the past two weeks) and I joined Pee Hom on the way to the village. The sky was overcast and seemed to be holding the old year in. When we arrived in town, there was a parade expectancy in the air. People were wandering about in pajamas and work clothes are shouting hellos from the windows to all passerbys. We joined Pee Hom and huddled around a small fire at one of the neighbours. Despite my Wisconsin blood protesting at a fire in the tropics, there is something forever comforting about rubbing rough hands over a fire. The ash was as grey as the sky, and the heat was surprisingly welcome even knowing the sun would soon beat down.
After an hour or so, people began to stir again and gather around the road. Down a ways, the orange flames of the monks finally appeared to brighten the dim air. The twenty or so people gathered in our block lined up with bags of no perishable food in bags. Holding a bag of uncooked rice and noodles, I felt a bit like a homeowner on Halloween, set to hand out candies to the approaching bald wise children marching down the road. There were no trick or treats however, only silent thankful acceptance of our gifts.
The time honored tradition of giving the monks their daily sustenance each morning is renacted on New Year's Day as a village wide donation to the temple and and those who need food. After we left our offerings in the bronze bowls, everyone knelt on the pavement. As some people poured water out onto the ground, the monks chanted a blessing. The chant was ended with a rousing blessing of "Happy New Year," perhaps for us western participants. It was a fantastic way to step into the new year and the sun finally peeking through the clouds.
MOUNTAINTOP MEDITATION (previously published on maemutgarden.com)